OUP Blogs

Here are links to my OUP Blog Posts: I also blog at the site Literary Ashland, which includes interviews with other authors, and for Oxford University Press.

Can you itch an itch? Jan. 2023

Reading Dan Chaon’s novel Sleepwalk last summer, I noticed his use of the verb itch to mean scratch. Read More

Becoming Emeritus Dec. 2022

When I received the letter granting me emeritus status, I naturally got curious about the etymology.

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The spell of spelling Nov. 2022

English spelling can be endlessly frustrating. From its silent letters (could, stalk, salmon, February, and on and on) to its nonsensical rules (i before e except ….), to the pronunciation of ough (in cough, through, though, and thought). Read More

Being a careful reader October 2022

When we are moving briskly though a supermarket, skimming ads, or focusing on a big purchase, it’s easy to be a less-than-careful reader. Read More

The language of labor Sept. 2022

September means back to school for students, but for those of us in unions, it is also the celebration the American Labor Movement and a good opportunity for us to take a look at some of the language of the labor movement. Read More

The not-so-great caramel debate Aug. 2022

I’m intrigued by the not-so-great debate over the pronunciation of caramel, which is instructive both socially and linguistically. Is the word pronounced with that second a, as caramel or without it, as carmel? Read More

Pronouns and joint possession July 2022

I’ve been noticing compound possessives like Kace and I’s texts or at Paul and my home. Both examples struck me as a little odd. Read More

Off with their prefixes June 2022

I was teaching the history of the English Language and had just mentioned that, following the English Civil War, Charles I had been convicted of treason and beheaded.

A question came from the back of the classroom: “Why do we say beheaded and decapitated, not the other way around?” Read More

When does a kid stop being a kid? May 2022

Last summer, my city’s community forum had a post that generated considerable discussion about the meaning of the word kid. Our governor had announced, via Twitter, that “All Oregon kids ages 1-18, regardless of immigration status, can get free summer meals” from the state’s Summer Food Service Program. Read More

Contraction distraction April 2022

A few years ago, a student dropped a linguistics course I was teaching because the textbook used contractions. The student had done some editorial work and felt that contractions did not belong in a college textbook, much less one he was paying 50 dollars for. It was probably all for the best. If he didn’t like contractions, he probably would’ve hated the course.  Read More

Letting foregones be bygones March 2022

I was reading a column in a chess magazine when I came across the description of a game’s finish as a bygone conclusion. “That’s really weird,” I thought, “It should have said foregone conclusion.” Read More

What are light verbs? Feb. 2022

English verbs show tremendous variety. Some have a lot of semantic content and serve as the main predicate of a sentence—as transitive or intransitive or linking verbs. Read More

Getting English under control Jan. 2022

Any large organization or bureaucracy is likely to have a style guide for its internal documents, publications, and web presence. Some organizations go a step further and develop what is known as a control language. Read More

Down the rabbit hole Dec. 2021

If you are a writer, you’ve probably gone down a rabbit hole at one point or another. The idiom owes its meaning to Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in which Alice literally does that. Read More

Wondering about the subjunctive Nov. 2021

“He wondered if he were hallucinating.” I came across that use of the subjunctive while listening to the audiobook of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Read More

Oftener and oftener Oct. 2021

When I was growing up, someone in authority told me that way to pronounce often was offen, like off with a little syllabic n at the end. Often was like soften, listen, and glisten, I was warned, with a silent t. Read More

Super takes off Sept. 2021

Superman has been around for more than eighty years. The word “super” been a part of English much longer. It was borrowed into English from Latin, and in Old English we already find the word “superhumerale” to refer to a religious garment worn over the shoulders. Read More

A world without relative clauses August 2021

Where does the relative clause begin and the main clause end? Why does the teacher sometimes call them adjective clauses? Should I use that or which or who? And what is the story with restrictive and non-restrictive? Read More

Outlandish but not crazy July 2021

The study of language has generated a lot of outlandish ideas: various bits of prescriptive dogma, stereotypes and folklore about dialects, fantasy etymologies, wild theories of the origin of language. Every linguist probably has their own list. When these ideas come up in classes or conversations, I have sometimes referred to them as crazy, wacky, loony, kooky, or nutty. I’m going to try to stop doing that. Read More

