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Flop Sweat

Gerrymandering draws political boundaries to tip elections towards certain political parties. Originally, the word was pronounced “GARY-mandering” with a hard “g.” But why? And why did it change? • Mark Twain and Helen Keller...

Re in Email Subject Lines

Re: in an email subject line means “regarding” or “with reference to,” but it’s not an abbreviation for either one of those things. It comes from a form of the Latin word res meaning “matter” or “thing...

Kissed Her on the Stairs

Do Americans use the same sign language as the British? And what do Japanese people use instead of umm? Plus, why do we vote at polling places? What goes into file 13? All this, a word quiz, commode vs. toilet, saditty and bougie, and cute stuff...

Discourse Particles

So, um, where do those, er, filler words come from? Discourse particles, as they’re also known, are used to fill those gaps when we’re thinking of what to say but don’t want to lose our turn in a conversation. English isn’t...

Nothing to Sneeze At

Forensic linguists use what they know about speech and writing to testify in courtrooms. And get out your hankies! Martha and Grant are talking about the language of … sneezing. And what do you call it when you clean the house in a hurry...

Forensic Linguistics

Forensic linguistics, the subject of a recent New Yorker piece by Jack Hitt (in full here, is a useful tool in the courtroom. Linguists like Roger Shuy, who’s written a handful of books on the subject, have managed to solve criminal cases by...