Blog Profile / Slate: Lexicon Valley

Filed Under:Academics / Linguistics
Posts on Regator:626
Posts / Week:1.7
Archived Since:June 9, 2008

Blog Post Archive

What Do You Call the Night Before Halloween?

If you're like the majority of Americans, you don't have a special term for the night before Halloween, and it may not even have occurred to you that anyone does. But for a substantial minority of people, about 25 percent of respondents to the Cambridge Online Survey of World Englishes, the night before Halloween most certainly does have a name. Show More Summary

What Ghostbusters Tells Us About the Hidden Rules of Conversation

The video below shows a scene from the Halloween classic movie Ghostbusters, which helps set up the rivalry between childish parapsychologist Dr. Venkman and uptight bureaucrat Walter Peck. But it's also a great example of one of the hidden rules of conversation—and how utterly obnoxious it is when someone breaks them. Dr. Show More Summary

Alcohol Really Does Make You Better at a Foreign Language (Sometimes)

Drunk-dialing exes, picking fights with bouncers—alcohol's tongue-loosening properties are all too familiar. But it turns out that alcohol's ability to lower your inhibitions is also good for speaking a foreign language. If you'veShow More Summary

How Going Electronic Changed Dictionaries

It may come as no surprise to you that many of us at Merriam-Webster are book enthusiasts. After all, we deal in books: We read them, we mark them, we make them. For my own part, books take up more space in my house than my children do. Show More Summary

Accidental CAPS LOCK and Its Discontents

THE MOST MORTIFYING— Sorry. The most mortifying typographical error of our modern digital moment, the bedevilingest faux pas, is of course inadvertent CAPS. (Followed by autocorrect, which keeps insisting that I mean “bedevil ingestShow More Summary

“From Her Marriage to Her Dog”? What Went Wrong in Patchett’s Review.

A recent letter to the editor from Ann Patchett is making the rounds on social media: I was grateful to see my book "This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage" mentioned in Paperback Row (Oct. 19). When highlighting a few of the essays in...Show More Summary

Can John Leguizamo Put a Pretty Face on Fugly?

"F-U-G-L-Y, you ain't got no alibi! You fugly! Fugly! Fugly as in ugly!" That's the chorus that greets young Jesse Sanchez in the new movie Fugly! when he tries to impress a bunch of girls by dropping his pants. "The nickname stuck," the adult Jesse says in a voiceover. Show More Summary

Five Poems With Fantastic Wordplay

All poetry involves a certain facility with words—and often rhymes and meter—but a few poems kick it up a notch and really make us rethink what you can even do with language. Here are five of my favorites that'll bend your mind. 1. Show More Summary

How Will Legalization Affect the Language Around Marijuana?

With Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia passing measures on Nov. 4 to legalize recreational marijuana, joining Colorado and Washington as U.S. regions where the sale of the drug is (or will be) legal, I thought it might be worth taking a look at the language surrounding the contested cannabis plant. Show More Summary

How a Crossword Puzzle Gets Made

The first question asked of many crossword makers: “Do you write the clues first?” To help explain why that wouldn't make sense, Slate’s Mike Vuolo, an occasional crossword writer for the New York Times and others, walks us through the process of creating a new puzzle in the video above. Show More Summary

What Do the Glyphs at Chipotle Mean? They’re Mayan—Sort of.

Like most people, I enjoy burritos. Unlike most people, I also enjoy learning about ancient hieroglyphic writing systems, because I’m Indiana—er—Language Jones. A while back, I bought Andrea Stone & Marc Zender’s Reading Maya...Show More Summary

Selfie, One Year Later, Still Going Strong

There can be few people who don't know that a selfie is a photograph that you take of yourself, typically with your smartphone. The editors at Oxford Dictionaries started tracking the word back in April 2012, at which time it was noted...Show More Summary

Why Swearing Is Just Like Saying “Please” (Sort Of)

There's a memorable scene in Tarantino's cult classic, Pulp Fiction. It's just after John Travolta's trigger-happy character, Vincent Vega, ham-handedly shoots the kid in the car. "The Wolf" is sent to fix the mess, stalks in, and immediately starts firing staccato orders. Show More Summary

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

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

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

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

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