Electronic technology has had an impact on our language. And one of the greatest impacts, like that of an asteroid smashing into the Yucatan peninsula, is the way we greet each other: Hello!
Most greetings, in English or other languages, involve respect (Sir), the day (Good morning), health (How do you do, Howdy), or the like. Informally nowadays we say Hey or Hi, which might be condensations of How are you.
But none of these is the case with Hello. It has nothing to do with the day or the heal…
This past weekend I escaped the polar vortex for a few days of vacation in warmer climes, and I found myself thinking a lot about the word perfect. It had nothing to do with the weather (which was lovely, but not perfect) or the hotel (also lovely, but is any hotel perfect?). It was the service. Not that the service was perfect. It just seemed that everything I ordered or said was perfect.
Server: “What can I get for you?”
Me: “I’ll take the salmon bento box.”
Server: “Perfect. And how would y…
In 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…
Erin Hamlin made Olympic history as the first American to medal in singles luge.
(AP Photo/Morry Gash)
The manufactured snow has barely melted at the Sochi Winter Olympics, but I’ll take a moment to reflect on what I thought was the rise of the verb to medal, meaning of course to win gold, silver, or bronze in Olympic competition.
If you’re an Olympic athlete, you want to medal. You want to medal even more than you want to win a medal. If you’re covering the Olympics, you want to use the verb t…
Not 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…
“Politeness is another word for deception,” James W. Pennebaker, chair of the psychology department at the University of Texas at Austin, is quoted as saying in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal. The statement brought me up short because it is so different from how I discuss politeness in my courses.
As I say to students, living together is hard. And I don’t mean “living together” in the sense of sharing an apartment or home with roommates or romantic partners. I mean “living t…
The etymology of Chicano is surrounded in mystery. I’ve seen its roots traced to Nahuatl, specifically to the term Mexica, as the people encountered by Hernán Cortés and his soldiers conquering Tenochtitlán in the early quarter of the 16th century where known. In Spanish, the word is pronounced Meshika: the x functions as sh. Mexico, as a nation, opts to look at the Mexicas as their defining ancestors. Curiously, when first registering the name, the missionaries spelled it Méjico, with a j. It t…
The Beatles during the filming of Help!
(image via flickr)
I heard a Brazilian iron-ore magnate speaking on a BBC news program about how he had become so rich, and he said that at one point “the price of iron ore came from $10 a ton to $180 a ton.” I realized that there was a subtle mistake in English usage here: Even if the price is still $180 now, we do not say that the price came from $10 to $180; we say the price went from $10 to $180. But why?
Come is standardly used for motion (including me…
OK. Mark your calendar now for March 23, OK Day. It’s the day we pause to celebrate the birthday of OK in Boston, Hub of the Universe, on March 23, 1839.
Yes, OK! How can we sufficiently sing the praises of America’s and the world’s greatest word?
Let’s try. OK is the expression we use countless times every day to make arrangements, give approvals, and get by, often with a cascade of OKs:
“How about 2 o’clock? OK?”
And of course that’s not all. There’s the “OK” that …
Col. Robert McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, wanted to simplify English.
The other afternoon I was surprised by a phone call from a concerned citizen who identified himself as Eugene Segar of Detroit, 83 years old. He wanted to talk about reforming English spelling to make it more accessible to students and second-language learners.
His message wasn’t what surprised me. The ineluctable complexity of English spelling has been evoking calls for reform for centuries. No, it was rather…