Yearly Archives: 2012

  1. Why “Bluster” Was Dictionary.com’s 2012 Word Of The Year

    You may recall that last year we selected a rare word, a tongue-twister of sorts, as the 2011 Word of the Year: tergiversate which means “to change repeatedly one’s attitude or opinions with respect to a cause, subject, etc.; equivocate.” Rather than pick a word that rose to prominence through common usage during the year (like Occupy or Arab Spring), we selected a word hidden …

  2. Could an animal speak? Not just bark or meow, but actually speak.

    From Dr. Doolittle to Jane Goodall, human-animal communication has occupied our thoughts both in fiction and in reality. Dogs recognize their names when they are called; researchers have successfully taught primates to communicate in sign language; and the famed African gray parrot, Alex, built a vocabulary of over 100 English words out of which he learned to form cogent sentences. All of these examples show humans …

  3. Who Put The $ In Ke$ha? Where Did The $ Come From?

    From the California dance band !!! to MIA spelling out her name in dashes, musical artists seem to love putting symbols in their names. Perhaps none more extravagant than pop star Ke$ha, who differentiates herself with a single letter substitution. Born Kesha Rose Sebert, the singer/songwriter/rapper simply exchanged the S in her first name with a $ (or dollar sign). The artist initially made the …

  4. What Is Body Language?

    The phrase body language or nonverbal communication often gets tossed around. From public speaking to a first date, our movements and facial expressions say a lot about our feelings and intentions. During political debate season, politicians’ body language is under just as much scrutiny as their remarks, and if the candidates aren’t careful, they might misspeak without saying a word. Most researchers conclude that human …

  5. Do babies speak with an accent?

    We all know that infants don’t actually speak with an accent because they don’t really speak at all. But for a long time scientists presumed that infants’ brains could not process sounds at all. Professor Patricia Kuhl, the director of the Center for Mind, Brain, and Learning at the University of Washington, wanted to test this notion. Kuhl studied infants between six and eight months …

  6. What word did you last look up, and why?

    Recently we asked members of the Dictionary.com Facebook page a simple question: What was the last word you looked up, what was the specific issue you were trying to solve, and what were the circumstances? The results floored us. At last count, more than 450 people shared their stories. Here are a few examples: “Looked up “enure/inure” for supervisor as he was unsure of meaning and …

  7. How did this new species of monkey get its name, and what does it mean?

    You may have read the news about the discovery of a new species of monkey in Africa, known as the Lesula, or Cercopithecus lomamiensis. The announcement of any new species is thrilling, and Lesula is only the second new primate species to be identified in the past 28 years. When something as rare and significant as this occurs, we immediately turn to where nature meets …

  8. Learn The Strange Link Between The Letters C And G

    Can you imagine a world in which the sounds of G and C were both represented by the letter C? Try to imacine it. Believe it or not, for much of their history, the sounds of C and G were represented by the same symbol. Eventually, however, both sounds received their own differentiated symbols. Both G and C have their origin in the Phoenician letter gimel, …

  9. What Is Lost When A Language Goes Extinct?

    Are some languages able to express certain ideas better than others? Are there concepts that exist in particular languages and nowhere else? As more and more languages become extinct, linguists are realizing that they contain a type of knowledge beyond simply a different set of words and grammar. In the next fifty years, linguists believe that 3,500 languages will go extinct. As globalization has linked markets and communities, …

  10. Do you ever wish you could eliminate some of the ambiguity in English? Read about a language that was created for that purpose.

    Have you felt that English wasn’t rationally constructed? Do you ever wonder, for instance, why we made “affect” and “effect” seem so similar when they mean two different things? Or why “you’re” are “your” sound identical, but are dissimilar in meaning? Couldn’t we have designed something little bit more simple? About two decades ago, a group in Washington, D.C. attempted to do just that.

  11. Were P And R Once The Same Letter?

    Do you ever stop and look at the shape of our alphabet? Each letter looks natural to us now, but all those lines and circles have unique histories. It’s easy to make assumptions that our letters make sense, that they developed in some orderly logical way, and one reasonable assumption would be that P and R are related to each other based on their form.

  12. Linguists found an Indo-European language hiding in rural Pakistan. Learn its story here.

    At some point you’ve heard about the concept of language “families.” Generally, common sense defines how language relationships work: geographic neighbors often share a common ancestor. If this story were consistent, however, there wouldn’t be anything interesting for us to talk about. Take for example, this amazing discovery stemming from 20 years of research.