Electric Fan

The Linguistic Case for Sh*t Hitting the Fan

Idioms have a special power to draw people together in a way that plain speech doesn't.
Two face masks in front of some text about the COVID-19 virus

When Language Goes Viral

How do innocuous words become insidious in the face of a public health emergency?
3 boys hanging out outside laughing

Black English Matters

People who criticize African American Vernacular English don't see that it shares grammatical structures with more "prestigious" languages.
Map of the United States showing the state nicknames as hogs, 1884

What Ever Happened to the Beetheads?

A lighthearted look at Americans' nicknames of yore, from master humorist H. L. Mencken.
From a poster for Charles Frohman’s dramatic production, The Hand of Destiny by Pierre Decourcelle, 1896

Why Did “Thieves’ Cant” Carry an Unshakeable Allure?

If thieves’ cant—a language known only to criminals—was the Devil’s cabinet, bourgeois society couldn’t help but peep inside.
Neon text on the side of a building reads "All we have is words, all we have is worlds."

The Hidden Life of Modal Verbs

A linguist explains why we get so distracted by the fiery language of politics, while ignoring urgent information reported by scientists.
Appalachian Mountains dialect

The Legendary Language of the Appalachian “Holler”

Is the unique Appalachian dialect the preserved language of Elizabethan England? Left over from Scots-Irish immigrants? Or something else altogether?
compliments

The Uncertain Art of the American Compliment

The way Americans compliment is maximalist and enthusiastic, but it may not always be sincere. Our resident linguist unpacks the language of politeness.
drag queen

The Unspeakable Linguistics of Camp

When gay and lesbian people had to invent their own languages with which to talk with each other, camp led the way.
Loggers slang

The Lost Language of American Loggers

Logger slang may have coined terms like "punk," "haywire," and "pie in the sky." One lexicographer attempted to catalogue the industry's slang in 1942.