Lexicon Valley
Lexicon Valley

Black Like Us

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

Nov. 15 2016 2:00 PMLanguage Lessons of Past PresidentsWhat can we learn about English from Bill Clinton, the two Bushes, and other leaders of the free world?
Oct. 18 2016 3:55 PMWhy Do People in Old Movies Talk Like That?What Bette Davis, FDR, and Ralph Kramden have in common when it comes to speech.
Sept. 20 2016 1:26 PMWhat Is a Dictionary, Really?John Simpson, former editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, talks about life as a lexicographer.
Aug. 23 2016 2:20 PMWord SexHow words hook up and make new ones.
July 26 2016 2:13 PMAre Emojis a Language?Gretchen McCulloch talks to John McWhorter about the big meaning behind our favorite little pictograms.
June 29 2016 10:44 AMRules Are Made to Be SpokenSali Tagliamonte, author of Making Waves: The Story of Variationist Sociolinguistics, talks about the underlying disorder of the English language.
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.
Nov. 1 2016 3:18 PMWhither Didst Thou Go?How our rich and complex system of second-person pronouns got whittled down to just you.
Oct. 4 2016 12:03 PMBilly 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?
Sept. 6 2016 5:06 PMHickory Dickory Dock: The Invisible Language of Nursery RhymesJohn McWhorter makes linguistic sense of seemingly arbitrary children’s verse.
Aug. 8 2016 3:33 PMShould Shakespeare Get a Modern-English Update?John McWhorter talks with author Jack Lynch about the sacrilege of modified Shakespeare.
July 12 2016 7:30 AMFinding Life in a Dead LanguageAnn Patty, author of Living With a Dead Language, talks about her transformative experience of learning Latin.
June 14 2016 4:11 PMEnglish 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 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.

READ MORE STORIES