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For the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley, I delve into the many stories surrounding the origins of the word gringo, an epithet used by Latin Americans for foreign speakers, typically American Anglophones. Though a great deal of vivid folklore surrounds the word, its actual etymology is just as interesting.  Continue reading...
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Life, Life, LIFE!

Whether the words, spaces, and punctuation marks appear in The Iliad or Don Quixote, a fluffy sportswear catalogue or a dense computer manual, the goal of all writing is to get some tiny bit of the gargantuan energy we call life onto the page so that other humans can read it and say, "Yes, that writing describes the life I know."  Continue reading...
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There's no nice way to put it: as we reach the peak of temperature and humidity levels in much of the northern hemisphere, we all too often find ourselves confronted by things — and yes, people — who smell. And even if we'd like to turn up our nose, for once let's take a giant whiff. Or at least an etymological one.  Continue reading...
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Alphabet, Google's new parent company, has generated lots of business buzz this week. But the choice of "Alphabet" for the company's name is equally newsworthy. Not only does it signal a departure from Google's blandly descriptive naming style — Google Plus, Google Maps, Google Mail, and so on — but it also takes an imaginative flight away from geek-speak and toward a universe of names inspired by language and literature.  Continue reading...
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My 20-year-old son, who's studying to become an opera singer, last year gave me a complaint he'd written about one of his professors. He wanted to know if it was "too harsh." More importantly, because the complaint was to be anonymous, he wanted reassurance it couldn't be traced back to him.  Continue reading...
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When English-language Scrabble champ Nigel Richards, who does not speak French, won a French-language Scrabble championship, analysts rushed to analyze how much memorization that actually entailed. Ben Zimmer explains that to get a full understanding of Richards' achievement, a simple counting of words in the dictionary only gives a partial picture.  Continue reading...
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We're in the middle of one of the most important transitions in a democracy: from one Batman to another. But as the era of Ben Affleck (Batfleck) rapidly approaches, former Batman Christian Bale recently offered wise words to his successor on how he should be able to relieve himself.  Continue reading...
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1 2 Displaying 1-7 of 8 Articles