May 2012

Interview with Patt Morrison on Southern California Public Radio about a report on the “grade level” of Congressional speech. (May 23, 2012)

Is there something to be said for speaking simply? Do tests like the Flesch-Kincaid undervalue conciseness? Do these ratings have anything do with actual smarts? What do you think of the level of dialogue in Congress? How do you want your politicians to communicate with you?


Lee Drutnam, senior fellow, Sunlight Foundation; member of the team responsible for the study; adjunct professor, political science, John Hopkins University

Ben Zimmer, language columnist, Boston Globe; executive producer, Visual Thesaurus and

(Show page, download)

David Riedel, “Nonfiction’s ‘Meta’ Moment” (Page Views, Columbia Journalism Review blog, May 23, 2012)

The word “meta” has become an inescapable part of the pop culture zeitgeist. In early May, the Boston Globe published a column by Ben Zimmer about the word’s seeming omnipresence. Zimmer also appeared on NPR to discuss it, saying, “The way [meta] gets used now really refers to anything that is self referential, self parodying in some way in this kind of recursive fashion.”

In its original usage, Zimmer writes, meta means “‘above or beyond’ (the metaphysical realm is beyond the physical one) or ‘at a higher level of abstraction.’” Metawritings: Toward a Theory of Nonfiction falls into the latter camp.

Read the rest here.

Interview on Minnesota Public Radio’s “The Daily Circuit” about how words explain our world. (May 21, 2012)

We check in with The Daily Circuit linguists for the latest trends in language. What words have become especially popular given the cultural climate? Why is “austere” one of the most-searched words on the web? What are some holes in our language and how can we fill them?

(Show page, audio)

Julia Turner, “Mad Men recap: Roger says ‘impactful.’ Is that a gaffe?” (Slate TV Club, May 15, 2012)

This just in! Ben Zimmer heeded the Mad Men anachronism bat signal I sent up in my post this morning, weighing in with a definitive email about Roger’s use of “impactful.” Zimmer, an authority on these matters, gives the usage a certificate of authenticity.

Read the rest here.

Interview on “At Issue with Ben Merens” (Wisconsin Public Radio) on how our names influence who we are. (May 15, 2012)

Assigning a name to someone is a social act in our culture. So, what’s in a name? After three, join Ben Merens and his guest as they discuss how our names influence who we are. GUEST: Ben Zimmer is executive producer of and He writes a biweekly language column for The Boston Globe and is the former “On Language” columnist for The New York Times Magazine.

(Show page, streaming audio, download, related Guggenheim forum)

In an act of metajournalism, Andrew Beaujon aggregates my work on the word “meta” (and I reaggregate it here). “Ben Zimmer’s Work on ‘Meta’ Inspires Metajournalism” (Poynter, May 7, 2012)

Ben Zimmer’s Sunday language column about the word “meta” describes how it changed from meaning “above and beyond” to mean “consciously self-referential.” It is, as he writes in the clever beginning of the piece in which he imagines writing the column, “a perfect meta-commentary on the consciously self-referential age we live in.”

Read the rest here. (Related Boston Globe column, Word Routes column)

Interview on NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered about the rise of the word meta.

A couple weeks ago, weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz sent an email to Ben Zimmer, a language columnist at the Boston Globe.

“Ben,” he wrote, “Every 20-something on my staff uses the word ‘meta’ all the time — as in ‘That’s so meta.’ Did I miss something?”

Zimmer responded with a 400-word mini-essay affirming that, yes, “meta” has indeed been working its way to more popular usage over the last decade or so.

“Everything in the culture, it seems, can instantly become self-referential, self-conscious, and self-parodying, increasingly driven by the frenzied feedback loop of social networking and electronic communication,” Zimmer wrote. “Your young staffers take all of this for granted.”

(Show page, download, related Boston Globe column)