“All grammars leak”: How modern use and misuse are changing the English language

Anthropologist Edward Sapir once wrote, “Unfortunately, or luckily, no language is tyrannically consistent. All grammars leak.” Sapir was talking about the irregularities of language. For me, this
Anthropologist Edward Sapir once wrote, “Unfortunately, or luckily, no language is tyrannically consistent. All grammars leak.” Sapir was talking about the irregularities of language. For me, this [More]

Clouds with and without a silver lining

Engl. cloud belongs so obviously with clod and its kin that there might not even be a question­­­­ of its origin (just one more lump), but for the first recorded sense of clūd in Old English, which
Engl. cloud belongs so obviously with clod and its kin that there might not even be a question­­­­ of its origin (just one more lump), but for the first recorded sense of clūd in Old English, which [More]

The challenge of adult language learning

Adult migrants often struggle to learn the language of their new country. In receiving societies, this is widely seen as evidence that migrants are lazy, lack the required will power or, worse,
Adult migrants often struggle to learn the language of their new country. In receiving societies, this is widely seen as evidence that migrants are lazy, lack the required will power or, worse, [More]

The profanity of disease

Over spring break, I spent a day in Tombstone, Arizona. This is the town where, if you don’t know the story, Wyatt Earp and his brothers, accompanied by their friend Doc Holliday, had a shootout
Over spring break, I spent a day in Tombstone, Arizona. This is the town where, if you don’t know the story, Wyatt Earp and his brothers, accompanied by their friend Doc Holliday, had a shootout [More]

From “O Fortuna” to “Anaconda”: A playlist of musical profanity

Almost everyone swears, or worries about not swearing, from the two-year-old who has just discovered the power of potty mouth to the grandma who wonders why every other word she hears is obscene.
Almost everyone swears, or worries about not swearing, from the two-year-old who has just discovered the power of potty mouth to the grandma who wonders why every other word she hears is obscene. [More]

How to write a thank you note

I write a lot of thank you notes. I thank donors of organizations that I support, gift givers after the holidays and birthdays, friends who have invited me over for dinner, guest speakers who come
I write a lot of thank you notes. I thank donors of organizations that I support, gift givers after the holidays and birthdays, friends who have invited me over for dinner, guest speakers who come [More]

Bird talk

For all its supposed isolation out there beyond the pale of acceptable discourse — marginal words in the mouths of marginal people — we know a good deal about slang. We know its lexis, and keep
For all its supposed isolation out there beyond the pale of acceptable discourse — marginal words in the mouths of marginal people — we know a good deal about slang. We know its lexis, and keep [More]

Apology Round-Up: 2016 Presidential Race (so far)

It’s an election year and that means we get to think about the language of politicians—their vocabularies, vocal timbre, gestures, accents, metaphors, style, mistakes, and recoveries. I’m always on
It’s an election year and that means we get to think about the language of politicians—their vocabularies, vocal timbre, gestures, accents, metaphors, style, mistakes, and recoveries. I’m always on [More]

How brothers became buddies and bros

The Oxford English Dictionary’s (OED) latest update includes more than 1,800 fully revised entries, including the entry for brother and many words relating to it. During the revision process,
The Oxford English Dictionary’s (OED) latest update includes more than 1,800 fully revised entries, including the entry for brother and many words relating to it. During the revision process, [More]

The shambolic life of ‘shambles’

You just lost your job. Your partner broke up with you. You’re late on rent. Then, you dropped your iPhone in the toilet. “My life’s in shambles!” you shout. Had you so exclaimed, say, in an
You just lost your job. Your partner broke up with you. You’re late on rent. Then, you dropped your iPhone in the toilet. “My life’s in shambles!” you shout. Had you so exclaimed, say, in an [More]