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Open Up a Can of Words

You know that feeling you get when you say something you’ve known forever — slang, a catchphrase, a cultural reference — and the other person stares blankly? They have no idea what you’re referring to. Sometimes you feel old, sometimes you just feel out of touch.

That’s just one of the things we talked about on this week’s episode:


We also talked about the pronunciation of “the” and “garage,” “done” vs. “finished,” a new book about polyglots, the silent K in words, and lots more.


Christian Boer has created a typeface called “Dyslexie” that he believes will help dyslexics read any text rendered in it.


What’s the difference between “three times as much as” and “three times greater than”? The Style & Substance blog of the Wall Street Journal tackles this common bit of journalistic innumeracy (among other things).


The backstory on the name of the element “ytterbium”:


Google Translate is already pretty good. Just how much better can it get?


Twitter isn’t ruining English, writes Mark Liberman at Language Log.


Alex Knapp, blogging at Fortune, sympathizes with the emotion behind the feeling, but agrees that the data show Twitter isn’t ruining the language and says that, anyway, it can be hilarious.


In that vein, book reviewer and blogger Maud Newton does some dialectical digging on Twitter and compares regional slang and outsiders’ reactions to it.


In fact, Twitter is a source of great data for language study, writes our buddy Ben Zimmer in the New York Times.


He follows-up at LanguageLog.


Ben also writes in three places about the new Broadway play “Chinglish,” a word which means a mix of Chinese and English. The play is not just about getting things wrong. Playwright David Henry Hwang: “Sometimes even when you know what someone’s saying literally, they might as well be speaking a foreign language, because the underlying cultural assumptions can be so different.”

Overall description of the play:


Q&A with the playwright:


Even more Q&A:


Here’s a language quiz from Howard Richler’s upcoming book. Take a famous person’s name and then, using only letters already in that name, make another famous person’s name. So Baer, as in Max Baer, would give you Berra, as in Yogi Berra. Try it:


Behind the Scenes

We’re happy to welcome a new sponsor to A Way with Words: the Fifth Edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language http://ahdictionary.com/.

This is the dictionary with the beautiful chart and appendix of Indo-European roots. You can get a taste of its etymological building blocks here from the standalone American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots:


The other thing you should know: the dictionary publisher’s executive editor, Steve Kleinedler, has a phonetic vowel chart tattooed on his back. Don’t believe us? See for yourself:


Best wishes and may you read more than you write!

Martha and Grant

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