Ben Zimmer in the News

Slate’s “Lexicon Valley” podcast, “Where Did Discombobulate Come From?” (July 28, 2014)

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

Jessica Bennett, “The Emoji Have Won the Battle of Words” (New York Times, July 25, 2014)

“I’m not sure you can really speak of it as a full-fledged language yet,” said Ben Zimmer, a linguist, “but it does seem to have fascinating combinatorial possibilities. Any sort of symbolic system, when it’s used for communication, is going to develop dialects.”

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Katy Steinmetz, “The Emoji’s Strange Power” (Time, July 17, 2014)

“It’s easy to write them off as just silly little smiley faces or thumbs-up,” says sociolinguist Ben Zimmer, the executive producer of “But there’s an awful lot of people who are very interested in treating them seriously.” …

“Many people have hoped for something that was both a language and beyond anything we know as language,” says Zimmer. “With emoji, that’s more of a possiblity. It’s just a question of what we do with it.”

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Alice Robb, “How Using Emoji Makes Us Less Emotional” (The New Republic, July 7, 2014)

Emoticons and emoji are changing the way we communicate faster than linguists can keep up with or lexicographers can regulate. “It’s the wild west of the emoji era,” said linguist Ben Zimmer over the phone. “People are making up the rules as they go. It’s completely organic.”

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Katy Steinmetz, “You’re Using Exclamation Points Too Much! Here’s How to Stop” (Time, July 2, 2014)

This universal barrage has, in turn, muted the mark’s ability to powerfully exclaim, as a joke’s hilarity wanes when told over and over and over. “There’s been a dilution of its power through greater use,” says linguist Ben Zimmer, executive producer of

That dilution, Zimmer notes, has come with the rise of electronic communication, where we struggle to convey all the things that our voice and face can.

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Hudson Reporter, “Jersey City Man to Compete on Jeopardy!” (June 29, 2014)

Ben Zimmer, a linguist and language columnist from Jersey City, will compete on Jeopardy! on June 30 at 7 p.m. on WABC-TV.

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Kyle Vanhemert, “The Secret Rules of Emojis” (Wired, June 24, 2014)

Granted, emoji lack the codification and grammar generally associated with language. That slipperiness, though, is part of what makes it worthwhile. Linguist Ben Zimmer refers to this as emoji’s Wild West era; with every new message, we have the chance to play with meaning and experiment with expression.

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Interviewed on RadioWest (KUER Salt Lake City) about regional accents and what they say about us. (June 17, 2014)

Did you go to “high skull” instead of “high school?” Maybe you put “melk” in your coffee instead of “milk”. Have you seen a cougar “ki’uhn” in the “mou’uhns” of “Lay-uhn?” If so, you speak like a Utahn, especially if you call fried bread a “scone.” In the age of globalization and cultural flattening, regional accents and vocabularies are thriving, especially in urban areas. Wednesday, we’re talking about the way we talk, not just on the Wasatch Front, but across America, and we hope to hear from you.

(Show page, audio)

Erin McCarthy, “16 Twitter Accounts for Word Nerds” (Mental Floss, June 16, 2014)

4. Ben Zimmer

You’ll learn a lot by following this Wall Street Journal columnist and linguist.

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Interview on KUOW’s The Record on the history of the word “misogyny.” (June 4, 2014)

After the UC Santa Barbara shootings, Merriam-Webster editors noted that searches for the word “misogyny” skyrocketed.

Though the literal meaning of the word is hatred of women (miso = hate; gyny = women), linguist Ben Zimmer noted that the word has taken on a larger meaning in the commentary in the wake of  shooter Elliot Rodger’s vitriolic views of women.

“Those discussions more often, like many discussions about misogyny, were not necessarily about the pathological hatred that someone like Elliot Rodger would have, but this more societal prejudice against women and how these things get entrenched in our culture without even thinking about it,” Zimmer told KUOW’s David Hyde on The Record.

Zimmer said misogyny is becoming more roughly equivalent to sexism, which is causing a headache for dictionary publishers. According to Zimmer, the Oxford English Dictionary expanded the definition of the word in 2002 to include “hatred or dislike of, or prejudice against women.”

Though a case could be made that the original definition of the word is being diluted, Zimmer wasn’t so bleak about the evolution of the word.

“It’s extending the semantic range of the word,” Zimmer said. “You’re generalizing it so that it talks about what’s happening in society in a more general way rather than simply limiting it to ‘hatred.’”

Since it’s too late to rein in the evolving meaning of the word, Zimmer suggested that there may be a need for a new word to replace the original intent of ‘misogyny,’ like gynophobia.

(Show page, audio)