Talking Chairs
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27 words without natural opposites

The English language is full of words with uncommon properties. We have contronyms, neologisms, palindromes and portmanteau words. Another set of terms with unusual properties are those known as unpaired words. Unpaired words have no opposite equivalent. They have a prefix or suffix that suggests you could form an antonym by removing the prefix or suffix, but forming their opposites will take more work than that. You can be “disheveled, but not “sheveled.” Unpaired words occur because certain words fall out of common usage (“ruthless” and “ruthful”) or...
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How many of these banned books have you ...

For wordsmiths, the idea of banning books might seem offensive. While conducting research for his high-school English class, my son discovered that some of his favorite childhood books were on the Top 10 banned and challenged books list. His incredulous response was: “’Captain Underpants’—really?” Yes, “Captain Underpants” is on the book of banned books. The American Library Association has been tracking and raising awareness about “documented requests to remove materials from schools or libraries” since 1990. The organization said that most book...
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11 definitions for lengthy words

This week, I set out to answer a simple question: What are the longest words in the English language? That led to a not-so-simple question: What do the longest words in the English language mean? Because many of these words are technical and have little practical use, their definitions do not appear in standard dictionaries. After a little digging, though, I now know what “pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism” means—and so can you. Below is a list of the longest words in English, along with their definitions. If you can pronounce any of these, treat yourself to a new pair...
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Great writers on writing

Most of my favorite authors have not written anything new in hundreds of years. The Brontes, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, Edith Wharton, George Eliot—who all wrote in the 19th to early 20th century—have a combined body of work. Because nothing new will be added to that body of work, I must be content with reading their works over and over again. On Oct. 19, something wondrous is happening. My favorite living author, Philip Pullman, is releasing “The Book of Dust,” a new installment in the His Dark Materials series. A new book from an author I adore—this must...
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Should you use an “a” or ...

Determining whether to use “a” versus “an” should not be confusing, but it is. This week, I had a prolonged discussion with a co-worker about why “an MRI” is correct and “a MRI” is not. It turns out that many of us were taught the wrong rules for use of these indefinite articles. I remember being told to use “an” when the word preceding it starts with a vowel and to use “a” when the word preceding it starts with a consonant. The rules actually say to use “an” before any word beginning with a vowel sound and to use “a” before any word...