Tag Archives: words

“Fourth Person:” You, One, Y’All

In most English speaker’s everyday language, “you” can represent an indefinite referent. That is, when I say “you never can tell” I don’t mean that you, the specific person I’m talking to, never can tell, but rather that “somebody never can … Continue reading

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Posted in Miscellaneous Accents and Dialects | Tagged , | 14 Comments

Goombye

A reader recently wrote me a question concerning the word “goombye,” which appears in this up-tempo Ivie Anderson song (penned by Duke Ellington) from 1939: At first glance, I figured “goombye” might be an awkward attempt to transcribe African-American English … Continue reading

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Posted in American English | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Why D.A.R.E. Is Important

In the 1960s, an enterprising young linguist named William Labov travelled to Martha’s Vineyard to study a curious feature of the island’s local vernacular. Vineyard natives tended to centralize the diphthongs in words like “house” and “kite” (həʊs and kəɪt), … Continue reading

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Posted in American English | Tagged | 3 Comments

Dived vs. Dove in American Dialects

The past tense of “dive” exemplifies the quirky differences between American and British English. In Britain, this word is ostensibly “dived,” while Americans increasingly prefer “dove,” the latter likely formed via analogy from drive/drove (Insert joke about America’s auto-centric culture … Continue reading

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Posted in American English | Tagged | 9 Comments

A Strange Chapter in “Wog”s Hateful History

“Wog” is an offensive term in British English which refers to various immigrant groups. Its etymology is debated. One theory suggests acronymous origins, along the lines of “Worthy Oriental Gentleman” (which is less pejorative than contemporary usage would suggest). More … Continue reading

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Posted in English Phonetics | Tagged , | 14 Comments

Drawer-Draw Conflation

I’ve known New Yorkers who, despite exhibiting few traces of “Brooklynese,” pronounce “drawer” as if it were “draw.”* These are folks, mind you, who pronounce each and every other r, yet still maintain this r-less exception. So what’s with “draw?” … Continue reading

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Posted in American English | Tagged , | 33 Comments

Lincoln’s “Anachronisms”

[UPDATE: Benjamin Schmidt has an excellent in-depth response in the comments which is well worth reading. He also has an FAQ on his website that answers a number of questions about his process.] I am obviously fascinated by historical dialects … Continue reading

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Posted in American English | Tagged , | 7 Comments

That’s What She Said!

I’m going to veer off-topic today, and discuss jokes. Or rather, a joke that has swept through American pop culture for years, the allusive “that’s what she said” gag. The premise is that by inserting “that’s what she said” after … Continue reading

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Posted in American English | Tagged , | 13 Comments

The Spread of a Slur

Jane Eyre complains of being “fagged” in Charlotte Bronte‘s masterpiece; a small road in northern England is named “Faggy Lane;” and who can forget Alfred Gurney’s heartwarming 1884 poetry collection, A Christmas Faggot? The preceding paragraph makes me cringe, no … Continue reading

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Posted in Miscellaneous Accents and Dialects | Tagged , | 17 Comments

“Americanized” Non-American Novels

I’m reading (and enjoying) my first Inspector Rebus novel, Fleshmarket Alley, by Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin. Non-American Rebus fans may not recognize the book’s American title, as it goes by the more evocative moniker Fleshmarket Close in the UK. Why it must be spelled out … Continue reading

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Posted in Miscellaneous Accents and Dialects | Tagged , | 32 Comments