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  • 05/15/13--21:01: Spit That Image Out
  • Students' misunderstandings might transform habitual expressions, like "tongue and cheek," says Lucy Ferriss. But it's worth asking where those habits came from.

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  • 06/10/13--21:01: Silence in the Mind’s Ear
  • You say "rhubarb," I say "rhubarb." Let's not simplify English spelling, says Lucy Ferriss. It's all in what you hear.

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  • 06/12/13--21:01: A Trinity of Languages
  • Geoff Pullum writes from a country united by a national language that its speakers pretend is three quite different languages. Go figure.

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  • 06/19/13--21:01: Who Says Tomato?
  • Lucy Ferriss tracks her own lexical history. With the Cambridge Online Survey of World Englishes, you can, too.

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  • 06/24/13--21:01: Hobson-Jobson, Definitively
  • A dictionary's unusual title has become a law unto itself, notes Allan Metcalf.

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  • 08/11/13--21:01: Ah, Louisville!
  • Allan Metcalf reads about the language of Louisville in the latest issue of the journal "American Speech."

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    Ben Yagoda helps professors understand what this year's freshmen are saying and writing.

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    Geoff Pullum is reminded, after a dip into the Ethnologue, that counting languages is a perplexingly politicized and unscientific business.

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    Geoff Pullum explores a "lumper" view, which posits one Germanic language spoken from Hungary to Belgium, and a "splitter" view, which shows four or five languages on the Italian island alone.

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  • 08/27/13--21:01: Why We Speak
  • Ben Yagoda commends a telephone conversation between Antoinette Tuff, a bookkeeper in a DeKalb, Ga., elementary school, and a DeKalb police dispatcher.

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  • 09/15/13--21:01: No Synonyms, Please
  • Language hates synonyms, says Allan Metcalf.

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  • 10/24/13--21:01: ‘Lay Down’: My Burden
  • Why is intransitive "lay" having its moment right now? Lots of colloquialisms pound on the door of mainstream usage, but Ben Yagoda says this one has a handy halfway house.

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  • 11/11/13--21:01: On Line in New York City
  • Allan Metcalf thinks people in the Big Apple will soon wait in line like the rest of us.

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  • 11/13/13--21:01: Lying About Writing
  • Why, Geoff Pullum asks, would a literature department hand its students a list of patronizing truisms and blatant falsehoods about writing?

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  • 11/24/13--21:01: Louisville, Anyone?
  • Louisville skyline, Wikimedia Commons

    So how do you say the name of the biggest city in Kentucky, home of the Derby and Urban Bourbon?

    The spelling is easy enough. All agree on Louis-ville, that is, the city of Louis XVI of France. The settlement at the falls of the Ohio was given that name in 1780, shortly after its founding, in gratitude for the Bourbon king’s support of the American revolution.

    (As it happens, the town fared better than Louis did. When the French Revolution came, the monarch ...


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  • 12/02/13--21:01: ‘No Hangeo’
  • Photograph courtesy of Kevin Alves
    (http://www.kevinalves.me/merk/)

    I’ve come across the expression on street corners, near pizzerias, outside grocery stores, always as a prohibition. The location is invariably in Latino neighborhoods. Needless to say, the expression isn’t registered in either the OED or in the DLE (Diccionario de la Lengua Española de la Real Academia), which doesn’t surprise me. Lexicons have been slow in incorporating Spanglishisms, even one as versatile as this one.

    Elsewhere...


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    The teaching profession in Britain, where I currently reside, has very largely heard the sociolinguistic music: The facts of linguistic diversity and language change are generally accepted, teachers acknowledge most of the elementary facts about language, and dialect differences are not viewed in the same light as hideously disfiguring skin diseases. I had begun to think there was little danger of the British teaching profession being disrupted by an outburst of race or class bias masquerading a...


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    Not long ago, the Real Academia Española, its matrix located in Madrid, with 21 branches throughout the Spanish-speaking world, did something at once surprising and disappointing: It approved the inclusion of the word espanglish in its official dictionary. I say it was surprising because for decades the RAE systematically disregarded the existence of this hybrid form of communication, suggesting it was just a passing phenomenon unworthy of serious academic consideration. Indeed, one of the insti...


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  • 12/12/13--21:01: DARE in the Air
  • A half century of field work and lexicography came to completion earlier this year with publication of the last volume of that massive work, the Dictionary of American Regional English. It encompasses six volumes of a thousand pages each, some 50,000 entries of American regional words, numerous maps and countless cross references, along with a final volume including an index by region and the complete list of responses to a nationwide survey of regional vocabulary.

    Move over, Oxford English Dict...


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    The question routinely becomes a subject of debate. Does English need an institution to safeguard it, or at least to regulate its health? Spanish has the Real Academia Española; French, L’Académie française; Arabic, the Academy of the Arabic Language; Mandarin Chinese, the National Languages Committee; Dutch, the Nederlandse Taalunie; German the Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung; Hebrew, the Academy of the Hebrew Language; Irish, the Foras na Gaeilge; Italian, the Accademia della Crusca; and s...


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