Black Like Us
Are the slang, sounds, and syntax of black English a kind of lingua franca for America’s youth?
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?
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.
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.
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.