Language Commentary in The New York Times
Lies! Murder! Lexicography! (Dec. 2, 2012)
Sorry, but dictionaries are not made by cloak-and-dagger cabals full of deep, dark secrets.
Twitterology: A New Science? (Oct. 30, 2011)
For researchers, Twitter provides virtually limitless data about language in action.
Decoding Your E-Mail Personality (July 24, 2011)
Some experts say e-mail writers can be identified through linguistic and stylistic “fingerprints.”
The Great Language Land Grab (Mar. 27, 2011)
When tech companies engage in legal squabbles about who gets to use our everyday words, what are ordinary speakers of the language to make of it all?
How the War of Words Was Won in Cairo (Feb. 13, 2011)
Clever protest language doesn’t guarantee a successful uprising. But at least it’s fun.
Letters on the Loose (Nov. 10, 2011)
The alphabet leaps to life in these new picture books.
The Power of Pronouns (Aug. 28, 2011)
A psychologist argues that pronouns, articles, prepositions, auxiliary verbs and conjunctions reflect our interior lives.
I Me Mine: The Beatles and Their Pronouns (Aug. 28, 2011)
James W. Pennebaker crunches the numbers on Beatles songs and arrives at some fascinating conclusions.
The Jargon of the Novel, Computed (July 31, 2011)
We like to think modern fiction is free from the artificial stylistic pretensions of the past. But computer analysis reveals that linguistic tics unique to fiction writing endure.
Exposing Literary Style, One Word at a Time (July 29, 2011)
Scholars in the digital humanities use computer analysis to zero in on the nitty-gritty of literary style. Many of their tools are now publicly available online.
Slanguage (Apr. 3, 2011)
Can a new slang dictionary possibly hope to uncover any “lost words”? Are there any unmentionables left to mention?
The Dulpickles and Nigmenogs of 1699 (Apr. 1, 2011)
Oxford University’s Bodleian Library recently republished the earliest known dictionary of English-language slang.
Ben Zimmer is the former On Language columnist for The New York Times Magazine. His columns appeared every other week from his official debut on March 21, 2010 until his final column on February 27, 2011. On alternate weeks, he responded to selected reader questions on the Times website.
“The Future Tense” (Feb. 27, 2011)
Bidding farewell to “On Language,” and looking ahead.
Reader Question: “Have Your Cake and Eat It Too” (Feb. 20, 2011)
Has the proverb been reversed from its correct order?
Reader Question: “If Worst Comes to Worst” (Feb. 6, 2011)
Isn’t “if worse comes to worst” more logical?
Pigskin Parlance (Jan. 30, 2011)
Keeping up with the latest rough-and-tough football lingo.
Reader Question: “Cannot Be Underestimated” (Jan. 23, 2011)
This perplexing turn of phrase is extremely common, even among careful writers and speakers.
Autoincorrect (Jan. 16, 2011)
How smartphones are making us look dumb.
Reader Question: “Treasure Trove” (Jan. 9, 2011)
Is it redundant, or just a cliché?
Junk (Jan. 2, 2011)
The endless reusability of a trashy term.
Reader Question: “Acronym” (Dec. 19, 2010)
A reader asks if “acronyms” must be pronounced as words.
The King’s Tongue Twisters (Dec. 12, 2010)
Did vocal gymnastics help cure George VI’s stutter?
Reader Question: ‘Scratch Paper’ or ‘Scrap Paper’? (Dec. 5, 2010)
A reader wonders which came first.
Men of Words (Nov. 28, 2010)
Remembering four great wordsmiths.
Reader Question: Resonate (Nov. 21, 2010)
Why does the word continue to strike a chord?
Web (Nov. 14, 2010)
The 20th anniversary of a research proposal that remade the language.
Reader Question: Homage (Nov. 7, 2010)
Should you write “a homage” or “an homage”?
Creeper! Rando! Sketchball! (Oct. 31, 2010)
Student slang points to an increased need to patrol social boundaries.
