Eight pairs of sounds that are scattered across the lexicon of English support Henry Fowler's observation that relations among words in English come to us from our forefathers as an odd jumble and plainly show that the language has not been neatly constructed by a master builder who could create each part to do the exact work required of it, neither overlapped or overlapping; far from that, its parts have had to grow as they could.  Continue reading...

I have long been a bit disposed (and definitely not predisposed) to peeve about pre- words that don't really require pre-. Lately I have added a new peeve, actually a lexicographer's lament, about words that begin with the complementary prefix post-. These two prefixes share the quality of suggesting a timeline, and the problematic nature of both of them arises when the reader or listener isn't quite clear on where to land on that timeline, or what is happening there.  Continue reading...

The 200th anniversary of astronomer Charles Messier's death is a great opportunity to gaze into the night sky and examine the curious patterns in the way we name faraway objects that were known to us for most of human history only by their luminous appearances.  Continue reading...

A new uncertainty besets people about the quality of information presented to them, and if there was any expectation that the prevalence of prevarication from authorities would end when the 2016 presidential election season concluded, that expectation has not survived.  Continue reading...

When I open an email that a spam filter has misdirected I'm rarely in doubt about whether it is or isn't spam, and the basis of my certainty is nearly always linguistic. For me, the reasons that spam fails so colossally to convince can be divided into two convenient categories of linguistic analysis: lexical and pragmatic.  Continue reading...

It would be an interesting social experiment to bring the language surrounding New Year's Resolutions more into line with the meaning of resolution—that is to say, the act of declaring a firm intention to act.  Continue reading...

Default. Reboot. Now that we are devoting an ever-increasing share of our time and minds to the ways we interact with technology, words and meanings that designate aspects of interaction between humans and computers are now being used to characterize social and interpersonal interaction that is independent of technology.  Continue reading...

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