Why do we capitalize the first-person pronoun, I? The short answer is because we do. But that’s not a very satisfactory answer. Even though it feels natural to English speakers, capitalizing I is unusual. In fact, English is the only language that does. Germanic and Romantic languages typically have some conventions for capitalizing proper nouns, like Deutschland (in German) or Place de la Concorde (in French), but English is the only one that selfishly insists on capitalizing the personal pronoun. CONTINUE READING »
Grammar is a combination of rules and conventions. What is the difference? Well, there are the rules, like a verb must agree with its subject. By that rule, “he say” is incorrect. Then there are conventions, which are uses of language that are common enough that even though they break the “rules” they become “correct” simply through repeated usage. Additionally, there are other conventions that vary from place to place, but that’s a much bigger discussion. CONTINUE READING »
It’s no surprise that many of our place names are relatively new to English. Some (like Far East) were born during British colonization, but “Near East” and “Middle East” are more modern than that.
The word “east” is derived from the Sanskrit word “usās” meaning “dawn” or “morning.” From the perspective of Europe and Asia, this makes sense because the sun rises in the east. CONTINUE READING »
Whether you learned your ABCs on Sesame Street, from your grandmother, or in kindergarten, you probably learned them. The clever tune is imprinted in the brains of most of us English speakers. When you look up a word in a print dictionary, you may still sing the song to yourself to remember if L is before J or not.
We take the song for granted today, but someone had to write that tune. CONTINUE READING »
It’s true: Jay-Z and Beyoncé trademarked their daughter’s name, “Blue Ivy Carter.” You may be asking yourself: can you even do that? Trademark a name? Does that mean you could trademark the word “the” or “and”? Well, trademark law has some interesting leeways and limits.
Before Jay-Z and Beyoncé submitted their application, CONTINUE READING »
New software being developed at Oxford University may be able to instantly measure the emotions and reactions of large populations by evaluating the words we use on the internet. Investors seem to think this idea will pay off.
Last night Adele ruled the Grammys. One could say the basis of her appeal is how her songs can make the tears flow.
Music undeniably has an impact on our emotions and can even evoke physiological reactions – like goose bumps and tears. Does this impact come from the lyrics or from the notes themselves? Psychologists have been trying to figure this out, and it turns out it’s the music, CONTINUE READING »
Take a moment and open the last email you wrote. It’s okay. We’ll wait. Now imagine if you had to write it out on paper, not with a ballpoint pen, but with a pen that you had to dip into a bowl of ink every few words. And make sure not to drip any ink on that expensive parchment. Is your wrist hurting yet? CONTINUE READING »
Where would you have lived 200 million years ago? And will your descendants in Los Angeles or Bangkok live in Amasia instead of Asia or North America?
Maybe you’ve heard of Pangaea – the theoretical supercontinent that existed 200–300 million years ago and consisted of all the landmasses pushed together. Coined by Alfred Wegener in 1927, “Pangaea” CONTINUE READING »
New research argues that the answer is yes. Depending on what language you speak, you are more – or less – likely to save for retirement. Your primary tongue may even affect how much you weigh.
In January, M. Keith Chen, an associate professor of economics at the School of Management at Yale University, published a working paper CONTINUE READING »