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He (or Possibly Him?) as Head

4622063623_c3a61fda47_oA commenter on a newspaper article about Prince Charles (the opinionated royal destined to inherit the throne under Britain’s hereditary monarchical and theocratic system of government) said this:

The moment the Monarchy, with he at its head, begins a campaign of public influence is the moment the Monarchy should be disbanded.

 

“With he at its head?” Not “with him at its head”? Let’s face it: The traditionally accepted rules for case-marking pronouns in Standard English are simply a myster…

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Is That a Real Novel or Did You Just Make It Up Yourself?

ItBNnDhR3tjwAMx0vEwj“Is your novel fiction, or did any of it really happen?”

I’ve started doing readings of my new novel, A Sister to Honor, and sure enough, the question came from one of the attentive listeners waiting in line to buy a signed copy.  I can’t blame her for her confusion. I’d like to blame Truman Capote, who came up with the term nonfiction novel to describe his new-journalism book In Cold Blood:

It seemed to me that journalism, reportage, could be forced to yield a serious new art form: the “nonfict…

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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…

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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 …

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#WOTY2014

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…

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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…
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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. Dictionary.com 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 …

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Renée Zellweger as a Verb? I Don’t Think So.

I’ve written here before about locutions like “art is a verb.” But although I am familiar with the popular nontechnical use of the predicate “is a verb,” I was nonplused by the following remark in Petula Dvorak’s Washington Post opinion piece in November about the cult of youth:*

We’ve always been a culture that worships youth, but it’s been taken to whole new extremes in recent years. Renée Zellweger has become a verb for those women who surgically transform themselves into completely differen…

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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 …

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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…