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People often have the totally wrong idea that they need to have been born creative in order to write. While being born certain ways can help your writing a lot — being born wealthy means you may not have to worry about money; being born a good proofreader means you'll catch most of your own typos — creativity doesn't even count on the list of concerns you should fret about.  Continue reading...
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At a time when every civilized man carried a sonnet to his secret lover tucked into a back pocket, Shakespeare's sonnets out-swooned every other swoon-seeker's, and Sonnet 116 "Let me not to the marriage of true minds," has remained a favorite of lovers everywhere. For Valentine's Day, master some tricky words using our Sonnet 116 Vocabulary List.  Continue reading...
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The story of Steve Henderson — a software engineer bent on single-handedly fixing every use of the word comprise in Wikipedia entries where compose would be more appropriate — has captured the popular imagination. Yesterday, Southern California Public Radio invited our own Ben Zimmer to explain the difference and weigh in on the wisdom of Henderson's quest.  Continue reading...
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Last night, Jon Stewart announced that he will be retiring from Comedy Central's The Daily Show. We'll miss Stewart and his writing team for lots of reasons. But as dedicated vocabularians, we'll be especially sorry to see the end of Stewart's skewering of overhyped news through clever use of word blending, known as portmanteaus.  Continue reading...
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The dog ate the food. That's writing at its plainest. Each word has a definite, well-known meaning, the signifiers point to their signifieds just like they're supposed to. If we know how to read, we have no trouble seeing Fido happily munching his kibble.  Continue reading...
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Quiz is a word with a background so baffling it might make you feel a bit quizzical. For Slate's Lexicon Valley podcast, I delve into the mysterious origins of quiz and its long-forgotten brother quoz.  Continue reading...
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Turns out the American Dialect Society callously disregarded my selection of conscious uncoupling (Gwyneth Paltrow's cuckoo-bananas term for divorce) for Euphemism of the Year. Instead, these linguists, lexicographers, word mavens, and rogue wordanistas selected EIT: an abbreviation of enhanced interrogation techniques, which is a euphemism of a euphemism.  Continue reading...
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1 2 3 Displaying 8-14 of 16 Articles