language

John Simpson is the former chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, where he helped take the dictionary online.

His new book, The Word Detective: Searching for the Meaning of It All at the Oxford English Dictionary, is an intensely personal memoir and a joyful celebration of English, he weaves a story of how words come into being (and sometimes disappear), how culture shapes the language we use, and how technology has transformed not only the way we speak and write but also how words are made.

The art of hula is thriving in cities all over the country and the world, but it is not always understood.

In The Natives Are Restless, journalist Constance Hale presents the largely untold story of the dance tradition, using the twin keyholes of Kumu Patrick Makuakane (a Hawai‘i-born, San Francisco–based hula master), and his 350-person arts organization (Na Lei Hulu i ka Wekiu).

In the background, she weaves the poignant story of an ancient people and the resilience of their culture. In the foreground, she tells the story of an electrifying new form of hula that has emerged from a restless generation of artists like Makuakane.

Nearly everyone swears—whether it’s over a few too many drinks, in reaction to a stubbed toe, or in flagrante delicto. And yet, we sit idly by as words are banned from television and censored in books. We insist that people excise profanity from their vocabularies and we punish children for yelling the very same dirty words that we’ll mutter in relief seconds after they fall asleep. Swearing, it seems, is an intimate part of us that we have decided to selectively deny.

That’s a damn shame. Swearing is useful. It can be funny, cathartic, or emotionally arousing. As linguist and cognitive scientist Benjamin K. Bergen shows in his book What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves, it also opens a new window onto how our brains process language and why languages vary around the world and over time.

  After thirty-five years as a book editor in New York City, Ann Patty stopped working and moved to the country. Bored, aimless, and lost in the woods, she hoped to challenge her restless, word-loving brain by beginning a serious study of Latin at local colleges.

As she begins to make sense of Latin grammar and syntax, her studies open unexpected windows into her own life.

Her book is Living with a Dead Language: My Romance with Latin.

  In That’s Not English by Erin Moore, the seemingly superficial differences between British and American English open the door to a deeper exploration of a historic and fascinating cultural divide.

American by birth, Moore is a former book editor who specialized in spotting British books—including Eats, Shoots & Leaves—for the US market. She’s spent the last seven years living in England with her Anglo American husband and a small daughter with an English accent.

  Why is so much writing so bad, and how can we make it better? Is the English language being corrupted by texting and social media? Do the kids today even care about good writing? Why should any of us care?

  Analogies are far more complex than their SAT stereotype and lie at the very core of human cognition and creativity. Once we become aware of this, we start seeing them everywhere—in ads, apps, political debates, legal arguments, logos, and euphemisms, to name just a few.

    In this week’s Classical Music According to Yehuda, Alan Chartock and Yehuda Hanani discuss Bartok and music as language.

Celebrating “White Nights” of the Russian tradition, pianist Vassily Primakov and Yehuda will present a program of Russian masters Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, and Tchaikovsky, in the inaugural concert of Close Encounters With Music at the Clark Sunday, July 14 at 3 PM.

    In the past, expressions like "horsefeathers," "blinkers," and "coxy-loxy" were all the go around towin, but they have since largely disappeared from the English lexicon in favor more pedestrian modern expressions.

Lesley Blume is looking to bring such language back – we speak with her about her efforts.

4/26/13 - Panel

Apr 26, 2013

  This morning's panelists are WAMC's Ray Graf, David Guistina, and Joe Donahue.

In this abbreviated panel we're asking listeners to call in with their language pet peeves.

    Natalie Goldberg, teacher and author of Writing Down the Bones, joins us to talk about her new book: The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language.

She offers writing guidance learned from years of teaching and practice in the second part of the hour.

    In 1973 in the offices of The Atlantic Monthly in Boston, a young freelance writer named Tracy Kidder came looking for an assignment. Richard Todd was the editor that encouraged him.

After much success they have written the new book, Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction, which explores three major non-fiction forms: narratives, essays, and memoirs.

  The founding fathers felt that coining words and creating new uses for old ones was part of their role in creating a new American culture and language, distinct from the prescriptive King's English.

Ever since, American presidents have enriched our vocabulary with words, phrases, and concepts that we have since put to general use. Acclaimed lexicographer Paul Dickson has compiled the first collection of new words and lexical curiosities originating on Pennsylvania Avenue.

His new book is Words from the White House: Words and Phrases Coined or Popularized by America's Presidents.

Writers know it instinctively: Verbs make a sentence zing. Grammar gurus agree: Drama in writing emerges from the interplay of a subject (noun) and a predicate (verb).

Michael Adams teaches English language and literature at Indiana University. He is the author of Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon and editor of From Elvish to Klingon.