Where are the Martian scientists? June 2021

When Perseverance, the Mars rover, landed on the Red Planet on 18 February 2021, I found myself asking a familiar question: where are the Martian scientists? Read More

Five things you need to know about pronouns May 2021

First off, there are more pronouns than you might think. Personal pronouns get most of the attention nowadays, especially the widely accepted singular they and other non-binary pronouns. But personal pronouns are just one group among several. Read More

The ABCs of modal verbs April 2021

Modals are a special group of helping verbs, e.g. “can” and “could.” The distinction between dynamic, epistemic, and deontic uses of modal verbs is one of the most puzzling pieces of the verb system. For me, the easiest way keep things straight is with the mnemonic ABC: for ability, belief, and canon. So when you encounter a modal, ask how it is being used. Is it A, B, or C? Read More

Reading for words March 2021

I grew up in the golden era of standardized reading tests. We were taught to read for information, and our progress was tracked by multiple choice tests asking us “What is the main point of the passage?” In retrospect, it was bad training for reading (and for writing), and it took me a long time to change my habits. Read More

Naturally speaking Feb. 2021

The label “natural” connotes a certain imagery: freshly grown food, pure water, safe consumption. Things described as “natural” are portrayed as being simple and lacking the intervention of culture, industry, and artificiality. Let’s take a closer look. Read More

Understanding un- Jan. 2021

Recently I had occasion to use the word unsaid, as in what goes unsaid. Looking at that phrase later, I began to ponder the related verb unsay, which means something different. Read More

A year of listening to books Dec. 2020

The COVID crisis has led me to rethink a lot that I’ve taken for granted. One the saving graces helping to get me through long days of remote teaching and evenings of doom-scrolling was the opportunity to take long walks. Read More

How did the passive voice get such a bad name? Nov. 2020

Many grammatical superstitions and biases can be traced back to overreaching and misguided language critics: the prohibitions concerning sentence-final prepositions, split infinitives, beginning a sentence with a conjunction, or using contractions or the first person. Read More

How to write a byline Oct. 2020

A while back, I wrote a post on How to Write a Biography, with some tips for long-form writing about historical and public figures. However, that’s not the only kind of biographical writing you might be called upon to do. You might need to write about yourself. Read More

What does a linguist do? Sept. 2020

Linguists get asked that question a lot. Sometimes by family members or potential in-laws. Sometimes by casual acquaintances or seatmates on a plane (for those who still fly). Sometimes from students or their families. Sometimes even from friends, colleagues, or university administrators. It turns out that linguists do quite a lot and quite a lot […] Read More

Conjunction dysfunction August 2020

Everyone of a certain age remembers the FANBOYS of Conjunction Junction fame: for, and, nor, but, or, yet and so.  In the lyrics of the 1973 song, we mostly hear about and, but and or with a brief mention of or’s pessimistic cousin nor.  A conjunction’s function is to “hook up words and phrase and clauses” Read More

Don’t vote for the honeyfuggler July 2020

In 1912, William Howard Taft—not a man known for eloquence—sent journalists to the dictionary when he used the word honeyfuggle.  Honey-what, you may be thinking. It turns out that honeyfuggler is an old American term for someone who deceives others folks by flattering them.  It can be spelled with one g or two and sometimes with an o replacing the u.  To honeyfuggle is to Read More

Everyone and their dog June 2020

A writer friend of mine posted a social media query asking for advice on verb choice.   The phrase in question was “… since everyone and his poodle own/owns a gun…” Should the verb be in the singular or the plural? More than fifty people weighed in.  Some reasoned that there was a compound subject […] Read More

Figuring out phrasal verbs May 2020

English contains a bewildering number of so-called phrasal verbs: two- or three-word compounds that seem to consist of a verb and a preposition—things like bring up, fill in, give away, pay back, work out, and many more. The Oxford Phrasal Verbs Dictionary lists 6,000 of them in its 2016 edition. Native speakers of English learn these naturally in the course […] Read More

The Perfect Tenses in English April 2020

What could be simpler than grammatical tense—things happening now are in the present, things happening before are in the past, and things that haven’t happened yet are in the future. If only it were so easy. Consider the present tense. Its meaning often refers not to things happening right now but to some general state […] Read More

