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The secret history of “Y’all”: The murky origins of a legendary Southern slang word

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is usually academics’ first go-to for all things linguistic, and it cites the first occurrence of “you all” in print in 1824, from Arthur Singleton’s Letters from the South and West:“Children learn from the slaves some odd phrases; you all do this?”This example is important for understanding not only the term’s origins but also the difficulties surrounding it.First, does this count as “y’all”? It doesn’t…

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How Technology Has Changed The Way We Write

Social media services have put writing tools into the hands of people who probably don’t think of themselves as writers, but there they are, captioning photos and picking hashtags and maybe even pausing just a few seconds to edit before they hit “post.” This radio interview offers a good, informal overview of why people who study writing and technology don’t get too worked up over what Twitter is doing to…

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Clickbait Tactics Drive the Writing of Headlines on ABC News

I probably should not be surprised, but when I saw this run of several headlines on the ABC News website, I was struck by how deliberately uninformative they are. I added some useful information that could have been in the headline. A print journalist writes a headline for someone who’s already holding the newspaper, so giving away the actual news in the headline won’t lose a sale. But a link…

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The “Best” E-mail Signature Is Actually the Worst

I have no particular opinion about how to close an email. I just checked my “outbox” and I see that I haven’t closed any of my recent messages. Several were responses to requests from other people, so “Thank you” would be out of place, and even “Here you go” would be so unnecessary it would sound awkward (if not rude). When closing an email, I usually just stop writing. A…


This Is Your Brain on Writing

When I teach creative writing, I notice that novices frequently write as if describing a what a TV screen would show if a camera had zoomed in for a close-up of their narrator’s face. By contrast, an experienced writer would rely on a much wider range of storytelling techniqes, including dialogue and interior thoughts. “What do you mean?” I say, my brows furrowing in confusion. “Hold on,” says the old man.…