Barbara Wallraff

Visit Barbara Wallraff’s blog, at barbarawallraff, to see more commentary on language and to submit Word Fugitive queries and words that meet David K. Prince’s need. Readers whose queries are published and those who take top honors will receive an autographed copy of Wallraff’s most recent book, Word Fugitives. More

Barbara WallraffBarbara Wallraff, a contributing editor and columnist for The Atlantic, has worked for the magazine for 25 years. She is also a weekly syndicated newspaper columnist for King Features and the author of Word Fugitives (2006), Your Own Words (2004), and the national best-seller Word Court (2000). Her writing about language has appeared in The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Wilson Quarterly, The American Scholar, and The New York Times Magazine.

Wallraff has been an invited speaker at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the National Writers Workshop, the Nieman Foundation, Columbia Journalism School, the British Institute Library of Florence, and national or international conventions of the American Copy Editors Society, the Council of Science Editors, the International Education of Students organization, and the Journalism Education Association. She has been interviewed about language on the Nightly News With Tom Brokaw and dozens of radio programs including Fresh Air, The Diane Rehm Show, and All Things Considered. National Public Radio's Morning Edition once commissioned her to copy edit the U.S. Constitution. She is a member of the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel. The Genus V edition of the game Trivial Pursuit contains a question about Wallraff and her Word Court column.

  • Meh!

    Someone asked me a few weeks ago when to expect to see "meh" in dictionaries. Soon, according to AP. Oddly, the UK imprint Collins is the first…

  • Off-topic: pets

    This just in, by way of The Daily Beast, my source for animal news. No offense to Peru, but I hope the Obamas pick a poodle instead.

  • Hypermiling and other Words of the Year

    The New Oxford American Dictionary is getting the jump on the Words of the Year season. Yesterday it announced its winner, "hypermiling" (meaning…

  • Now that the election cliches are receding ...

    ... some new old words and phrases are lurching into view. Baltimore Sun copy chief John McIntyre is doing his best to keep us safe from them. 

  • It's historic!

    On the one hand, it may seem petty to focus on the niceties of language at this great moment in America's history. On the other hand, one reason…

  • The F-word goes to the Supreme Court

    At least one thing besides the election is scheduled to happen tomorrow: The Supreme Court will hear FCC vs. Fox Television Stations, as yesterday's…

  • AMF, Part IV

    Here's the latest ... might we call it a guerdon? (more nearly that than a meed, wouldn't you agree?) resulting from a treasure hunt through the…

  • In a Word

    Eloquence contretemps; ages of fable

  • ShamWow

    At 14:57 - 15:10 you'll find the first known use (the first known to me, at any rate) of "ShamWow" in an extended sense:   Lexicographers, please…

  • AMF, Part III

    "AMF" being "Antique Mental Furnishings," and this entry being more from guest blogger Ammon Shea. I've been challenging him with Word Fugitives that…

  • Myriad ways to say it

    I'm feeling a wee bit trivial as everybody else argues about the election or the economy and I slog along minding our language. All I can say in my…

  • Antique mental furnishings, Part II

    See Part I for an explanation of what we're doing here.  Felicity Carter, of Neustadt/Wein, Germany, writes: "We've got the word schadenfreude for…

  • Antique mental furnishings, Part I

    When I visited Oxford, a couple of weeks ago, I made the acquaintance of Ammon Shea, the author of Reading the OED. For his book, Ammon (whose name…

  • People with "up"

    "Up" is an industrious little word, always looking for new ways to make itself useful. From the cover piece in today's New York Times…

  • Mixed Cardboard Only

    The linguist Geoffrey Pullum is really onto something here, explaining the mindset that results in off-kilter notices and signs like "Mixed…

  • "Why can't us?" Oh, please.

    I woke up to a paean to "Why can't us?" on my local NPR station this morning, courtesy of Bill Littlefield. Online backgrounder is here. If a…

  • Walking the walk = talking the talk

    Lots of good suggestions are turning up for the fugitive word Joanna Carr has requested, about the way people behave on crowded streets. (Keep 'em…

  • November Word Fugitive

    Joanna Carr's "busy cities" are certainly where this problem is most noticeable, but I've experienced versions of it even on hiking trails in the…

  • Your questions answered

    In a previous entry, I asked if there was anything you'd like me to ask the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary while I was among them. Here…

  • Dictionary dreams?

    I've moved on from Oxford physically, and so I shall virtually -- but first: A highlight of the visit was a panel discussion in the Bodleian…


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Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.


Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air