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...

While millions of people are tweeting and retweeting every day, a small fraction of them are also subtweeting, and if news stories are to be believed, they are not doing so very successfully. Recent news stories alerted me to the idea of subtweeting and got me thinking about the conversational aspects of Tweets and their sub-cousins.  Continue reading...

A couple of years ago I wrote about irritating the habit of clickbait purveyors to withhold critical information in the text of their clickable link in order to tantalize readers. The promise is that the thirst for missing but suggested information will be slaked with a simple click. Since then, the tendency has gotten worse.  Continue reading...

Zero derivation—that is, the ability of a word to perform different grammatical functions without a change in form—is a celebrated feature of English. A sideshow of zero derivation is the fact that English has no barrier to using a principal verb form—the past participle—as an adjective. What's not to love, you may think, about the simplicity of using a single form to do so many jobs? I have no argument with this fantastic and flexible feature of English, only with the license it gives speakers and writers to use it in a weaselly way.  Continue reading...

The periodic table of elements is an iconic image familiar to anyone with even the rudiments of education and it is perhaps one of the most successful visual representations of information ever conceived: it brings a high level of order to a field of knowledge that is too complex to organize in memory and it rewards study at every level.  Continue reading...

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