- Website: http://benzimmer.com/
- I am the executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com, and language columnist for The Boston Globe. I'm also the former On Language columnist for The New York Times Magazine. Since 2005 (when I became a regular contributor to Language Log), I have been a research associate at the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science. I've also worked as editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press (2006-2008) and consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary. I currently serve as chair of the American Dialect Society's New Words Committee. You can follow me on Twitter or Facebook.
Posts by Ben Zimmer:
A month ago, I posted an "SOS for DARE," detailing the impending financial threat faced by the Dictionary of American Regional English, a national treasure of lexicography. At the time it appeared that the College of Letters and Sciences at the University of Wisconsin, where DARE is based, would be unable to provide support to offset the loss of federal and private grant money. But now there's finally some good news out of Madison, in the form of new funds from the University and external gifts. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
Betty Ann Bardell tweets:
— Betty Ann Bardell (@BettyAnnBardell) April 30, 2013
We've often had occasion to wonder how spammy blog comments are linguistically constructed. (See, most recently, Mark Liberman's post, "Numerous upon the written content material," in which he refers to spam comments as "aleatoric sub-poetry.") Now, on Quartz, David Yanofsky and Zachary M. Seward expose how spam comments are engineered:
Comment spam follows a formula, which was made plain the other day when a spambot accidentally posted its entire template on the blog of programmer Scott Hanselman. With his permission, we’ve reproduced some of the spam comment recipes here and added colorful formatting to make it readable. The spambot constructs new, vaguely unique comments by selecting from each set of options. We hope you find it wonderful | terrific | brilliant | amazing | great | excellent | fantastic | outstanding | superb.
About seven years ago, in March 2006, I wrote a Language Log post about "the Cupertino effect," a term to describe spellchecker-aided "miscorrections" that might turn, say, Pakistan's Muttahida Quami Movement into the Muttonhead Quail Movement. It owes its name to European Union translators who had noticed the word cooperation getting replaced with Cupertino by a spellchecker that lacked the unhyphenated form of the word in its dictionary. Since then, I've had occasion to hold forth on the Cupertino effect in various venues (OUPblog, Der Spiegel, Radiolab, the New York Times, etc.). Now, Cupertinos are getting yet another flurry of publicity, thanks to a new book by the British tech writer Tom Chatfield called Netymology. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
You're looking at the launch of a new team covering race, ethnicity and culture at NPR. We decided to call this team Code Switch because much of what we'll be exploring are the different spaces we each inhabit and the tensions of trying to navigate between them. In one sense, code-switching is about dialogue that spans cultures. It evokes the conversation we want to have here.
Linguists would probably quibble with our definition. (The term arose in linguistics specifically to refer to mixing languages and speech patterns in conversation.) But we're looking at code-switching a little more broadly: many of us subtly, reflexively change the way we express ourselves all the time. We're hop-scotching between different cultural and linguistic spaces and different parts of our own identities — sometimes within a single interaction.
When you're attuned to the phenomenon of code-switching, you start to see it everywhere, and you begin to see the way race, ethnicity and culture plays out all over the place.
Many Language Log readers are no doubt familiar with the Dictionary of American Regional English, which I hailed in a Boston Globe column last year as "a great project on how Americans speak — make that the great project on how Americans speak." At the time, I was previewing DARE's fifth volume, which completed the alphabetical run all the way to zydeco. Since then, a sixth volume of supplemental materials has also been published, and plans are underway to launch the digital version of DARE, which would serve as an online home for future expansions and revisions. But now DARE editor Joan Hall passes along some troubling news about the dictionary's financial fate.
John J. Gumperz, the Berkeley sociolinguist who, among his many contributions, introduced "the speech community" as a unit of linguistic analysis, died on Friday at the age of 91. Margalit Fox has a thoughtful obituary in the New York Times.
Professor Gumperz, who at his death was an emeritus professor in Berkeley’s anthropology department, was a sociolinguist, whose field stands at the nexus of linguistics, anthropology and sociology. But though sociolinguistics as a whole embraces spoken language and the printed word, he concentrated on face-to-face verbal exchanges.
The subfield he created, known as interactional sociolinguistics, studies such exchanges in a range of social situations. It is especially concerned with discourse as it occurs across cultures, seeking to pinpoint the sources of the misunderstandings that can arise.
“He was one of the first people to look at how language is used by people in their everyday lives,” Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and the author of popular books on language, said in a recent interview. “Gumperz was paying attention to the details of how language is used: your intonation, where you pause, the specific expressions that people from one culture or another might use.”
The great Indo-Europeanist Calvert Watkins passed away in his sleep on the evening of March 20. From the Harvard Gazette:
Calvert Watkins, the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Linguistics and the Classics, emeritus, died earlier this month at the age of 80.
A towering figure in historical and Indo-European linguistics and a pioneer in the field of Indo-European poetics, Watkins presided over the expansion of Harvard’s Department of Linguistics in the 1960s, and served as its chair several times between 1963 until his retirement in 2003. From then until his death, he served as professor in residence at the University of California, Los Angeles.
On Daring Fireball, John Gruber noticed something interesting about David Pogue's New York Times review of the Surface Pro: what he calls "the use of bounding asterisks for emphasis around the coughs." Pogue wrote:
For decades, Microsoft has subsisted on the milk of its two cash cows: Windows and Office. The company’s occasional ventures into hardware generally haven’t ended well: (*cough*) Zune, Kin Phone, Spot Watch (*cough*).
And the asterisks weren't just in the online version of the Times article. Here it is in print (via Aaron Pressman):
A commenter on FARK noted this headline on the website for KMOV St. Louis:
Infant pulled from wrecked car
involved in short police pursuit
…adding, "No word on how far his short little legs took him before the police caught up with him."
The headline was quickly edited thereafter, and it now reads:
Infant pulled from car after police chase, crash
Victor Steinbok, who brought this to my attention, observes that "the updated headline is only marginally better." Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
There have been many online remembrances of Aaron Swartz, the brilliant young programmer and Internet activist who killed himself on Friday at the age of 26. (See, for instance, Caleb Crain's piece for The New Yorker's Culture Desk blog and the many tributes linked therein.) It's typically noted that in 2005 Swartz founded the startup Infogami, which then merged with Reddit shortly thereafter. (In obituaries, Swartz has often been identified as a co-founder of Reddit — some dispute that characterization, but it's true that the Infogami wiki platform was a key to Reddit's early success.) I don't have any first-hand reminiscences to share, but with Infogami back in the news I thought it would be a good time to look back on something I wrote in 2006 about the company's name. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
Coincidentally, two syndicated comic strips running today riff off of the old "Eskimo words for snow" canard. In Darby Conley's "Get Fuzzy," Satchel the dog discovers that "cats are like the Eskimos of laziness":
And in Jef Mallett's "Frazz," one of the "really really false" statements on Mr. Burke's quiz is "The Inuit have 100 words for snow and one of them is 'humptydiddy'":
The American Dialect Society (meeting in Boston in conjunction with the Linguistic Society of America) has chosen its Word of the Year for 2012: hashtag. The Twitter term, which has become a pervasive metalinguistic marker, beat out such contenders as YOLO, fiscal cliff, marriage equality, 47 percent, and Gangnam style. The official announcement is here, and you can read my recap of the voting here.