Is Masters of Sex as Anachronistic as The New Yorker Says? No Way.
Hendrik Hertzberg has made a series of claims recently on the New Yorker website ("Nobody Said That Then!") about the ostensible inaccuracy of the language used in the television show Masters of Sex. His main contention is that many of the characters' utterances are improbable, asserting that certain words and phrases were not in use at the time that the show takes place (the mid-1950s). One of the problems with making bold and declarative statements about the origins of specific words is that these words have a nasty habit of first appearing much earlier or later than memory or intuition would attest.
On Valentine's Day, We Look for Love (in the Dictionary)
As usual on Valentine's Day, many of us were thinking about the meaning of love and so consulted Merriam-Webster for some guidance.
Undoubtedly, most of us were interested in more of a philosophical interpretation than a strict dictionary meaning, which sounds something like:
How Sid Caesar Learned Double-Talk
The obituaries for the great comic Sid Caesar invariably mention his proficiency in "double-talk," mimicking the sounds (but not the sense) of foreign languages. It turns out that this was a talent Caesar had cultivated ever since he was a boy clearing tables at his father's restaurant in multi-ethnic Yonkers.
Why Can't We Agree on How to Pronounce Doge?
The doge meme: a shiba inu with artistically scattered, multicolored comic sans that has its own bizarre sort of grammaticality. But since it arose on the internet, it managed to get popular without anyone ever coming to a consensus on how to pronounce the word doge out loud.
Did LeBron James Steal "Take My Talents" from Kobe Bryant?
College football's recruiting rodeo wraps up on Wednesday with National Signing Day, that exalted occasion when the nation's best high school football players declare where they'll be going to college. These announcements are mini-Decisions, televised on ESPNU, laden with props, and often featuring a version of LeBron James' famous declaration from July 2010, "I'm going to take my talents to …" When wide receiver Malachi Dupre told a national TV audience that he was matriculating at LSU, he noted that there were "a lot of places I could have taken my talents." Last month, highly rated defensive tackle Gerald Willis III announced, "I will take my talent to Gainesville, Fla.—Florida Gators," while Devante "Speedy" Noil said, "I will take my talents to [Texas] A&M."
How to Win Friends and Influence People on Kickstarter
There's more to Kickstarter success than having a creative idea. How you phrase your pitch may make a person more likely to donate to your project. And good news, donation seekers: Researchers may have determined the precise language that puts people in the giving mood.
Follow-Up: Jewish Surnames Explained
Earlier this month, Slate published an article I wrote about the origin and meanings of Ashkenazic Jewish surnames on its Lexicon Valley blog. The reaction, frankly, was overwhelming. I am both thrilled and surprised that so many readers were curious about a subject I was sure would appeal to relatively few, and I'm deeply grateful for the many comments. In fact, I did the research not because I was interested in Jewish onomastics, but because I was interested in the history of Ashkenazic Jewry. I thought that their choice of names would tell me something about where and how they lived and about the languages they used.
When Is Masturbation Onanism? (When It Makes the News.)
Yesterday morning, a 34-year-old man named Vincent Wade made a series of bad decisions. The first was to take an as-yet-unidentified narcotic, well before noon, and the second was to get behind the wheel of his Toyota Camry. A third bad decision occurred after Wade drove into a street pole outside of Crown Fried Chicken in North Philadelphia. He emerged from the car, stripped down to his ankles, and began touching himself suggestively. All of which was reported on Philly.com under the headline:
Man crashes, gets naked and onanistic
Obama Will Use a Lot of Personal Pronouns in His SOTU Address. That Means He's a Narcissist, Right?
When we see a change in the State of the Union messages over the years—and there are plenty of changes to see—we need to consider several possible causes. Perhaps the English language itself has changed; perhaps style or fashion has changed, at least for a certain kind of political language; perhaps the themes or topics have shifted, due to changes in the world and in the American political landscape; or perhaps the individual styles of particular presidents (or their speechwriters) are responsible.
Obama's Hairy Metaphor
Several days ago, University of Wisconsin Law School professor and frequent blogger Ann Althouse noted President Obama's use of the expression "hair on X," to mean that X is complicated," from David Remnick's recent New Yorker profile. Here are the two Obama quotes that she cites:
Because, if you're doing big, hard things, then there is going to be some hair on it — there's going to be some aspects of it that aren't clean and neat and immediately elicit applause from everybody.