Many students prepare for the SAT by drilling themselves on esoteric, arcane and recondite words -- like esoteric, arcane and recondite. Linguist Geoff Nunberg doesn't discourage these efforts, but he does have a word of caution: memorizing a definition is hardly the same as learning a new word.
It's one of the most common words in English, and one of the most maligned. But it has been doing useful work for centuries, and lately it's acquired a new, hip meaning. Fresh Air linguist Geoff Nunberg gives us his thoughts on the little word, "um."
The end of the year brings with it "word of the year" designations from professional societies and dictionaries. Linguist Geoff Nunberg considers some of the words that made headlines this past year, including some newsmaking racial epithets.