All posts by Ben Yagoda


Which Side Are You On?

Theodore Parker

Theodore Parker

When Vladimir Putin seized Crimea, President Obama said, “Russia is on the wrong side of history on this.” Secretary of State John Kerry concurred, using exactly the same phrase. They were hardly breaking new rhetorical ground for the administration. In his first inaugural address, Obama stated, “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willin…


Final Madness

We’ve finally come to the end of Language Madness, and not a moment too soon. Just as Kentucky and Connecticut, two storied programs, will face off tonight in the NCAA men’s basketball finals (finals  instead of final  being another instance of rampant pluralizing), the LM tournament closes out with a classic matchup.

To recap, we started out with 16 “sins against the language.” As many have noted, they were a mixed bowl of wrongs. Some were mistakes or “mistakes” people love to hate, such as th…


It’s a Mad (Mad) World

About two weeks ago in this space, I kicked off Language March Madness, a fun-filled tourney where various solecisms and abuses have been vying for the title of Worst Sin Against the English Language, as determined by the votes of you, the public. (The idea is to choose something that combines high frequency and high annoyingness.) As you can see by the bracket, we’re almost at the end, and you can vote on the first Final Four matchup here.


That Word

ThatAwkwardMomentthatawkwardmoment30760135750600Any consumer of the broadcast news media will have encountered a certain formulation over the last fortnight. You could have heard it from Erica Hill on the Today Show on March 9: “We do want to get you caught up, though, on the investigation into that missing Malaysian jet.” And you could have heard it from Megyn Kelly on Fox News on March 21: “The new twist in the search for that missing Malaysia Airlines jet that seemingly disappeared into thin air with 239 people on board.”

The formulation c…


March Madness Madness!

Everybody wants to get into the actI think we can all agree that March Madness has jumped the shark. In addition to the actual brackets to the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, one can find mock-brackets for such things as public broadcasting hosts, ESPN personalities, and, courtesy of Jezebel, intoxicants. (In early-round action, Champagne topped Smirnoff Ice, weed blew away crack, Margaritas got the better of rubbing alcohol, and caffeine narrowly edged glue.)

I was actually around for the beginning of this trend. …


That NPR Sound

Scott Simon: "My word!"

Scott Simon: “My word!”

I don’t get it when people say or imply that people on NPR all talk alike. To me their voices contain multitudes.

To be sure, there’s no question that, if the factors that determine dialect are age, ethnicity/race, class/education, and  region, NPR folk skew heavily oldish, white, overeducated, and from the U.S. quadrant that’s north of the Mason-Dixon line and east of the Minnesota-Dakotas line. It has to be that far west so as to include Garrison Keillor, whose voice is…


Weed Better

keep_calm_and_smoke_weed_by_maxwwy-d66xc24In a piece the other day about Ronan Farrow’s new MSNBC chat show, Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times noted that Farrow “made an effort to seem hip. He referred to marijuana as ‘weed’ and made an aside about the Ukrainian opposition leader, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, who was recently freed from prison, saying that she ‘also has amazing hair.’”

Yes, weed is apparently the broadly hippest current term for marijuana, that venerable fount of slang. (I’ll save for another day a discussion of the rela…


Concerning Developments

c5293830c1eebb26389a5f5edb715a7be7120556Not too long ago in this winter of discontent, my Facebook friend David Edelstein posted this status update:

This was in The New York Times.

“New York City public schools are open—to the chagrin of many parents—but field trips are canceled.”

Ben and others who care, when did “chagrin” come to mean annoyance, irritation, displeasure? It means embarrassment. It’s another GREAT word I fear we can’t use anymore because people think it means what it doesn’t. This does NOT fill me with chagrin. It mak…


The Predictive Fallacy

A cool data-visualization website called Information Is Beautiful has a page titled “Rhetological Fallacies: Errors and manipulations of rhetoric and logical thinking.” Here’s a taste:

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 9.12.16 AM

If the creator, David McCandless, ever does Fallacies 2.0, I hereby suggest an addition, “Appeal to Predictability: Purporting to score a blow against an opponent by accurately divining something(s) he or she has said, or predicting what he or she will say.”

The only source I’ve found that has commented on this p…



1011236_439499546181294_2101076328_nThe new movie The Monuments Men may interest you because of its story line about the recovery of looted Nazi art, or because of George Clooney and the rest of the A-list cast, or  because it suggests that it’s actually possible to make a film about adults, for adults. It interests me because it’s called The Monuments Men.

That is, it appears to represent a phenomenon I have been monitoring for some time: the increasing use of the plural form of nouns in nonhead elements of compounds. Last year,…