Uncategorized

The elephant in the language

Today I want to talk about elephants. One of the joys of my work as a dictionary editor is finding arbitrary but interesting connections among words, such as those colloquial expressions in English that have to do with elephants. One elephant you might encounter in English is a white elephant. This is something like a more…

Updates will continue to be slow for Double-Tongued

My family and I are in the process of moving ourselves and our belongings from New York City to the San Francisco Bay area—completely across North America—so updates will continue to be sporadic on this web site. Stay subscribed, though, because they will resume their previous vigor in just a couple of weeks.

Call of nature

My latest column in the Malaysia Star. It is written for English learners. … Bodily functions are a rich source of English slang, so naturally, we have a lot of ways of saying “urinate,” “defecate” and “go somewhere to urinate and/or defecate.” Here’s a quick rundown of appropriate usage. Freshen up. This can mean anything more…

Feedburner URLs that have huge accidental traffic

When I tried last month to consolidate my feeds into one, things did not go as planned. I lost about 3000 subscribers, for one thing, mainly due to RSS readers that don’t know how to handle the very standard and ordinary htaccess redirect. I did this through Feedburner, which hosts my feeds. Feedburner also put more…

I held Samuel Johnson’s 1755 dictionary in my hands

Last night I got to see some rare first editions in a private library, including a copy of Samuel Johnson’s first 1755 dictionary. I held it in my two hands and flipped through the pages. Very exciting! We also saw a copy of the wire service roll recording the teletypes sent out on the day more…

Boohoo, wah, and diddums: words of fake sympathy

Here’s my latest column—written for learners of English—from the Malaysia Star. … Sometimes, when you are explaining how someone done you wrong (a very informal and not altogether grammatical way of saying someone “treated you badly”), a listener will hold up a hand and slowly rub his index finger and thumb together. If you’ve never more…

My book is now available at no cost as an e-book download

Since my book The Official Dictionary of Unofficial English is now available on the bootleg e-book sites (“pirate” is the wrong term, I think), I’ve decided to make it available for download at no cost. This is not a big deal. The book never sold more than a few thousand copies, the copyright is mine more…

Jitterbug thug and dance

My latest fortnightly column, written for an audience of English learners, has been published in the Malaysia Star. … When a circuit judge in Florida was reported to have told a man who took up the habit of crack cocaine at age 47 that he would be joining the “jitterbugs”, she didn’t mean he’d be more…

The Fantods and the Cold Robbies

My latest column in the Malaysia Star. … In a recent newsletter from Anu Garg, who runs the excellent “A Word a Day” e-mail list, a reader used an expression I hadn’t heard before. In talking about ritual mourners – people who are hired to wail and moan at funerals – she wrote: “He explained more…

A Conversation with Roy Blount Jr.

“A Way with Words,” the public radio show about language which I co-host and co-produce, just posted an audio interview I did with humorist and author Roy Blount Jr. in which we talked, among other things, about his books, the Authors Guild, authors’ rights, the Amazon Kindle 2, catfish noodling, and whether the cancan dancers more…