Ben Zimmer's latest interviews and other media appearances.
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Katy Steinmetz, “Why Dropping ‘Anchor Baby’ Is a Problem for Politicians” (Time, Aug. 26, 2015)

“There’s nothing specifically about the words themselves that makes them offensive,” says linguist Ben Zimmer, executive producer of Vocabulary.com, “but the idea that people are trying to find a devious way to get into the country by having children here basically dehumanizes everyone involved.” …
Regardless, the phrase has stuck. And, while debate over its use can actually lead to discussion of important issues like candidates’ positions on birthright citizenship (Bush is for it; Donald Trump, who also uses the term, is against it), that stickiness is just one more reason for conscientious politicians to steer clear of it, says linguist Zimmer. “The difficulty is that those pithy words and phrases are much more memorable and work their way into the public consciousness,” he says. “And once they’re there, they are difficult to dislodge.”

Read the rest here.

Testing Boston Authenticity With ‘Park The Car On Harvard Yard’” (NPR’s All Things Considered, Aug. 25, 2015)

(Show page, audio)

Eric Randall, “Blame Harvard for this annoying Boston accent test” (Boston Globe, Aug. 25, 2015)

Linguist and journalist Ben Zimmer has taken to collecting early examples of the “Harvard Yard” version of the phrase. Though he hasn’t found a patient zero, he’s seen it written down as early as 1946 when it was already being referred to as the “Famous Harvard Accent Test.”

Harvard, it turns out, once had its own dialect, distinct from the Boston accent, as we know it. Like the Boston accent, it was distinguished by the dropping of the “r.”

Read the rest here.

Slate’s Lexicon Valley podcast, “Why Do Latin Americans Call English Speakers Gringos? (Aug. 24, 2015)

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

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Interview on NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered about the controversial appearance of “slave mistress” in the New York Times obituary for civil rights leader Julian Bond. (Aug. 22, 2015)

The New York Times apologized this week for using the term “mistress” to describe the great-grandmother of the late Julian Bond. Linguist Ben Zimmer explains the controversy surrounding the word.

(Show page, audio)

Observer, “A Word’s-Eye View of the First GOP Debate” (Aug. 7, 2015)

Following the first debate in the 2016 Republican primary contest, aired on Fox News last night, Vocabulary.com has released a rapid-response survey of the candidates’ vocabulary, showcasing the most relevant words for each candidate and the debate overall…

By seeing how the candidates’ vocabulary stacks up to our corpus, we can clearly determine which words take on special significance for each speaker, whether those words relate to policy initiatives or simply add some rhetorical power to the candidates’ debate performance.

Read the rest here.

Slate’s Lexicon Valley podcast, “The Jittery History of a Very Nervous Phrase” (July 27, 2015)

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

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Neal Pollack, “Question Of The Day: Grammar Help Needed, Please!” (Yahoo Autos, July 22, 2015)

Historically, according to Ben Zimmer, executive editor of Vocabulary.com and language columnist for the Wall Street Journal, “on” was used for pre-carriage conveyance, as in “on a horse” or other animal. Then came vehicles that were basically open platforms, which you would also sit “on.”

“Once this use of ‘on’ was established,” Zimmer says, “it came to be used for riding any large vehicle even if it’s enclosed, like ‘bus,’ ‘train,’ or ‘plane.’ You can blame the inertia of English speakers that this usage of ‘on’ lingered for those big vehicles, even while ‘in’ came to be used for ‘carriage,’ ‘coach,’ and eventually ‘car.’”

Read the rest here.

Interview on NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered about the expression “It’s all Greek to me.” (July 5, 2015)

Shakespeare lovers are well aware this phrase comes from the Bard — or, well, partly. Ben Zimmer, a language columnist for the Wall Street Journal, says that Shakespeare is probably responsible for the popularity of the phrase.

“It appears in his play Julius Caesar,” he says. “There’s a character who’s describing the speech of Cicero, who is a learned scholar; he actually knew Greek. But this character didn’t really understand what Cicero was saying, and he says, ‘For mine own part, it was Greek to me.’ ”

But Shakespeare didn’t actually come up with the phrase “it’s all Greek to me.” The phrase appeared in a translation of an Italian play decades earlier.

(Show page, audio, related Word Routes column)

Slate’s Lexicon Valley podcast, “LinguaFile XIII: Don’t Be a Clown!” (June 29, 2015)

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

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