March 2012

Ari Shapiro, “‘Obamacare’ Sounds Different When Supporters Say It” (NPR Weekend Edition, Mar. 31, 2012)

Linguist Ben Zimmer, executive producer of Visual Thesaurus and, says there’s a long history of groups trying to reclaim negative words.

“So for instance, the term ‘queer,’ which is a very pejorative term, in fact was reclaimed by members of the gay community as a neutral or positive term,” he says, “to the extent that now you have queer studies at universities, for instance.”

In politics, he says, whether a term is positive or negative often hinges on outside events.

“During Ronald Reagan’s first term, ‘Reaganomics’ was generally a negative epithet,” he says, “but by 1984, the economy had turned around, and Ronald Reagan in fact embraced the term ‘Reaganomics.’ “

(Show page, audio, related Boston Globe column)

Interview on “The Conversation with Ross Reynolds” (KUOW Seattle) about the shifting perceptions of the term “Obamacare” (Mar. 27, 2012)

The President’s Affordable Care Act has come to be known to many as simply, Obamacare after being given that nickname by Republicans. Now the left, including the President, is embracing it despite the fact that the term is politically loaded. Language writer Ben Zimmer joins us to discuss the power of language and reclaiming terms in politics.

(Show page, related Boston Globe column)

Interviewed by the Voice of America (Special English Division) about the completion of the Dictionary of American Regional English, “Words and Their Stories: A Final D.A.R.E.” (Mar. 24, 2012)

Linguist Ben Zimmer writes about language for the Boston Globe. He was not the only one excited at Ms. Hall’s first public showing of the final DARE volume. It was at a meeting of the American Dialect Society in January.

BEN ZIMMER: “We all gathered together in the conference room and Joan showed off volume five. And there were audible gasps in the room. I mean, it might as well have been accompanied by an angelic chorus. People just wanted to touch it like it was the holy relic or something.”

(Show page, audio)

Interviewed on the CBC Radio Show “Q with Jian Ghomeshi” about Lily Rothman’s suggestion that gal should be used as the feminine equivalent of guy (at 5 minutes into the segment). (Mar. 22, 2012)

(Show page, audio)

Jacqueline Trescott, “Dictionary of American Regional English Completed” (Style blog, Washington Post, Mar. 21, 2012)

What also sets [The Dictionary of American Regional English] apart, said Ben Zimmer, the executive producer of Visual Thesaurus and, is a sense of discovery and familiarity. These are words and expressions, he said, that “you are not going to find in other dictionaries.”

Read the rest here.

Rebecca J. Rosen, “Meet Dr. Fill, the Computer Who May Best the World’s Top Crossword-Puzzle Solvers” (The Atlantic, Mar. 12, 2012)

This coming weekend a computer program named Dr. Fill (get it?) will take a gander at the tough word puzzles at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Brooklyn. Dr. Fill won’t actually be a contestant in the event, but anyone who beats it — *if* anyone beats it — will receive an “I Beat Dr. Fill” button from New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz. The program is the work of Matt Ginsberg, a computer scientist and longtime puzzle-lover from Eugene, Oregon, Ben Zimmer writes in The Boston Globe.

Read the rest here. (Related Boston Globe column)

John E. McIntyre, “A Distinctively American Dictionary” (The Baltimore Sun, Mar. 9, 2012)

The National Endowment for the Humanities threw a reception at the Old Post Office Building in Washington for the publication of the fifth and concluding volume of [The Dictionary of American Regional English]. Joan Houston Hall, the chief editor, and Ben Zimmer, the linguist, spoke about the heroic accomplishment, and family members of the late Frederic Cassidy, the original editor, were present to share in the triumph. …

While the gaudier locutions catch the public eye, Mr. Zimmer pointed out that many of the little things, such as prepositions, will be of immense interest to lexicographers.

Read the rest here.

Participated in a National Endowment for the Humanities press conference announcing the completion of the Dictionary of American Regional English.

The National Endowment for the Humanities held a press conference on March 8, 2012, in its offices in Washington, D.C., to announce the completion of  DARE‘s text with the publication of Volume V in March.  Joan Houston Hall, DARE’s Chief Editor,  and Ben Zimmer, Visual Thesaurus executive producer and language columnist for the Boston Globe, discuss the significance of the Dictionary‘s completion.

More information here.

Ian Simpson, “US Regional Dictionary Gets In Last Word As It Wraps Up Work” (Reuters, Mar. 8, 2012)

The American Dictionary of Regional English has finally reached its final word – “zydeco” – as researchers wrap up almost 50 years of work charting the rich variety of American speech.

The dictionary’s official publication date is March 20 but lexicographers and word fans have been celebrating ever since its fifth and final volume emerged earlier this year.

“It truly is America’s dictionary,” Ben Zimmer, a language columnist and lexicographer, told a Washington, D.C. news conference on Thursday.

He said when the final printed volume was delivered to its longtime editor, Joan Houston Hall, at a meeting of fellow dialect scholars: “There were audible gasps in the room.”

Read the rest here.

Interviewed on “The Diane Rehm Show” about the completion of the Dictionary of American Regional English, with DARE editor Joan Houston Hall. (Mar. 7, 2012)

In Ohio, the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the curb is called a “tree lawn.” In other parts of the country, it is a “curb,” a “devil’s strip,” a “parkway,” a “swale,” or a “street lawn.” More than a dozen names for this can be found in the Dictionary of American Regional English. The fifth volume covers words and phrases from ‘slab’ to ‘zydeco’ and completes a fifty-year project to capture the unique ways people in different parts of the country speak. The dictionary has been used to solve crimes, teach medical students, train actors, and understand political candidates. Joan Hall, chief editor of the dictionary, and linguist Ben Zimmer join Diane to discuss the diversity of American language.

(Show page, audio, related Boston Globe column)