All posts by Ben Yagoda


State of ‘Lay’

As Robert Frost might have put it, something there is that doesn’t want to say lie. I refer to the present tense of the verb meaning to assume or be in a recumbent position, figuratively or literally. So: I want to lay down. He had to lay low. Don’t just lay there. And so on. I have weighed in on the topic before, as have my Lingua Franca colleagues Anne Curzan and Geoffrey Pullum. But I feel that a tipping point has been reached.

This Google Ngram Viewer shows that in American books (the sub-da…


‘Punter’s Chance’ or ‘Puncher’s Chance’? I’ll Punt

If [the Oklahoma City Thunder are] clicking on all cylinders, I give them a punter’s chance obviously to put the kind of firepower out on the floor to go head to head with the [Golden State] Warriors four quarters.

—Jalen Rose, quoted in The New York Times, April 15, 2016

As I have mentioned here before, I am the sole owner and proprietor of Not One-Off Britishisms (NOOBs), a blog devoted to charting British expressions that have become popular in the United States. And when I read the quote by …


Hillary Who?

Hillary-60-minutesNoting that I’ve written about the hip-hop/youth/New York trend of glottalizing (that is, “swallowing” the t before the last syllable) such words as important, button, and Manhattan, a reader recently e-mailed me, “I was intrigued by how Hillary Clinton glottalized her last name … as early as 1992. Not surprisingly, she changed it back to Clin’T’on in her campaign video last year.”

The reader included links to two YouTube videos. The first, a fairly amazing comedy bit at a 1992 roast of Ron Brow…


Don’t Speak!

In the funniest scene in Woody Allen’s last funny movie, Bullets Over Broadway (1994), the aspiring playwright David Shayne (John Cusack) tries to communicate his feelings to the stage diva Helen Sinclair (Dianne Wiest).

Throughout history, at various moments and by various people, not speaking has been recognized as an appropriate and perhaps necessary course of action. After being raped at the age of 8, Maya Angelou was mute for almost five years. In Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird, the chi…


Whoo-Hoo for ‘Woo Woo’

Woo-woo tips mingle with practical pointers. “Eat from heart-shaped bowls, and put heart stickers on your refrigerator,” Minich recommends. (Why? “To keep the spirit of love alive,” duh.)

The New York Times, March 27, 2016, review of Whole Detox, by Deanna Minich

… “Valley of Love,” a logy, woo-woo drama about a former couple who, at the request of their son, who killed himself earlier that same year, have come to find answers in the California desert.

The New York Times, March 24, 2016

“I f…


‘Huge’ Is Massive

64618100After Yale upset Baylor in the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the Bulldogs’ star player, Justin Sears, said, “It’s huge. Just to be among the first guys to get that first big win of the tournament is huge.” After reporting the quote, the New York Times article about the game observed, “It was another huge victory for the Bulldogs.”

As perfect is to goodness, so huge is to literal and metaphorical largeness: the hyperbolic adjective of the moment, supplanting big, grand,enor…


A ‘Perfect’ Storm


Truman Capote

Randye Green, an observant friend of mine, commented not long ago that she’s tired of perfect. Not because the perfect is the enemy of the good, but because, as she said, the word has become such a cliché.

That was news to me, but ever since our conversation I’ve observed a perfect storm of perfect, in both speech and e-mail correspondence. Students, especially female students, are fond of it.

The assignment is due a week from Monday. Perfect. Meet you at six? Perfect. I’ll have a…


Portrait of the Artists

220px-PickupartistposterOn Thursday, Mitt Romney played the “Have-you-no-decency?” card against the Republican front-runner for president. He asked the American public to

Think of Donald Trump’s personal qualities, the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics. We have long referred to him as “The Donald.” He is the only person in America to whom we have added an article before his name. It wasn’t because he had attributes we admired.

Now imagine your children and your grandch…


Who You Calling Phobic?

LiliElbe In Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony, the presenter J.K. Simmons described The Danish Girl as a film about someone who had undergone “gender-confirmation surgery.” I immediately recognized the phrase — which I wasn’t aware of encountering before — as a foot soldier in a political war. That is, Simmons’s formulation implicitly cast aside other terms for the same thing, such as “gender-reassignment surgery” or the old-fashioned “sex-change operation,” so as to advance a point of view. As a plastic s…


‘Room’ With a Point of View


Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay star in the film version of Room.

If you heard I had posted on Lingua Franca about Emma Donoghue’s Room, you might justifiably expect that I’d written about the way  the narrator of the novel, 5-year-old Jack, uses language. Jack’s entire life has taken place in an 11-by-11 foot room, where he is confined with his mother. (That situation becomes apparent in the first few pages of the book, so this is not a spoiler.) And I could well have written such a post, as Don…