- Website: http://benzimmer.com/
- I am the executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com, 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:
J.P. Villanueva writes:
I've been seeing the old "No justice, no peace" chant lately after the Zimmerman trial. It seems like people are lamenting that "there is no justice and there is no peace."
When I first heard the chant (during the Rodney King riots), I had understood quite clearly that "No justice, no peace" was a conditional statement… as in, "if you can't guarantee us justice, we will not let you have peace" in other words, it was a call to riot.
I'm sure the chant has a longer history, right? Has it always meant both things? or did I misinterpret back in the 90s?
Today Wikileaks posted a statement from Edward Snowden, time-stamped Monday July 1, 21:40 UTC. As originally posted, the first sentence of the fourth paragraph reads as follows:
For decades the United States of America have been one of the strongest defenders of the human right to seek asylum.
Screenshot (click to embiggen):
But mysteriously, at around 22:30 UTC (6:30 pm Eastern Time), the sentence was edited to read:
For decades the United States of America has been one of the strongest defenders of the human right to seek asylum.
For the past couple of years I've been writing a language column for The Boston Globe (and before that for The New York Times Magazine). Now I'm starting a new language column for The Wall Street Journal, called "Word on the Street." Each week I'll be focusing on a word in the news and examining its history. First up, cyber, which is showing up with increasing frequency as a noun. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent in the DOMA decision had some harsh words, to say the least, for the majority opinion. But the word everyone has been fixated on is rather light-hearted: argle-bargle.
As I have said, the real rationale of today’s opinion, whatever disappearing trail of its legalistic argle-bargle one chooses to follow, is that DOMA is motivated by '"bare . . . desire to harm"' couples in same-sex marriages.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably already seen Business Insider's "22 Maps That Show How Americans Speak English Totally Differently From Each Other." (Or, as it was originally titled, "22 Maps That Show the Deepest Linguistic Conflicts in America.") The piece has truly gone viral, garnering more than 21 million views, according to Business Insider. But there's been some confusion about the origins of the dialect survey data.
Here are two entertainment news headlines that are difficult to parse without knowing in advance what they're reporting on. First up, from TIME, a headline on a May 31 piece by TV critic James Poniewozik:
Second, from Cinema Blend, a headline on a post earlier today by Mack Rawden:
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.”