The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘vocabulary’


September 14, 2015 | by

If you know a lot of the words in this thing, you’re probably at least sixty years old.

I’m a little too old, I think, to know how to really waste time on the Internet. I do it, of course, but I don’t think I do it properly: I tend to stay in my rut, visiting the same couple of sites every time, answering the same set of questions. Has there been a world crisis? Is there a vintage oatmeal wrap coat on eBay? Has some foolish tourist made the mistake of asking where to eat in Little Italy on that Manhattan foodie restaurant board? After that, I just sort of sit there, staring blankly. 

So, like many old people, I am susceptible to the carnivalesque lures of online blandishments—clickbait, I mean. Why yes, I do want to know what Jane Austen character I am! I had no idea these former child stars were married? I’ll be the judge of that, sir! And when a link to some quiz site, styled of course in Comic Sans, asked if they could guess my age by my vocabulary, well, I thought I’d take them up on it. Read More »

New Words

April 8, 2015 | by


Sometime in the third grade, a girl in my class began to claim she was ambidextrous. Previously, this girl had said she wanted to be a marine biologist. She also claimed to have athlete’s foot. This girl was a pretentious liar.

In fairness, marine-biology ambitions were all the rage that year. We were just moving beyond the easy descriptor stage; it was no longer enough to want an occupation you could identify from a Richard Scarry book, such as baker, doctor, or fireman. Now people wanted to be not just teachers but middle-school teachers, not just football stars but running backs—ideally, our choices conveyed an element of mystery and worldliness to the other kids. Still, generally speaking, our ideas for future careers were about as complicated as those you see in contemporary romance novels, where the heroines have easily explained jobs that seldom seem to interfere with the business of being a glamorous grown-up. Marine biology, with its vague hints of tropical waters and dolphins, seemed like a perfect career path for both the frivolous animal-lover and the committed scientist. None of us was sure what it entailed. Read More »

Where Have All Our Zawns Gone? and Other News

February 27, 2015 | by


William Trost Richards, Rocky Cliff with Stormy Sea Cornwall, 1902.

  • Aquabob, clinkerbell, daggler, cancervell, ickle, tankle, shuckle, crottle, doofers, honeyfur, zawn the English language has historically teemed with vivid, precise words to describe the landscape and natural phenomena. So what happened to all of them?It is clear that we increasingly make do with an impoverished language for landscape. A place literacy is leaving us. A language in common, a language of the commons, is declining.”
  • On the shifting sands of literary fame: “It would be hard to find a poet, in the twenty-first century, who openly claims to write for glory, fame, or immortality. Yet the idea that great poetry was the surest way to achieve fame and outwit death has been very long-lived … Why has this dream of immortality vanished from contemporary literature? One reason, surely, is that in the twentieth century human beings faced a distinctively new uncertainty about the very existence of posterity.”
  • William Powell published The Anarchist Cookbook in 1971, when he was only nineteen. Thus ensued a very unanarchic quest, on his part, to remove it from print, as it tarnished his reputation and took on a new life as a terrorist ur-text: “All hippies at one time or another renounce themselves. Sooner or later they put a tie and a coat on.”
  • A new exhibition celebrates the work of Paul Rand, who designed the iconic logos for IBM, Westinghouse, and Enron, among others—and who, “like Charles and Ray Eames, spread a bright and cheerful image of pax Americana.”
  • The pioneering romance novelist Bertrice Small died on Tuesday, leaving behind an oeuvre of “bold sexual storytelling.” “Her best-known work was the Skye O'Malley series, which starred a swashbuckling pirate queen who commanded her own fleet and once bested Queen Elizabeth I in a battle of wits.” A friend said, “I had the pleasure of knowing Bertrice personally and I’m proud to say she was a true ‘broad’ in the very best tradition of the term.”

How Your Gender Affects Your Vocabulary, and Other News

June 24, 2014 | by


Hans Thoma, Adam and Eve, 1897.

  • George Saunders talks “about his family’s sense of humor, the connection between satire and compassion, his early comedy influences, and how he came to embrace the funny side of his writing.”
  • Some words that men are likelier to know than women: claymore, scimitar, solenoid, dreadnaught. Some words that women are likelier to know than men: taffeta, flouncing, bodice, progesterone. The conclusions are yours to draw.
  • I Was a Digital Best Seller”—the horrifying true story!
  • It sounds like a spinoff of DeLillo’s The Names: a journalist named Rose Eveleth becomes obsessed with a small town that shares her name: Eveleth, Minnesota. She visits it only using Google Street View.
  • Spending time with Prince at a listening party for his new record: “When you arrive at Paisley Park, you switch to Prince time. After nearly an hour’s wait, I was ushered into Studio B [at] about one a.m. … My next two hours at Paisley Park would be filled with funk, frustration, and funny lines—all courtesy of Prince.”


On the Shelf

August 10, 2011 | by

A cultural news roundup.

  • Philip Levine is America’s new poet laureate.
  • Save the Words is dedicated to bringing underutilized vocabulary back into circulation. A locupletative goal!
  • The Popeye Cookbook is, not shockingly, heavy on the spinach.
  • Bienvenue en France, Google Books!
  • An unlikely hit: The Waste Land app earns back its costs in a mere six weeks.
  • “I think it’s one of those things where you’re standing in a room, and you’re like, ‘Let’s make a new food magazine.’ And that’s a terrible idea. The world does not need a new food magazine ... But if it’s such a bad idea that you can do a good version of it, then that’s a cool challenge.”
  • An Edinburgh marathon reading of Theresa Breslin’s Prisoner in Alcatraz attempts to break the world reading record.
  • Signs of a publishing rebound?
  • John Burnside on researching a book: “I went for a walk in the Arctic Circle without map or compass. Fortunately, I was only lost for hours, not days.”
  • Watch Britten’s Turn of the Screw, live.
  • There was something a bit Wellsian about photographs of riots and looting across London this weekend. Pictures of burning shops and broken windows and young men confronting uniformed police included crowdsourced images snatched by witnesses in the rapid, unexpected diffusion of trouble. The most dramatic, of Tottenham on fire and the blackened aftermath, are positively apocalyptic. To me, it all seems uncanny and reminiscent of late Victorian science fiction. Even the place names have that quality of ordinariness that Wells exploits in his fantasy of a London apocalypse: Tottenham in flames, insurrection in Enfield, anarchy in Leyton and Islington ...”