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Safire on Sunday

That's what I called my own piece on William Safire, which runs today on "Fresh Air" and is online here. I cover some of the same ground that Ben does in his pitch-perfect Times magazine piece, mentioning his generosity to his critics and his willingness to acknowledge his mistakes. A very different tenor from his […]

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William Safire, 1929-2009

William Safire has passed away, and it is no small measure of his impact that even linguabloggers who were most critical of his "On Language" column in the New York Times Magazine (Languagehat, Mr. Verb, Wishydig) have been quick to post their sincere condolences. Grant Barrett has written about his generosity of spirit, and I […]

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Zimmer subs for Safire

After his NPR interview and MSNBC honor for debunking the Cronkiter myth, Ben Zimmer is subbing for William Safire as this week's NYT's On Language columnist: "How Fail Went From Verb to Interjection", 8/7/2009. Time was, fail was simply a verb that denoted being unsuccessful or falling short of expectations. It made occasional forays into […]

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Listen up

My most vivid memory of being inducted into the U.S. Army in 1969 is learning a new expression. After we were sworn in, an NCO stepped out in front of us and said "Listen up!"  It was obvious what he meant — "attend to instructions from a superior" — and I heard that same phrase […]

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The factual impenetrability of zombie rules

Frank Bruni, "What Happened to Who?", NYT 4/8/2017: I first noticed it during the 2016 Republican presidential debates, which were crazy-making for so many reasons that I'm not sure how I zeroed in on this one. "Who" was being exiled from its rightful habitat. It was a linguistic bonobo: endangered, possibly en route to extinction. […]

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"Uptalk" in the OED

The latest quarterly update to the online Oxford English Dictionary includes a metalinguistic term all too familiar to Language Log readers: uptalk, defined as "a manner of speaking in which declarative sentences are uttered with rising intonation at the end, a type of intonation more typically associated with questions." It's high time that the OED created an […]

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Hissy fit

I am fond of this expression and have often wondered how it arose.  In my own mind, I have always associated it with the hissing of a cat and hysteria, but never took the time to try to figure out where it really came from.  Today someone directly asked me about the origins of this […]

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Entitled: Zombie chain shift

Where do zombies come from? As Wikipedia tells us, it all started with evil Haitian sorcerers using necromancy to create undead slaves. But then, Hollywood invented contagious zombification, originally attributed to radioactive contamination from Venus, but more recently understood to be due to human zombism virus (HZV). As for zombie rules, all that we really know, in most […]

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RIP Frank Mankiewicz, coiner of "retronym"

From the New York Times obituary for Frank Mankiewicz (son of Herman, nephew of Joseph): 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 […]

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Led astray by the corpus of memory: a response to Hendrik Hertzberg

The following is a guest post by Ammon Shea, a researcher for the Oxford English Dictionary's Reading Program and formerly a consulting editor for American Dictionaries for Oxford University Press. Hendrik Hertzberg has made a series of claims recently on the New Yorker web site ("Nobody Said That Then!") about the ostensible inaccuracy of the […]

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Warfighter

In a review of the game Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw goes on at length about what a ridiculous word "warfighter" is ("Medal of Honor Warfighter & Doom 3 BFG Edition", Zero Punctuation 11/7/2012): [Audio clip: view full post to listen] So this week I've been playing a bit of Medal of Honor: […]

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Bottum's plea

I somehow missed this when it was fresh (Joseph Bottum, "Loose Language", The Weekly Standard 10/25/2010: The plural of syllabus is syllabi. Or is it syllabuses? Focuses and foci, cactuses and cacti, funguses and fungi: English has a good set of these Greek and Latin words—and pseudo-Greek and Latin words—that might take a classical-sounding plural. […]

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Why "Hopefully"?

I have a piece airing on "Fresh Air" today on hopefully. I recorded it about a month ago and it has been sitting in the can since then, so I didn't have the opportunity to profit from the observations made by Mark in his recent posts here, here and here; if I had, I would […]

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