Check ’em Out

When your son reports that his LAX bro’ “ripped a shot top cheddar” (a “ched” shot) you are very likely going to find yourself adrift. Or, as our very own Jillian demonstrates in her post “Bros, care to LAX?” on her blog Inky Footprints, you can use the occasion to learn something about language and style. Below are some additional (and delightful) sites to visit on the web as you continue to refine your language instrument.

When Aaron Peckham created the web site Urban Dictionary in 1999 as a first-year college student studying computer science at California Polytechnic Institute he was interested in the difference between conventional dictionary definitions and the way people used language. One of the first definitions was “the man” defined on the web site as “the faces of ‘the establishment’ put in place to ‘bring us down.’” The Urban Dictionary is a crowd-sourced online dictionary of slang words and phrases that will keep you in the loop when someone says something like “cheddar” without a block of cheese in sight. Peckham’s dictionary of words and phrases features over seven million definitions. A Facebook or Gmail account will allow you to make a submission to the dictionary if you happen to be interested in contributing to our ever-expanding lexicon. All dictionary entries are then “crowd-sourced,” or reviewed and rated by volunteer editors and site visitors.

And, last week, I happened to find my way to A Way with Words, a public radio program about language concerned with history, culture, and family. Who knew, for instance, that a recent study finds that “some names crop up more frequently than others in certain professions. The name William is especially common among attorneys–and graphic designers include a higher-than-average number of Jessicas.” You can listen to episodes, podcasts, check out the “word wall,” and contribute to the discussion forum on the waywordradio blog.

But wait, there is more. The Double-Tongued Dictionary (formerly Double-Tongued Word Wrester) was a web lexicon of new words and fringe English compiled and edited by A Way with Words co-host Grant Barrett and volunteers since 2004. In 2012, the dictionary was merged with this website.

You may also want to spend some time exploring the terrain of Lexicon Valley, where Mike Vuolo, Bob Garfield, and the team at Slate Magazine’s Lexicon Valley podcast have launched a language blog that cross-publishes posts from contributors to Language Log, featuring the University of Pennsylvania’s Mark Liberman, the University of Edinburgh’s Geoffrey Pullum, and Ben Zimmer, addressing questions such as: Why do English speakers often begin sentences with a dangling, superfluous so? What makes the “historical present” such an effective storytelling tense? Is Bob Garfield a stone-cold misogynist because he finds “vocal fry” insufferable? Posts include Zimmer’s consideration of whether twerk should receive dictionary treatment, and his history of the interjection meh(from Yiddish to The Simpsons).

Have fun. Find material to inspire your own writing. Check ’em out.