Topic : Usage
Behind the Dictionary
Lexicographers Talk About Language
December 28, 2015By Neal Whitman
It's been a while since I've written a column for this space, and in large part the hiatus has been due to my (successful) campaign for a seat on my local school board. Or board of education. Which is it? Is there a difference? Continue reading...
Euphemisms old and new
December 9, 2015By Mark Peters
It's almost the end of 2015, and a new frontrunner for Euphemism of the Year has emerged. In a Department of Justice press release, Attorney General Loretta Lynch wrote, "The Department of Justice is committed to giving justice-involved youth the tools they need to become productive members of society."As Shakespeare put it, "Wow." Continue reading...
A Monthly Column for Word Lovers
December 1, 2015By Orin Hargraves
I heard an interview on the radio the other day with Dan Price, CEO of Seattle-based credit card processing firm Gravity Payments. He's been in the news because of his decision to set the minimum salary for his employees at $70,000. What interested me in the interview was his use of pencil out, a phrasal verb that was new to me. Lexicographers are to words like birders are to birds: when we spot one that's not on our life list we get very excited, even as others' eyes may glaze over. Continue reading...
Writers Talk About Writing
November 9, 2015By Adam Cooper
Intensive purposes? Slight of hand? Linguist Adam Cooper contemplates phrases whose meanings are in transition as we replace unfamiliar words fossilized with language that sounds more reasonable to our modern ears. Continue reading...
Books we love
October 8, 2015By Mark Peters
Do you like sowing your wild oaks? Do you sometimes feel like a social leopard? Could you use a new leaf on life? Or do you just enjoy the infinite creativity of the English language, even when people make mistakes? If you answered yes to any of the above, you need to check out Robert Alden Rubin's terrific new book Going to Hell in a Hen Basket: An Illustrated Dictionary of Modern Malapropisms. Continue reading...
Euphemisms old and new
October 6, 2015By Mark Peters
Have you encountered a transition counselor lately? I hope not. In the real world, a transition counselor is a diabolical euphemism for a profession made famous by George Clooney's character in Up in the Air: someone who fires people for a living. But in Matt Kindt's extraordinary conspiracy thriller Mind MGMT, the term has an even darker sense: assassin. Continue reading...
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...