The most annoying, overused and abused words of the year

Timothy Egan makes a good case HERE for getting rid of certain words, including this one: GLUTEN-FREE It’s a public service to warn the less than 1 percent of the population who suffer from celiac disease that bakery products might contain something that could make them sick. But putting this label on things that have no connection is a cynical corporate play for clueless consumers who buy something simply because they think it’s healthy. Red Bull boasts of being gluten-free. So is paint...

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The name you give your child might have an effect on his or her future

Among the countless factors for which I’m eternally grateful to my late parents is that they didn’t saddle any of their five children with trendy or unusual first names. We Cunningham children were born between 1937 and 1947, but our names — in chronological order: Mary, Ann, Patrick, Timothy and Kathleen — weren’t especially evocative of those times. Those names were given to millions of other kids born long before or long after we were. This subject came to mind as I read THIS PIECE about how first names can...

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How soon after a tragedy is it OK to joke about it?

The funny thing about most tragedies and disasters is that they eventually become the subject of jokes. A classic example of this phenomenon is this chestnut: “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” But, of course, as any comedian will tell you, when it comes to humor, timing is everything. You don’t want to be too soon with your jokes about tragedies. Julie Beck has an instructive piece HERE about some serious research into the use of such jokes: Humor is a real and helpful coping strategy. From the darkest...

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Lincoln would be proud: Illinois ranks fifth among the cussingest states

Ordinarily, I’m a stickler for reliable methodology in social research, but I’ll make an exception in this case. I’m simply not going to dispute any study suggesting that we Illinoisans are more foul-mouthed but also more courteous than our Wisconsin brethren. If that sounds contradictory…well, social science can be a complicated matter. The story is HERE: [The Marchex Institute] examined more than 600,000 phone calls from the past 12 months. The calls were placed by consumers to businesses across 30 industries,...

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What single word is the most widely understood across cultures and languages?

I don’t know if those pricey Rosetta Stone courses offer this lesson, but they should: When you’re traveling abroad, there’s one word in particular you would do well to remember. Jennifer Schuessler has the story HERE: Are there words that are universally understood, across all countries and cultures? A team of linguists has proposed one: “huh.” Huh? In a paper published on Friday in the journal PLOS One, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands announced that they had found strikingly...

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