Ben Zimmer in the News

Greg Toppo, “Kids Learning New Words at Warp Speed” (USA Today, Jan. 13, 2014)

A website that teaches kids new words has touched off spirited digital competition among schools from coast to coast. boasts a Web-based dashboard bristling with points, levels, progress bars and achievement bonuses, among other attractions. Students have long competed with one another. […]
Could academics be the new athletic event?
“Competition can kind of ‘up the stakes’ a bit, even if it’s the idea of pride of place or getting a banner,” says Ben Zimmer, the site’s executive producer. “It really does seem to add something.”
Much of the traffic for the competition has come through word-of-mouth among teachers and students, he says. “Everybody can contribute, everybody can compete.” He’s also looking at ways to allow several schools in a single district to compete with one another.

Read the rest here.

Lynn Sweet, “What You Say Depends on Where You Say It” (Chicago Sun-Times, Jan. 12, 2014)

I was on a fun segment on regionalisms recently on MSNBC’s “Up with Steve Kornacki” with, among others, Ben Zimmer, the chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society. …
Zimmer’s American Dialect Society proclaimed its word of the year on Jan. 3 with the runaway winner . . .this will surprise you, I bet: “because,” with 127 votes.
Because beat out Obamacare with 39 votes; slash with 21; selfie with 20 and twerk claiming only 7. Why did the oldie win?
Zimmer said “because” was breaking new grammatical ground — and being used in new ways with nouns and adjectives. One example, “Because awesome.”
Politically, Obamacare got its start as sneering shorthand, used by President Barack Obama’s critics instead of the official Affordable Care Act.
For a long time, the Obama team wouldn’t go near Obamacare, but once the key component of the ACA was upheld by the Supreme Court, Obamacare was embraced by Democrats, putting it on the road to rehabilitation.
The term, according to the dialect society “has moved from pejorative to matter-of-fact shorthand.”

Read the rest here.

Interview on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on the American Dialect Society’s choice of “because” as 2013 Word of the Year. (Jan. 8, 2014)

Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society and executive producer of and theVisual Thesaurus, discusses the American Dialect Society’s choice for word of the year: the new twitter-based use of the word “because.”

(Show page, audio, streaming, related Word Routes column)

Katy Steinmetz, “The Absolute Final, Last Word of the Year: Because” (Time Newsfeed, Jan. 8, 2014)

Crowning a word of the year is so hot these days. An increasing number of dictionaries and websites each churn out their specimens, trying to encapsulate the zeitgeist—or at least get some good, free PR. But one group was anointing a “WOTY” long before it was cool: the American Dialect Society, a cadre of linguists, lexicographers and other lexically-oriented souls that holds their big annual meeting in the first days of January each year.

A few days ago in Minneapolis, attendees made cases for slashObamacare and selfie. Yet the votes ultimately came in for because—not the boring old conjunction because, but a new form that is illustrating language’s ability to keep it fresh. They voted for the because that a headline writer uses when he pens, “The Senate changes its rules, because politics.” Rather than being followed by the traditional of or a whole clause, this because is typically followed by one word, be it noun, verb, adjective or something else. Because nachos. Because want. Because science. It’s punchy, irreverent and such a different kind of usage that linguists don’t even know what to call it. “We may be talking about a new class of words,” says Ben Zimmer, a sociolinguist who presided over the voting.

Requiring a cumbersome explanation is clearly small potatoes next to that kind of innovation when it comes to winning votes among the erudite. “You get a bunch of linguists in a room and say, ‘Hey, look at this old function word that’s being used in brand new ways,’ and that piques their interest,” says Zimmer, executive producer of “It has a kind of child-like quality to it as well, that makes it very playful, intentionally tweaking grammar in a way that kids often do.”

Read the rest here. (Related Word Routes column)

Rob Stott, “Because Innovation: Dialect Society Names ‘Because’ Word of the Year” (Associations Now, Jan. 8, 2014)

Whoever said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks clearly has never played around with the English language.

