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Language Newsletter in Your Inbox


In our latest show, we talk about an expression familiar to many African-Americans but little known outside that community, "I couldn't buy a louse in a wrestling jacket." Also, what does it mean if your dog is "doppick" or "nixie"? How do you pronounce the word spelled n-i-c-h-e? Should you rhyme it with "itch" or "quiche"?


Linguists are celebrating the Oxford English Dictionary's recent inclusion of a word coined by one of their own, Geoff Pullum. The OED defines "eggcorn" as "an alteration of a word or phrase through the mishearing or reinterpretation of one or more of its elements as a similar-sounding word." Examples: "nip it in the butt" as opposed to the original "nip it in the bud," and "spreading like wildflowers" for "spreading like wildfire." Boston Globe language columnist Jan Freeman has more:


Listen up, fiction writers: Is writing in the present tense a faddish, stylistic crutch? Do novels written in the present tense tend to be limp and wishy-washy? Some literary critics are unhappy that three of the six novels nominated for Britain's prestigious Booker Prize are written that way. Noted author Philip Pullman calls it a "wretched fad" and a "silly affectation." More about the tense controversy here:


More from another critic of such novels, former Booker Prize judge Philip Hensher:


We were pleased to learn this week that Google translations now includes Latin-English and English-Latin translations. It's hardly perfect, though. When we tried "Veni, vidi, vici," Caesar's immortal lines translated as "I came, I saw the street of." As always with electronic translation, take those answers "cum grano salis." Try it:


Finally, welcome to our newest underwriter, National Geographic Books, publisher of "The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World's Most Endangered Languages," by K. David Harrison. You may recall Harrison from the Emmy-nominated documentary, "The Linguists." More here:



Martha and Grant

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Further reading

Too Much Sugar for a Dime

Tammy in Atlanta, Georgia, says her father-in-law often uses the expression That’s too much sugar for a dime, suggesting that something is more trouble than it’s worth. Variations include too much sugar for a cent, too much sugar for a...