August 2011

New York Times Artsbeat blog, “I Me Mine: The Beatles and Their Pronouns” (Aug. 29, 2011)

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.

Read the rest here.

Elizabeth Minkel, “Love Triangles and Linguistic Slips on ‘The Hour’” (The Book Bench Blog, The New Yorker, Aug. 25, 2011)

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.

Read the rest here.

Interview on WCBS Newsradio about usage flip-flops like “I could care less” and “irregardless.” (Aug. 19, 2011)

(Show page, related Word Routes column)

Interview on the CBC Radio show “Q with Jian Ghomeshi” about how the word “literally” gets used non-literally. (Aug. 15, 2011)

On Monday’s program, we looked at the misuse of the word “literally” and how this misuage has inspired everything from blogs to comedy sketches.

(Show page, audio)

Interview on WCBS Newsradio about the term “downgrade,” a potential Word of the Year. (Aug. 12, 2011)

(Show page, related Word Routes column)

Misty Harris, “Old kid on the block: Mick Jagger on fire with swagger” (Postmedia News, Aug. 12, 2011)

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.

Read the rest here.

Interview on WCBS Newsradio about the new social-networking lingo of Google+. (Aug. 5, 2011)

(Show page, related Boston Globe article, related Word Routes column)

Interview on WNYC’s “The Leonard Lopate Show” about how forensic linguists detect “fingerprints” in e-mails and other texts. (Aug. 1, 2011)

Ben Zimmer, executive producer of and, and New York Times contributor, explains how forensic linguists try to detect “fingerprints” in e-mails and other digital writing. His article “Decoding Your E-Mail Personality” looks at the how it’s done and what your e-mails and digital writing reveal about you.

(Show page, streaming audio, download, related New York Times article)