“Willy-Nilly” (the evolution of)

The Proceedings of the Twenty-Second Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society: General Session and Parasession on The Role of Learnability in Grammatical Theory (1996) featured one of the very few scholarly investigations into the origin(s) of the expression “Willy-Nilly” Author Paula Kadose Radetzky (University of California, Berkeley) notes that although “Willy-Nilly” originally meant ‘unwillingly’, […]

Oblique Linguistic Enigmas: deciphering “NOT/NOT”

Languages, it is said, are never static – words, their meaning, their pronunciation and preferred syntax are constantly evolving. But the changes are not restricted to words – punctuation marks too, evolve. Take, for a recent example, an unusual construct from an official US Govt. source – reprinted by the UK Guardian as part of […]

“Topical Trends in a Corpus of Persuasive Writing”

If you list everything that’s topical, trendy and persuasive, your list might include things you’d prefer it not to include, suggests this study: “Topical Trends in a Corpus of Persuasive Writing,” Michael Heilman and Nitin Madnani [pictured here], Research Report ETS RR-12-19, October 2012. The authors write, topically and perhaps persuasively: “Many writing assessments use generic […]

Wordplay proves a fruitful area for research

Words, words, words are the bread, butter, salt, pepper, meat and potatoes of a small, US-based magazine called Word Ways that has been coming out four times a year since 1968. Dmitri Borgmann, the founding editor, described it as “the journal of recreational linguistics”. Its essence, in a word: wordplay. Borgmann’s obituary, in a 1985 issue of Word […]

The Zwickys – looking at words

Arnold M. Zwicky is Consulting Professor of Linguistics, Stanford University, and Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, Ohio State University. The professor investigates “the interrelationships of syntax, morphology, and phonology, focusing especially on apparent counterexamples to the Principle of Phonology-Free Syntax and the Principle of Morphology-Free Syntax, as well as phenomena (like clitics) that appear […]