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    Anne Curzan explores the taboo origins of this now trite phrase.

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  • 10/23/13--21:01: Raising the Roof
  • Lucy Ferriss wants a better metaphor to explain how we issue debt to pay our bills.

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  • 10/30/13--21:01: Must Attention Be Paid?
  • A skeleton wearing an Obama-Biden T-shirt hangs by the neck in Ben Yagoda’s neighborhood. Halloween joke? He doesn’t think so.

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  • 11/05/13--21:01: Sports in Everyday Speech
  • Anne Curzan shows how you don't have to be a sports fan to use the language of sports in daily conversation.

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  • 11/14/13--21:01: A Whole Nother Juncture
  • Exploring a linguistic process she had been unaware of, Lucy Ferriss finds rebracketed words.

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  • 11/21/13--21:01: The Import of All Caps
  • caplocks

    Let’s be clear: using ALL CAPS in texting and on Facebook isn’t just about yelling anymore.

    Now, I must admit that I don’t actually have definitive evidence that in the early days of email and texting, writing in all capital letters was used only to express anger, but that was certainly all caps’ reputation. And typing in all caps, by accident or on purpose, might elicit the response: “Stop yelling.”

    You can still find netiquette advice online about why it isn’t nice to type in all caps becau...

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  • 12/05/13--21:01: Google Reads Your Emails?
  • Geoff'sGooglePostMicrosoft’s astonishingly scurrilous campaign to damage confidence in Gmail is still active after nearly 10 years. Large ads in magazines repeat content from the Google-baiting website, which is dedicated solely to promoting fear of privacy invasions:

    Think Google respects your privacy? Think again. Google goes through every Gmail that’s sent or received, looking for keywords so they can target Gmail users with paid ads. And there’s no way to opt out of this invasion of your pr...

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  • 12/17/13--21:01: Recombobulating
  • Recombobulation1We’re nearing the end of the year, which has me thinking about the annual Word of the Year vote at the American Dialect Society meeting in January. We’ll be in Minneapolis this year, and Grant Barrett (Vice President of Communications and Technology for ADS) is soliciting nominations for a list of possible contenders. I asked students last week if they had suggestions, and they came up immediately with twerk, turnt, and insta (as a noun and verb, < Instagram).

    But I’m writing this post not to ...

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  • 12/19/13--21:01: Siri’s Sex Change
  • imagesI don’t have Siri, and so my experience of Apple’s virtual personal assistant is limited to eavesdropping on my friends’ iPhones. But it has struck me as fascinating that the voice for several years was a woman’s, at least in this country. Despite the impression that a female avatar would be “less knowledgeable,” than a male, according to the Stanford researcher Clifford Nass, Apple’s initial roll-out was given a female voice because female voices are preferred in the “helper or assistant ro...

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  • 01/29/14--21:01: Obama’s State of the Onion
  • untitled

    Barack Obama in 2014
    (Image from

    I’m saturated with Obama’s rhetoric. I’m not talking about his politics, which, in and of themselves, have been disappointing. The list of miscalculations, overreaching, and unfinished business is staggering: immigration reform, drone use, NSA, a stumbling health-care reformulation.

    All that worries me. But his speeches put me to sleep.

    I voted for him twice. The Republican alternative was unbearable—it still is. I thought Obama would be not just the...

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  • 02/17/14--21:01: The Predictive Fallacy
  • A cool data-visualization website called Information Is Beautiful has a page titled “Rhetological Fallacies: Errors and manipulations of rhetoric and logical thinking.” Here’s a taste:

    Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 9.12.16 AM

    If the creator, David McCandless, ever does Fallacies 2.0, I hereby suggest an addition, “Appeal to Predictability: Purporting to score a blow against an opponent by accurately divining something(s) he or she has said, or predicting what he or she will say.”

    The only source I’ve found that has commented on this p...

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    010006-MexAmericanThe etymology of Chicano is surrounded in mystery. I’ve seen its roots traced to Nahuatl, specifically to the term Mexica, as the people encountered by Hernán Cortéz and his soldiers conquering Tenochtitlán in the early quarter of the 16th century where known. In Spanish, the word is pronounced Meshika: the x functions as sh. Mexico, as a nation, opts to look at the Mexicas as their defining ancestors. Curiously, when first registering the name, the missionaries spelled it Méjico, with a j. It t...

