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The language we deserve?

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April  July 12, 2007 03:49 PM

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Wave goodbye to "just deserts": In today's entry on his Oxford University Press blog, Ben Zimmer reports that the upstart "just desserts" -- the version that confuses dessert, the after-dinner treat, with desert, something you deserve -- is beating the standard idiom by 58 percent to 42 percent.

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Zimmer used the Oxford English Corpus -- a database of "more than 1.5 billion words pulled from newspapers, blogs, magazines, scientific papers, journals, books, websites, transcripts," and other sources, according to the OUP -- to check on the condition of some beleaguered familiar phrases.

There is some good news for traditionalists. The standard sleight of hand, fazed by, and home in on are trouncing the challengers (slight of hand, phased by, hone in on) by 2 to 1 or better.

But vocal chords is neck and neck with the standard vocal cords, and strait-laced scores a pitiful 34 percent against straight-laced. "Poetic innovation or descent into linguistic anarchy?" asks Zimmer. The strait-laced will have one answer, I suppose; the rest will have desserts.


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