New online dictionary available — free

Tweet Collins has published a new dictionary which has several useful features.  I believe it is still in beta form.  It impressed the heck out of me. 1.   Definitions, of course, and the phonetic representation of the word. 2.   A comprehensive list of synonyms and of related terms and related words. For the word “beat,” for […]

Language in the classroom — it’s not quite that simple

Tweet Quote from La Canada Valley Sun story about sexual and racial harassment of students by a teacher:  “Spurred by complaints that the La Cañada High math teacher regularly used racist and sexist language in her classroom, officials presented a modified draft of the district’s code of ethics during a public meeting Monday.” Think about this a minute. What […]

Linkedin’s five most overused words

Tweet Buzz words crop up in classwork all the time.  Here are five to avoid, culled from Linkedin’s research. I’ve edited, and added my own comments: ——————————- As one might expect, they’re terms that sound awfully nice but say almost nothing specific about a person. Dynamic is at No. 10. At No. 9 is communication […]

What’s Your Name?

Tweet There is a naming website,, established by author Pam Satran, which gets tens of thousands of visits every year.  Names are fascinating, and naming things is an important undertaking.  I remember after September 11th, nobody knew what to call either the kind of attack or the day itself, and we still don’t have […]

Lexicography exercise

Tweet We often think of dictionaries as definitive in their definitions, without questioning their authority, yet there are many different kinds of dictionaries, and students should be encouraged to use them with discretion and sophistication. An example: Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 5th ed. (WNCD) aims its definitions at the “college student and general reader,” while […]

Idiom translator

Tweet For people studying other languages, there is a new site which translates idioms,  I find that reviewing the literal translations of idioms in other languages curls the mind. I entered, “You can’t have it both ways” and got the following responses: Meaning in English: you cannot achieve inherently contradictory goals   Chinese:  魚和熊掌不可兼得 Literal […]

Language, morality, and philosophy

Tweet Noam Chomsky writes in Language and Thought, that “some of our worst contemporary muddles are due to the general neglect of language as an instrument of thought.”  This holds true particularly in the area of moral and political thought. What is a “person?” Mississippi is about to vote on whether a zygote is a […]

September 11th, 9-11, 9/11 – Words from our worst day

Tweet We still are not sure how to refer to that awful day — is it “nine eleven” or “September 11th?” As a society, we’re still vacillating. In 2001, 9-11 (or equivalents) was the Word of the Year, according to the American Dialect Society. In 2002, it was Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). What do […]

Happiness and Sadness

Tweet In his book, The Geography of Bliss, author Eric Weiner claims that there are more words in English for states of unhappiness than for states of happiness. I’m not sure this is true, but it would be an interesting claim to test. Exercise: In connection with writing a short in-class essay, have students gather […]

What does “have” mean?

Tweet What does have mean?  Consider these sentences: I have seen him                                   I had a baby last week I have the flu                                       I have the answer I have a husband                                 Have fun In the first sentence, “I have seen him,” have is purely grammatical and has no independent meaning (see previous post, Concrete and Grammatical […]