I've just finished reading Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility—not for the first time, probably for the fourth or fifth time. I started reading her when I was a teenager and I try to re-read one of her novels every year. They never disappoint, and at each stage of my life, I find new facets to explore in her analysis of human nature and relations, and in her unparalleled mastery of the expressiveness of English.  Continue reading...
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For my latest appearance on the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley, I take a look at the clownish roots of the word bozo. While the image of TV's Bozo the Clown is familiar to many generations of American youth, how did Bozo get his name in the first place? The answer may lie in vaudeville.  Continue reading...
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Did that headline peak your interest? Or did it pique it? I'm waiting with baited breath for your answer. Or would that be bated? All of us have a tendency to replace a fossilized word, whose nuances have been lost, with a more standard definition of that word or a different word entirely. Through this process, phrases, like words, can change meaning over time.  Continue reading...
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It's NBA Finals time—a time I love. I've been watching the NBA since I was a wee lad, back in the mythical time of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and the Minotaur. (I think the Minotaur played for Portland, but let me fact-check that.)  Continue reading...
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I love everything about used bookstores—except their negative effect on my wallet. I recently found another wallet-drainer—and a gem of a word book—in Chicago's wonderful Myopic Books: Hash House Lingo: The Slang of Soda Jerks, Short-Order Cooks, Bartenders, Waitresses, Carhops and Other Denizens of Yesterday's Roadside.  Continue reading...
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On the latest episode of the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley, I take a look at a classic Yiddishism: kibitz, which can mean "make unwanted comments (as a spectator at a card game)," or something more general like "chitchat." While it's a word with a rich history, its origins are ultimately mysterious.  Continue reading...
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It's a little early to know what the 2015 Word of the Year will be, but I'd say we have a contender: dadbod (or dad bod). After appearing in an essay by Mackenzie Pearson, this term went viral, then nuclear, then possibly intergalactic. Dadbod has become so commonly used that I wouldn't be surprised if, somewhere near the Mars Rover, the term is validating the flabby physiques of retired Martian warlords.  Continue reading...
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