Donald Trump’s insult politics March 2020

Political commentators and satirists love to mock Donald Trump’s verbal gaffs, his simplified vocabulary and vague, boastful speech. But if you judge his oratory by its effect on the audience, Donald Trump’s rhetoric, particularly with large crowds of enthusiastic supporters, is undeniably effective. People have studied the art of rhetoric for millennia – so how […] Read More

Usage issues—How are you doing? Feb. 2020

When people talk about grammar problems, they often mean usage issues—departures from the traditional conventions for edited English and the most formal types of speaking. To a linguist, grammar refers to the way that language is used—by speakers of all types—and the way that it works—how it is acquired, how it changes, and so on. Read More

Codes and Ciphers Jan. 2020

My book group recently read a 2017 mystery called The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett. In the novel, an English bibliophile and an American digitizer track down a mysterious book thought to lead to the Holy Grail. The chief clue: a secret message hidden in the rare books collection of the fictional Barchester Cathedral Library. Read More

How to use the existential “there”, Dec 2019

When I read something, one of the things I notice right away is overuse of non-referential there as a means of sleepwalking from topic to topic. Also known as the existential there, this grammatical form asserts the existence (or non-existence) of something and is often used to introduce new information, to shift the topic of discussion or to call something to mind. Read More

Completing your verbs—infinitive and gerunds, Nov. 2019

By Edwin L. Battistella

Most of us have been told at some point that a sentence has a subject and predicate and that the predicate consists of a verb and an object—the girl kicked the ball. We may have been introduced to distinctions such as transitive, intransitive, and linking verbs (like carry, snore, and become, respectively). But there is much more to the intricacies of what must follow a verb.

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Reading, writing and readability—appreciating Rudolph Flesch, Oct. 2019

This October marks the thirty-third anniversary of the passing of Rudolph Flesch, the patron saint of brevity. Read More

Celebrating banned books week, Sept. 2019

Book banning is not a new phenomenon. The Catholic Church’s prohibition on books advocating heliocentrism lasted until 1758. In England, Thomas Bowdler lent his name to the practice of expurgating supposed vulgarity with the 1818 publication of The Family Shakespeare, edited by his sister. Read More

How to construct palindromes, Aug. 2019

A palindrome is a word or phrase that reads the same way forwards and backwards, like kayak or Madam, I’m Adam. The word comes to us from palindromos, made up of a pair of Greek roots: palin (meaning “again”) and dromos (meaning “way, direction”). Read More

The not-so ironic evolution of the term “politically correct”, July 2019

Punctuation-wise, most of us fall between these two extremes. We are neither staccato nor breathless. Instead, we use punctuation to establish a comfortable pace for readers by grouping and emphasizing certain chunks of information. Read More

What is the Middle Voice?, June 2019

Punctuation-wise, most of us fall between these two extremes. We are neither staccato nor breathless. Instead, we use punctuation to establish a comfortable pace for readers by grouping and emphasizing certain chunks of information. Read More

Using punctuation to pace, May 2019

Punctuation-wise, most of us fall between these two extremes. We are neither staccato nor breathless. Instead, we use punctuation to establish a comfortable pace for readers by grouping and emphasizing certain chunks of information. Read More

W(h)ither the five-paragraph essay, April 2019

I was surprised to learn from my students that many of them are still being taught to write the five-paragraph essay in high school. You know it: an introductory paragraph that begins with a hook and ends in a thesis statement. Read More

Where did the phrase “yeah no” come from?, March 2019

I’ve noticed myself saying “yeah no.” The expression came up in a class one day, when I had asked students to bring in examples of language variation. One student suggested “yeah no” as an example of not-quite standard California English. Read More

How to do fact checking, Feb. 2019

The actor Cary Grant once said of acting that, “It takes 500 small details to add up to one favorable impression.” That’s true for writing as well—concrete details can paint a picture for a reader and establish credibility for a writer. Details can be tricky, however, and in the swirl of research and the dash of exposition, it is possible to get things wrong: dates, names, quotes, and facts. Read More

How to use the passive voice, Jan. 2019

Writing instructors and books often inveigh against the passive voice. My thrift-store copy of Strunk and White’s 1957 Element of Style says “Use the Active Voice,” explaining that it is “more direct and vigorous than the passive.” And George Orwell, in his 1946 essay on “Politics and the English Language,” scolds us to “Never use the passive where you can use the active.”

