All posts by Ben Yagoda

by

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…

by

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…

by

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…
by

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…
by

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…

by

People Who Died

220px-Elaine_May_and_Mike_Nichols_1960

Elaine May and Mike Nichols

“Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they died.”

—Jim Carroll, “People Who Died”

I am getting so sick of people dying. I don’t speak of my friends—as Jim Carroll (1949-2009) so unflinchingly and memorably did in his 1980 song—but of writers, artists, musicians, actors,  journalists,  broadcasters, and other public figures whose work and prese…

by

The List Lilt

Stephen Potter

Stephen Potter

I told you about vocal fry. And you know all about uptalk? The inflection that was first discussed by Robin Lakoff in 1976, that was given its name by James Gorman in a 1993 New York Times article, and that continues to rouse the ire of right-thinking people everywhere?

Well, here’s a new one, which I started noticing a couple of years ago, among friends, colleagues, students, and National Public Radio interviewees (basically, my audio universe). It’s a way of voicing a list as if…

by

Idiom Strong

AR-141029730.jpg&MaxW=315&MaxH=315

Residents of Barrett, Pennsylvania, sold t-shirts to help local police defray costs associated with a recent manhunt.

Back in September, Barrett Township, in Pennsylvania, was the center of a  manhunt for an armed fugitive and adopted the motto “Barrett Proud.” When the suspect was caught, in October, the entire region appropriated it and dubbed itself “Pocono Proud.

This week The New York Times reported that after an 11-year-old Indiana boy, Calvin Clark, suffered a severe head injury in a foo…

by

You Had Meme

In 1996, a movie called Jerry Maguire, written by Cameron Crowe, contained a certain scene:

 

 

Then this happened.

chart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the chart suggests, things started out kind of slow.

Pentagon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But then they picked up, with graphics galore.

BigHead-Joes

 

 

 

 

 

 

Youre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOU-HAD-ME-AT-BACON-pink-500x500

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was rhyme and variation.

You had me at Halo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jello2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow

 

 

 

 

Tweets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving on to other species…

Dog-bookcover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… and other langu…

by

Stuff Like That There

After Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants won the World Series Most Valuable Player award, Chevrolet called on a local regional manager to present Bumgarner with the keys to the truck that went with the award. On national TV. The man fumbled, lost his train of thought, and ended up blurting out that the pitcher was sure to like the truck because it has “class-winning and leading, you know, technology and stuff.”

Social media erupted, as only social media can do, in a festive mock-a-tho…