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Time Traveler: When Did New Words Appear?

Last week, Merriam-Webster launched a new tool on its website called Time Traveler that lets you explore words by year. In other words, you can select a year, like 1991, and see words that were first recorded in that year. For example, in 1991, the words “mixtape,” “bestie,” and “gift card” appeared in print for the first time—at least as far as the...

'Important' or 'Importantly'?

You may occasionally hear or read an objection to the phrase “more importantly.” You can ignore it (unless you are writing a cover letter or some other document where you’ll be judged without the chance to defend yourself).  “More important” and “more importantly” are both grammatically acceptable and have been in use for decades. It’s unclear which...

Stop Calling Yourself a Grammar Nazi

When I’m asked to give people a bio, a paragraph about myself, I often end it with the sentence “She hates the phrase ‘grammar Nazi’ and loves the word ‘kerfuffle.’" This isn’t a new sentiment—you can see it in the bio for my TED talk from 2015—but it suddenly seems more relevant and more important. Some of you might remember the Soup Nazi character...

Why Is ‘Worcester’ Pronounced ‘Wooster’?

I lost the name of the person who asked me why we call the fermented sauce we use in Caesar salad, deviled eggs, and bloody marys “Worcestershire sauce,” but it turns out the answer is simple: it was first bottled in Worcester county in west central England.  The story goes that a British nobleman came back from a stint at the East India Company...

"Rifle" v. "Riffle"

The other day on Twitter, I said I was going to riffle through the medicine cabinet looking for something to soothe a wicked headache, and someone corrected me saying that I was actually rifling through my medicine cabinet. My headache went away, but my curiosity about these two words didn’t, so I looked them up as my mother always encouraged me to...

Singular or Plural Verbs with 'One of The'

 A listener named Mwalimu on Facebook asked, Which is correct? “This is one of the novels that has made a mark in my life,” or “This is one of the novels that have made a mark in my life”? Someone asks me a question like this every six months or so, and I always have to look up the answer because, for the life of me, I can never remember whether a...

When to Capitalize Generation Names

My life is super exciting, so Friday night I was looking through the galleys of the new edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, and I noticed a little change from the previous edition. In the past, Chicago said to lowercase “generation X,” even though other style books said to capitalize it. With the new edition in September, Chicago is going to be...

How to Make a Name with "Jr." Possessive

Donald Trump Jr. has been in the news a lot the last couple of days, and I’ve seen some pretty funky punctuation on the “Jr.” part of his name.  On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we talked about whether you should look at that word “Jr.” and put a comma before it. I told you people were more likely to use a comma in the past than they are today. The AP...

'Critique' or 'Criticize'?

A Twitter user with the handle @WeHateNick asked, “It is OK to use ‘critique’ as a verb? Do I ‘critique’ a design, or do I ‘criticize’ it?” @GrammarGirl Is it ok to use "critique" as a verb? Do I "critique" a design, or do I "critisize" it? — We Hate Nick (@WeHateNick) June 3, 2017 That turned out to be a slightly more complicated question than...

More Language Games Like Pig Latin

Last month, we talked about whether Pig Latin is a real language and came down on the side that it’s actually a language game, and I asked you if you know about other kinds of language games in English or in other languages, and I got a few interesting answers. Aba Speak in German A listener with the handle @halloleo on Twitter told me about a game...

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