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The secrets of newspaper names, Dec. 2019

A few years ago, two colleagues of mine traveled around the country documenting what was going on in the newspaper industry, talking to editors, reporters, and publishers in all 50 states. Reading their book, Practicing Journalism: The Power and Purpose of the Fourth Estate, I was struck by the great passion of journalists and their commitment to public service. Read More

A fresh look at clichés, Nov. 2018

Recently a friend gave me a copy of It’s Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Clichés by lexicographer Orin Hargraves. I was intrigued to read it because I had been wondering about clichés for some time. Read More

Is there a comma after BUT? Oct. 2018

According to editors and grammarians, there is no comma after the word but at the beginning of a sentence. But it is something I see a lot in sentences like “But, there were too many of them to count” or “But, we were afraid the situation would get worse.” Read More

Hamburger semantics, Sept. 2018

The students in my class were arguing a question of semantics: is a hamburger a sandwich? One student noted that the menu designer at the restaurant where she worked couldn’t decide if a Chicken Burger should be listed under Hamburgers or Sandwiches. Read More

Where to put hyphens, Aug. 2018

After reading a draft of something by a colleague, I asked her how she decides when to use hyphens. She responded tartly: “Hyphens. You mean like in well-spoken, or half-assed? I’m not sure. I don’t care for them.” Personally, I’m a big fan of hyphens and sarcasm won’t deter me. Personally, I’m a big fan of hyphens and sarcasm won’t deter me. Read More

How to write a biography, July 2018

This year I’ve been reading a lot of biographies and writing some short profile pieces. Both experiences have caused me to reflect back on a book-length biography I wrote a few years ago on the little-known educator Sherwin Cody. Writing a book-length biography was a new experience for me at the time. I learned a lot along the way. Here are a few tips based on my experience. Read More

Putting modifiers in their place, June 2018

Sometimes I misplace things—my sunglasses, a book I’m reading, keys, my phone. Sometimes I misplace words in sentences too, leaving a clause or a phrase where it doesn’t belong. The result is what grammarians call misplaced or dangling modifiers. It’s a sentence fault that textbooks sometimes illustrate with over-the-top examples like these. Read More

How to write anything, May 2018

“I’m going to make a lot of money, and I’ll hire someone to do all my writing for me.” That was the rationale offered by a student many years ago for why he should not have to take a required writing course. A snarky comment crossed my mind, but instead I mentioned to him that if he had to hire someone to ghostwrite everything he would have to write in his life, it could cost him a small fortune. Read More

The language of strategic planning, April 2018

My university just completed a round of strategic planning, its periodic cycle of self-evaluation, redefinition, and goal setting. Many of my colleagues were excited about the opportunity to define the future. Others were somewhat jaded, seeing such plans as bookshelf documents to be endured until the next planning cycle. Still others were agnostics, happy to see us have a good strategic plan but determined not to let it get in their way. Read More

How to spot ambiguity, March 2018

Not long ago, a colleague was setting up a meeting and suggested bringing along spouses to socialize after the business was done. Not getting a positive reply, she emailed: “I’m getting a lack of enthusiasm for boring spouses with our meeting.” A minute later, a second, clarifying email arrived indicating that she “meant boring as a verb not an adjective.” She had spotted the ambiguity in the first message. Read More

Beware the thesaurus, Feb. 2018

Someone recently asked me if I knew another word for entertaining. “What’s the context?” I replied, wondering if the writer was looking for an adjective like enjoyable or interesting or a gerund like wining and dining or possibly even a verb like pondering. “Use it in a sentence.” “Never mind,” she said, “I’ll just use the thesaurus button.” The what? Read More

What you can learn at a writing retreat, Jan 2018

Recently I attended a writing retreat for faculty at my university. It was a three-day weekend break from email, grading and meetings. A dozen academic writers from a variety of disciplines gathered under the roof of a spacious rental home near a lake to talk about their projects, share strategies and concerns, and write for long stretches at a time. Read More

