Finding Life in a Dead LanguageAnn Patty, author of Living With a Dead Language, talks about her transformative experience of learning Latin.
English Spelling Is a Mess. It’s Time to Reform It.Etymologist and poet Anatoly Liberman, author of Word Origins and How We Know Them, says English is one of the most difficult languages to spell. But we can change that.
Why Some People Call Rock-Paper-Scissors RoshamboHow an American Revolutionary War figure spawned a new name for a very old game.
Red Herring: A Wild Goose Chase That Stinks From FishHow did Clupea harengus come to signify a diversionary tactic?
Take It With a Grain of Salt! But Why a Single Grain? And Why Salt?A phrase with roots in Ancient Rome has confounded English speakers for centuries.
A British MP Called Donald Trump a Wazzock. What’s a Wazzock?A peculiar insult from the north of England has the Oxford English Dictionary stumped.
So You Just Got Eighty-Sixed From a Bar. Why That Number?Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo discuss the early-20th-century origins of a bizarre food-industry code with lexicographer Ben Zimmer.
Woody Guthrie’s Folk Etymology. It’s a Hootenanny!Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo discuss a word that was popularized during the 1940s folk movement with lexicographer Ben Zimmer.
A Drone, a Bell, and a Suffix. It’s a Real Humdinger!The panelists discuss a piece of old American slang.
An Ambitious Enterprise, Quixotic and UnavailingBob Garfield and Mike Vuolo discuss a very wasteful word with lexicographer Ben Zimmer.
Why Do Latin Americans Call English Speakers Gringos?Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo discuss the origin of a Spanish-language pejorative with lexicographer Ben Zimmer.
The Jittery History of a Very Nervous PhraseBob Garfield and Mike Vuolo discuss a mystery word or phrase with lexicographer Ben Zimmer.
LinguaFile XIII: Don’t Be a Clown!Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo discuss a mystery word or phrase with lexicographer Ben Zimmer.
Rules Are Made to Be SpokenSali Tagliamonte, author of Making Waves: The Story of Variationist Sociolinguistics, talks about the underlying disorder of the English language.
Why Are So Many Swear Words Monosyllabic?Benjamin K. Bergen, author of the upcoming What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves, discusses the science of cursing.
The Blaccent: What Does It Mean to Sound Black?Linguist John McWhorter argues that it makes perfect sense for the speech of black and white Americans to have subtle differences.
Is Sh-t Show a German Calque? The OED Needs Your Help!The earliest known citation for the phrase is from an English-language translation of a 1970s criminal trial in Germany. But what was the word or phrase being translated?
The Full, Firm, Valiant, and Heavy-Hearted TrumpDonald Trump calls people (and publications) he doesn’t like sad. When did that word become an insult?
The Fall and Rise of the Singular TheyA pronoun that English borrowed from its Scandinavian neighbors gets new life as a gender-neutral alternative to he and she.
Tears of Joy, Identity, and a Prism of IsmsBob Garfield and Mike Vuolo talk to editors at Oxford, Merriam-Webster, and Dictionary.com about their picks for Word of the Year.
A Cat, a Coward, and Female GenitaliaBob Garfield and Mike Vuolo discuss the etymological quirkiness of the word pussy.
Seven Centuries of F--ksBob Garfield and Mike Vuolo talk to Jesse Sheidlower, author of The F-Word, about a recent discovery about the history of one our most enduring expletives.
What Do We Mean When We Ask What Something Is Like?Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo discuss “A literary history of the strange expression ‘what is it like?’ ”—an article by lexicographer Anne Seaton.
What’s the Deal With Translating Seinfeld?A discussion about why the classic American sitcom falls flat in other cultures and languages.
Language Has a Positivity Bias. How Did We Measure That?Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo discuss recent research that confirms the so-called Pollyanna Hypothesis.