Reader Question: Countless (Oct. 24, 2010)
Should the word be used for things we can actually count?
Truthiness (Oct. 17, 2010)
The fifth anniversary of Stephen Colbert’s introduction of a zeitgeisty word.
Reader Question: Making an Amends (Oct. 10, 2010)
Is the contrite phrase grammatically correct?
We (Oct. 3, 2010)
The perils of a presumptuous pronoun.
Reader Question: Busted (Sept. 26, 2010)
Is it appropriate for reporters to use the word for the BP oil well?
Chunking (Sept. 19, 2010)
How we learn languages in canned phrases, and what that means for the teaching of English.
Reader Question: All’s I Know… (Sept. 12, 2010)
A reader asks about a creeping colloquialism.
Man Up (Sept. 5, 2010)
Behind a simple imperative lurks a complex web of masculinity.
Reader Question: Jersey (Aug. 29, 2010)
A reader asks about “Jersey” as a nickname for New Jersey.
Leaks (Aug. 22, 2010)
The language of spilling secrets, from ancient Rome to WikiLeaks.
Reader Question: Relatable (Aug. 15, 2010)
A reader inquires about the unusual adjective.
Beach Blanket Lingo (Aug. 8, 2010)
How the locals insult oceanfront tourists, from the Jersey Shore to Hawaii.
Reader Question: Microphone (Aug. 1, 2010)
A reader asks if it should be abbreviated “mike” or “mic.”
“Mad Men”-ese (July 25, 2010)
How the TV show gets (almost) everything right about the language of the 1960s.
Reader Question: Anniversary (July 18, 2010)
A reader asks, is “one-year anniversary” redundant?
Rock the Mic (July 11, 2010)
Researching word history in early rap music.
Reader Question: One-Off (July 4, 2010)
A reader asks if it comes from “one of a kind.”
Ghoti (June 27, 2010)
Is this word really pronounced “fish”?
Reader Question: Implacability (June 20, 2010)
Responding to a cool question from the Gotcha! Gang.
Iterate (June 13, 2010)
How a repetitive verb became a byword for slow-and-steady innovation.
Reader Question: Revert (June 6, 2010)
A reader asks whether the word can mean “reply.”
Cool (May 30, 2010)
Setting the record straight on the ubiquitous bit of slang.
Reader Question: Fraught (May 23, 2010)
A reader asks about very old word undergoing a rapid shift in contemporary usage.
Quants (May 16, 2010)
The nerdy epithet for Wall Street’s analytical alpha dogs.
Reader Question: The Plural of E-mail (May 9, 2010)
A reader asks about its proper form.
Corporate Etymologies (May 2, 2010)
Why you shouldn’t believe a company’s word lore.
Wellness (Apr. 18, 2010)
How did we end up with this alternative word for “health”?
+ Reader Question: What is the difference between preventive and preventative?
Social (Apr. 4, 2010)
The most gregarious lingo of the digital age.
+ Reader Question: Must handful and none take singular verbs?
No (Mar. 21, 2010)
A negative word that is doing battle with its positive counterpart.
+ Reader Question: What is the feminine equivalent of avuncular?
Optics (Mar. 7, 2010)
A scientific-sounding buzzword for “public relations.”
Podium (Feb. 7, 2010)
A triumphant verb retakes the Olympic stage.
Crash Blossoms (Jan. 31, 2010)
A new term flourishes for double-take headlines.
Choate (Jan 3, 2010)
Why does Justice Antonin Scalia hate this word?
Skxawng! (Dec. 6, 2009)
The making of science-fiction languages.
Cadillac (Nov. 8, 2009)
An automotive figure of speech outlasts the prestige of the car that inspired it.
Ms. (Oct. 25, 2009)
The origins of the title, explained.
The Maven, Nevermore (Oct. 11, 2009)
How William Safire came to define “language columnist.”
Un- (Sept. 20, 2009)
The age of undoing.
Fail (Aug. 9, 2009)
A word whose popularity is exceeding expectations.