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Episode 1584

Sleepy Winks

It was a dark and stormy night. So begins the long and increasingly convoluted prose of Edwards Bulwer-Lytton’s best-known novel. Today the annual Bulwer-Lytton Contest asks contestants for fanciful first sentences that are similarly...

Language in Petersburg, Alaska

When Therese moved from New England to Petersburg, Alaska, she heard a rich mixture of language that arose from the Tlingit people who live there part of the year, the Norwegians who immigrated there, and a thriving fishing industry. So you might...

Episode 1526

Abso-Bloomin-Lutely

The autocomplete function on your phone comes in handy, of course. But is it changing the way we write and how linguists study language? Also, suppose you could invite any two authors, living or dead, to dinner. Who’s on your guest list and...

Infixing and Tmesis

Scott in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, wonders if the words nother as in a whole nother and abso-bloomin-lutely are real words. Yes, they are! The construction a whole nother is an example of what linguists call tmesis, which involves the insertion of a...

Non-Word Utterances Also Have Meaning

A Pasadena, California, man says some of his relatives make a noise that sounds like unh-Unh, and it’s clear to everyone in the family that it means “Well, what did you expect?” A lexical utterance like that does have meaning, even...