Words at Play


Perhaps you have never heard of a lexicographer named Kory Stamper, but she is very popular with word nerds.  In addition to her public relations duties with Merriam-Webster she gives talks about words and has recorded numerous short YouTube videos about them.

Recently Stamper completed a book titled Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries that is receiving excellent reviews.  A Mentalfloss article lists 10 things they learned about the dictionary from Stamper.  Many of her YouTube videos are available here.

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Going to Hell in a Hen Basket

Book TV recently aired a panel discussion on the English language featuring Robert Alden Rubin, author of Going to Hell in a Hen Basket: An Illustrated Dictionary of Modern Malapropisms, and Allan Metcalf, author of From Skedaddle to Selfie: Words of the Generation.  Rubin spoke first and presented a very funny lecture on malapropisms complete with his own delightful drawings (which also appear in his book).  Metcalf then spoke about various words, but you may find his delivery a bit dry – especially after Rubin’s performance.

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We often use idioms, but we seldom bother to analyze them.  When we do, we often find that they are nonsensical.  For instance, what does it mean to “beat around the bush”?  Now, consider the distress of English speakers who attempt to translate foreign language idioms into English.  The literal translations often leave us clueless as to the intent of the conglomeration of words.  Here are 21 examples.

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The Word Detective

Lexicographer John Simpson has penned a book, The Word Detective: Searching for the Meaning of It All at the Oxford English Dictionary, that is both a memoir about his 37 years working on the Oxford English Dictionary, and a wonderful book about the words he finds most interesting.  A Guardian article about Simpson is a must-read for all word lovers.

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