September 2012

Quentin Fottrell, “How Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Netflix Say Sorry” (MarketWatch, Sep. 29, 2012)

Cook’s more empathetic and direct apology has the edge over Jobs’s mea culpa, analysts say. “Cook’s statement was structured more effectively, with the apology front and center,” says Ben Zimmer, a language expert and executive producer of Jobs, in contrast, framed his letter to customers noncommittally as “observations and conclusions,” Zimmer says. That said, the Maps debacle is a much bigger PR problem for Apple than the price-point issue was, he says, and the current situation demands a stronger apology. Jobs did show greater contrition in 2010, when the release of the iPhone 4 was dogged by complaints about its antenna.

Read the rest here.

Kate Woodsome, “Decoding Netanyahu’s ‘Red Line’ Against Iran” (Voice of America, Sep. 28, 2012)

One of the expression’s earliest appearances came in the 1850s, when the “thin red line” was used to describe the British army at the battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War, according to Ben Zimmer, a language columnist for The Boston Globe newspaper.
“There was a regiment of Scottish soldiers who wore red coats, and they were holding off the Russians in the battle,” he said. “They became known as the ‘thin red line,’ and that became a famous expression to refer to the British army.” …
“Kav adom,” the Hebrew equivalent of “red line,” might have been the first appearance of the phrase in the region, said Zimmer.
“The earliest example that I’ve seen is from 1975, and a quote from the Israeli foreign minister, Yigal Allon, who said at the time, ‘Washington has managed to draw a red line, which all the Arab countries know they must not cross, then America is not going to sacrifice Israel for Arab support,'” Zimmer said, adding that Netanyahu may be using “red line” because of its historical resonance.

Read the rest here. Audio here.

Jen Doll, “Writers’ Favorite Punctuation Marks” (The Atlantic Wire, Sep. 24, 2012).

Ben Zimmer, executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus and, and language columnist for the Boston Globe“When I revealed in a New York Times article last year that I’m overly attached to em-dashes, I was taken to task by the redoubtable John McIntyre, copy editor for the Baltimore Sun. ‘When you are tempted to use dashes,’ he wrote, ‘stop for a moment to consider whether you really want dashes there rather than commas or parentheses.’ Properly chastened, I’ve tried to tone down my dashiness. But I still admire the artfully wielded em-dash, especially used near the end of a sentence—when it works, it really works. (Some might have preferred a semicolon in the previous sentence; I can appreciate the affection for the humble semicolon, less flashy than the em-dash.)”

Read the rest here.

Zoë Triska, “The Worst Word Ever” (Huffington Post, Sep. 18, 2012)

According to Ben Zimmer from Visual Thesaurus, their subscribers’ least liked words are “hate,” “no,” “like,” and “impossible.” These four make some sense–“like” is an overused filler word, and the other three are negative.
Some of their other least-liked words, however, are less easily explained: “moist,” “panties,” “ointment,” and “slacks.”
As Zimmer points out, it seems odd that “moist” should get such a bad rap, when words that sound like it, “hoist” or “joist,” are perfectly acceptable.

Read the rest here.

Interview on WNYC’s “The Leonard Lopate Show” about the rise of the acronym “YOLO” and other new slang. (Sep. 5, 2012)

Ben Zimmer, language columnist for the Boston Globe and executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus and, talks about the YOLO phenomenon and other new examples of youth slang. He wrote about it in his Boston Globe column.

(Show page, streaming audio, download, related Boston Globe column, Word Routes column)

Katy Steinmetz, “Wednesday Words: Surf Speak, Convention Vocabulary and More” (Time, Sep. 5, 2012)

acq-hire (v.): to buy a company in order to absorb its human resources. This definition is adapted from a Visual Thesaurus piece by linguist Ben Zimmer. He traces the term to a 2005 blog post, which describes the act thusly: “When a large company ‘purchases’ a small company with no employees other than its founders, typically to obtain some special talent or a cool concept.” Kind of like when Christian Grey buys a Seattle publishing company so he can keep Anastasia Steele close. Ladies, you know what I’m talking about.

Read the rest here. (Related Word Routes column)

Interview on NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered about the rise of the slang term “YOLO.” (Sept. 2, 2012)

You might know the word “YOLO” if you’re under 25. But if you aren’t, Boston Globe language columnist Ben Zimmer says it’s the buzzword of the year for teenagers and young adults.

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