Tag Archives: language

Garage sociolinguistics

Read the above title aloud before you continue. I have a real problem about pronouncing it. Let me explain. In the fall I was quite unexpectedly forced to move house.My new home has not only an off-street parking spot but also a standalone structure (pictured at left) intended for storing an automobile (but actually occupied […] … learn more→

Words for beginners

Ex. 1: torture. Today, class, we will look at a word that is not complicated. Our friends at the Oxford English Dictionary help us get started: 1.a. The infliction of severe bodily pain, as punishment or a means of persuasion. Wait, some part of that wasn’t clear? Then let’s follow the OED on to the […] … learn more→

Can I get a better way to order food?

A couple of years ago, the BBC published an essay on that staple of British journalism, the terribleness of Americanisms polluting the mother tongue. The Beeb invited readers to send in their own pet peeves and got such a response that it published a list of the 50 that were sent in most often. The […] … learn more→

Waiting for the word of 2014

For 2014 there seems to be no leading candidate for Word (or Phrase) of the Year. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of candidates. Just last week, for example, the news from Washington was generously sprinkled with enhanced interrogation techniques, the disputed CIA practice for obtaining information, and cromnibus, the disputed Congressional practice for […] … learn more→

Dumb writing advice, Part 1: Word prohibitions

An Überflip page by Andrea Ayres-Deets is headlined “5 Weak Words That Are Sabotaging Your Writing.” If only there were a few words that you could simply expunge to get an immediate improvement in your prose! But of course it’s nonsense. Writing advice can’t be reduced to word prohibitions; and the prohibitions recommended here would […] … learn more→

Dudgeons and Dragons

High dudgeon. No it’s not a charming village outside of Oxford, but it’s a place all right, and it’s where a lot of us academic types live. The Google NGram Viewer would suggest that dudgeon, meaning something like a fit of temper, enjoyed its heyday in the century or before World War II, a point […] … learn more→

Your brain on metaphors

The player kicked the ball. The patient kicked the habit. The villain kicked the bucket. The verbs are the same. The syntax is identical. Does the brain notice, or care, that the first is literal, the second metaphorical, the third idiomatic? It sounds like a question that only a linguist could love. But neuroscientists have […] … learn more→

An unexpected english lesson

So I walk into the little dry cleaners near my office and these are the first words I hear: “Where were you? In bed with your—Polack!” For a split second I’m stopped in my tracks. I listened for a moment to the voice coming from some unidentified space between the full-length mirror and the ironing […] … learn more→

All set with that

I recently returned from a vacation to southeastern Massachusetts, where my wife grew up and I know of as the home of the greatest restaurant in the world (apologies to Calvin Trillin, longtime advocate of Arthur Bryant’s barbecue joint in Kansas City). I refer to The Bayside, in Westport, Mass., which claims the honor via […] … learn more→

‘Origins Unknown’

It’s such an American thing, an impartial observer might say: taking pride in an unclear ancestry. But as lovers of words know, etymology, like genealogy, gets mixed up in interesting ways. Most words have traceable origins. Sometimes, though, we have nothing to go on, and so we get the dictionary’s best guesses: • from Wolof […] … learn more→