Ben Zimmer in the News

Interview on “Central Time” (Wisconsin Public Radio) about notable words of 2014. (Dec. 22, 2014)

Vortex, Cromnibus, and Ebola were just some of the words that defined 2014. A linguist talks about his picks for words of the year.

(Show page, audio, related Word Routes column)

Slate’s Lexicon Valley podcast, “Too Much Grog Will Make You Groggy. But Where Does Grog Come From?” (Dec. 15, 2014)

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

(Show page)

Interview on NPR’s Morning Edition about the origins of the term “door-buster.” (Nov. 28, 2014)

It may be surprising to learn that door-buster sales are not a recent phenomenon. Crowds turned out for deeply discounted items more than 100 years ago.

(Show page, audio, related WSJ column)

Interview on KUOW’s “The Record” about “Black Friday” and other phrases associated with holiday shopping. (Nov. 26, 2014)

(Show page, audio, related Word Routes column)

Interview on NPR’s “Weekend Edition” about the origins of “Black Friday.” (Nov. 23, 2014)

“The term Black Friday came to be used in Philadelphia by police officers to describe that rush of shoppers on the day after Thanksgiving, which would result in traffic jams and clogged streets,” says linguist Ben Zimmer. “And we’ve got evidence of that in Philadelphia going back to 1961.”

(Show page, audio, related Word Routes column)

Interview with BBC Future: “Is Tech Transforming Language?” (Nov. 21, 2014)

Many think texts and tweets are crimes against proper grammar, but linguist Ben Zimmer argues that this misses the point.

Texting and social media are often bemoaned as the downfall of the written word – the low standards of grammar and spelling, say many critics, are evidence that English is going to pot. But is that true?

Ben Zimmer, a linguist at and language columnist for The Wall Street Journal, argues that most fears about digital discourse are exaggerated.

For starters, ‘proper’ language has always been mangled and remixed by its users in daily life. The main difference now is that it’s much more visible, because so many people are publishing their discourse online.

What’s more, new styles and genres of communication are developing thanks to the way we are connected digitally. For example, some people append their daily conversations with certain words, such as “awkward”, or “random”, emulating the use of the hashtag on Twitter, he says.

So, for a linguist like Zimmer, it’s an “exhilarating time”. Our language is changing – but not necessarily for the worse.

(Show page)

Slate’s Lexicon Valley podcast, “Help Solve the Mystery! Where Did Get One’s Goat Come From?” (Nov. 17, 2014)

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

(Show page)

Mark Allen, “Zimmer Leads the Way in Linguistic Journalism” (Copyediting, Oct. 31, 2014)

Ben Zimmer, perhaps the most prolific commentator on the state of our language, is the obvious first choice for the Linguistic Society of America’s new Linguistics Journalism Award. The honor was announced Wednesday.

Zimmer has tackled hundreds of words and phrases and language trends in articles for the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the New York TimesSlate, and others. He is executive producer for Visual Thesaurus and the website.

He is on TwitterFacebookGoogle Plus. He speaks regularly on language matters for local and national media outlets. His examinations of emerging words and usages are valuable for copyeditors looking to keep up with twerking and selfiesfracking and cronuts.

Academics tend to be insular by nature, and linguists have walked a line between explaining usage and going to great lengths to avoid influencing the natural evolution of language. Journalists, who are conservative when it comes to matters of language, have taken the lead in explaining standard English. The linguist journalist is something of a new breed.

“The fact that the LSA created the award in the first place speaks to how writers with academic backgrounds in linguistics are increasingly working their way into widely read media outlets,” Zimmer said in an email. “That’s a welcome development, since writing about language in the mass media has often fallen to journalists and pundits with only a passing familiarity with linguistic scholarship.”

Read the rest here.

Linguistic Society of America, “WSJ’s Ben Zimmer receives first LSA Linguistics Journalism Award” (Oct. 29, 2014)

The Linguistic Society of America is pleased to name Ben Zimmer as the first recipient of our Linguistics Journalism Award. Zimmer is well-known for his linguistic contributions to mainstream media, most notably as the language columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

Ben Zimmer headshot

The Linguistics Journalism Award, newly established by the LSA in 2014, honors “the journalist whose work best represents linguistics during the 12-month consideration period indicated in the call for nominations”. (This year’s consideration period ran from June 1, 2013 to May 31, 2014.) In addition to his work for the Wall Street Journal, Zimmer has recently written articles on linguistic topics for the Boston GlobeThe Atlantic, Slate’s “Lexicon Valley” blog, and Language Log, among other media. Zimmer is also the executive producer of and the Visual Thesaurus.

The Linguistics Journalism Award is the seventh of the 2015 LSA Awards to be announced; the final award for this year, the Leonard Bloomfield Book Award, will be announced in the coming weeks. All LSA awards will be presented at the 2015 LSA Annual Meeting on Saturday, January 10, 5:30 PM PT at the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower.


Caitlin Dewey, “An Unnecessarily Long and Surprisingly Fascinating History of ‘Guys’” (Washington Post, The Intersect, Oct. 24, 2014)

By the early 1930s, says Ben Zimmer — a linguist and frequent commentator on everything from “stalking” to “czars” —Americans were just beginning to use “guys” to indicate people of either gender. But guys was always a really weird word, its exact definition changing based on context. …

It makes sense, then, that Zimmer credits modern Internet usage of the word to the sarcasm-inflected headlines of Gawker and the Awl, sites that have long specialized in a sort of cool, removed irony. But even they may have had help: The popular sitcom “Friends,” which ran from 1994 to 2004 — notably, a time at which many Awl and Gawker writers were coming of age — used the word “guys” so frequently that language researcher Theresa Heyd used it as a launching point for her 2010 discourse on language change.

“I wouldn’t discount ‘Friends’ as an influence on how people currently use ‘guys,’ ” Zimmer said. “Perhaps there’s an echo of the staginess of ‘Friends’ when people use ‘guys’ now, which adds to the ironic distance someone can create by starting a tweet or snarky headline” that way.

Read the rest here.