If you're a fan of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I have some bad news for you: The English language is notoriously anti-minimalist. English loves multiples and hangs onto old words while continuously adding new ones. I could dig up many examples, but today I want to talk about just one pair, crisp and crispy, both of which mean essentially the same thing. Except when they don't.  Continue reading...
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It would be an interesting social experiment to bring the language surrounding New Year's Resolutions more into line with the meaning of resolution—that is to say, the act of declaring a firm intention to act.  Continue reading...
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Just as the OED will never be finished documenting the English language, there's always more to tell about the OED itself. So the latest addition to the historical record of our greatest historical dictionary—The Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by lexicographer Peter Gilliver—is most welcome.  Continue reading...
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I understand why a euphemism is useful. There's a huge stigma, unfortunately, surrounding mental health, and that stigma probably prevents people from seeking the help they need. However, I wonder if this euphemism is too effective a cloaking device.  Continue reading...
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The periodic table of elements is an iconic image familiar to anyone with even the rudiments of education and it is perhaps one of the most successful visual representations of information ever conceived: it brings a high level of order to a field of knowledge that is too complex to organize in memory and it rewards study at every level.  Continue reading...
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As the United States celebrates Presidents' Day, it's a good time to mull over how we ended up calling the national leader "president" in the first place. Executive editor Ben Zimmer spoke to NPR's All Things Considered about the term's history.  Continue reading...
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For the latest installment of Slate's podcast Lexicon Valley, I look at how the seemingly random number eighty-six became a verb meaning to get rid of something, thanks to a long-forgotten code of hash houses and soda-fountain lunch counters.  Continue reading...
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