All posts by Ben Yagoda

by

Are You Fed Up of Preposition Creep?

PJVOGTa757a7c0f67e11e58d840b4ac2dd4585_content_medium

P.J. Vogt of “Reply All”

Now that my kids are out of the house and I’m in the process of retiring from teaching, I have to be more creative in my efforts to find out how young people are using the language. One place I like to look, or listen, is the excellent “Reply All” podcast, specifically the talk of P.J. Vogt, one of the hosts, who was born in 1985. He says “off-ten,” he’s fond of super as an intensifier and like as, like, a qualifier, and in the most recent episode he used the word overth…

by

Fulsome Praisin’ Blues

170509_JURIS_yeats-testifying.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2

Sally Yates (photo: Jim Bourg/Reuters)

My mother, the late Harriet Yagoda, was a language stickler in the best sense of the word. That is, she very purposefully declined to use loan as a verb, referred to”ant-ee-” (not “ant-eye-) biotics, answered the phone with “This is she,” and, rather magnificently, said “he became bar mitzvah” instead of “he got bar mitzvahed.” But, as far as I remember, she never corrected people who didn’t follow her example. Not even me. Or I.

I frequently think of anot…

by

Blogger Ben Yagoda on False Titles

henry luce

Time founder Henry Luce, friend to false titles.

 

A few years back, linguist and Lingua Franca contributor Geoffrey Pullum wrote a post on Language Log where he set out the first sentences of two books by Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons:

Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery.

Physicist Leonardo Vetra smelled burning flesh, and he knew it was his own.

Geoff went on to observe:

This use of a person’s name preceded …

by

‘Whomever’ Revisionism

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 8.51.22 AM

I admit to being a whomever scold. As I observed in this space in 2014, most of the times one encounters the word, it’s used incorrectly. I am not alone in this feeling. The Oxford English Dictionary‘s second definition of whomever is: “Misused for whoever as subject of relative clause preceded by a preposition.”

An example is the headline at the top of this post, which appeared in the Pasadena Star-News on April 24. The editor who wrote the headline fell into this trap because for (like all pr…

by

Suffixery

Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 9.48.21 AM

Letter to the editor, “The Guardian,” April 22, 2017

Kory Stamper, associate editor of Merriam-Webster and author of the new book Word By Word: The Secret Life Of Dictionaries, appeared on NPR’s Fresh Air on April 19. I turned to the transcript of the interview to look up something I heard, and I found: “So in speech, I don’t police people’s speech. I think that’s jerkery (ph) of the highest order when people do that.”

I love the ph. It means that the transcriber was not familiar with jerkery, f…

by

The Case of the Missing ‘Miss’

156803-004-45406991

Philip Roth: not the sort of person you would call “Phil.” (Photo: Joe Tabbacca, AP)

I recently RSVP’d for an event at my university and was asked to choose the “title” I preferred. No surprise in the choices that were offered, but I was surprised by a choice that was not.

Dr., Mr., Mrs., and Ms. were the options. Missing — no pun intended — was Miss. I was well aware that Ms. has been commonly used as a courtesy title since the ’70s, but I was a bit puzzled by this suggestion that one of the te…

by

Seeing What Condition My (Pre-Existing) Condition Is In

Papa's_Delicate_ConditionIt’s impossible to read an article about Republicans’ plans to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, or about the general issue of health coverage and insurance, without encountering the phrase pre-existing condition. For example, The New York Times recently noted that a new proposal by the conservative congressional group the Freedom Caucus “would effectively cast the Affordable Care Act’s pre-existing conditions provisions aside.”

Those provisions prevent insurers from denying coverage to someone wi…

by

Teaching Journalism in the Trump Era

We were fortunate to have Ben Yagoda, one of the bloggers for Lingua Franca, visiting our offices last month. We asked him to share what he’d learned in 25 years of teaching journalism and writing at the University of Delaware. Here’s what he had to say:

by

For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Said.

babyshoes-l300In this space a couple of weeks back, I wrote about a mass email containing 25 Will Rogers “quotations.” As I explained in the post, I am virtually certain none of them were actually said or written by Rogers. Now, after reading Garson O’Toole’s new book, Hemingway Didn’t Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations, I realize that the misattributions were a result of “Host” — one of the 10 mechanisms by which, according to O’Toole, so much false attribution happens nowadays. He explains that …

by

The ‘Boom!’ Boom

I’ve been seeing this commercial a fair amount:

The thing that strikes me is how Neil Patrick Harris says, “They said it was impossible to have a great-tasting light beer. Boom!”

The onomatopoeic word boom has done an awful lot of service over the years: for example, the nickname of Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion, David Rabe’s play In the Boom Boom Room, and the 1968 Liz Taylor-Richard Burton film Boom! In music, there’s Eddie Cantor’s 1929 novelty number “I Faw Down an’ Go Boom” and Randy Newman’…