Ben Zimmer in the News

Discussion on HuffPost Live, “Should We Even Bother Reinventing The Dictionary?” (Jan. 20, 2015)

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2014’s ‘Word of the Year’,” article written for Literacy Daily (International Literacy Association, Jan. 20, 2015)

Teachers and students alike may tend to think of words as static items in the dictionary, sturdy building blocks of our vocabulary that have been solemnly passed down from earlier generations.

In my day job as executive editor of, I look at ways that we can make the English lexicon come to life through fun, engaging gameplay and rich online features that clearly illustrate how words work in the world.

But earlier this month, I was wearing another hat, as chair of the American Dialect Society’s New Words Committee. In that capacity, I preside over Word of the Year proceedings at the society’s annual conference, held this year in Portland, OR, in conjunction with the Linguistic Society of America.

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Jessica Bennett, “At the Super Bowl of Linguistics, May the Best Word Win” (New York Times, Jan. 18, 2015)

The rules for WOTY selection are simple: Anyone, including the public, can participate. Words can be nominated from the floor (perhaps the only time you’ll see a linguist shout). And the terms should be “newish,” said Ben Zimmer, the chairman of the new words committee and the event’s M.C. Though the contest is called, yes, word of the year, multiword expressions are allowed (to the chagrin of some purists).

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Interview on KUOW’s “The Record” on the meaning of the slogan, “No Justice, No Peace.” (Jan. 16, 2015)

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Slate’s Lexicon Valley podcast, “The Etymology of Cockamamie Is Just That” (Jan. 12, 2015)

Mike Vuolo and Bob Garfield discuss the etymology and history of the word cockamamie with Wall Street Journal language columnist Ben Zimmer. For more on cockamamie, visit Zimmer’s Word Routes column on

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Stefan Fatsis, “The Definition of a Dictionary” (Slate, Jan. 12, 2015)

Nevertheless, in an age when traditional lexicography might feel like a dying art, democratization is still provoking some anxiety. “Is this kind of crowdsourcing a worthwhile endeavor for dictionary-makers, beyond providing valuable publicity for publishers facing a tough consumer market?” Ben Zimmer asks in an article about the future of online lexicography in the December 2014 issue of Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America. “Or could the reliance on the wisdom of the crowds end up diluting the authority that the leading print dictionaries have traditionally held?”

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Al Jazeera America’s televised report on the American Dialect Society’s 2014 Word of the Year proceedings. (Jan. 10, 2015)

Jessica Bennett, “When Autocorrect Goes Horribly Wrong” (New York Times, Jan. 9, 2015)

Your smartphone may now be able to suggest not just words but entire phrases. And the more you use it, the more it remembers, paying attention to repeated words, the structure of your sentences and tone.

All of which is fine, except that it turns the notion of the guiltless autocorrect on its head. These days, autocorrections are likely to tell the person on the receiving end something about you.

“A lot of the time, you can’t even replicate it because it’s so personalized,” said Ben Zimmer, the chairman of the new-words committee at the American Dialect Society, which is devoted to the study of the English language.

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Interview on WNYC’s “The Leonard Lopate Show” on the notable words of 2014. (Dec. 30, 2014)

The linguist, lexicographer, and language columnist Ben Zimmer talks about the notable words of 2014, including “polar vortex,” “manspreading,” and “conscious uncoupling.” Zimmer is the language columnist for the Wall Street Journal, the executive editor of, and the former language columnist for The Boston Globe and The New York Times Magazine.

(Show page, audio, related Word Routes column)

Interview on NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered about the notable words of 2014. (Dec. 28, 2014)

In January, linguists will gather for the annual meeting of the American Dialect Society in January to vote on the 2014 Word of the Year.

The Oxford Dictionaries already made their 2014 pick, “vape.” But the American Dialect Society holds off until the year is complete. Previous picks include “hashtag,” in 2012, and “because,” in 2013 — an old, common word chosen because it was being used in a new way online (or, as the new construction would have it, “because reasons”).

So what will be the pick this year? Ben Zimmer, language columnist for The Wall Street Journal, will preside over the conference; He talked with NPR’s Arun Rath about some of the contenders. They’re inspired by everything from current events to comedy videos — with a little weather, for good measure.

(Show page, audio, related Word Routes column)