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What’s a Snollygoster? Even lexicographers are wrong sometimes

This is an amusing little story about how politics affects the English language. An obscure word that politicians and pundit like to use to refer to their opponents has faded in and out of use. The “wrong” move was removing the word from the dictionary recently, after which it made a comeback. (I’d still never heard of it.) As the dialectal furor faded, so too did snollygoster—so much so that…

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Annoyed and Bored by Anachronisms in The Great Gatsby Movie

I just watched the recent Great Gatsby movie. I didn’t care for the use of modern hip-hop music, though I can accept it as a director’s choice to appeal to modern audiences — like the added narration about the stock market and prohibition. But with all the money they put into the costumes and the CGI camera effects (swooping across the bay between Gatsby’s pier and Daisy’s green light, like…

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Museum of Endangered Sounds

Imagine a world where we never again hear the symphonic startup of a Windows 95 machine. Imagine generations of children unacquainted with the chattering of angels lodged deep within the recesses of an old cathode ray tube TV. And when the entire world has adopted devices with sleek, silent touch interfaces, where will we turn for the sound of fingers striking QWERTY keypads? Tell me that. And tell me: Who…

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from “The Poet” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

The poets made all the words, and therefore language is the archives of history, and, if we must say it, a sort of tomb of the muses. For, though the origin of most of our words is forgotten, each word was at first a stroke of genius, and obtained currency, because for the moment it symbolized the world to the first speaker and to the hearer. The etymologist finds the…

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Thirty Years Ago, the Challenger Crew Plunged Alive and Aware to Their Deaths

The Challenger made it through the spectacular eruption of its external fuel tank with its cabin more or less intact. Rather than being carried to Heaven in an instant, the crippled vessel kept sailing upward for another three miles before its momentum gave out, then plunged 12 miles to the ocean. The crew was, in all likelihood, conscious for the full two and a half minutes until it hit the…