Zimmer tapped for New York Times post

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Late-breaking news:

The New York Times Magazine announced today the appointment of linguist and lexicographer Ben Zimmer as the new "On Language" columnist. Mr. Zimmer succeeds William Safire who was the founding and regular columnist until his death last fall. [alas, a non-restrictive relative clause missing its comma] The column is a fixture in The Times Magazine and features commentary on the many facets – from grammar to usage – of our language. "On Language" will appear bi-weekly beginning March 21.

Yes, our very own Ben, who was proud enough to tell the rest of the LLoggers, but too modest to post the announcement himself.

Massive pleasure at Language Log Plaza and on ADS-L.


  1. John Cowan said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 12:46 am

    Hurrah! Sanity comes to the Old Gray Lady.

  2. fev said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 1:23 am


    Well done, the Times.

  3. Rubrick said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 1:58 am

    Congratulations, Ben! That's fantabulous!

  4. Jake said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 4:35 am

    Congratulations! But: bi-weekly = every fortnight or twice a week?! How strange that English has such ambiguity in supposedly fixed time periods (also bi-monthly, bi-annual – hyphens optional). I don't think LL has discussed this before. Any of you eminent people care to post an article? Is one meaning mor favoured by the other, either generally or in specific circumstances or by specific groups?

  5. Q. Pheevr said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 5:27 am

    Splendid news! Congratulations to Ben and the Times both!

  6. andrew c said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 6:32 am

    wow! And I read him before he turned all commercial.

  7. Karen said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 6:39 am

    Excellent news!

  8. Jesse Sheidlower said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 6:53 am

    Congratulations, Ben, richly deserved.

  9. Stan Carey said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 7:45 am

    Great news! I've been enjoying Ben's guest articles for the Times, and am delighted by the prospect of many more.

  10. Zubon said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 8:53 am


  11. language hat said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 10:59 am

    Excellent! And we knew him when…

  12. linguistician said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 11:11 am


  13. TootsNYC said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 11:19 am

    ooh, I'm so excited! I "know" Ben Zimmer (well, I've had an e-mail exchange with him)!

    Now I'll have to be sure to actually buy the paper again.

    "Yes, our very own Ben, who was proud enough to tell the rest of the LLoggers, but too modest to post the announcement himself."

    In fact–perfect etiquette.

  14. Jen said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 11:22 am

    Congratulations! I have updated his wikipedia entry accordingly!

  15. Dan T. said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 11:33 am

    Twice a week is "semiweekly".

    Apparently, the column will appear only in every other New York Times Magazine. (Didn't the Red Queen tell Alice that jam was served in the palace "every other day", so that it was never actually served today, since it's not an "other" day?)

  16. Robert Coren said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 12:14 pm

    @Dan T:

    Twice a week is "semiweekly".

    And if one uses "fortnightly" for "every two weeks" one can avoid the ambiguous "biweekly" altogether.

    Didn't the Red Queen tell Alice that jam was served in the palace "every other day", so that it was never actually served today, since it's not an "other" day?

    It was the White Queen telling her what wages she wold earn if she signed as the Queen's lady's maid, but otherwise, yes.

  17. Neal Goldfarb said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 12:18 pm


  18. Ken Grabach said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

    I can look forward to the column into the future. Huzzah!
    I might even enjoy it more than I did with the rather prescriptive views of Mr. Safire. Huzzah, huzzah!
    But this means it won't appear as often as it had up till now. Oh (with an inflection of descending pitch).
    Well, each appearance will surely be worth the wait. Huzzah, huzzah, huzzah!

  19. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 1:04 pm

    Thanks, everyone, for your generous comments. And thanks to the Language Log community for all the support over the years. Couldn't have done it without you all.

  20. Amy Stoller said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 1:51 pm

    @ Ben Zimmer: Congratulations!

  21. Theophylact said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 2:32 pm

    !מזל טוב

  22. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 2:44 pm

    What they said. This must be more exciting than winning the SDC!

  23. Lou Hevly said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 3:01 pm


  24. empty said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 5:21 pm

    Great news.

    By the way, why "tapped" in the headline? I've never known whether to think of a tap on the shoulder, or a tap on the head, or the tapping of a keg of something, or what, when I hear that someone is being tapped for a position.

  25. Nathan Myers said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 5:24 pm

    Is the NYT instituting an Axis of Sense? Between Krugman, Zimmer and Judson, maybe it will be enough to swing the paper back into the realm of sanity. Or maybe not. But it's a step in the right direction.

  26. Forrest said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 7:11 pm

    Congratulations to Language Log – and, to the Times for hiring a bona fide linguist, who I'm sure will improve the column.

  27. marie-lucie said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 7:56 pm

    Having a real live, fully qualified linguist doing the column should also raise the profile of linguistics with the general public. Too often wrong or exaggerated attitudes or sayings are erroneously attributed to linguists (eg that they are out to destroy grammar), and not every reader of the NYT is also a reader of Language Log. Long live Ben Zimmer!