How to write a conclusion, Dec. 2017

Writing essays is complicated work, and writing the ending to an essay is often the hardest part of that work. Endings are tough for several reasons. You may be tired from writing–or tired of what you have written. You may feel that you have made your point sufficiently and that no more needs to be said or can possibly be said. However, the ending is your last chance to make an impression. Read More

How to write for an encyclopedia or other reference work, Nov. 2017

From time to time, many of us will have the opportunity to write for a reference work like an encyclopedia or a handbook. The word encyclopedia has been around for a couple of thousand years and comes from the Greek term for general education. Encyclopedias as general reference books came about in the eighteenth century and the most ubiquitous when I was a student was the Encyclopedia Britannica. Read More

Quotes make me shudder, Oct. 2017

The practice of using punctuation to indicate verbatim speech seems to have had its origins in the diple, a caret-like ancient Greek marking used to call attention to part of a text. By the late 15th century, the diple had been replaced by a pair of inverted commas placed in the left margins to indicate […] Read More

Nikolai Trubetzkoy’s road to history, Sept. 2017

A century ago, the Russian Revolution broke out in November of 1917, followed by a bloody civil war lasting until the early 1920s. Millions of families were displaced, fleeing to Europe and Asia. One of the many emigrant stories was that of Prince Nikolai Trubetzkoy. Trubetzkoy was from a well-known aristocratic family in tsarist Russia, […] Read More

How to Begin and End Paragraphs, Sept. 2017

We should pay more attention to paragraphs. I know that sounds obvious, but what I’m fretting about is the advice that beginning writers get to begin paragraphs with topic sentences and end with summary sentences. Such a topic sandwich—filled in with subpoints, supporting sentences, and examples—lends itself to formulaic writing. This strategy of tell them […]

Secrets of the comma, Aug. 2017

When it comes to punctuation, I’m a lumper rather than a splitter. Some nights I lie awake, pondering to secrets of commas, dashes, parentheses, and more, looking for grand patterns. Read More

How to write about theatre performances, July 2017

It’s the theatre season in my town of Ashland, Oregon, and I’m keeping up with the play reviews and talking with reviewers about what makes a good review. Reviewing a play is different than reviewing a book or even a film. Read More

How to use repetition , June 2017

A couple times a week, I hear someone remark “It is what it is,” accompanied by a weary sigh. I always puzzle over the expression a little bit, thinking What else could it be? Read More

How apostrophes came to confuse us, May 2017

A colleague of mine recently retired from teaching. As she began her last semester, she announced to her students that she hoped they would finally be the class where no one confused “its” and “it’s.” Her wish did not come true. The apostrophe rules of English are built to confuse us. Not intentionally. But they have evolved in a way that can confuse even the most observant readers and writers. Read More

How green became green, April 2017

The original Earth Day Proclamation in 1970 refers to “our beautiful blue planet,” and the first earth day flag consisted of a NASA photo of the Earth on a dark blue background. But the color of fields and forests prevailed, and today when we think of ecology and environmentalism, we think green not blue. Read More

How and when to quote, March 2017

I have a confession to make. I often skip the long blocks of quotes when I am reading academic articles and books. I suspect that I’m not the only one who does this. I don’t skip the quotes because I’m lazy. I skip them because they often pull me away from a writer’s ideas rather than further into them. The writer has put a voice and an idea in my ear only to cede the floor to another voice, that of some quoted authority. Read More

How to write dialogue, Feb. 2017

I’m sitting at my computer early in the morning and my wife walks in. “Good morning,” she says. “Is there any more coffee?” I nod. “Do you want some?” I answer. “I’ll get it,” she says. “What are you working on?” “A blog post on dialogue,” I reply sleepily. “Good luck,” she laughs, heading for the kitchen. That’s pretty bad dialogue. It has no apparent purpose and too many words: adverbs like sleepily, redundant dialogue tags like answer, reply, and laughs, and nothing that really advances a plot or develops a character. Read More

The language of chess, Jan. 2017

The dust has barely settled on last year’s world chess championship match in New York: Norway’s Magnus Carlson defended his title again the tough challenger Sergei Karjakin, in a close match. The event got me thinking about the language of chess strategy and tactics and the curious history and multicultural origins of chess terminology. Read More

Understanding insults, Dec. 2016

When I was growing up in New Jersey, trading insults was part of making your way through the middle school: “If they put your brain on the edge of a razor blade, it would look like a BB rolling down a four-lane highway.” “His parents used to put a pork chop around his neck to get the dog to play with him.” “If you could teach him to stand still, you could use him for a doorstop.”

