Category Archives: Words


Linguification: That’s the Name of the Game

Narendra Modi, peripatetic prime minister of India

The term linguification originated on Language Log in 2006. I coined it to denote a peculiar kind of rhetorical device: People saying things like “The words ‘X’ and ‘Y’ are always found together” to mean “The concepts X and Y are related,” or (to cite a recent headline on Quartz India) this sort of thing:

Three continents in 140 hours — Narendra Modi shows he doesn’t know the meaning of “jet lag”

Does Modi’s itinerary really show that? Of course…


Living in Latin

salvilogoIf you think Latin is a dead language, think again. Over the past few years, a growing number of “living Latinists” are breathing new life into Latin, taking it out of the classroom and into the light of day.

In February I attended  Bidua Latina, the North American Institute for Living Latin Studies’ Latin-immersion weekend. The institute, known as SALVI (see logo at left for the full name), seeks ways to make learning the language more enjoyable for students, teachers, and the general public. T…


Half Time for WOTY

WOTY-scrabbleMonday, June 20, marked the turning point of the year — the solstice, when days stopped getting longer and started on their six months’ journey to long, dark nights. Now we can’t put off thinking about the rest of the year so easily:  back to school, Election Day, Thanksgiving. Maybe even a World Series victory for the Chicago Cubs.

So it’s also time to begin thinking about the Word of the Year, specifically the WOTY chosen by the American Dialect Society. The society had the first word, havin…


The Great Bloviators


Davy Crockett: A bigger bloviator than Donald Trump

Bloviator, and its companion verb bloviate,  is a 100-percent American creation, in the manner of other sesquipedalian inventions of ours in the exuberant early 19th century, words like rambunctious and splendiferous.

It might seem like one or another of the current presidential candidates is a bloviator, a fine word meaning just what it suggests, one who is a blowhard (another American word from the mid-19th century), that is, a pompous bragg…


Direct Objects or Lack Thereof

71pLyLC3SELAs a memento of my visit to the London offices of The Economist I took away a printed copy of the 2013 edition of the magazine’s style book. Its 200 sides of heavy, high-gloss paper are spiral-bound to remain open on the desk at the user’s elbow: The book is intended for daily use.

It has a personality; you can sense it. Take a look, for example, at the beginning of the entry headed “transitive and intransitive verbs”:

The distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs is often now disreg…


Racists and Racialists — and What’s the Difference?

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 9.57.48 AMOn June 7, a New York Times editorial addressed Donald Trump’s remarks that Judge Gonazalo Curiel has “an inherent conflict of interest” in a lawsuit against Trump University because he is “of Mexican heritage.” “Republicans who say they disagree with Mr. Trump’s racialist statements,” the Times declared, “have tried to assuage the public by arguing that he doesn’t really believe those views.”

Racialist is the word that jumps out. The Oxford English Dictionary says it is equivalent to racist but…


Liars and Snakes: Plumbing New Rhetorical Depths

Boris Johnson visit to the USA - Day 3

Boris Johnson: Trump with a thesaurus?

Britain is now deep into campaigning for the referendum on whether to back out of the political and economic union defining the world’s largest single market. After about eight years here I still feel mostly like one of the many Americans in Edinburgh, and our focus is mainly on the U.S. presidential election campaign; but the referendum struggle is capturing ever more of a share of the news media here.

I came to hate referendums (referenda, if you insist o…


All Onboard!


All on board: a barge cruise from Castlefield to Salford, England. Not what HR has in mind.

Since the great age of the iron horse, the cry “All aboard!” has rung out from platforms, the conductor coaxing passengers into their carriages.

It’s not just train conductors. James Brown urged us on, too (“All aboard the Night Train”), and you’ve probably heard “All aboard!” in black-and-white melodramas,  usually at a moment of dramatic tension punctuated by a cloud of locomotive steam.

To be on board …


The ‘L’ You Say


A Chicago ‘L’ train in the northeast corner of the Loop

Actually, the way you say it is never a problem. There’s only one way. But how you spell it — that’s another story.

The el, of course, is Chicago’s rapid-transit rail system, operated now by the Chicago Transit Authority and dating back to the 1890s. Eight lines nowadays, more than 100 miles of track, third busiest in the country, etc. The CTA writes it as ‘L,’ with single quotation marks.

However you spell it, its name was always pronounc…




It would have been Tricia’s 49th birthday today, if cancer had not brought a premature end to her life back in January.*

My thoughts are still of Tricia for several minutes of every hour and several hours of every day. And not just of her dynamic physical presence — her flashing eyes and long legs and lust for life — but of her fast and irreverent wit, and her wonderful way with words.

Often her humor was dark. She would joke even about her own impending death. She knew her cancer was terminal,…