Ben Zimmer, who writes about words and language for The Wall Street Journal and produces Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com, carefully explained the origins of “argle-bargle” on the Visual Thesaurus blog in June as a description of “a verbal dispute” or “a wrangling argument.” [...]
And there was the historic battle in 2009 involving Scalia and a presenting lawyer over the use of the word “choate” in a case argument.
Randolph Barnhouse was arguing about a “choate” interest in property.
“There is no such adjective,” Scalia said. “I know we have used it, but there is no such adjective as ‘choate.’ There is ‘inchoate,’ but the opposite of inchoate is not choate.”
In a 2010 New York Times story, Zimmer explained it wasn’t the first time that Scalia took an attorney for using choate in his courtroom. In 1992, another attorney took a Scalia upbraiding during oral arguments for using the word.
Ben Zimmer, who writes about linguistics for the Wall Street Journal, agreed with Holden, noting that the seemingly-incongruous ideas of cybersex and cyberwar “grew up side by side.” The earliest recorded use of the term “cybersecurity” came in 1989, the exact same year when the word “cyberporn” was coined. But neither term was dominant. [...]
Zimmer pointed out that Douglas Adams may have invented the idea of cybersex back in 1982, when he remarked in Life, the Universe and Everythingthat “Zaphod had spent most of his early history lessons plotting how he was going to have sex with the girl in the cybercubicle next to him.” As more college age people began piling on to the internet in the mid-1990s, cybersex became trendy slang for what you did with your long-distance boyfriend using the university dial-up connection. And, like most slang, it quickly got shortened to cyber.
Interview on KUOW’s “The Record” about the expression “having your cake and eat it too.” (Sept. 6, 2013)
You can’t have your cake and eat it too, but how are you supposed to eat cake you don’t have? Language guru Ben Zimmer is back today and he explains the whole having, eating and not having cake thing. And what that has to do with how the Unabomber was captured. Really.
Interview with KUOW’s “The Record” about the origins of the expression “the whole nine yards.” (Sept. 5, 2013)
Did you know that the phrase “the whole 9 yards” used to be “the whole 6 yards?” It’s true. And cloud nine, that fantastic place to be, used to be cloud seven, then cloud eight. So how did we get to nine yards and cloud nine? Ben Zimmer is back today to talk about phrase inflation as we consider our series on strange language.
These are just a few of the questions we’ve tackled on the podcast Lexicon Valley over the past year and a half, and we’re deeply grateful to the many listeners who have tuned in. But many of you have written to request language-related content that can be consumed without headphones, which, alas, remain taboo in many workplaces (where shirking with the eyes is easier to do on the DL).
And so, until surgically implanted “in-ear” speakers (Exhibit A) are standard-issue, we bring you Lexicon Valley: The Blog. We’ve teamed up with the brilliant linguists at Language Log—including the University of Pennsylvania’s Mark Liberman, the University of Edinburgh’s Geoffrey Pullum, and Vocabulary.com’s Ben Zimmer—whose new and archival posts will be featured here along with content from other contributors.
The origin of “pipe dream” has to do with opium smoking and dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries. The dream-like visions or flights of fancy known to occur under the influence of opium came to be called “pipe dreams,” referring to the opium pipe.
The expression took off in late 19th century in American English in cities where opium dens were appearing, especially Chicago. Chicago newspapers began using the term more generally to mean something unrealistic or fantastic; something you hope for but don’t think would actually occur.
Expressions that come out of modern drug use can become so common that we can use them without evoking the images of drug use.
There’s more in a tweet than 140 characters. Among the 500 million messages sent each day on Twitter, there’s a tsunami of slang terms and textspeak. There are hashtags, emoticons and links. Many tweets contain geotags that identify where on earth a person stood when pressing send. That may sound like just a lot of noise, but for linguists making ever more sophisticated use of it all, Twitter is providing the most enormous stream of data they have ever had at their disposal.
Gone are the days when a language researcher had to interview subjects in a lab or go door to door in the hope of gaining a few insights about a limited sample of people. Academics in the U.S. and Europe are using the seven-year-old microblogging platform to put millions of examples under the microscope in an instant. “It’s unprecedented,” says sociolinguist Ben Zimmer, “the sheer amount of text you can look at at one time, and the number of people you can analyze at once.” Hidden in tweets are insights about how we portray our identity in a few short sentences. There are clues to long-standing mysteries, like how slang spreads. And there is a new form of communication to study. If language is the archive of history, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, social media should get its own shelf.
Interview on KUOW’s “The Record” about the origins of “dope” and “doping.” (Sept. 3, 2013)
We’ve seen lots of sports scandals in the news over the years that have to do with performance-enhancing drugs, commonly referred to as doping. Dope, from the Dutch word doop, is actually a gravy or a sauce, so how did we go from gravy to drugs? Lexicographer Ben Zimmer gives KUOW’s Ross Reynolds the straight dope on dope.