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In 1948, the American journalist and language chronicler H.L. Mencken wrote an essay for The New Yorker, "Video Verbiage," in which he analyzed the lingo of the fledgling medium of television. Several of the words he gathered are now obsolete: vaudeo ("televised vaudeville"), televiewers (now just "viewers"), blizzard head (an actress so blonde that the lighting has to be toned down). Others are with us still, including telegenic and telecast. Nearly 70 years after Mencken published his essay, television itself is undergoing a massive redefinition, and so is our TV lexicon.  Continue reading...
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The latest episode of Slate's podcast Lexicon Valley is a hoot and a half, as I take a look at the origins of hootenanny, a word that emerged from rural America with many meanings before finding fame as a name for folk-music gatherings.  Continue reading...
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Intensive purposes? Slight of hand? Linguist Adam Cooper contemplates phrases whose meanings are in transition as we replace unfamiliar words fossilized with language that sounds more reasonable to our modern ears.  Continue reading...
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During the short-lived media celebrity of the recent "blood moon," I spent some Internet time bringing myself up to speed on the phenomenon—as I suspect many others did. My interest as a lexicographer was to investigate why this celestial event is called a blood moon; thinking in the literal way that I do, and knowing the color of blood, I was perplexed at the disconnect. Blood, of course, is red—deep, vivid, saturated red—and the moon was not. It achieved a kind of Marsy orange, but it was not red.  Continue reading...
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On the latest installment of the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley, I look into the origins of the slang term humdinger, which hit it big around the turn of the 20th century to refer to someone or something remarkable or impressive.  Continue reading...
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Have you encountered a transition counselor lately? I hope not. In the real world, a transition counselor is a diabolical euphemism for a profession made famous by George Clooney's character in Up in the Air: someone who fires people for a living. But in Matt Kindt's extraordinary conspiracy thriller Mind MGMT, the term has an even darker sense: assassin.  Continue reading...
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I live in the heart of a small lexical explosion—Boulder, Colorado, home to about 100,000 people (of whom 30,000 are university students), and about two dozen retail marijuana dispensaries. The lexical explosion is in the marketing vocabulary of a product that until recently, despite its being universally known and widely used, was contraband.  Continue reading...
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2 3 4 5 6 Displaying 22-28 of 1124 Articles