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Never Bolt Your Door with a Boiled Carrot

Welcome to another newsletter from A Way with Words. We've got cheese!

It was our second week in a row talking about the books of David Crystal. (He deserves it!) This time, we plunged into the rich pages of his book "As They Say in Zanzibar" and brought you a few proverbs that caught our eyes.

We also talked about "spittin' image," why we use "it" in "It is raining," and why folks say "umm" and "you know"--they're not signs of stupidity, they're normal English.


We also posted an online-only language headlines minicast today. Check it out:



Joe Clark is a Canadian expert in closed-captioning, but he's branched out this time with a book about Canadian English spellings. He finds that it's under threat from spellcheckers, which let American and British spellings sail through even if you�ve told the software to use Canadian English.

The book is "Organizing Our Marvellous Neighbours: How to Feel Good About Canadian English." Find out more here:


This week we also heard that the Oxford University Press office in Canada has fired its entire Canadian dictionary-making staff and will now be running the operation out of the United Kingdom. This comes just a few years after a similar restructuring of the US Dictionary program.


Market realities being what they are, this is no doubt not the last we've heard of unhappy events like this from all quarters of publishing. It goes hand in hand with the slow purging of copy editors from the staffs of newspapers and other periodicals.

Even the peevers will have a laugh at this one: it's a bit of satire from the London Telegraph, in which Craig Brown invents a series of messages from listeners of the sort who are constantly badgering the BBC about some language mistake, real or imagined, that it has made.


To close, we have not one, not two, not three, but FOUR separate articles on the accent of Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin:

Linguist Stephen Pinker in the New York Times:


Linguist and NPR language commentator Geoff Nunberg responding to Pinker:


Daniel Libit in Politico:


OED editor Jesse Sheidlower in Slate:


Best wishes to you,

Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett

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Bug in Your Ear (episode #1537)

Is there something inherent in English that makes it the linguistic equivalent of the Borg, dominating and consuming other languages in its path? No, not at all. The answer lies with politics and conquest rather than language itself. Plus: a new...

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