At their annual meeting last weekend, members of the American Dialect Society (ADS) had some fun with the language themselves, noting and debating the ways that vocabulary and usage have morphed over the past year. A highlight of the event was the announcement of ADS’s 2013 Word of the Year.

Their choice, by attendee vote? A word that has been a part of our lexicon for centuries: because.

“If people were trying to place bets beforehand, I don’t think that would’ve been on too many people’s radars,” said Ben Zimmer, chair of ADS’s New Words Committee. “It’s a very old word that’s deeply embedded in the language, which people are finding new ways to use, and very often it’s intentionally playing with the established rules of grammar. I think the fact that this is such a linguistic innovation really appealed to a room full of linguists.”

In addition to using because before a full clause or with the word of, it can now precede a noun, like “because science,” or before an adjective, like “because awesome,” Zimmer explained. “At first it seems like a very odd choice, but the more you think about it, the more you realize exactly how innovative it is, even if it’s just a seemingly nondescript word.”

Read the rest here. (Related Word Routes column)

Interview on the CBC Radio show “As It Happens” about the winning words in the American Dialect Society’s 2013 Word of the Year selection (segment begins 22 minutes in). (Jan. 6, 2014)

Because useful.
Regular listeners to this program may recall that late last year, we spoke about the interesting re-definition of the world, “because”.
And it turns out we were on to something: “because” has just earned the title of Word of the Year, from the American Dialect Society.
The group voted on the words of the year in numerous categories this past weekend.
Ben Zimmer is the Chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society. We reached him in New York City.

(Show page, audio, related Word Routes column)

Jennifer Schuessler, “American Dialect Society Chooses ‘Because’ as Word of the Year” (New York Times, Jan. 5, 2014)

After a year dominated by upstarts like “selfie,” “bitcoin” and “twerk,” the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year honor for 2013 has gone to a seemingly old-hat vocabulary item: “because.”

Increasingly used to introduce a noun or adjective rather than a full clause — as in “because tired” or “because awesome” — “because” won in a landslide at the society’s annual meeting in Minneapolis, garnering 127 of 175 votes, well ahead of the runner-up, “slash” (as in “come and visit slash stay”). It also triumphed in the “most useful” category, ahead of nominees like “struggle bus” (as in, “I’m riding the struggle bus”) and “ACC,” or “aggressive carbon copy,” which refers to using email to undermine the position of the recipient by, say, cc’ing the boss.

Ben Zimmer, chairman of the dialect society’s new words committee, explained that casual online usage had transformed “because.”

“No longer does ‘because’ have to be followed by of or a full clause,” he said in a statement. “Now one often sees tersely worded rationales like ‘because science’ or ‘because reasons.’ You might not go to a party ‘because tired.’ As one supporter put it, ‘because’ should be word of the year ‘because useful!’ ”

Read the rest here. (Related Word Routes column)

Interview on NPR’s “Morning Edition” about contenders for the American Dialect Society’s 2013 Word of the Year. (Dec. 31, 2013)

Later this week the American Dialect Society will announce its word of the Year. Renee Montagne discusses word contenders with linguist Ben Zimmer, who is the language columnist for The Wall Street Journal.

(Show page, audio, related Wall Street Journal column, Word Routes column)

Panel discussion on MSNBC’s “Up With Steve Kornacki” about regional dialects. (Dec. 29, 2013)

(First segment, second segment)

On The Record: 33 Quotations That Made News In 2013” (WBUR-Boston, Dec. 26, 2013)

In such unspeakable moments, words fail. This was true for those at the scene of the marathon, but also for many who watched from afar as photos and videos began flooding social media and the enormity of the crisis began to take shape. When there are no words, “surreal” ends up working as a proxy for more complex, inchoate emotions that are difficult to verbalize.

Linguist Ben Zimmer for The Boston Globe. (April 21).

Read the rest of the list here.