Trying To Stop Words From Changing Their Meanings Is "Literally" Useless

Lately, it seems that there are few words in the English language that stir up as much semantic ire as "literally" does. As more and more people have been using "literally" to mean "really," some English speakers fret that the meaning of the word will change. But the truth is that it would hardly be the first. » 3/26/15 1:10pm Thursday 1:10pm

Jackie Chan Invented The Chinese Character That's Now A Viral Smash

A new Chinese character, "duang," has gone viral. Nobody's sure what it actually means, but Jackie Chan has everything to do with it. » 3/02/15 2:40pm 3/02/15 2:40pm

Learn Which Famous Authors Coined "Nerd" And "Quark" In This Fun Video

This week's episode of Mental Floss' List Show on YouTube, hosted by John Green, breaks down 43 words invented by authors (spoiler alert: they're not all by Shakespeare ... and a lot of them are from scifi books!) » 3/01/15 9:45am 3/01/15 9:45am

What Are Your Locale's Most Distinct Regional Expressions?

Even when two places share a language, there are always at least a few expressions that only exist within an individual region. Today we want to know about the words, phrases, and alternate meanings that are specific to where you are. » 2/26/15 7:00am 2/26/15 7:00am

Dammit, Science Writers Are Not Afraid To Curse

On his eponymous personal blog, Nature Chemistry editor Stuart Cantrill offers a post on "how sweary Nature has been over the years," spurred by the use of "bollocks" in a 2014 piece on e-cigarettes. » 2/20/15 6:00pm 2/20/15 6:00pm

Why Doesn't English Have A Gender-Neutral Pronoun?

Referring to a single person who may be of any gender in English can be tricky. It can be awkward to use words like "one" or phrases like "he or she," and many a grammarian hates using "they" as to refer to a single person. How has English gotten this far without such a convenient pronoun? Actually, it hasn't. » 2/17/15 9:10am 2/17/15 9:10am

What Does "OK" Stand For, Anyway?

As a linguistic phrase, OK is something of a phenomenon, traveling from American English into hundreds of other languages. And there are tons of myths about how OK emerged to mean that things are hunky-dory. But which story is correct? The truth is a little bit goofy. » 2/12/15 9:00am 2/12/15 9:00am

Why Is The Dollar Sign A Letter S?

The letter S appears nowhere in the word "dollar", yet an S with a line through it ($) is unmistakably the dollar sign. But why an S? Why isn't the dollar sign something like a Đ (like the former South Vietnamese đồng, or the totally-not-a-joke-currency Dogecoin)? » 2/08/15 11:29am 2/08/15 11:29am

What Will An "American Accent" Sound Like In 100 Years?

Science fiction used to sometimes suggest that, as broadcast took over, we would hear less and less distinction in accents. Today though, there is of course not just one "American accent" but several, and regional accents continue to thrive and spread. Why is that and what can we expect to sound like in the future? » 2/06/15 4:20pm 2/06/15 4:20pm

Chimps Change Their "Words" To Communicate Better With New Companions

Referred to as "referential calls," chimps use different grunts to identify objects. A new study provides the first evidence for vocal learning in non-humans, showing that chimps have the capacity for not just words — but also the ability to adapt to a new vernacular. » 2/06/15 12:40pm 2/06/15 12:40pm

10 Things People Once Complained Would Ruin The English Language

You've probably heard that English is being ruined — by the Internet, by texting, by Americans, by young people who have no respect for proper grammar. But it turns out that people have always worried over English, and over the centuries, have accused all sorts of things of "ruining" the language. » 2/06/15 10:08am 2/06/15 10:08am

R.I.P. Suzette Haden Elgin: Author, Poet, Verbal Self-Defense Coach

Suzette Haden Elgin, who died last week, was a pioneer of using linguistics in science fiction, creating a whole constructed language in her novel Native Tongue. She was a giant of feminist SF. And she helped bring SF poetry to prominence, while also teaching us to defend ourselves with wit rather than bile. » 2/05/15 10:47am 2/05/15 10:47am

The Actual Benefits Of Speaking Two (Or More) Languages

We're often told that people who speak two or more languages have a distinct cognitive advantage over monolingual speakers – but how big is this advantage, really? » 1/25/15 9:46am 1/25/15 9:46am

Obama's 2015 State Of The Union Address Peaked At A Grade 10 Level

Last night's State of the Union address by President Barack Obama was tailored around a tenth-grade comprehension level, which is actually higher than his previous speeches. » 1/21/15 6:30am 1/21/15 6:30am

This Short Video Explains How "Animal Chatter" Relates To Human Language

When your dog barks, is it actually communicating with language, or is it just making a sound to convey "Feed me!" (to you) or "Back off!" (to another canine)? A new animated short from New Scientist investigates "animal chatter," and how it relates to human language. » 1/15/15 6:00pm 1/15/15 6:00pm

"Ye Olde" Is Fake Old English (And You're Mispronouncing It Anyway)

You've probably seen phrases like "Ye Olde Tavern" or "Ye Olde Shoppe" scrawled across English-language signs, trying to evoke a sense of the medieval. But the practice of naming shops this way didn't start until the late 19th century and it was done to make things sound, well, old. » 1/15/15 1:03pm 1/15/15 1:03pm

Removal Of Nature Words From Children's Dictionary Sparks Outrage

Dozens of prominent writers, including Margaret Atwood and Michael Morpurgo, have expressed "profound alarm" in light of the Oxford University Press's decision to drop a number of words associated with nature and the countryside from its children's dictionary. » 1/14/15 6:30am 1/14/15 6:30am

These Adorable Doodles Could Help You Learn The Sign Language Alphabet

Artist Alex Solis adds cartoon mnemonic devices to the American Sign Language alphabet with his Signs & Doodles series. Little cartoon characters interact with each sign in the alphabet to help you remember the correct position of your fingers. » 1/03/15 8:00am 1/03/15 8:00am

The Funniest Words That Sound Dirty In Other Languages

Earlier today, we asked for help coming up with a word for that thing where a word is innocent in its native language, but sounds like a dirty word to foreign speakers. And not only did we come up with a word — "sordophone" — but also, a pretty impressive list of words that travelers should be careful about saying. » 1/02/15 4:12pm 1/02/15 4:12pm

This Math Equation Is Also A Limerick

This week's Sunday Puzzle looks like a mathematical equation. Well, it is a mathematical equation. But hidden in that equation is a poem. Can you recite it back to us? » 12/28/14 1:45pm 12/28/14 1:45pm