The comma’s ancestors have been used since Ancient Greece, but the modern comma descended directly from Italian printer Aldus Manutius. (He’s also responsible for italics and the semicolon!) In the late 1400s when Manutius was working, a slash mark (/, also called a virgule) denoted a pause in speech. (Virgule is still the word for comma in French.) Manutius made the slash lower in relation to the line of text and curved it slightly. CONTINUE READING »
In 1991, after 69 years as a Soviet Republic, Ukraine became an independent state. Today Ukraine’s only national language is Ukrainian, even though many citizens still speak Russian. In the Ukrainian Parliament last week the President Viktor Yanukovych’s party proposed a new law to make Russian the second official language in the eastern regions of Ukraine (where much of the CONTINUE READING »
Are you graduating this year? Or is your niece, brother, cousin, or aunt graduating? This is the season of academic achievement and celebration. We wanted to offer our congratulations to all of you (and your family and friends) who are graduating this year and commencing the rest of your careers.
In this season, we were also wondering, where do graduation traditions come from? Why are there weird hats and even weirder robes? CONTINUE READING »
Kraft Foods just announced its new global snack business: Mondelez. According to the company, it’s pronounced “mon-dah-LEEZ”. If this sounds unfamiliar or simply odd, don’t doubt yourself: it is an invented word based on the Latin for world (mundus) and delicious. Despite that clever origin, the word still sounds funny CONTINUE READING »
The Harvard Business Review recently reported that multinational corporations are encouraging—or mandating—their employees to speak English. Samsung, Airbus, Microsoft in Beijing and many others now enforce English as the language of their business. Even corporations that are based in foreign countries, like Renault in France and Rakuten in Japan, are mandating English CONTINUE READING »
If you speak another language like Spanish or German, you are familiar with grammatical gender. In Romance languages (and many others), nouns have a gender. In French, a chair is la chaise, a feminine noun, and a hat is le chapeau, a masculine noun. But did you know that English used to have gendered nouns too? CONTINUE READING »
Every year the Social Security Administration compiles the most popular names for newborns in the United States. What were the most popular names in 2011? CONTINUE READING »
Like precious stones and tarot cards, flowers have a secret meaning that only some understand. Different flowers represent sorrow, repentance, unrequited love, or beauty. Here are some of the most popular Mother’s Day flowers and their associated meanings. Do you know what these blooms really mean? CONTINUE READING »
If you frequent our posts, you may detect a common theme: behind the everyday nature of common words, surprising meaning and history often lurk. Case in point: this very month of May.
The fifth month of the Gregorian calendar, May, is named after a goddess named Maia. But which goddess named Maia? CONTINUE READING »
Have you heard the story of the Tower of Babel? According to the Bible, all of humanity lived together in harmony, until God decided to confuse the languages and spread the people across the Earth.
This story points to one of the great mysteries of human culture: why do we all speak different languages? Our ancestors probably began using language between 200,000 to 50,000 years ago. CONTINUE READING »