- 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:
This morning, when I checked out the website of The Atlantic, I saw an article by Megan Garber with the headline, "Gifting Is Not a Verb":
Megan has written perceptively about language before, notably in her piece from last year, "English Has a New Preposition, Because Internet," which played a large role in bringing attention to the emerging use of "because" — shortly thereafter recognized as the American Dialect Society's 2013 Word of the Year. (Some might argue that the new "because" isn't a preposition; Geoff Pullum defends that classification here and here but says it actually was one all along.)
The article itself is a seasonally appropriate exercise in word aversion, and Megan quotes one of Mark Liberman's posts on the topic to try to understand the source of her intense dislike of "gift" as a verb. But the headline goes much further, declaring that it is not a verb, despite the fact that the article clearly demonstrates that it is a verb, even if it's one that many people don't care for.
CNN International recently sent out this tweet, linking to an interview with Stella McCartney:
— CNN International (@cnni) November 29, 2014
The headline, which also appears on CNN's website, left some people perplexed. Was Ms. McCartney saying that her parents closed minds, or did they open closed minds?
In recent years, The New Yorker's coverage of the "descriptivist vs. prescriptivist" divide in English usage has been, shall we say, problematic. In 2012, we had Joan Acocella's "The English Wars," critiqued by Mark Liberman here and here. That was followed up by Ryan Bloom's Page-Turner piece, "Inescapably, You're Judged By Language," which I tackled in "The New Yorker vs. the descriptivist specter."
In Acocella's piece, Steven Pinker is set up as a descriptivist strawman on the basis of a wildly off-the-mark reading of an essay he contributed to the fifth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary. (Pinker serves as chair of the AHD Usage Panel.) He ably defended himself in a subsequent letter to the editor and at more length in a piece for Slate, "False Fronts in the Language Wars." Now another New Yorker critic, Nathan Heller, makes a mess of things in his review of Pinker's book The Sense of Style. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
Frank Mankiewicz, a writer and Democratic political strategist who was Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s press secretary, directed Senator George S. McGovern’s losing 1972 presidential campaign and for six years was the president of National Public Radio, died Thursday at a hospital in Washington. He was 90.
Mankiewicz was also a bit of wordsmith and coined a useful word now found in many dictionaries: retronym, defined by the OED as "a neologism created for an existing object or concept because the exact meaning of the original term used for it has become ambiguous (usually as a result of a new development, technological advance, etc.)."
Bloomberg News is notorious for its bizarre, impenetrable headlines. There's a whole Tumblr blog devoted to strange Bloomberg headlines, and Quartz last year ran an article looking into "how Bloomberg headlines got to be so odd." Here's a new one, spotted by David Craig and Brett Wilson:
Posted by Alex Bledsoe on Twitter:
Copy editors…I miss them. pic.twitter.com/oTpDhpi6Wf
— AlexBledsoe (@AlexBledsoe) October 9, 2014
A few months ago, I posted here (and on Slate's Lexicon Valley blog) about PangramTweets, a bot created by Jesse Sheidlower that combs Twitter for tweets that include all 26 letters of the alphabet. I mentioned that it would be interesting to see if PangramTweets turns up any particularly short "pangrammatic windows," i.e., pangrammatic strings in naturally occurring text. At the time, the shortest known example was 42 letters long, in a passage from Piers Anthony's Cube Route:
"We are all from Xanth," Cube said quickly. "Just visiting Phaze. We just want to find the dragon."
My post inspired Malcolm Rowe, a software engineer at Google, to set about finding short pangrammatic windows in an automated fashion, first on the Project Gutenberg corpus and then on the megacorpus of web pages indexed by Google. (Let's hear it for Google's 20 percent time!) On his blog, Malcolm now reports on his findings, including the discovery of a 36-letter pangrammatic window that appeared in a review of the movie Magnolia on PopMatters:
Further, fractal geometries are replicated on a human level in the production of certain “types” of subjectivity: for example, aging kid quiz show whiz Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) and up and coming kid quiz show whiz Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman) are connected (or, perhaps, being cloned) in ways they couldn’t possibly imagine.
My first thought on reading this was that it's rather late in the day for Salmond to be going after the No vote, considering No already won handily. Then I realized it's not go after as in "pursue," but rather go + after — he's going (resigning) subsequent to the No vote on the referendum.
I'm pretty sure I saw something several years ago about a whole dialect (argot? jargon? slang?) that had developed among young people in Japan (or possibly some other Asian country), based on phone cupertinos. Basically, they used the first suggestion from the autocomplete function *instead* of the original target word, to create an argot that was reasonably opaque to outsiders.
Now that comment has been brought back from the dead, appearing in two different articles about autocorrect.
Weird Al Yankovic's new song "Word Crimes" has generated a lot of heated discussion among linguists and other descriptivist types who didn't take kindly to its litany of language peeves — satire or no satire. (See my original post and Lauren Squires' guest post for extended commentary.) But in detailing various "word crimes," Weird Al managed to commit a linguistic foul of his own. And no, I'm not talking about the split infinitive at the end of the song ("Try your best to not drool"). Weird Al assured his Twitter followers that the line was an intentional bit of trolling:
If you thought I didn’t know that I ended “Word Crimes” with a split infinitive… you don’t give me nearly enough credit.
— Al Yankovic (@alyankovic) July 20, 2014
The following is a guest post by Lauren Squires.
While "grammar nerds" are psyched about Weird Al's new "Word Crimes" video, many linguists are shaking their heads and feeling a little hopeless about what the public enthusiasm about it represents: a society where largely trivial, largely arbitrary standards of linguistic correctness are heavily privileged, and people feel justified in degrading and attacking those who don't do things the "correct" way. What's behind linguists' reactions are at least three factors.
Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »