Language

Unquote

Don’t quote me. I once told Rabbi Nosson Scherman, General Editor, ArtScroll/Mesorah, that Winston Churchill didn’t say “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If…

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Bursting the Psychobubble

Pull up a chair. I’ve got a story to tell you. At a direct marketing workshop in the ’80s I met a poster-child New Yorker — Mac, we’ll call him…

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Time Whorf

An eminent colleague asked me to edit an article. “But, before you start,” he said, “Do you have a second for me to talk to you for half a minute?”…

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Banished Words

I told the Rabbi at Hamodia that I was being investigated regarding information that he removed from my language column, for what he said were religious reasons. He didn’t buy…

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Uniquity

Too much of what we write is too much. Not just the size of the portions, but the calorie-count of too many of the words in each portion. With beef…

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Because … Just Because

As an undergraduate at NYU, Ellen Langer lost points on a final exam from professor Philip Zimbardo because of a question asking which “surrogate ‘mothers’ abandoned infant monkeys preferred —…

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Science: How We Know That We Know What We Know

My grandson Avraham Yitzchak never heard of Francis Bacon, known as the pioneer of the scientific method. Even in yeshivah, second-graders aren’t quite that advanced. But when Avraham Yitzchak’s alarm…

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What Color Is English?

Once again, I find myself at the ruins of the wall dividing language and politics. And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men … Well, you know the…

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Hopeful Anniversary

As chief cook and babel watcher of this column, it’s my job to keep up with what’s going down. (If you’re not confused yet, consider the fact that the 1940s…

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Fathers Days

Sometimes the simplest words can be the most elusive. You wouldn’t think you need DNA testing to find the origin of the word “father.” But it’s not so simple. Oxford…

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Give Them a Brok

When I lived in Boro Park, I once told the Bostoner Rebbe of Boro Park/Beit Shemesh, zy”a, “Across the street from me, I have Satmar. Right behind me, is the…

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Putting the Punch in Punctuation

Watch out for Little Curly, aka the serial comma, aka the Oxford comma. And, now, the scourge of Oakhurst Dairy. The omission of a comma cost the Maine dairy farm…

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Beware the Ice of March

Don’t let anybody tell you that etymology — especially Hebrew etymology — is some esoteric field of study, with no practical application. The Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew: Based on…

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Clowning Achievement

It has come to my attention that people have been laughing at me. I take this very seriously. My daughter-in-law Ariella takes time from writing her own books to read…

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Davening: The Unsolved Mystery

Are you old enough to remember the Palm Pilot (great-granddaddy of the iPhone)? The first time I saw someone daven (recite the prayers) from the screen of a Palm Pilot,…

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Ready, Aim, Daven!

“We gotta have an ops meeting,” said Danny Grossman. “What is our kavanah?” Grossman was laying out the “ops” — combat operation plans — for Steven Pressfield’s oral history of…

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Vetting Invitation

I’m going to let you in on an inside secret. I’m a headliner. No, that doesn’t mean I get my name big and in lights. I mean that I also…

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Understanding the Maven

Back in the 1980s, my wife taught in a public school in Far Rockaway. A 12-year-old student there went with her Italian mother to buy a toaster oven. After the…

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Truth Ache

Just when I thought it was safe … I got them old dejection, inspection and election-rejection politics blues again. I turned on the radio and heard a news story: George…

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The King and Oy

What’s the good word? Judging from the Word of the Year (WOTY) selections for 2016, you’d think there are no more good words. From Oxford’s choice of “post-truth” to Merriam-Webster’s…

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