Lexicon Valley
Lexicon Valley

The Habitual Past

Did you “used to” do something but don’t any longer? Where does that expression come from?

Sept. 4 2018 11:03 AMA Riot of ColorOur word for red predates our word for blue—and that’s true for almost every language!
Aug. 7 2018 11:50 AMWabbit TwacksA linguistic analysis of Looney Tunes.
July 10 2018 3:09 PMHappy Birthday, OED!We raise an etymological glass to the nonagenarian Oxford English Dictionary.
June 12 2018 10:53 AMThe Pronouning of ProfanitiesWords like f--- and sh-- are increasingly standing in for it and that.
May 15 2018 12:15 PMThe Art of the SpielA brief history of oratory from the Gilded Age to the era of Trump.
April 17 2018 1:35 PMThe Story of PThe 16th letter of our alphabet is a fancy little thing.
March 20 2018 12:22 PMDid the Founding Fathers Have a British Accent?What we know about what Washington, Franklin, and Hamilton may have sounded like.
Feb. 20 2018 2:22 PMThe Inner Workings of OutOn the rich complexities of a humble preposition.
Jan. 23 2018 1:32 PMWhat’s the Deal With Eleven?On the etymology and pronunciation of English numbers.
Dec. 27 2017 9:24 AMThe Thing Is IsThe problem is, is that we sometimes say is twice. Why?
Nov. 28 2017 11:36 AMThanksgiving MisnomersTurkey? Pumpkin? Squash? They’re all mistakes.
Oct. 31 2017 12:40 PMAgainst Strunk and WhiteIt’s time to permanently shelve The Elements of Style.
Oct. 3 2017 12:55 PMEste No Es Parqueo: A Brief Ode to SpanishAn infelicitous parking job inspires musings on the Spanish language.
Sept. 5 2017 1:13 PMDo Languages Simplify Over Time?Old English was arguably more complicated than Modern English. Is that true of all languages?
Aug. 8 2017 2:31 PMNew Life for Dying LanguagesThe Language Conservancy’s Wil Meya discusses the effort to revive Native American languages.
Aug. 21 2018 10:04 AMThe Rise of TheyEnglish pronouns are evolving, and it’s time to embrace it.
July 24 2018 11:21 AMTee TimeWhat the French Canadian version of The Flintstones can teach us about the letter T.
June 26 2018 1:56 PMIf Frozen, Why Not Squozen?Language lessons from this year’s Tony nominees for Best Musical.
May 29 2018 9:54 AMOne Tongue to Rule Them AllThe tantalizing prospect of a universal language.
May 1 2018 11:54 AMGetting to YesThe making of our compact, workaday affirmative.
April 3 2018 11:26 AMEnglish Spelling Is a Beautiful MessEnglish spelling is so frustratingly idiosyncratic. Here’s why.
March 6 2018 12:47 PMNo-Uh!On the rise of an exclamatory syllable in English.
Feb. 6 2018 10:05 AMWords, for HerOn the origin of woman, girl, and other lady terms.
Jan. 9 2018 11:32 AMThere Are Two N-WordsLike gangster and gangsta, nigger and nigga have become two distinct words.
Dec. 12 2017 10:00 AMAn Accidental SanctityBiblical scholar Mark Ward discusses his forthcoming book, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible.
Nov. 14 2017 1:15 PMSometimes Just BecauseLanguage is often at the mercy of pure chance.
Oct. 17 2017 1:44 PMWhence Baby Mama?John McWhorter answers questions from Lexicon Valley listeners.
Sept. 19 2017 11:17 AMFrom Pidgins to CreolesWhen languages collide and creoles are born.
Aug. 22 2017 10:27 AMDid Cavebabies Say Mama and Papa?Languages across the world developed similar words for mom and dad. How is that possible?
July 25 2017 1:01 PMIn the NegativeJohn McWhorter on the history and evolution of no and not.