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Blazing laptop: 25,000 words of prose in nine hours

Well, I finally found a group of writers to hang out with in San Diego. I like them so much I serve as a volunteer on their board. And I’m signing up for their fundraiser. They’re San Diego Writers, Ink, a nonprofit organization that is all about writing, writing well, reading writing, and writing. Did more…

The Pronunciation of American Humorists

A delightful find in a book from 1874 (On Early English Pronunciation, Asher & Co., London, for the Philological Society): a long list pronunciations used by American humorists to represent the speech of the common American. There are pages and pages of it. Many of them are new to me, which suggests that they are more…

New verses to “My Darling Clementine”

Ever since we bought some delicious clementines at the farmer’s market, I’ve been composing new verses to “Oh My Darling, Clementine.” She dies of a new accident in each one. It’s easier to make up new verses to songs I half remember than it is to hunt down the real words and memorize them. She more…

How do you pronounce “both”? Please take the survey!

Do you pronounce the word “both” differently from other English-speakers? Take the survey and tell others about it. The more respondents we get, the more we’ll know.

Garbanzos or chickpeas?

Which term do you use: garbanzo bean or chickpea? The survey is here.

Buzzwords of 2009 in the New York Times

My annual buzzwords of the year piece for the New York Times has appeared today, featuring expressions such as aporkalypse, swine flu party, El Stiffo, Octomom, and sexting. Also, there’s a discussion going on about them on the New York Times Ideas blog, where you can leave your own comments about my choices, or give more…

A note found inside Birds of the Pacific Coast

Recently I bought a copy of Birds of the Pacific Coast by William Ayres Eliot at B Street Books in San Mateo. It is a charming book, filled with color plates (which you can see here) and interesting tidbits, but I bought it because it contained this handwritten letter inserted in its pages: . It more…

Now accepting nominations for the 2009 “word of the year” and the 2000-9 “word of the decade”

The American Dialect Society is now accepting nominations for the “word of the year” of 2009, as well as for the “word of the decade” for 2000-2009 What is the word or phrase which best characterizes the year or the decade? What expression most reflects the ideas, events, and themes which have occupied the English-speaking more…

How much underworld slang is still used from 80 years ago?

My latest column in the Malaysia Star: Underworld lingo. The column, as always, is written for an audience that may not be perfectly fluent with English. … In 1931, the Los Angeles Times published a story headlined Underworld lingo. It was a lexicon of criminal cant and jargon written by Ben Kendall, a police reporter. more…

Remembering William Safire

I want to take a moment to remember William Safire for his kindness. He was unstinting with his help in matters that were important to me. He gave generous public praise to my radio show, A Way with Words. He supported the Historical Dictionary of American Slang when it applied for funding during my editorship, more…