August 2012

Henry Grabar, “Nabe or Hood? A Brief History of Shortening ‘Neighborhood’” (The Atlantic Cities, Aug. 27, 2012)

I also reached out to Boston Globe columnist Ben Zimmer, who dug up the earliest use he’s aware of: a 1922 Denver Post story that refers to a “nabe gym,” easily predating the word’s 1942 appearance in the American Thesaurus of Slang, the first example registered by the OED.

Read the rest here.

Interview on NPR’s “Morning Edition” about the origins of the expression “the proof is in the pudding.” (Aug. 24, 2012)

In a commentary this week on Morning Edition, Frank Deford said the “proof is in the pudding.” A listener wrote in to say that keeping proof in a pudding would be messy. The original proverb is: The proof of the pudding is in the eating. And what it meant was that you had to try out food to know whether it was good.

(Show page, audio)

Do Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan Want to Turn Medicare Into a Voucher Program?” (Politifact, Aug. 15, 2012)

Both sides are acting in self-interest, said Ben Zimmer, executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com and language columnist for The Boston Globe. “I can understand Republican willingness to embrace this alternative term, just as I can understand Democratic eagerness to remind voters of the dreaded ‘v-word’ at every turn,” Zimmer said.

Read the rest here.

Robert Lee Hotz, “Here’s an Omical Tale: Scientists Discover Spreading Suffix” (Wall Street Journal, Aug. 14, 2012)

“I am fascinated by how an ending like that—omics—can take off,” said lexicographer Ben Zimmer, chairman of the American Dialect Society’s new word committee, which gave the term culturomics its 2010 prize as the word least likely to succeed. “There are so many omics that you can now talk about ome-omics.” …

While some of these new terms may be useful, Mr. Zimmer worries the quirky constructions only promote confusion. “They are opaque,” he said. “There are a lot of possibilities for misunderstanding.”

Read the rest here.

Mary Elizabeth Williams, “The New York Times’ F-word Problem” (Salon, Aug. 10, 2012)

When I mentioned the STFU debacle on Twitter yesterday, the great linguist and former Times columnist Ben Zimmer leapt helpfully into the fray, offering some outstanding recent examples of The Times’ profanity avoidance.

Read the rest here.

Interview on the WBUR show “Here and Now” about “Monday” and other covert racial and ethnic slurs. (Aug. 2, 2012)

An off-duty police officer recently called a Major League Baseball player a “Monday” and as a result, lost his job.

It happened at a minor league game earlier this summer: Officer John A. Perreault of Leominster, Massachusetts taunted Boston Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford, an African-American who last season was seen by fans as a symbol of his team’s collapse.

The story brought to light the fact that the word “Monday” has become a slur that is slang for the n-word.

Boston Globe language columnist Ben Zimmer traced the usage of “Monday,” in the online Urban Dictionary and found that it started popping up in 2006, many say on the East Coast.

It was the popular comedian Russell Peters, a Canadian of Indian descent, who put “Monday” on the map. In a January 2008 standup routine for Def Comedy Jam (widely circulated on YouTube), Peters tells of a Bostonian referring to blacks as “Mondays” and giving the same bigoted clarification that “nobody likes Mondays.” “White people are getting real…clever with their racism,” Peters jokes ruefully.

(Show page, audio, related Boston Globe column)

Katy Steinmetz, “Wednesday Words: Weird Slurs, Olympics Slang and More” (Time, Aug. 1, 2012)

Monday (n., slang): used by whites or other non-blacks as a hostile term of abuse or contempt for a black person. A black Boston Red Sox outfielder recently alleged that an off-duty police officer had called him “Monday.” An investigation ensued, and the officer was soon dismissed for making racist comments. This, of course, left sports media confused about how Monday, a seemingly innocuous day of the week, had become covert racial abuse. Language guru Ben Zimmer did his own investigation and traced the usage back to at least 2004, explaining that comedian Russell Peters later “put ‘Monday’ on the map” in a comedy routine about how “white people are getting real…clever with their racism.” The comedian’s reasoning: “Nobody likes Mondays.” Perhaps “Friday”seemed a bit too high-brow for their purposes.

Read the rest here. (Related Boston Globe column)