Hi, all --

In this week's episode of "A Way with Words": If you want to make a room cooler, do you "turn up" the air conditioning? Or do you "turn it down"? Also, "croaker" meaning a "hundred-dollar bill," whether "paper towelling" makes sense, and dictionary recommendations for the new school year. Plus, a pronoun smackdown involving "he" and "him" and "me" and "I."


Many of you asked for a copy of the ditty Martha mentioned that begins "Today was tomorrow yesterday, but today is today today." She's since turned up a copy from a 1947 issue of Boys' Life magazine. It's here, along with more cornball humor from that era:


Dr. Seuss fans are celebrating the publication this week of "The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories." They appeared in magazines in the early 1950s, but are now in book form for the first time.


If you're in the UK, you may have caught a new series on the telly called "Fry's Planet Word," hosted by language lover Stephen Fry. For now, it's available only in the UK. It's drawing mixed reviews, like this one in The Guardian.


Incidentally, the article mentions an American Sign Language sign for "Obama," using the letter "O," followed by fingers waving like a flag. You can find video of it on this site:


Speaking of Obama, an Associated Press transcript of the president's speech to the Congressional Black Caucus this week prompted accusations of racism.

During the speech, Obama noticeably dropped his "g's" in words like "complaining," so the reporter spelled it in the transcript as "complainin'." Linguist John McWhorter is among those arguing that the reporter's rendering was simply an accurate reflection of the way the president spoke, not racist stereotyping.

What do you think? Watch the argument here:


Speaking of controversy, when Webster's Third New International Dictionary came out in 1961, it met with plenty. Critics said it was too lax about including new coinages.

One derided the new dictionary as a "fighting document" out to destroy "every obstinate vestige of linguistic punctilio, every surviving influence that makes for the upholding of standards."

Today, though, new lexical additions are hardly controversial, says linguist Geoff Nunberg. "Nowadays," he writes in a New York Times essay, "the dictionary is about as hard to get into as Sam's Club."


As for not-so-new words, the Dead Sea Scrolls are now viewable online in high-resolution detail, thanks to a joint project by Israel's national museum and Google.



BEHIND THE SCENES: Martha is thinking of decorating her office with this line of typographic furniture.


Do you think if she buys a whole phrase, they'll throw in an Oxford comma as a lagniappe?

Hope the rest of the week sits well with you!

Martha and Grant

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