Category Archives: Words

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‘Crawdaddy,’ ‘Boomba,’ and a ‘Bounce-Around’: an Online Update of Regional Words

DARE9780674425071-lgThe eighth in what we hope will be an unending series of online updates for the Dictionary of American Regional English is now available, free, to all who wonder what else there is to say about the varieties of American English vocabulary already caught in the six massive print volumes of the dictionary.

This eighth update shows there is always plenty to be added, and always will be, as long as we continue speaking (or writing) American English in an endless variety of ways.

But first, some good…

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Fulsome Praisin’ Blues

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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…

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The New ‘Ding’

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Is this car dinged? It can depend on your dictionary.

In 2013 I wrote a post here on Lingua Franca titled “Dinging for ‘Grammatical Errors,’” and while I put a lot of thought into the argument, I didn’t put a lot of thought into the use of the verb ding. For me, it was a familiar way to describe the act of docking points or reducing the overall score of something.

It never occurred to me to look up the verb ding in a standard dictionary — and if I had, I wonder if I would have kept the word in…

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These Oftentimes Times

oftentimes_3My colleague Ben Yagoda predicted it a year and a half ago: Oftentimes is on the rise. I just returned from South Carolina, where I was struck by its ubiquity. A server at a restaurant told me that oftentimes people preferred their salad dressing on the side. In a nature preserve, a fellow walker told us he had oftentimes seen alligators sunning themselves on that patch of weeds. Most surprising, my son, who’s moved to South Carolina for work, peppered his speech with oftentimes, an expression I…

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News, False and Fake

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The Handmaid’s Tale, Hulu

“Sometimes I wish she would just shut up and let me walk in peace. But I’m ravenous for news, any kind of news; even if it’s false news, it must mean something.”

Recognize this sentiment? It’s more than three decades old, predating Twitter (2006), Facebook (2004), Google (1996) and the internet (1990s) by a wide margin. But it shows that even in the good old days, there was concern about the validity of news reports, as well as eagerness for them. At least there was tha…

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Verbalizing

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“Bond doesn’t verbalize a lot.” (Orange Country Register, 2012)

It turns out that the more interesting question is about the verb verbalize, rather than the adjective verbal. Let me explain.

As a copy editor, I have been underlining verbal used to mean “oral” for years. And I have had plenty of opportunities, from student work to university memos to academic articles submitted for publication. Above this underlined use of verbal, I helpfully offer oral as an alternative. In my head, verbal has…

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Who Really Said That?

???????????????????????????????????????????????????For a time in my 20s, I worked as “assistant to the publisher” at Schocken Books, now part of Random House. Like anyone with that sort of glorified-secretary position, I took on a lot of tasks that weren’t part of the job description. At one point, my boss realized that a charming “book of days” desk calendar, with clever quotes and illustrations — for which he had purchased publishing rights and print-ready films from a British publisher — lacked the permissions to reproduce most …

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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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That’s Spicey With an ‘E’

170205122517-snl-melissa-mccarthy-sean-spicer-00010505-1024x576It began innocently enough, our sense of the word spicy.  The Oxford English Dictionary starts us off pleasingly, with a reference to a 1568 herbal: “the shel smelleth well, and is spycye, not onely in smell, but also in taste.”

The spice islands, the fragrance of spices, that old collection of things in the cabinet near the stove that you save just in case there’s a recipe that calls for epazote, ajwain, and fenugreek.

Spice is something we were once told made life interesting, as in that weary…

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Who’s a Patriot Now?

401bc7aa260cdfbddbeaeacdeefa4“Je veux être le président des patriotes face à la menace des nationalistes”: “I want to be the president of all patriots against the nationalist threat.”

That’s what Emmanuel Macron, the front-runner in the recent French election, said during his first-round-victory speech. Those two words, patriot and nationalist, are deep points of argument among political scientists, but for most of us, the distinctions get a bit murky and sometimes self-contradictory. When I was growing up, in 1960s America…