All posts by Ben Yagoda

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Suffixery

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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…

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The Case of the Missing ‘Miss’

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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…

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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…

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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:

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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 …

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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’…

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‘Done and Done’

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Maria Edgeworth

I texted my wife the other day asking whether she had walked the dog. She answered, “Done and done.” I was like, “Wait — what and what??”

The truth is, the expression, indicating a task accomplished, did have a bit of a familiar ring to it. Going to Google News, I find these examples just in the last 10 days:

  • “I also believe it’s a particularly good match for the free-weekend treatment. You get in, you hopefully have a good time, and you get out. Done and done.” –Destructoid, on…
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On, and In, the Bubble

The_Boy_in_the_Plastic_BubbleContinuing on the subject of “>sports, March Madness, aka the Big Dance, aka the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, is nearly upon us, bringing to mind the subject of basketball catch phrases, buzzwords, and clichés. Each year, a new selection of these emerges. Most subside after a few seasons, while a few — such as go-to guy or buzzer-beater or knock down (a basket) from downtown — stick around for the long haul.

Some of these terms have an evident utility. A few years ago, announcers and pundit…

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Why Don’t Athletes Have Good Nicknames Anymore?

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Ken “The Rat” Linseman

Why don’t ballplayers have good nicknames anymore? Sure, in baseball there is Alex (A-Rod) Rodriguez, in football Calvin (Megatron) Johnson, and in basketball LeBron (King) James, but that’s only three examples and the first two recently retired. On Facebook a while back, I named some of my favorites sports nicknames, and asked friends for theirs. With spring training in full swing and a daily bowl of wrong coming out of D.C., it seems a good time to present the top respon…

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[Name] [No Comma] the [Category of Thing]

Rocky the Cock-a-Tzu

Rocky the Cock-a-Tzu

 

When the satirist John Oliver returned to his HBO show from hiatus on February 12, he said the happenings of the world had left him kind of depressed. The Chicago Tribune reported:

It’s gotten so bad, Oliver said, that when his phone buzzed with a news alert recently, he looked down and was relieved: “Oh, thank God, it’s just that Mary Tyler Moore is dead,” he recalled thinking.

He spoke of being jealous of Eddie, the dog from Frasier, because of his state of blissful ig…