All posts by Ben Yagoda

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Hell, Yes, I’m Judging You

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I have a smart and popular Facebook friend named Carrie Rickey. I mention those two qualities because her status updates usually draw responses that are clever and many. That was the case recently, when she posted: “Can we please retire the word bespoke?”

One hundred thirty-eight comments ensued. A good number agreed with Carrie’s proposal; as one put it, “I think ‘bespoke’ is fine to use if you’re a British tailor. People assembling a museum exhibit can use ‘curate.’ Everyone else can get over…

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The Rise of the Restrictive Comma

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The Major League home-run champion, Giancarlo Stanton. A comma is needed because he’s the only ML home-run champion. (Image courtesy mlb.com)

This message came over the transom the other day:

Hi Ben! I often refer friends or colleagues to an article you wrote about “The Most Comma Mistakes.” I sometimes feel I get on my high horse about when commas before/after names should or shouldn’t be used, but I’m stumped this time. I hope you don’t mind me asking you a question to get your opinion.

I’m tr…

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When Will ‘They’ Ever Learn?

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By now Lingua Franca readers should know the position of Lingua Franca bloggers on the OK-ness of singular they, otherwise known as the epicene pronoun. (“Everyone who wants to go to the party should wear their best clothes.”) Anne Curzan, Lucy Ferriss, Geoff Pullum, and I have all laid out why we think the usage is grammatical, nonambiguous, unclumsy, generally better than such alternatives as he, she, or he or she (much less s/he!), and possessed of an impressive literary pedigree. It’s alrea…

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A Child’s Garden of ‘Verses’

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Middle schoolers playing soccer: “White versed red.”

You learn all kinds of things on Facebook. The other day, my friend Michael Regan, a suburban dad who in his other life is a journalist for Bloomberg News, posted: “Are my kids the only ones who use the word ‘versus’ as a verb? Like, ‘What team are we versing at the game on Saturday?’”

Uh, no. That was clear from the torrent of comments — 67, to this point. Here is the first bunch (names cut off on purpose):

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My own kids’ sporting days are lon…

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What’s a ‘UPenn’?

UPenn_logo.svgI have a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. My wife worked there for more than 20 years. I have lots of friends and acquaintances who graduated from the institution. Until fairly recently, the only informal name for it I ever encountered was “Penn.”

Then “UPenn” appeared. I believe I first started hearing the term 10 years or so ago, from my daughters and their friends when they were applying to college. Since then it has spread, so much so that I investigated and wrote an arti…

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Crash or Accident?

If, like me and millions of other Americans, you used the Waze navigation app for your Labor Day holiday driving, you probably encountered somewhere along the way a screen like this one:

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Last year, that screen would have been different. Rather than notifying the user of a crash, the word would have been accident.

The change is due in large part to the efforts of Jeff Larason, a former Boston traffic reporter who’s now the director of highway safety for Massachusetts. For about four years, he an…

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‘Up’ in Arms

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Early this year, the Merriam-Webster dictionary announced it had added more than 1,000 words or phrases, including fast fashion; first world problem; ginger; microaggression; mumblecore; safe spaceside-eye; wayback machine; woo-woo; and the verbs face-palm, ghost, photobomb, throw shade, and walk back. (Links go to my posts on the terms either here on Lingua Franca or my Not One-Off Britishisms blog.)

Another newly listed word — up-fake, defined as “a [basketball] fake in which a player makes…

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DIY Digital Humanities

The digital humanities are known for major-infrastructure projects, such as data-crunching the contents of capacious corpora and charting the movement of vast numbers of people and ideas over space and time. An example picked from many is Martin Grandjean’s pleasingly meta visualization of digital-humanities Twitter users, below.

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Grandjean parses: “This graph consists of 1,434 nodes connected by 137,061 directed edges, each symbolizing a user ‘following’ another on Twitter.” The data, he says, …

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Of Cans and Cabooses

Tyler Silvest, via Flicker

On Monday, a  Colorado jury found that a Denver disc jockey had in fact committed assault and battery against Taylor Swift during a pre-concert photo session in 2013. Some dirtbags like the DJ apparently feel that celebrities can be groped — a form of sexual assault — with impunity, and the main takeaway of the trial was the good news that the dirtbag in this case could not.

The second takeaway is that mainstream journalism apparently does not possess an adequate term …

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‘Best’ and the Worst

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North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening, beyond a normal statement. And as I said, they will be met with fire, fury and frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.

There is so much to say, none of it good, about the ad-libbed statement Donald Trump made Monday night at his golf club in New Jersey. (In the video of his remarks, you can see a plaque on …