All posts by Ben Yagoda

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Have We Reached Peak ‘Peak’?

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Rami Malek in “Mr. Robot”

Show of hands: How many watched the Emmy Awards on Sunday? How many had seen even 10 percent of the nominated shows?

I thought so.

In 2015, no fewer than 409 scripted series aired on broadcast and cable TV and online platforms. That’s nearly double from 2009 (211 shows). And a lot of these programs are really good. For some time, the unprecedented combo of quantity and quality coming out of our sets has appeared unsustainable. Speaking to TV critics in August of last ye…

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How Cliché Can You Get?

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George Jessel in “The Jazz Singer”

I got the first crop of student writing assignments back the other day, and I tweeted out, as I do, some general observations. One was that 100 percent of youth now use cliché for the adjective form of cliché, as opposed to the traditional clichéd. E.g., “That’s so cliché.”

The redoubtable Jan Freeman, longtime language columnist for The Boston Globe, tweeted back, “Yep. I was resigned to it already in 2009,” and linked to a piece of hers that included a refere…

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Surrogates on Parade

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Bob Einstein as the Surrogate in  Arrested Development.

On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported that the Trump campaign was facing a “surrogate challenge” after an African-American Trump supporter, who had previously tweeted out a cartoon of Hillary Clinton in blackface, walked out of a TV interview when asked about misleading biographical statements on his website.

This was only the latest surrogate incident, Bloomberg reported:

A rash of “taco truck” memes broke out after Marco Gutierrez, founder …

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‘Back’ Again

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Former Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson. (Photo: Doug Pensinger /Allsport)

Last week I wrote about the vogue for walking back statements. Ready for another back idiom? I got your back.

Right, that’s it, I got your back. It’s not a new thing — my Lingua Franca colleague William Germano took note of it in 2013 — but over the last year or so it has grown like Topsy. It is pretty much everywhere, and it is used in every possible context. A couple of weeks ago, Joe Biden said, “I want t…

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Back to Back ‘Back’

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“Walk back the cat”refers to  a boat’s cat-davit (crane in the bow).

When it comes to forming idioms and slang expressions, few words are more productive than back. It accounts for 12½ pages in Green’s Dictionary of Slang, from back (a weaker drink to go along with a stronger one, as in “a whiskey with a beer back”) to backyard (n. [US] the buttocks, esp. in the context of anal sex.”) In the Beatles catalog alone, there’s “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “I’ll Be Back,” and “Get Back,” and, among other…

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Brit Thesps Nail Yank Lingo

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Hugh Laurie can talk the talk.

The American characters in Genius — screening earlier this summer in art-house cinemas everywhere — are played by the following actors.

Thomas Wolfe: Jude Law (English)

Maxwell Perkins: Colin Firth (English)

Aline Bernstein: Nicole Kidman (Australian)

Ernest Hemingway: Dominic West (English)

F. Scott Fitzgerald: Guy Pearce (Australian)

Zelda Fitzgerald: Vanessa Kirby (English)

I didn’t see the film, but I don’t have to in order to know the American accents are …

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Obviously, That Is an Idiotic Question

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Zappa

Frank Zappa once said, “Most rock journalism is people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.” The same could be said for sports journalism. Except that in sports journalism, there is a whole lot more interviewing. Athletes are continually quizzed about their thoughts, feelings and reactions — in the locker room before and after games, on the field by “sideline reporters,” in more formal studio sit-downs. Coaches typically have presidential-style post…

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I Have No Word

A World War II-era service flag. (Library of Congress.)

The other day, NPR’s All Things Considered interviewed Karen Meredith, who, along with other parents whose children had died in the military, had signed an open letter to Donald Trump asking him to apologize for his comments about the parents of late Army Capt. Humayun Khan. Meredith observed:

Losing a child, you know — there’s not a name. If you lose your parents, you’re an orphan, but there’s no name for a parent who has lost a child, not…

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Here’s Looking at You, Narcissist

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“Narcissus,” by Caravaggio

There’s one word that seems to doggedly follow the Republican nominee for president, and no, the word isn’t Whuuuuuuhhhh???????

Last week, on Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show, Jon Stewart called Donald Trump “a thin-skinned narcissist.”

The author David Cay Johnston said of Trump in a Guardian article, “He’s a world-class narcissist.” (The title of the article was “Trump: The Making of a Narcissist.”)

David Brooks of The New York Times wrote, “There’s sort of a gravit…

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English, Italian Style

When I first traveled to Italy, nearly 50 years ago, I don’t recall seeing much public display of English, other than neon signs in Milan’s main square bearing the names of brands like Coca-Cola and Schweppes, and a few familiar phrases in shop windows, such as “Snack Bar” and “Self-service.” I’ve been lucky enough to return to that beautiful country many times since, and I don’t believe there was any change on the this score till the late ’80s, when there appeared T-shirts and sweatshirts beari…