Have you ever wondered why Americans and Brits spell English differently? How are colour and color the same word? Centre and center? What’s up with that? It’s all thanks to Noah Webster (yeah, the Webster of Merriam-Webster). When America gained independence, Webster wanted to simplify unreasonable spellings that were…
Time traveling back into the past is almost always a bad idea. Everybody is racist, everything is dirty, and you’ll probably get some terrible disease and/or get stabbed with a sword that everyone is carrying but you. The world is generally dumber and worse off. And on top of that! You might not even be able to…
It’s because though English is a Germanic language (the grammar and core vocabulary comes from that), there are a lot of words that come from the Romance (Latin-based) languages too which was leaked into English when French-speaking Normans ruled England. That explains why there are a lot of twin words that mean the…
Where did the names for the days of the week come from? It came from the planets! Saturday is Saturn Day. Sunday is Sun Day. Monday is Moon Day. Tuesday is Mars Day. Wednesday is Woden’s Day (Mercury was his messenger). Thursday is Thor’s Day (Jupiter Day). Friday is Venus Day. Watch as Arika Okrent explains how the…
We say it almost everyday. When friends text to meet at 7. Ok. When your boss hands you an assignment. Ok. When you need to pay the bill. Ok. And so on. But where did that term come from? What did it first mean? This interesting word breakdown from Arika Okrent dives into the real origin of OK and reveals how it’s…
How and did we start using "no" to mean "yes" — as "No, totally" or "No, exactly"? Kathryn Schultz at The New Yorker takes a deep dive into the linguistics of "Yes" and "No" and how English kept them and ditched their more precise brethren. [The New Yorker]
Lately, it seems that there are few words in the English language that stir up as much semantic ire as "literally" does. As more and more people have been using "literally" to mean "really," some English speakers fret that the meaning of the word will change. But the truth is that it would hardly be the first.
Why will asking for directions to a time machine get you sent to an ATM in Wisconsin, a request for a sarsaparilla spider gets you a root beer float in Australia, and someone wondering if you've seen their bunnyhug in Saskatchewan is actually searching for their favorite hoodie? Read on to find out.
Science fiction used to sometimes suggest that, as broadcast took over, we would hear less and less distinction in accents. Today though, there is of course not just one "American accent" but several, and regional accents continue to thrive and spread. Why is that and what can we expect to sound like in the future?
You've probably heard that English is being ruined — by the Internet, by texting, by Americans, by young people who have no respect for proper grammar. But it turns out that people have always worried over English, and over the centuries, have accused all sorts of things of "ruining" the language.
As languages acquire new speakers, spread to new geographic areas, and mingle with other languages, they change. But is that change happening as quickly as it once did?
You've probably seen phrases like "Ye Olde Tavern" or "Ye Olde Shoppe" scrawled across English-language signs, trying to evoke a sense of the medieval. But the practice of naming shops this way didn't start until the late 19th century and it was done to make things sound, well, old.
OK has been traced to a 19th century Boston Morning Post article where a writer was satirizing the "new" craze of abbreviations. The more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess.
Triangulations blogger Sabio Lantz recently put together this rather clever diagram showing how the English language has evolved over the past 3,000 years.
The imperial system is a funny thing. Like, really funny. So funny that there is actually a unit of measurement for wine (or whiskey) casks called a “butt.” That means if you fill the barrel up, you technically have a buttload of wine—though you’d probably just call it a full butt. Are you laughing yet?
As Blaze Miskulin puts it below, "English is a mutt. And a slut. It was born of the random fucking of multiple cultures, languages, and dialects, and it will hop in bed with any language that tickles its fancy. It'a also a thief. English will blatantly steal any word or phrase that it finds interesting. We like it?…
Some letters in the alphabet are workhorses, showing up everywhere and often, while others (looking at you, "Z") are much rarer. But just where does each letter appear with the most frequency? This series of graphs, which plots out the frequency of appearance for each letter, shows us. [UPDATED]
English isn't the hardest language in the world to learn but it's definitely a crazy one with wacky rules. Things that apply for some words, never seem to be considered for similar ones. Change one letter here and it can sound completely different there but sound the same somewhere else. It's all pretty ridiculous.
Kory Stamper is a lexicographer over at Merriam-Webster, publishers of dictionaries and thesauruses. She's here today to answer all our questions about how we use language, from 11 - noon (Pacific time).