Ben Zimmer in the News

Esther Cepeda, “Too Many Women Ignore Their Own Misogyny” (Washington Post, June 3, 2014)

Citing Merriam-Webster lexicographers who noticed their online dictionary searches for the word “misogyny” skyrocketed in the wake of the mass killing in Isla Vista, Calif., The Wall Street Journal’s language columnist Ben Zimmer recently wondered if it’s time to redefine the word “misogynist.”

After the rampage, Zimmer noted, opinionators rushed to dissect the usage and nature of misogyny. While some dictionaries consider the word to accurately mean “dislike of” or “prejudice against” women, Merriam-Webster defines “misogyny” as “a hatred of women” and editors there said “hatred” is “broad enough to encompass everything from feelings of dislike to entrenched prejudice and hostility.”

Read the rest here.

Matthew Hilburn, “‘Man Up’ has Long Been Part of the American Vernacular” (Voice of America, May 28, 2014)

When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden should “man up and come back to the United States,” he was using language that has long been a part of manly American vernacular.

From sports to politics, the term “man up” has been more than tossed around the locker room.

The term originally was a way to express the verb “to man” – as in to man the factory with enough manpower, according to New York Times article on the history of the phrase written by language expert Ben Zimmer.

Today, though, the term has sometimes evolved into one more suited to backroom politics or the sports field rather than in the august halls of diplomacy.

According to Zimmer’s explanation to the Times, it is an exhortation used to mean: “Don’t be a sissy. Toughen up” or “Do the right thing; be a mensch, a Yiddish term for an honorable or upright person.”

Zimmer traces the steady rise in use of the term in advertising pointed at men.

Read the rest here.

Philip Bump, “‘Man Up’: John Kerry Adopts the Battle Cry of the Politically Powerless” (Washington Post, The Fix, May 28, 2014)

In 2010, after a series of uses of the term by political candidates, language expert Ben Zimmer wrote about the phrase’s history as a rhetorical tool. He was reacting to, among other incidents, Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle’s demand that Sen. Harry Reid “man up,” and Sarah Palin’s insistence that the Republican Party “man up” and back tea party candidates. Zimmer also pointed to this exhaustive list compiled in October 2010 outlining more than a dozen uses of the phrase prior to that point.

Read the rest here.

Gretchen McCulloch “Happy 25th Birthday to LOL” (Slate, May 23, 2014)

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the first known usage of LOL for “laughing out loud” (the “lots of love” interpretation, incidentally, is quite a bit older). The linguist Ben Zimmer notes that the earliest citation is from the May 1989 issue of a newsletter called Fidonet and is still available online, in all its ASCII’d glory.

Read the rest here.

Jen Doll, “So Long, Partner” (The Atlantic, May 21, 2014)

Spouse, one of the most constant terms, has been used since about 1200. But it has never seriously challenged the primacy of husband or wife… “I don’t hear people using it in an offhand way,” says Ben Zimmer, the executive producer of, “unless they’re being funny about it—like ‘the plural of spouse is spice.’ ” …

Even as we come up with creative new phrasings for other facets of modern life, Zimmer predicts that husband and wife will continue to see plenty of use. “There’s a certain kind of comfort with those terms,” he explains. Maybe the simple fact is that we prefer to rely on the words with which we’re most comfortable to describe the paragons, fellows, and half-marrows with whom we feel most comfortable.

Read the rest here.

Here and Now (WBUR), “Is It Acceptable To Suffer From Redundant Acronym Syndrome Syndrome?” (May 20, 2014)

On yesterday’s Here & Now, host Jeremy Hobson talked about credit card fraud and said both “ATM machine” and “PIN number.” Listeners took him to task for his redundant language, since the M in ATM already stands for “machine” and the N in PIN stands for “number.”

Today, Hobson apologizes for his redundancy and turns to linguist Ben Zimmer to find out whether his verbal faux pas is linguistically acceptable. Turns out there’s a term for it: RAS syndrome. It’s short for “redundant acronym syndrome syndrome.”

(Show page)

Appearance on HuffPost Live, “How Short Is The Shelf-Life Of The #Hashtag?” (May 13, 2014)

#Blessed is now one of the most popular trends on our Twitter feeds, but how has the word taken on a new meaning? HuffPost Live talks to charters of our language to see how Twitter is changing the way we use language.

(Show page, related article)

Britt Peterson, “What ‘Mom’ Really Means in America” (Boston Globe, May 11, 2014)

“Mom” and “mommy” began appearing in the mid 19th century, part of a slew of variations, including mam, mum, and marm, that pop up in dialect and casual written language, according to the Oxford English Dictionary and the Dictionary of American Regional English. “Marm” would’ve usually been pronounced without the “r,” said Ben Zimmer, linguist and producer of Visual Thesaurus—and a former writer of this column—meaning that “Little Women”’s Marmee was probably an early namesake of today’s mommies.

Read the rest here.

Katy Waldman, “Hashtags Are the New Scare Quotes” (Slate, May 6, 2014)

A lot of these migrations between the worlds of structure and voice relate to written language’s lack of nonverbal cues, says linguist Ben Zimmer. “Hashtags, or phrases like LOL, do for Twitter what gestures, facial expressions, or tone would do in face-to-face conversation,” he explained, which is “create a meta-commentary on the main message.”

Read the rest here.

Jessica Bennett, “Blessed Becomes a Popular Hashtag on Social Media” (New York Times, May 2, 2014)

Athletes and entertainers have long used “blessed” in earnest, explained the linguist Ben Zimmer. In 1977, Smokey Robinson told The Chicago Tribune that he felt “blessed” to have accomplished so much in his career; the track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee called it a “blessing” when she set a world record in the heptathlon.

Read the rest here.