• Why are some letters tied together?

    It is hard to remember that fonts originated in handwriting, but occasionally reminders, like ligatures, pop up. “Ligature” literally means to bind or tie up, so when two letters are tied together in script, it is called a ligature. Medieval scribes combined letters that shared some part, so they could write faster and conserve space on the […]

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  • How does language influence how we think?

    Language shapes how we think about the world. Benjamin Whorf, a linguist in the early 1900s, called this phenomenon linguistic relativity. It is often said that the Eskimos have fifty words for snow, but it turns out that’s not true. Eskimo-Aleut languages have about as many words for snow as the English language. But the […]

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  • Did you know that American Sign Language is not related to English?

    On the occasion of Deaf Awareness Week, we wanted to talk about the language of the deaf community, American Sign Language (ASL). Contrary to public perception, ASL is not related to English. ASL, a manual language that relies on movement rather than sound to denote meaning, actually grew out of French Sign Language in the […]

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  • fall, autumn, trees

    Fall Once Had a Different Name

    The season we call fall was once referred to simply as “harvest” to reflect the time when farmers gathered their crops for winter storage, roughly between August and November. Astronomically, the season lasts from the end of the September until December, between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. (Want to learn […]

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  • Neanderthal? Cro-Magnon? Who’s who?

    When talking about fossils, there are a lot of confusing words: Neanderthal, paleoanthropologist, homo erectus. First off, the scientists: paleoanthropologists study extinct ancestors of human beings. Paleo means old or ancient and anthro means relating to human beings. Now let’s discuss the specimens themselves. Our very distant

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  • You can debunk something, but why can’t you bunk something?

    As readers, we recognize prefixes, like dis-, in-, non- and un-, as expressing negation. We immediately know that “unfair” means “not fair.” However, there are some clear exceptions to these rules. Such anomalies can cause  confusion for a few reasons. For one, the prefix in- also literally means “in,” such as inquire, inclose, and insure. […]

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  • The effect of dyslexia on words

    Letters are the most ubiquitous symbols around us. When we learn to read, we train our brains to transform these symbols into sounds and meanings. However, doctors estimate that at least 10% of the population has dyslexia. The term “dyslexia” was invented in 1887 by the German ophthalmologist Rudolf Berlin. It comes from the Greek roots […]

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  • How is this man responsible for the name of New York?

    Gotham, the Big Apple, the City that Never Sleeps: New York City is the emblem of America, to many, especially as we remember the tragedy of September 11th, 2001. Over the past three centuries, New York has grown to greatly overshadow its namesake, the city of York in northern England.

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