A few weeks ago I started a regular feature on the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley called LinguaFile, in which I present the hosts with a word and have them try to guess its origins. Last time it was discombobulate, and for this week's episode I went with another one of my favorite words, lagniappe, meaning "a bonus gift (as given to a customer from a merchant)."  Continue reading...
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Last week, as part of the Lexicon Valley podcast, I talked about how the word discombobulate grew out of a vogue in the Jacksonian era for making up jocular polysyllabic words with a pseudo-classical air. That impulse for concocting silly-sounding sesquipedalianisms has often bubbled up in the history of English.  Continue reading...
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A peculiar feature of some adjectives ending in -y is their ability to take on a semantic life of their own, separate from the meaning of their root. A handful of food-based adjectives fit this pattern, in which an English learner would be at a great disadvantage in thinking that the adjective's meaning might be composable from its parts. Think of corny, meaty, fishy, and cheesy.  Continue reading...
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On Lexicon Valley, Slate's podcast about language, I'm taking part in a regular feature. I come prepared with a mystery word, and the hosts have to guess the word itself and its origins. The first word didn't remain a mystery for very long: discombobulate.  Continue reading...
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When you visit your bank's website or enter a credit-card number, you've probably noticed that in the browser's address box, the URL begins with https. The "S" stands for "secure," and the security technology your browser uses for that "S" represents one of the great inventions in the history of secrets. In this piece I'll walk you through some of the terms of that rich field.  Continue reading...
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Long before the advent of air conditioning, ice cream, sherbet, and their frozen cousins provided edible relief for summer heat — if you were rich enough to afford them. Today, these icy treats are democratic and diverse, and their names, both generic and trademarked, tell rich stories about language and history. Here are some of the tastiest.  Continue reading...
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Grammar Girl, a.k.a. Mignon Fogarty, has been sharing short tips on usage and style with us. Her latest tip looks at the evolution of affirmative interjections, from yea and yes in Old English to yeah and yup in contemporary English.  Continue reading...
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