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Sorry Not Sorry: The Many Names for Non-Apologies

This week’s 14-tweet "apology, of sorts" from Uber’s Travis Kalanick is the latest reminder of public figures’ unhappy habit of putting their foot in it. It’s a familiar news cycle intensified by social media, which can focus...Show More Summary

Sounding Gay, Punk, or Jock: What Language Says About Your Social Group

People tell me I sound gay. And I totally do. Eh? What does "gay" even sound like? Really, when you think about it, how could there possibly be a correlation between who we sleep with and how we talk? The way someone uses language can tell us a lot about who they are. Show More Summary

The Dictionary of American Regional English — a superb reference work — is running low on funds. Who will save it?

The Dictionary of American Regional English — a superb reference work — is running low on funds. Who will save it?

What’s the Word for Turkey in Turkish?

You've probably noticed that a certain seasonally appropriate bird and a country on the Mediterranean have strikingly similar names. Is this a coincidence or is there some deeper funny business going on? Let's start with the simple part:...Show More Summary

There’s a Kickstarter for a new De La Soul album, my friends:

There’s a Kickstarter for a new De La Soul album, my friends:

Answers Must Be in the Form of a Cleft

Here’s a draft that’s been sitting in the blogpile since September 2007. School had just begun, and Doug and Adam were beginning third grade and first grade. I wrote at the time… Now that school has resumed, at the end of every week, Doug and Adam are required to take their schoolwork that’s been sent […]

The Judge Who Coined “Indict a Ham Sandwich” Was Himself Indicted

In the aftermath of a grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, commentators have noted that such an outcome is quite rare. "A grand jury could 'indict a ham sandwich,' but apparently not a white police officer," wrote the U.K.'s Independent. Show More Summary


Sweden adds gender-neutral pronoun to dictionary: The official dictionary of the Swedish language will introduce a gender-neutral pronoun in April, editors at the Swedish Academy have announced. “Hen” will be added to “han” (he) and “hon” (she) as one of 13,000 new words in the latest edition of the Swedish Academy’s SAOL. [...] The word […]

Demons and Supervillains: The Language of Darren Wilson’s Grand Jury Testimony

What did Michael Brown’s face look like when, according to police officer Darren Wilson, Brown charged him? “It looked like a demon,” Wilson told the grand jury in his testimony. This is a highly unusual way to talk about someone in an official legal context, and so it’s useful to unpack the specific words Wilson used. Show More Summary

Why Do Hawaiians Say “Mele Kalikimaka” on Christmas?

"Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say / On a bright Hawaiian Christmas day" What makes Bing Crosby's classic Christmas tune (well, the other one anyway) so endearing? At least part of the appeal is "Mele Kalikimaka" itself, which sounds tantalizingly close to "Merry Christmas" and yet not quite the same. Show More Summary

This Word Is Toast: Slang From Cult Films

Cult films are slippery customers. One person's cult film is another's mainstream hit, and both would probably be prepared to fight to the death to defend their opinion. For some, a film can only be described as "cult" if just a handful of people have seen it. Show More Summary

Let’s Break Shit: A Short History of Silicon Valley’s Favorite Phrase

The New Republic as we know it is broken, and the looming question is whether that breakage will produce anything more intellectually valuable or economically viable than a dust cloud of corporate jargon. In New York, Jonathan ChaitShow More Summary

Cities Less Traveled: Discover Tokyo’s Lesser Known Districts

Tokyo is a city filled with contradictions: history and innovation, temples and skyscrapers, busy bustling streets and peaceful city parks. When you travel to Tokyo, you will definitely want to visit Shinjuku, the famous skyscraper district, as well as the Asakusa district with its many ancient temples. Show More Summary

A conspiracy or an intrigue?

Q: In a New Yorker story, Isaac Bashevis Singer writes, “Morris Krakower is clever at conspiracy, but intrigue isn’t necessary here.” I’ve googled and thesaurused, but I’m apparently too dense to get the distinction. I’m hoping you will clarify it for me. Show More Summary

Why Trans Caught On

In the late 1990s, I attended a conference focused on "those who identify at the male end of the gender spectrum." At the end of the conference, organizers asked each participant to fill out an exit poll, intended to capture demographic information about conference attendees. Show More Summary

Why Do Brits Say Maths and Americans Say Math?

The Imitation Game, a glossy new biopic about the British cryptanalyst Alan Turing, features a lot of maths. Characters take advanced maths classes that require them to scribble complicated maths on notebook paper, and then they set their sights on the devilish maths of the Nazi Enigma machine. Show More Summary

The Stimulating History of Coffee: Why You Hear This Word Around the World

Imagine that you’re flying Turkish Air. The beverage cart bumps down the aisle. A flight attendant holds up that little carafe and asks, kah-vay? You travel a lot. Now you’re flying Finnair. The beverage cart bumps down the aisle. Show More Summary

Dumbwatches, Pinch-to-Zoom, and Glanceability: New Words via Technology

Even the least tech-savvy lexicographer understands that technology is a robust source of new words. As technologies move from the realm of science fiction into our everyday realities, new words and meanings spring up around them. While...Show More Summary

Wordy Bengal

Headline in "Bangladesh adds 700,000 words to Google Translate in a day" (3/28/15) An official announcement from Google Inc is yet to be made but State Minister for ICT Zunaid Ahmed Palak broke the news in his Facebook post on Friday. He congratulated all involved in the post. “We’ve done it! Our target was 400,000. […]

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