All posts by Ben Yagoda

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That’s Not a Word

My friend Rick Valelly recently ate at a restaurant that used to be the commissary for Paramount Studios in Queens, N.Y. He kindly sent me a photo of half of the back of the menu (all that could fit on his phone, I think):

IMG_0989

The reason he sent it to me is the first word in the third line. There is no definition for intrical in dictionary.com, merriam-webster.com, or The Oxford English Dictionary. However, there is one at Urban Dictionary: “A word that doesn’t exist. Usually used by dumbasses who …

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A Further Piece

FPRB_FeelDiff_4C_VtHt_R02The New York Times obituary last week for the former University of North Carolina coach Dean Smith ended with this anecdote:

Matt Doherty, a forward for Smith’s 1982 N.C.A.A. champions and later the head coach at North Carolina, told Sports Illustrated: “In a team meeting once, we were going over a trapping defense, and he referred to ‘the farthest point down the court.’ Then he stopped and said: ‘You know why I said “farthest,” not “furthest”? Because far — F-A-R — deals wit…

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Baaack to the Future

I picked up The Philadelphia Inquirer last week and read an article by Jeremy Roebuck about how a judicial ruling had revived the onetime local news anchor Alycia Lane’s long-dormant lawsuit against her former station. Here’s the line my eye was drawn to: “‘We’re back,’ Lane’s attorney Paul R. Rosen singsonged in an interview Friday, giving his best Poltergeist impression.”

You know that singsong. It’s an ascending musical fourth, then a descending third, with the word back elongated into two sy…
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Nice Going, Genius

Scalia: Sarcastic

Scalia: Sarcastic

In the slim annals of professorial humor, one of the cherished entries concerns an anthropological linguistics conference where the speaker declaims, “In languages all over the globe, one finds examples of the double negative denoting affirmation, but never the double positive denoting negation.” At which point a guy in the back of the room stands up and says, “Yeah, sure.”

I’ve been pondering sarcasm since Adam Liptak’s recent New York Times article about a law review essay by…

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Spelling (Sometimes) Counts

A tough book to spell

A tough book to spell

Among the things I’m bad at are backing into parking spaces, taking a hint, and grasping what people are saying when they mouth words to me. Among the things I’m good at are finding parking spaces, predicting what sports announcers will say, and spelling. The last mastery, in the digital age, is a bit like having lots of odd facts at your beck and call. They’re great skills if you happen to wander into a spelling bee or Quizzo night, but otherwise, they’re fairly vestigial.

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Not by a Long Chalk

As I have mentioned here before, my hobby is writing and maintaining a blog about British expressions that have become popular in the United States. I know, I know. Listen, it keeps me off the street.

Anyway, not long ago, Alex Beam, a Boston Globe columnist, opened a piece this way:

And here I thought we had the place to ourselves.

Not by a long chalk, it turns out. New census data show that Massachusetts is the fastest-growing state in New England, population wise.

The opening of the second p…

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Less Is More Better

10_items_or_less

You got a problem with that?

The email came in with the heading “Ben! How could you!?” The message read, in its entirety:

“How Not to Write Bad,” page 26: “As for state names, never abbreviate when they’re four letters or less, or when they’re standing alone.”

Less? You mean fewer, right? Or did the rules change? Please advise.

(Before proceeding to the question, I’ll note that, unsurprisingly, my correspondent misstated the title of my book, which is How to Not Write Bad.)

As virtually everyone…

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The Older Man and the Sea

I just searched Google News for the word “older” and found the following sentences, all posted in the last nine minutes:

  • “She lived in a ninth-floor apartment of Baldwin Towers, a public housing building for older and disabled residents.” (Observer-Reporter.)
  • “Older adults, children and people with lung disease or asthma are also advised to limit outdoor activity until the air quality improves.” (Reno Gazette Journal)
  • “Lots of older folks might think that young people today don’t know how to wr…
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Can I Get a Better Way to Order Food?

Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye

A couple of years ago, the BBC published an essay on that staple of British journalism, the terribleness of Americanisms polluting the mother tongue. The Beeb invited readers to send in their own pet peeves and got such a response that it published a list of the 50 that were sent in most often. The top five, in reverse order, were:

  • Deplane.
  • 24/7.
  • Two-time or three-time, as in “two-time award winner” (though I don’t see how else that could be said).
  • Least worst option.
  • And the N0.1 m…
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New Grub Street

George_Gissing

George Gissing

It seemed like a good idea at the time. The new paradigm for creative folk, that is. Dispense with jobs, with their soul-deadening cubicles and time clocks (metaphorical or literal) and bosses looking over your shoulders—but also, admittedly, with their clockwork paychecks and medical benefits—and become your own brand. That meant establishing yourself online: with a blog or social-media presence or Huffington Post column. None of these offered any remuneration, and mounting a…