In the seventy-one columns I've written for the Visual Thesaurus, I've stuck to writing on writing, examining the art's principles and its quirks. But now with the presidential debates growing hot as autumn grows cold, I'd like to say a few words about the role of writing and politics in our democracy.  Continue reading...
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For the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley, I explored the peculiar origins of the word boondoggle, which took a strange trip from the world of Boy Scouts to the world of politics 80 years ago.  Continue reading...
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On Minnesota Public Radio, our executive editor Ben Zimmer explored the problematic history of the word refugee, now frequently heard in media accounts of the European migration crisis.  Continue reading...
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Whether you like or loathe it, I bet you've noticed the return of –mentum: a suffix that fills the Internet during election season much as a sulfurous smell fills hell. This suffix is also a terrific reminder of a sad truth: the media will never, ever treat a presidential election as anything more than a sporting event with fewer concussions.  Continue reading...
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A popular song from early in the 20th century, covered many times since then, was Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine. The song came to my mind last month, when I returned to the East Coast to attend an annual party that I had missed two years running. All the old familiar faces were there, but with a twist: three of the party's couples, previously "partnered," are now married.  Continue reading...
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Presidents, more than any other individuals, symbolize the values and ethos of the United States. Their words, whether proclamation or prattle, have been better preserved than the words of many who surrounded them, so I thought it would be interesting to look at the ways in which presidents through the centuries have expressed their ideas about religion in speech and writing.  Continue reading...
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Are you baffled by the perplexing terminology favored by American politicians and pundits? A new book by Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark is here to help. Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes is an informative and humorous guide to deciphering contemporary political lingo. Here we present an excerpt from the book's introduction.  Continue reading...
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