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Last week, the New York City Department of Education stirred up controversy by issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) listing fifty words to avoid on the standardized tests used by the city's schools. These were not the dirty words that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that George Carlin could not say on the air, but innocuous ones like dinosaurs, birthdays, aliens from outer space, rap, and rock 'n' roll. A school spokesman told the New York Post that the words could "evoke unpleasant emotions in the students."  Continue reading...
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One of the happiest occasions in dictionary and word-nerd history occurred recently when the Dictionary of American Regional English — a project five decades in the making — published its final volume. This historical dictionary of words and phrases that do not ring out from sea to shining sea is one of the most ambitious works of lexicography ever. To call it a wealth of lexical riches would be the understatement of the eon. It is a whoopensocker ("Something extraordinary of its kind").  Continue reading...
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I recently went to see a production of John Ford's play 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, a 17th-century British delight that is easily one of my all-time favorite titles to get to say. The production was excellent, but my companion and I were disappointed that the company we saw chose to drop the last line of the play, when (spoiler!) the Cardinal in the play says, "...who could not say, 'tis pity she's a whore?" Yes, that's right, they cut the line that gives the play its title. The play felt incomplete, and incorrectly named, without it.  Continue reading...
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Some writing students are taught that there is a four letter word that they should avoid using in their writing: S-A-I-D. They are cautioned that if they repeat the use of said (or say) for attributing quotes or for introducing dialogue, that this repetition will bog down their writing and bore their readers.  Continue reading...
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Emotional transport is not a regular feature or goal of popular music, which seems generally to be the aural equivalent of snack food. Popular tunes are littered with disposable lyrics. And yet every now and then, the language of a song can take you outside the confines of the three-minute window to something more enduring.  Continue reading...
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Blog Excerpts

Reconsidering the Thesaurus

The latest issue of the literary magazine Lapham's Quarterly has as its theme "Means of Communication," and the closing piece, by VT editor Ben Zimmer, is a reconsideration of the thesaurus as a tool for modern writers. He finds many reasons to remain optimistic about the thesaurus as a reference work (and not just because of the Visual Thesaurus!). Read his piece here.
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1 2 3 4 Displaying 22-27 of 27 Articles