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  • 03/05/14--21:01: Perfect!
  • Red checkThis past weekend I escaped the polar vortex for a few days of vacation in warmer climes, and I found myself thinking a lot about the word perfect. It had nothing to do with the weather (which was lovely, but not perfect) or the hotel (also lovely, but is any hotel perfect?). It was the service. Not that the service was perfect. It just seemed that everything I ordered or said was perfect.

    Server: “What can I get for you?”

    Me: “I’ll take the salmon bento box.”

    Server: “Perfect. And how would y...

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  • 04/06/14--21:01: Final Madness
  • We’ve finally come to the end of Language Madness, and not a moment too soon. Just as Kentucky and Connecticut, two storied programs, will face off tonight in the NCAA men’s basketball finals (finals  instead of final  being another instance of rampant pluralizing), the LM tournament closes out with a classic matchup.

    To recap, we started out with 16 “sins against the language.” As many have noted, they were a mixed bowl of wrongs. Some were mistakes or “mistakes” people love to hate, such as th...

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  • 04/15/14--21:01: Which Side Are You On?
  • Theodore Parker

    Theodore Parker

    When Vladimir Putin seized Crimea, President Obama said, “Russia is on the wrong side of history on this.” Secretary of State John Kerry concurred, using exactly the same phrase. They were hardly breaking new rhetorical ground for the administration. In his first inaugural address, Obama stated, “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willin...

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  • 04/17/14--21:01: On Clarity
  • Screen-Shot-2012-10-25-at-3.29.22-PM

    What do John Boehner and Rachel Maddow have in common?
    Image: Screen shot from MSNBC, via The Blaze

    One cannot but be dismayed by the extent to which pollution of thought is endemic in our culture.

    The illness is ubiquitous: in Washington, in academe, on the radio and TV, among activists. Being clear, explaining oneself lucidly, seems to be an endangered form of human behavior. Was clarity ever better regarded? Or is the current attitude toward it a constant in history? One could blame the educat...

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  • 04/22/14--21:01: Yo Hablo HTML
  • We are nearly five months into Britain’s “Year of Code,” an effort to promote computer-coding skills among Britons young and old. The British media’s coverage spiked in February, when the campaign’s director admitted she couldn’t code a computer to save her life, but has ebbed since.

    Still, I’ve been taking advantage of some of the Year of Code offerings (which are not restricted to British residents), and spent a few hours last week at learning enough HTML and CSS to create a bar...

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  • 06/10/14--21:01: It’s a Grand Old Bargain
  • Keeler and Powell: "It was grand of you to come!"

    Keeler and Powell: “It was grand of you to come!”

    I read in USA Today  on Tuesday that Detroit’s Big Three auto makers have “committed $26-million to the grand bargain on which much of the city’s exit from bankruptcy is based.” The “grand bargain,” the newspaper went on to explain, is a complicated arrangement in which the Detroit Institute of Arts “and its masterworks will be spun off to a nonprofit trust for the equivalent of $816-million, with proceeds set aside to help reduce pension reducti...

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  • 06/12/14--21:01: Sono Tornata!
  • Casa Dante in Perano: good wine, bad Wi-Fi

    Having left my post at Lingua Franca four months ago to work on a book and (very incidentally) dabble in Italian, I thought I’d launch my return (Sono tornata = I have returned) with a report. Thanks to a Lingua Franca commenter, I spent about 10 minutes a day from February to late May on the website Duolingo, earning lingots and hearts and wondering why this website seemed so obsessed with cooking in the kitchen. (Where else would you cook?) When I was...

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    My all-time favorite Chronicle article, “Yagoda’s Unfamiliar Quotations” (mentioned here once before, in The Case of the Extra Word), is a reminiscence about a collection of unquoted quotables—memorable remarks by ordinary folk who never got famous.

    You can pick up such remarks almost any day if you keep your ear tuned. Last week my partner, struggling to pinpoint why a friend’s outrageous name-dropping seemed illogical as well as irritating, burst out: “Status is not like pubic lice!” Nicely pu...

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