The Euphemism Treadmill
The evolution from crippled to handicapped to differently abled—and why no such term is likely to stick around long.
Heyo, Let’s Talk About HamiltonJohn McWhorter talks to linguist Neal Whitman about the mashup of hey and yo.
Like, Why Do We Use Like So Much?John McWhorter talks to sociolinguist Alexandra D’Arcy about the spike in our use of like.
Why We Stopped Teaching Children How to ReadMark Seidenberg, author of Language at the Speed of Sight, discusses the fallout from the reading wars.
What The Wizard of Oz Can Tell Us About ArrivalIn Arrival, Amy Adams plays a linguist who discovers that language can radically alter a person’s perception of reality. But is that true?
Language Lessons of Past PresidentsWhat can we learn about English from Bill Clinton, the two Bushes, and other leaders of the free world?
Why Do People in Old Movies Talk Like That?What Bette Davis, FDR, and Ralph Kramden have in common when it comes to speech.
What Is a Dictionary, Really?John Simpson, former editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, talks about life as a lexicographer.
Are Emojis a Language?Gretchen McCulloch talks to John McWhorter about the big meaning behind our favorite little pictograms.
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?
1930s American English Was Profane, Parochial, and ProvincialJohn McWhorter time-travels to 1930 and eavesdrops on American English.
What Had Happened Was StorytellingJohn McWhorter discusses the subject of his new book, Talking Back, Talking Black: Truths About America's Lingua Franca.
Away in a Penthouse, the Little Lord JesusWhen hath gave way to has, the original meaning of merry, and other insights from popular Christmas carols.
Black Like UsAre the slang, sounds, and syntax of black English a kind of lingua franca for America’s youth?
Whither Didst Thou Go?How our rich and complex system of second-person pronouns got whittled down to just you.
Billy and Me Went to the Store. Deal With It.What do the intricacies of the future tense tell us about the unwritten rules of pronouns?
Hickory Dickory Dock: The Invisible Language of Nursery RhymesJohn McWhorter makes linguistic sense of seemingly arbitrary children’s verse.
Should Shakespeare Get a Modern-English Update?John McWhorter talks with author Jack Lynch about the sacrilege of modified Shakespeare.
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.