All posts by Allan Metcalf


Here’s Your Very Own ‘Merry’


Image via Wikimedia Commons

Welcome to December! Yesterday was the first of the month, time for your Word of the Month: merry.

That’s right. As a member  of the Word of the Month Club, you’re entitled to use this month’s word on any and every occasion. Sprinkle it freely throughout your conversation, as in, “How merry are you, merry friend, on this merry day?”

Yes, there’s no limit on how often you can use it.

But wait a minute. You’re not a member? Then excuse me, you don’t have exclusive right…


Giving Words


A Friendsgiving in Brooklyn, 2015. Photograph by Ethan Brooks.

When I saw an article on Friendsgiving in The Wall Street Journal last week, I knew I had a topic for the day before Thanksgiving: giving words. A long list, that is, of words ending in -giving, like those two. (Friendsgiving, we’re told, is Thanksgiving dinner with friends rather than family.)

To my surprise, however, the -giving words are scarce as turkeys’ teeth. A Scrabble website finds just 10, not all related to the Thanksgivin…


A Day in the Life of a Lexicographer

David Barnhart comes from a lexicographical dynasty. He and his late brother, Robert, have both been in the profession of making dictionaries, following in the footsteps of their famous father Clarence L. Barnhart, author of the Thorndike-Barnhart series of dictionaries. David now works at home and in the local libraries, finding and defining words for his quarterly journal, The Barnhart Dictionary Companion.

So what is his day like? He starts by reading the paper and listening to news on the r…


WOTY Primaries Begin at Merriam-Webster and Oxford Dictionaries


Narcississtick, a less-than-kind word for a selfie stick, was one of last year’s nominations. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

As I mentioned here last week, the Word of the Year season is upon us. More than five-sixths of 2015 has gone by, time enough to think of the word (or phrase, or prefix, or abbreviation) that best reflects the interests, style, attitudes, and preoccupations of the year so far.

The American Dialect Society, meeting early next year in Washington, D.C., with the Lingu…


Basic WOTY

WOTY-scrabbleAll of a sudden it’s November. And now that the end of the year is in sight, it’s time for WOTY season to begin.

What’s WOTY? That’s the convenient acronym (pronounced woe-tea) used by those of us who are intrigued by the notion of a Word of the Year — a word that captures the spirit, or concerns, or activities, or peculiarities of the year gone by.

It’s like Time magazine’s choice of a Person (formerly Man) of the Year. In fact, that was the inspiration when the American Dialect Society institu…


Spider’s Web of Worrisome Words

Spider-2Here’s a creepy story for Halloween. And it’s all true.

Half a century ago — on the first of March 1965, to be exact — there emerged from the midst of the increasingly excited and politicized student body at the University of California at Berkeley a new twice-a-month publication with the ominous title Spider. It reported and commented on the turmoil among student activists, including the affray nicknamed the “filthy speech movement” in parody of the earnest Free Speech Movement of the previous …


Just Shoot Me!

JustShootMe_S3_eUnfortunately, shootings in schools and colleges have become so frequent in the United States that several websites have started to take score. The advocacy site Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, for example, maps and lists 152 school shootings in the United States since 2013. In June The Washington Post questioned that number as too high, but whatever the number, news of the shootings has encouraged many colleges and universities to plan how to respond to attacks.

So it happened last week …


‘Skedaddle,’ ‘Selfie,’ and Many More Words of the Generations

Generations cover jpeg

What if everyone born within a particular generation shared the same view of the world, a view that was different from that of generations before and after?

(Full disclosure: I’m going to shamelessly encourage you to buy my new book.)

Hard to believe,  if you think about it — everyone born during a 20-year period in the whole country having the same attitudes and inclinations to action? Yet we’ve come to believe it, as we knowingly discuss the traits of the different generations — the heroi…


Happy Birthday, Lingua Franca!

Slightly more than four years and a thousand posts ago, at the behest of the editor Heidi Landecker at The Chronicle of Higher Education, this Lingua Franca blog came into being. Since that time, day after day, our motley crew has mused, elucidated, queried, uncovered, advertised, challenged, and pontificated about language, more or less as Heidi and Liz McMillen, The Chronicle’s editor,  had envisioned. And you, dear readers, have responded with everything from dissertations of your own to com…


Papal Language


The Pope of Mope

The occasion of a papal visit brings with it an opportunity to consider certain comfortable words. I use comfortable in its earlier sense, “strengthening or  supporting (morally or spiritually); encouraging, inspiring, reassuring, cheering,” to which the Oxford English Dictionary archly adds, “Obs. or arch.” But then the papacy has something arch. about it, though it is certainly not obs.

What are these words? To begin with, pope. It goes way back beyond the origin of the papac…