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Language with Covert Prestige

When the dialect of a minority group becomes highly valued and exerts force on the language of the majority, linguists say it has covert prestige. For example, many words and phrases from drag culture and hip-hop found their way into the mainstream...

Burn Bag

The slang coming out of Victorian mouths was more colorful than you might think. A 1909 collection of contemporary slang records clever terms for everything from a bald head to the act of sidling through a crowd. Plus, how to remember the difference...

See A Man About a Horse

A listener in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, recalls that his grandfather used to announce he was headed to the restroom by saying, “I have to go see a man about a horse.” An earlier version of the phrase is, “I have to go see 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...

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