Earlier this month, the Earth's population passed seven billion. During the summer, the United States' national debt (at least the official debt as calculated by the U.S. Treasury) hit $14 trillion. And in a joke that's been going around for about a decade, various people, including blondes, Texas Aggies, violinists, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, have learned of the death of several Brazilian skydivers (or Brazilian soldiers in Iraq) and wondered, "How many is a Brazilian?"
As most histories of Halloween will tell you, Hallowe'en
) is a shortened version of All-Hallow(s)-Eve
, but how and why did eve
turn into e'en
? For that matter, what is a hallow? Why did the all
The terrorist attacks on 9/11 happened ten years ago, and although everybody remembers what they were doing at that flashbulb moment, and many aspects of our lives were changed by those attacks, from traveling to shopping to going online, one thing stands out: the only significant impact that 9/11 has had on the English language is 9/11
The movies have me in a venge
-ful mood these days. Among the surfeit of superhero movies this summer there was Captain America: The First Avenger
. This movie, along with Thor
and last summer's Iron Man 2
, is a prelude to next summer's The Avengers
, showcasing the Marvel superhero team that features these characters.
It's back to school, and that means it's time for dictionaries to trot out their annual lists of new words. Dictionary-maker Merriam-Webster recently released a list of 150 words just added to its new Collegiate Dictionary for 2011, including cougar
, a middle-aged woman seeking a romantic relationship with a younger man, boomerang child
, a young adult who returns to live at home for financial reasons, and social media
-- if you don't know what that means, then you're still living in the last century.
Two weeks ago, the British writer Matthew Engel set off a trans-Atlantic ruckus by writing an opinion piece for the BBC online magazine entitled, "Why Do Some Americanisms Irritate People?" Engel's piece, along with a followup of reader peeves, attracted the attention of American language watchers. Lexicographer Grant Barrett had some pointed criticisms for Engel, which the BBC ran in diluted fashion. Here we present Barrett's unexpurgated response to Engel.
When people talk about whether a word is "in the dictionary," have you stopped to think about what "the dictionary" actually means? In the following excerpt from her new book How to Read a Word
, Elizabeth Knowles takes readers on a brief tour of the dictionary and its historical authority, informed by the likes of Voltaire and Samuel Johnson.