Adulting comes of age, Nov. 2016

The child in me was excited to see ‘adulting’ as one of the shortlisted words for the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016. Adulting is on the minds–and tongues–of many of my millennial-generation college students. They explain that it is about assuming adult responsibilities like managing money, showing up at a job, buying food and paying rent, getting health care, and more. Read More

How to write a good sentence, Nov. 2016

Some years ago, I sent off a manuscript to an editor. After the usual period of review, the editor sent back a note saying that he liked the work, but suggested that I should make it “less academic.” I reworked a number of things and sent back a revised version with more examples and a lighter tone. A week later, I got a short email back saying “No really, make it less academic.” Read More

How to write a grant proposal, Oct. 2016

Whatever its scale or ambition, a grant proposal aims to do two things: to show that a particular project needs to be supported by a funder and to show why some individual, group or organization is the right one—the best one—to carry out the project. Showing the “need” is largely an exercise in argumentative writing. It’s argumentative not in the hostile, red-faced, fist-shaking sense but in the classical sense of establishing a claim Read More

Ryan Lochte’s “over-exaggerating”, Sept. 2016

If there were an Olympics for making an apology, swimmer Ryan Lochte wouldn’t qualify. After being outed for his fake claim that he was robbed by men identifying themselves as Brazilian police officers, he took to social media for damage control. His Instragram apology on August 19 went this way Read More

What makes a good campaign slogan?, Aug. 2016

Slogan-wise, this year’s presidential campaign gives us Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and Hillary Clinton’s “Stronger Together” and “I’m with Her.” Trump’s slogan is a call to bring something back from the past. Clinton’s are statements of solidarity. Read More

“All grammars leak”: How modern use and misuse are changing the English language, July 2016

Anthropologist Edward Sapir once wrote, “Unfortunately, or luckily, no language is tyrannically consistent. All grammars leak.” Sapir was talking about the irregularities of language. For me, this leakiness is especially evident in what I think of as doppelgrammar words. Read More

How to write a thank you note, June 2016

I write a lot of thank you notes. I thank donors of organizations that I support, gift givers after the holidays and birthdays, friends who have invited me over for dinner, guest speakers who come to my classes, community partners who work with my students, colleagues who help me solve problems, and editors and publishers (you know who you are). Read More

Apology round-up: 2016 presidential race (so far), May 2016

It’s an election year and that means we get to think about the language of politicians—their vocabularies, vocal timbre, gestures, accents, metaphors, style, mistakes, and recoveries. I’m always on the lookout for interesting apologies, and the 2016 election has not been a disappointment. Read More

Shakespeare’s linguistic legacy, April 2016

William Shakespeare died four hundred years ago this month and my local library is celebrating the anniversary. It sounds a bit macabre when you put it that way, of course, so they are billing it as a celebration of Shakespeare’s legacy. I took this celebratory occasion to talk with my students about Shakespeare’s linguistic legacy. Read More

How to polish your résumé, March 2016

I’ve read a lot of résumés over the years. I’ve read 35-page résumés from senior academics documenting every Rotary talk, guest lecture, and letter to the editor. I’ve read not-quite-one-page résumés from high school students giving their neighbors as references. In the process, I’ve come to think of résumé reading as an acquired literary taste, like flarf or fanfiction. And I’ve come to think of résumé writing as a unique genre with its own rhetorical nuances and conventions. Read More

It’s fine to start sentences with “and”, Feb. 2016

I always see some shocked faces when I tell a classroom of college students that there is nothing wrong with beginning a sentence with the word and (or for that matter, the words but, because, or however). I encourage them to not to take my word for it but to look it up, so I refer them to Ernest Gowers’ 1965 revision of Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Read More

How do you pronounce “Pulitzer?” Jan 2016

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize, the annual prize in journalism and letters established by the estate of Joseph Pulitzer in 1916 and run by the Columbia School of Journalism (also established by Pulitzer’s estate). The first Pulitzer Prizes in reporting were given in 1917 to Herbert Bayard Swope of New York World for a series of articles titled “Inside the German Empire” and to the New York Tribune for its editorial on the first anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania. Read More

