- 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:
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.'").
At an event at Salem State University yesterday, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was interviewed on stage by sportscaster Jim Gray. Gray used the opportunity to ask Brady about the just-released Ted Wells report on Deflategate, and to ask him if the scandal "tainted" the Patriots' Super Bowl win. The headline that appeared on ESPN's news feed was: "Brady: Report does 'absolutely not' mar title."
The headline on MassLive was not so terse but used similar phrasing: "Tom Brady says Wells Report does 'absolutely not' take away from New England Patriots Super Bowl win."
Oxford University Press has published the fourth edition of Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage. The name "Fowler" has been retained as a source of prestige, but this is really the work of editor Jeremy Butterfield (as the third edition was the work of Robert Burchfield). Butterfield has already been getting some press attention for some of his more curmudgeonly reactions to points of modern usage. From The Times (UK), "Modern language makes dictionary compiler see, like, red" (3/31/15):
Readers fretful about crumbling standards will be relieved, and possibly amused, that the compiler of the latest edition of Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage has admitted to being overcome by grumpiness at some of the 250 new entries.
Jeremy Butterfield said that he was unable to hide his disdain while writing entries such as "awesome", "challenging" and "issue" – all of which are classified as clichés. So annoyed was he by the use of "like" as verbal punctuation that he suggested violence may be an appropriate response.
Ooh, violence! Looks like it's the latest episode of word rage.
Two years ago I sent out an "SOS for DARE," that is, a plea for the indispensable Dictionary of American Regional English, which had run into funding troubles. Though DARE was granted a temporary reprieve, the latest news is more dire than ever.
Marc Johnson laid out the situation in an article for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
The end may be near for one of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's most celebrated humanities projects, the half-century-old Dictionary of American Regional English. In a few months, the budget pool will drain to a puddle. Layoff notices have been sent, eulogies composed…
"Crash blossoms" — those ambiguously phrased headlines that encourage absurd interpretations — are flourishing like never before. Here's a roundup of the latest specimens spotted in the wild.
1. "Matt Cassel trade a simple, cheap bandage for Bills QB problem" (CBS Sports, Mar. 4, 2015)
While watching the Danish show Borgen last night I noticed that Kasper, when talking about ordering a smoothie, first said [smu:di] and then later said [smu:ði]. The first form in particular but also the variation pleased me, so I asked Anna Jespersen about it and look at this bonanza she came up with! (What follows is a paraphrase of what she sent me.)
Smoothie is a newly borrowed word, and I think it's the only one we have encountered with a non-initial [ð]. Consequently, there's a lot of variation. [ð] and [d] would be the most common variants but there are lots of other options. Check out these two ads from McDonald's:
i. In the attached print ad, the line below the smoothies reads "Try our new, refreshing smoothies (no matter how you pronounce them)".
Joshua Fishman, a founder of the field of the sociology of language and a highly influential scholar of language planning and bilingual education, died last night at his home in the Bronx at the age of 88.
The following remembrance, written by Ofelia García (Professor in the Ph.D. programs of Urban Education and of Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Languages at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York), has been shared on Facebook and the LINGUIST List.
Doc, note: I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod.
Is this the best palindrome ever created in English? Many think so. (I agree.) But did you know that it was made by the British mathematician Peter Hilton, while working alongside Alan Turing as an "Enigma" codebreaker during World War II? If you've seen The Imitation Game, you might remember Matthew Beard's portrayal of young Hilton. (The film embellishes his true story, giving him a brother serving on a Royal Navy ship targeted by the Germans.)
Even more amazingly, "Doc, note I dissent…" was actually the result of a palindrome competition held by the codebreakers at Bletchley Park (who, as the movie shows, were quite good at UK-style cryptic crosswords, too). The competition was, like the rest of the goings-on at Bletchley Park, shrouded in secrecy until relatively recently. Now for the first time, Mark Saltveit, editor of The Palindromist Magazine, tells the full story of the codebreakers' palindrome game. Read all about on Vocabulary.com here.
Suzette Haden Elgin, who died last week, was a pioneer of using linguistics in science fiction, creating a whole constructed language in her novel Native Tongue. She was a giant of feminist SF. And she helped bring SF poetry to prominence, while also teaching us to defend ourselves with wit rather than bile.
Elgin had a PhD in linguistics, so it's no surprise that her Native Tongue book trilogy is all about language. The book takes place in a dystopian future, where women have been stripped of all rights when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was repealed in 1996. A group of women, who work as part of a corps of linguists who help to communicate with alien races, develop a new secret language for women to use as part of their resistance to their oppression. This language is called Láadan, and Elgin has a whole vocabulary and syntax on her website.
Bloomberg News headlines, as we've observed in the past, often sound like they've been written by someone with a bizarre journalistic strain of aphasia. Consider, as representative samples, "Ebola Fear Stalks Home Hunt for Quarantined Now Released" and "Madonna Addicted to Sweat Dance Plugs Toronto Condos: Mortgages." The latest specimen is especially inscrutable:
At the American Dialect Society annual conference (held in conjunction with the Linguistic Society of America in Portland, OR), the 2014 Word of the Year was a rather unusual choice: the hashtag #blacklivesmatter. I presided over the voting session (in my capacity as the society's Chair of the New Words Committee). You can read the official announcement here and my recap of Friday night's voting in my Word Routes column for Vocabulary.com here. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
There's a new linguablog that's definitely worth your time if you're not put off by vulgarities. And if you revel in vulgarities, well, you're in luck. It's called Strong Language, and it's the creation of James Harbeck and Stan Carey.
James and Stan have enlisted a great lineup of contributors (I'm happy to be one of them). As the "About" page explains, Strong Language "gives a place for professional language geeks to talk about things they can’t talk about in more polite contexts. It’s a sweary blog about swearing." Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »