A Blog About Language

July 21 2014 11:04 AM

We Have Ahold and Awhile, So Why Not Alot?

There's one word that upsets alot of people. And I mean alot. It's been around for awhile, but don't let anyone who's particular about grammar get ahold of it! "It's not a word!" they'll tell you. "It's two words!"

I'll be honest: writing that paragraph practically made my teeth hurt. I'm about as allergic to alot as most of you probably are. But I'm here to tell you to get used to it. It will be around for quite awhile.

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July 16 2014 1:17 PM

What Happens if a Child Is Never Exposed to Language?

Children learn the language(s) that they hear and see around them at a young age, but what happens if a child just never has any linguistic input, spoken or signed? Although a scientific study around this question would undoubtedly be fascinating, it would also be extremely unethical, so much so that the cultural historian Roger Shattuck has called it The Forbidden Experiment.

July 10 2014 11:21 AM

What's Going On Around "Around"? New Uses of Old Prepositions.

Prepositions are notoriously unstable.  That is, the particular term used in a given expression is subject to long-term change in a process I call "preposition creep." In recent years, for example, common usage has shifted from enamored of to enamored with, obsessed by to obsessed with, and excited about to excited for. Such shifts may seem arbitrary, but a closer look often suggests an explanation.

So it is with the longstanding preposition-creep from about to around.

July 7 2014 12:19 PM

7 of the Best Dialect Quizzes

If you're feeling particularly nationalistic, or just want to see how consistently you speak like your friends and neighbors, here are all the dialect quizzes that I could find. Find out what your dialect most resembles, and, in many cases, help science at the same time!

July 1 2014 3:38 PM

Why Do Sportscasters Use the Historical Present?

Like newspaper headlines and personal anecdotes (So I'm walking down the street yesterday, and this guy comes up to me and he says ...), sportscasting makes frequent use of the present tense. Unlike other uses of the historical present—which refer to actual past events—the sports announcer is commenting on a game that is playing out before our very eyes. If ever there were an appropriate time to use the present, surely this is it. So what's so strange about it?

June 27 2014 1:47 PM

When Your Eyes Hear Better Than Your Ears: The McGurk Effect

This clip from PBS demonstrates the McGurk Effect: When you hear a sound (like "ba") that that conflicts with how you're seeing someone "produce" it (like "ga"), your mind tries to reconcile them by making you think you're hearing something more consistent with your visual input, (like "da").

June 25 2014 11:24 AM

10 Words Made With Scissors And Glue

Think about when you were a kid discovering the wonder of glue. Hey, why not glue Barbie to this teacup? Let's glue Daddy's fancy pen to Mommy's ceramic figurine! But when you try to unglue them, you discover that glue can be strong—sometimes stronger than the things you were gluing. Now Barbie is permanently holding a teacup handle and Daddy's pen has a ceramic arm on it.

Words can be like that. They can be made of bits glued together, and then sometimes they break apart at places they weren't meant to break at. Here are 10 examples of English words that you may not have known are broken badly:

June 20 2014 2:04 PM

"Look at All These Ducks There Are at Least Ten." Why Is This Funny?

The animated gif above—along with the caption "Look at all those ducks there are at least ten"—is currently floating around the Internet. The thousands of people who have liked and shared it on various sites, including Tumblr, Reddit, and Imgur, presumably think it's entertaining, but why?

At the risk of spoiling the joke by overanalyzing it, a linguist named Paul Grice has an answer.

June 19 2014 1:15 PM

From Promenade to#Prahm: an Evolution of the Night to Remember

2014 may be the year in which we, as a society, have reached peak prom. Whether you’re an active participant in, or just a casual observer of the prom-industrial complex, it’s almost impossible not to notice how rapidly and deeply "prom culture" infiltrated national conversation in the US this year.

While results from an early 2014 national spending survey (cum credit card promotion) have found that the average American household are expected to spend 14% less on prom-related activity than last year, there doesn’t seem to be any less time and effort spent on preparation for the "big night." From the newsworthiness of "promposals," those elaborate, proposal-style grand gestures that are equal parts moxie, ingenuity, and silliness, to the ever-complicated quests for the perfect outfit, whether it’s rented or hand-crafted, the social capital of the prom is as strong as ever.

How did we get here?

June 18 2014 2:32 PM

New Vocal Fry Culprit: Butt Tension!

In the Huffington Post recently, theater enthusiast and educator Jen Olenizcak—under the headline "Are Spanx Causing Vocal Fry?"—wrote the following:

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