  28. Dan Lufkin said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 8:31 pm

    @ empty — "Tap" to draw upon, to use. Here we have a little extra spin since most Times readers will readily recognize the reference to the custom of notifying new members of Skull & Bones at Yale of their selection by a tap on the shoulder as they cross the Quad.

  29. marie-lucie said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 9:15 pm

    This frequent Times reader knew "to tap" in the present context but had no idea of the Yale custom. Was that a special tap, or was it so unusual to tap someone on the shoulder while crossing the Quad?

  30. danny bloom said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 12:27 am

    "tapped" is also a useful headline word for newspaper headline writers working the deadline beat, because if "tap" is just three letters and sometimes, often, headline writers at print papers, where headlines, also called hedlines, must be squeezed in to fit exactly into the space available for a one deck or two deck sometimes three deck hedline, so headlines like: "Jones to tap Smith for mayor" ….Jones Taps Smith for Mayor"…….Smith Tapped for Mayor" …and things like that, so this TAP thing is mostly a newspaper newsroom hedline thingy.

    [(amz) I was aware that this use of the verb tap is a newspaper headline thing, and chose the verb deliberately for that reason.]

    BTW, why do we call deadlines, DEADlines? I always wondered about that.

  31. Randy Alexander said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 4:16 am


  32. Comwave said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 8:51 am


    @ danny bloom
    Wouldn't it be that someone will be DEAD if the LINES are passed?

    [(amz) That's an attempt to construct a meaning for the composite from the literal meanings of the parts. A look at the OED entry for deadline suggests that the dead here has the figurative meaning 'ended' (and that line in this case is in the sense 'limit').]

  33. Will said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 9:01 am

    @Jake, regarding bi-weekly confusion. I used to have trouble remembering whether that meant once every two weeks or twice every week, but at some point it occurred to me the analogy always holds between words like that and more familiar serial time period words. -ly is a morpheme that always means "once every":

    weekly = once every week
    (this one is the baseline for analogy)

    bi-weekly = once every bi-week
    (and since bi means two thats "once every two-week")

    semi-weekly = once every semi-week
    (and since "semi" means half thats "once every half-week")

  34. Bob Lieblich said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 1:24 pm

    Dan T — It was the White Queen who offered jam every other day.

    That aside, props to Ben — and to the Times for making the right choice, even if it was the obvious one. I don't know if it was their idea or Ben's to cut the frequency in half, but if it wasn't Ben's (and I hope he'll enlighten us on that), we must all raise a clamor. He's certainly entitled to at least as much space as Safire was..

  35. Eric said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 1:34 pm



  36. marie-lucie said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 2:15 pm

    He's certainly entitled to at least as much space as Safire was..

    Yes, but he might have other things to take up his own time too.

  37. Private Zydeco said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 2:16 pm

    Potential ill-betokeningness of such felicitation withal,
    in respect to circulars & other "dead tree" printmedia,
    a spirited chant of "Excelsior!" was then rallied round.
    The awed Zimmer, wryly conceding his own to not be
    prose fit for the summary defacement in ireful, disa-
    ffected rippings-to-pieces which have been the un-
    doing of many an opinion piece and political motto, to
    the delighted satisfaction of all, threw then his aliquot
    share of caution, like ticker tape, into the ether-wind.
    It's just one of those terms, good sir! Excelsior aloft!

  38. Private Zydeco said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 2:17 pm

    Party hearty!

  39. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 2:34 pm

    @Bob: No need to raise a clamor. The decision to go bi-weekly was a mutual one. This way I get to keep my day job.

  40. Kirk Hazen said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 7:33 pm

    Fabulous news! Exhilaration and a sigh of relief all at the same time. Now we will have even more sources for our students and great material for the general public. :-)

  41. Private Zydeco said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 10:40 pm

    Won't quite beer but will Vegan Shake! *Vegan Shakes*

  42. john riemann soong said,

    March 13, 2010 @ 11:23 pm

    this tapping discussion reminds me of http://xkcd.com/398/

    (congrats Zimmer!)

  43. Oskar said,

    March 14, 2010 @ 12:46 pm

    Wonderful! They couldn't have made a better choice!

  44. fev said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 10:34 am

    The "deadline beat" is sort of like the sanity clause (except that if there was one, hed writers wouldn't work it).

    Sure am looking forward to the Zimmer column; his most recent one was a nice vision of what "On Language" could have been all this time.

  45. Nathan Bierma said,

    March 17, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

    So thrilled for Ben, and for us! In my four or so years of writing 'On Language' in the Chicago Tribune, one of my chief motivations was thinking, 'What would Safire's column be like if it was by someone who knew how language really worked?' Now we'll know!

  46. Zwicky Arnold said,

    March 19, 2010 @ 10:33 am

    And now on NPR's Morning Edition, an interview:
    here; you can click on this print version to get the audio version.

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