Category Archives: Words


Broiling Over

If you reinterpret “in fetal position” as “in feeble position” or use “hunger pains” rather than “hunger pangs,” you’ve got yourself an eggcorn. The word eggcorn itself is an eggcorn (a reshaping of a word—in this case, acorn—based on a new and plausible understanding of its parts and/or meaning). Geoff Pullum picked up on Mark Liberman’s Language Log post on eggcorns to coin the term as a way to refer to this phenomenon; and it has found its way into several dictionaries with this meaning.



Garage Sociolinguistics

Read the above title aloud before you continue. I have a real problem about pronouncing it. Let me explain. In the fall I was quite unexpectedly forced to move house. my_garage_3 My new home has not only an off-street parking spot but also a standalone structure (pictured at left) intended for storing an automobile (but actually occupied by garden tools, boxes, unused furniture–you know how it goes). Uttering the name for this outbuilding plunges me into a sociolinguistic minefield.

The suffix -age that te…


The Campus Culture Industry

PrimantiBros_SkylarYuenI’m sure I’m not the only Lingua Franca reader who received a communication just before the start of the spring term thanking the committee who had worked hard over break on the institutional goal of Strengthening Campus Culture. Those of us whose campus cultures were weak will see them shored up; those whose campus cultures were already strong will see them buttressed for the future.

Only I’m not certain what a campus culture is, exactly. I know: It’s marketing-speak. But we’re talking abou…


A Real Tweet for Linguists

Early in January every year, nearly a thousand people who study how language works flock together for the annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America together with six smaller groups under its wings, including the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas, the Association for Linguistic Evidence, and of course the American Dialect Society.

This year they migrated to Portland, Ore., for meetings January 8 through 11. There were hundreds of talks on the workings of …



This past Friday night was the 25th time that the American Dialect Society (ADS) has voted for the Word of the Year. We were reminded at the beginning of the meeting that this makes it only the 24th anniversary, so no champagne yet. … It was, as usual, a lively gathering, with standing room only in the back and even, at one point, chanting in support of one word on the ballot. As we do every year, we voted on other categories too, such as Most Outrageous, Most Useful, Most Creative, etc. We adde…


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…

D-Day for Word of the Year

Selfie. Photographer: Jacek Halicki

At last the moment has arrived to determine the ultimate Word of the Year 2014.

Others have already announced their choices.The Oxford Dictionaries liked vape, having to do with smokeless cigarettes. Merriam-Webster chose culture because the word was so often looked up on its website. chose exposure. And the Global Language Monitor, noticing how frequently the  heart-shaped emoji was used throughout the world, proclaimed that symbol as its word …


Otiose Manspreading

tumblr_nfok5eFkXV1sqv9too1_1280New York’s MTA is about to mount a campaign against it. They’re debating the issue in Chicago. Even in polite Toronto, the issue—and the term—have, uh, spread widely. Manspreading first appeared, as far as I can tell, just three short months ago, on October 6, 2014, but it already garners 665,000 results on Google.

It’s a word that was begging to be coined. Manspreading refers, of course, to certain men’s habit of spreading their thighs in a wide V from the pelvis outward, often taking up two …


Words for Beginners

Ex. 1:  torture. 

Today, class, we will look at a word that is not complicated. Our friends at the Oxford English Dictionary help us get started:

1.a.  The infliction of severe bodily pain, as punishment or a means of persuasion.

Wait, some part of that wasn’t clear? Then let’s follow the OED on to the second, more fully elaborated explanation.

2.a. Severe or excruciating pain or suffering (of body or mind); anguish, agony, torment; the infliction of such.

Not clear yet? Here is a third definiti…



A recent classroom experience left me with the exhilarating feeling of having found a new word usage, barely a few years old, that has become a fixture in how we approach the world.

This semester I’ve been teaching a course called “Impostors” that focuses on actors, spies, forgers, translators, plagiarizers, and other transgressors assuming someone else’s identity for commercial, political, psychological, artistic, or other purposes. Students read Plato, Diderot, Cervantes, and Freud, wat…