James W. Pennebaker’s new book “The Secret Life of Pronouns,” which I review in this Sunday’s Book Review, makes it hard to stop thinking about pronouns and the other little “function words” that Pennebaker, a social psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, sees as “the keys to the soul.” Pennebaker is admirably omnivorous when it comes to looking for material that will show how these stealthy words — which include articles, prepositions, conjunctions and auxiliary verbs — reflect our social psyche. One of his more unexpected sources is the lyrical canon of the Beatles.
If you’ve heard anything at all about “The Hour,” you’ve probably seen at least a few references to “Mad Men,” a show that’s renowned for its painstaking recreations of a similar era. The trouble with “Mad Men’s” preëminence is they’ve set themselves an impossibly high bar: when I hunted for their linguistic anachronisms, all six of them were pretty clearly spelled out (there’s even a YouTube compilation). All right, six might be a bit of an exaggeration, but the mistakes are relatively infrequent—ensuring that a few bad phrases have gotten more than their share of attention from dedicated viewers. When the show’s creator and head writer, Matthew Weiner, talked with the Times’s Ben Zimmer last year, he owned up to his most glaring error: Joan’s “The medium is the message,” delivered years before Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase.
According to lexicographer Ben Zimmer, former On Language columnist for the New York Times, musicians’ sweetness for swagger took root fully a decade ago, when Jay-Z used it in the song All I Need (“I guess I got my swagger back.”) …
“It feels like it’s become something more entrenched, and not just a flash in the pan,” says Zimmer, likening swagger’s potential sturdiness to “cool,” which has waxed and waned as a slang term — but never disappeared — since the 1940s.