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What sounds do you make when words fail? A garbled stutter? A whistle? Or is there just the resounding bump of your jaw hitting the floor? Turns out, there are words to capture the wordless shock we experience when we're confronted by mess, noise, violence, or otherwise sticky situations. They're linked by sound: repeated syllables and long vowels that are onomatopoeically evocative of the sounds that come out of our mouths when our brains are overwhelmed.
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On July 25, the fourteenth Summer Special Olympics World Games will open in Los Angeles. Over the next seven days, 7,000 athletes will compete in sporting events at venues around the city, supported by 30,000 volunteers and cheered by 500,000 spectators. ESPN will broadcast the opening ceremony. It sounds festive. It sounds inspiring. But what makes it "special"?
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Have you ever struggled to explain a nuclear meltdown caused by an incredibly stupid mistake? You would have been grateful for alternative terms, such as "a core rearrangement caused by an ill-advised learning opportunity." You can find these terms and more in Spinglish: The Definitive Dictionary of Deliberately Deceitful Language
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Did that headline peak
your interest? Or did it pique it
? I'm waiting with baited
breath for your answer. Or would that be bated
? All of us have a tendency to replace a fossilized word, whose nuances have been lost, with a more standard definition of that word or a different word entirely. Through this process, phrases, like words, can change meaning over time.
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I love everything about used bookstores—except their negative effect on my wallet. I recently found another wallet-drainer—and a gem of a word book—in Chicago's wonderful Myopic Books: Hash House Lingo: The Slang of Soda Jerks, Short-Order Cooks, Bartenders, Waitresses, Carhops and Other Denizens of Yesterday's Roadside