For Slate's podcast Lexicon Valley, I look at the origins of an expression that turns nervousness and apprehension into a jokey malady: the heebie-jeebies. It turns out we can pin down not just the coiner but the very day that he coined the word.  Continue reading...
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Whether you like or loathe it, I bet you've noticed the return of –mentum: a suffix that fills the Internet during election season much as a sulfurous smell fills hell. This suffix is also a terrific reminder of a sad truth: the media will never, ever treat a presidential election as anything more than a sporting event with fewer concussions.  Continue reading...
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With the boxing movie "Southpaw" opening, it's a good time to ponder where the term "southpaw" came from as an epithet for a left-hander. Baseball and boxing have both used the term for a long time to label lefty athletes, but which came first?  Continue reading...
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Pluto is coming into startingly sharp focus, thanks to the first images and data received from the space probe New Horizons last week. As we learn more about this distant cousin of Earth, we're also expanding our linguistic horizons. Here's a closer look at some of the words and names in the Plutonian news.  Continue reading...
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What sounds do you make when words fail? A garbled stutter? A whistle? Or is there just the resounding bump of your jaw hitting the floor? Turns out, there are words to capture the wordless shock we experience when we're confronted by mess, noise, violence, or otherwise sticky situations. They're linked by sound: repeated syllables and long vowels that are onomatopoeically evocative of the sounds that come out of our mouths when our brains are overwhelmed.  Continue reading...
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On July 25, the fourteenth Summer Special Olympics World Games will open in Los Angeles. Over the next seven days, 7,000 athletes will compete in sporting events at venues around the city, supported by 30,000 volunteers and cheered by 500,000 spectators. ESPN will broadcast the opening ceremony. It sounds festive. It sounds inspiring. But what makes it "special"?  Continue reading...
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July 11, 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the first musical use of the word jazz. To celebrate, we've put together a list of vocabulary from quotes about what Jazz is as an art form and what it has meant in the lives of those quoted, as well as links to the story of jazz's origin.  Continue reading...
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