The names of some of the world's most successful brands – from Accenture to Zantac – were widely ridiculed when they were first announced. Today those names are not just accepted but admired. It turns out there's a reason and a name for the attitude shift: The more we're exposed to something unfamiliar, the more we like it. Welcome to the Zajonc effect.  Continue reading...

If you're a fan of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I have some bad news for you: The English language is notoriously anti-minimalist. English loves multiples and hangs onto old words while continuously adding new ones. I could dig up many examples, but today I want to talk about just one pair, crisp and crispy, both of which mean essentially the same thing. Except when they don't.  Continue reading...

By most reliable measures, 2016 has been a very good year for fiction lovers. I'm not talking here about literature; I'm talking about the opposite of fact. In mid-November, Oxford Dictionaries declared post-truth to be its word of the year. Indeed, it's been a banner year for all the words we have at our disposal to say, "Nope, it just ain't so."  Continue reading...

In a couple of months, the word authorities – the major dictionaries, the American Dialect Society, and language bloggers – will select their words of the year for 2016. I have no inside line on what those words will be; indeed, in past years, the winners have surprised me. (Singular "they," anyone?)  Continue reading...

I learned a new word this summer: glotion. The word is meant to convey two concepts – glowing and lotion – in a single blended neologism. That is to say, it's a portmanteau word, a strategy for word and name creation that goes back almost 150 years.  Continue reading...

When the British entrepreneur Kevin Ashton was searching, in 1999, for a term to describe a network of computers with their own means of gathering information and understanding the world, he didn't resort to a noun pileup like "Object Connectivity Matrix." He didn't coin a cute word like "Sensorius." Instead, he gave this dawning phenomenon a name that incorporates one of the oldest words in the English language. He called it the Internet of Things.  Continue reading...

If you're looking for proof of the English language's remarkable flexibility, enter the word hack into the New York Times's search field. The newest results will include a mention of "hack politicians" and a reference to "the suspected hack of Sony Pictures by North Korea" in 2014.  Continue reading...

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