Lexicon Valley
Lexicon Valley

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.

May 31 2016 12:16 PMWhy 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.
May 3 2016 11:14 AMThe 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.
April 4 2016 9:31 AMIs 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?
Feb. 22 2016 5:12 PMThe Full, Firm, Valiant, and Heavy-Hearted TrumpDonald Trump calls people (and publications) he doesn’t like sad. When did that word become an insult?
Jan. 27 2016 2:00 PMThe 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.
Dec. 28 2015 9:32 AMTears 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.
Nov. 30 2015 10:50 AMWhen Did We Start Using Sleep as a Stand-In for Sex and Death?
Nov. 2 2015 9:14 AMA Cat, a Coward, and Female GenitaliaBob Garfield and Mike Vuolo discuss the etymological quirkiness of the word pussy.
Oct. 5 2015 11:32 AMSeven 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.
Sept. 8 2015 10:39 AMHow Did New York Become the Big Apple?
Aug. 10 2015 11:11 AMWhat 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.
July 13 2015 9:20 AMWhat’s the Deal With Translating Seinfeld?A discussion about why the classic American sitcom falls flat in other cultures and languages.
June 19 2015 12:44 PMLanguage Has a Positivity Bias. How Did We Measure That?Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo discuss recent research that confirms the so-called Pollyanna Hypothesis.
May 18 2015 11:14 AM“I Always Believed That Created Languages Were Art Pieces”Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo talk to conlanger David J. Peterson about the art and craft of inventing languages for Game of Thrones.
April 20 2015 11:30 AMShakespeare Used Double Negatives. Why Don't We?Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo don't know nothing.
May 17 2016 11:33 AMWhy Some People Call Rock-Paper-Scissors RoshamboHow an American Revolutionary War figure spawned a new name for a very old game.
April 19 2016 11:25 AMRed Herring: A Wild Goose Chase That Stinks From FishHow did Clupea harengus come to signify a diversionary tactic?
March 8 2016 11:08 AMTake 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.
Feb. 8 2016 10:22 AMA 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.
Jan. 11 2016 11:55 AMThe Origins of In Cahoots: Four Theories
Dec. 14 2015 9:23 AMSo 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.
Nov. 16 2015 12:05 PMWoody 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.
Oct. 19 2015 10:47 AMA Drone, a Bell, and a Suffix. It’s a Real Humdinger!The panelists discuss a piece of old American slang.
Sept. 21 2015 9:46 AMAn Ambitious Enterprise, Quixotic and UnavailingBob Garfield and Mike Vuolo discuss a very wasteful word with lexicographer Ben Zimmer.
Aug. 24 2015 11:08 AMWhy Do Latin Americans Call English Speakers Gringos?Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo discuss the origin of a Spanish-language pejorative with lexicographer Ben Zimmer.
July 27 2015 11:02 AMThe Jittery History of a Very Nervous PhraseBob Garfield and Mike Vuolo discuss a mystery word or phrase with lexicographer Ben Zimmer.
June 29 2015 2:52 PMLinguaFile XIII: Don’t Be a Clown!Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo discuss a mystery word or phrase with lexicographer Ben Zimmer.
June 1 2015 9:59 AMGuess the Mystery Word!Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo discuss a mystery word or phrase with lexicographer Ben Zimmer.
May 4 2015 11:14 AMAttention Southerners: Here’s Why You Love SeersuckerListen to Slate’s show about a well-traveled fabric, featuring lexicographer Ben Zimmer.
April 6 2015 12:32 PMWhy Is Pumpernickel Bread Named for a Farting Devil?Listen to Slate’s show about the flatulent history of a popular deli staple, featuring lexicographer Ben Zimmer.

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