- Website: http://benzimmer.com/
- I am the executive editor of Vocabulary.com and the Visual Thesaurus, and language columnist for The Wall Street Journal. I'm also the former language columnist for The Boston Globe and 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 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:
On a recent episode of Bravo's competitive cooking show "Top Chef" ("Spines and Vines," 12/10/15), the contestants had to make a dish with uni (sea urchin) and pair it with a wine. One contestant, Angelina Bastidas, received the following less-than-glowing appraisal of her dish from the show's host, Padma Lakshmi, and guest judge Dana Cowin, editor-in-chief of Food & Wine.
AB: Over here it's a play on an Italian cacio e pepe. I made uni butter. And the wine that I chose today is chardonnay.
DC: The uni obviously has a lot of salt.
DC: It's one of the characteristics, and the dish…
PL: It eats salty.
AB: Sorry about that. I apologize.
PL: Thank you.
For my language column in the Wall Street Journal this week, I describe how some alien-speak in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" ended up being created by a young Finnish YouTube sensation, tailor-made for Indonesian actors. We could call it "Finn-donesian," though the character Finn doesn't actually speak it. Rather, the dialogue was designed for the Kanjiklub gang, who briefly face off against Han Solo and Chewbacca on a space freighter packed with slithery Rathtars.
In the latest GOP presidential debate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich used a regionalism not often heard in national politics. From the Washington Post transcript:
And as president of the United States, it's all about communication, folks. It's all about getting people to listen to one another's problems. And when you do that, you will be amazed at how much progress you can make, and how much healing we can have. Because, folks, at the end of the day, the country needs healed.
Video from Fox Business (skip to about 2 minutes in):
At the American Dialect Society annual meeting in Washington, D.C. (held in conjunction with the Linguistic Society of America), the 2015 Word of the Year selection has been made. The winner is they used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun. They was recognized by the society particularly for its emerging use as a pronoun to refer to a known person, often as a conscious choice by someone rejecting the traditional gender binary of he and she.
Today's New York Times includes an obituary for the pioneering creolist John Holm, with some remembrances from our own Sally Thomason.
For Bob Dylan connoisseurs, the release of The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 is a momentous occasion. It encompasses the studio sessions that gave us the albums Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde On Blonde, and it's available as a 2-CD sampler, a reasonable 6-CD version, and an ultra-comprehensive 18-CD collector's edition for the true Dylan obsessives. The collector's edition, which compiles every outtake from those crucial 1965-66 sessions, may have been released by Columbia primarily for copyright reasons, but for those willing to slog through the 19-hour runtime, there are some unexpected pleasures.
For a Billboard review, Chris Willman listened to the whole 18-CD set in a marathon session. Here's how he describes one track:
Dylan grows increasingly frustrated by how he feels the Hawks are mangling "She's Your Lover Now." "Aw, it's ugly," he says. "I can't. I can't even." Did Bob Dylan just invent the 21st century catchphrase "I can't even"? I think he did!
From the article "Trump brushes off widespread backlash" by Paul Koring, The Globe and Mail (Ontario Edition), Dec. 9, 2015, p. A13:
And the inevitable correction (The Globe and Mail, Dec. 11, 2015, p. A2):
Two years ago, I posted about a flubbed joke on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update," wherein Taran Killam as historical critic Jebidiah Atkinson slammed FDR's Pearl Harbor address as "a speech that was so boring-ass." The joke as originally written probably referred to a "boring-ass speech," because "[adjective]-ass" almost always occurs attributively (pre-modifying a noun or noun phrase) and not as a predicate adjective. (Acceptability judgments of the predicative use will vary, of course.)
Attributive vs. predicative use of "[adjective]-ass" is relevant again this week, after Sen. Rand Paul was captured on camera being snarky about a daylong livestreaming event his campaign was recording. Asked if he was indeed still running for President, he said:
"I don't know — wouldn't be doing this dumbass livestreaming if I weren't. So yes, I still am running for President. Get over it."
Paul told Fox News today that the comment was intended to be sarcastic. As Talking Points Memo reported,
Paul, who took flak this week for a subdued appearance in a day-long livestream video produced by his campaign, told Fox's "America's Newsroom" that he was joking when he called the exercise "dumbass."
New York Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom, who got the win in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the L.A. Dodgers, received a glowing profile in The New York Times: "Straight Out of Hollywood: The New Guy Outpitches the Ace." When the article first appeared online this morning, it included this line, in the middle of a description of deGrom's "winding and tangled" path to the major leagues:
He also broke a finger castrating a cow, which set him back.
I don't have a screenshot of the article as it originally appeared, and NewsDiffs didn't catch it, but I found out about it on Facebook thanks to MLB historian John Thorn. Very quickly, however, the article was revised to read:
He also broke a finger castrating a calf, which set him back.
And the Times appended this wonderful correction:
An earlier version of this article misidentified the animal Jacob deGrom broke a finger castrating. It was a calf, not a cow.
There's clearly been an auto-replace in this book to remove Americanisms. Participants -> Particitrousers. pic.twitter.com/GjaIebh5TO
— Your pal Rossco (@KingRossco) September 6, 2015
Jeb Bush gave a Spanish-language interview on Sunday with Telemundo's José Díaz-Balart. This is the first time since the launch of his presidential campaign that his functional bilingualism has been on full display.
In the majority opinion of King v. Burwell, Chief Justice Roberts had some harsh words for the "inartful drafting" of the Affordable Care Act, which led to the difficulty in interpreting the phrase "an Exchange established by the State." Roberts wrote:
The Affordable Care Act contains more than a few examples of inartful drafting. (To cite just one, the Act creates three separate Section 1563s. See 124 Stat. 270, 911, 912.) Several features of the Act's passage contributed to that unfortunate reality. Congress wrote key parts of the Act behind closed doors, rather than through "the traditional legislative process." Cannan, A Legislative History of the Affordable Care Act: How Legislative Procedure Shapes Legislative History, 105 L. Lib. J. 131, 163 (2013). And Congress passed much of the Act using a complicated budgetary procedure known as "reconciliation," which limited opportunities for debate and amendment, and bypassed the Senate's normal 60-vote filibuster requirement. Id., at 159–167. As a result, the Act does not reflect the type of care and deliberation that one might expect of such significant legislation. Cf. Frankfurter, Some Reflections on the Reading of Statutes, 47 Colum. L. Rev. 527, 545 (1947) (describing a cartoon "in which a senator tells his colleagues 'I admit this new bill is too complicated to understand. We'll just have to pass it to find out what it means.'").