How to write a letter of recommendation, Dec. 2015

It’s that time of the year again. Seniors are thinking ahead about their impending futures (a job, grad school, the Peace Corps). Former students are advancing in their careers. Colleagues and co-workers are engaging in year-end reflection and considering new positions. Read More

How to solve an anagram, Nov. 2015

Many word games—Scrabble, Words with Friends, Scribbage, Quiddler and more, involve anagrams, or unscrambling letters to make a word. This month, we take a look at how to do that unscrambling, so here is an anagram for you to solve: naitp. Read More

Words from books, Oct. 2015

October is an important month for book festivals—in Boston, Austin, Madison, Baton Rouge, and of course Frankfurt, Germany, which hosts the world’s oldest book festival. In honor of book festivals, I want to delve a bit into the way that the language of books expanded the English vocabulary. Read More

English in 2065, Sept. 2015

Students are heading back to school this month and many recent high school grads are off to college. At institutions across the country, deans are dutifully studying the Beloit College Mindset List to remind their faculty of the recent cultural experiences that have shaped the today’s youth—and to remind us of how much the world has changed.

How to write a compelling book review, Aug. 2015

Summer is a time when many of us have a little extra time for reading. For me, that means Go Set a Watchman, some Haruki Murukami and James Lee Burke, plus summer mysteries and thrillers. It means catching up on what local authors and friends have published. And it means reading new books in my field and writing book reviews. Read More

Talkin’ about a ‘Revolution’, July 2015

Amid Fourth of July parades and fireworks, I found myself asking this: why do we call this day ‘Independence Day’ rather than ‘Revolution Day?’ The short answer,of course, is that on 4 July, we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a day that has been commemorated since 1777. Read More

“Deflategate,” Fox News, and frats: this year in public apologies, June 2015

Since publishing Sorry About That a year ago, I’ve been trying to keep track of apologies in the news. Google sends me a handful of news items every day. Some are curious (“J.K. Rowling issues apology over slain ‘Harry Potter’ character”), some are cute (“Blizzard 2015: Meteorologist apologizes for ‘big forecast miss’”), and some are sad (“An open apology to my kids on the subject of my divorce”). Read More

How to write a great graduation speech, May 2015

It’s graduation time at many of the nation’s schools and colleges. The commencement ceremony is a great exhalation for all involved and an annual rite of passage celebrating academic achievements. Commencement ceremonies typically feature a visiting dignitary who offers a few thousand inspirational words. Over the years, I’ve heard more of these speeches than I care to admit and have made my own checklist of suggestions for speakers. For those of you giving commencement speeches or listening to them, here’s my advice. Read More

‘Buyer beware’: how the Federal Trade Commission redefined the word ‘free’, April 2015

Last month marked the hundredth anniversary of the Federal Trade Commission, the regulatory agency that looks after consumer interests by enforcing truth in advertising laws. Established by the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914 and signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson, the FTC opened its doors in March 16 of 2015, taking the place of the older Bureau of Corporations. Read More

“What do we love about new words?” Nov. 18, 2014

From “Checkers” to Watergate, Sept. 2014

Forty years ago, President Richard M. Nixon faced certain impeachment by the Congress for the Watergate scandal. He resigned the presidency, expressing a sort of conditional regret. Read More

Edwin Battistella’s Word of the Year Fantasy League, Nov. 2013

Oxford Dictionaries have been collecting lexicographic material and updating dictionaries for over a century now, though its Word of the Year award is still relatively recent. Only since 2004 Oxford Dictionaries have been selecting a word that captures the mood of the previous year. Thinking about the possible contenders for 2013 (twerk? fail? drone? shutdown? bitcoin?) got me to wondering about the past. Read More

Edwin Battistella’s words, Nov. 2013

The annual Word of the Year selection by Oxford Dictionaries and others inspired me to an odd personal challenge last year. In November of 2011, about the time that Oxford Dictionaries were settling on squeezed middle as both the UK and US word of the year, I made a New Year’s Resolution for 2012. Read More

 Advertising in Recession, Dec. 2008