Code Switch: Word Watch
Dec 8, 2013 — Jive-talking, jazz-loving "hep cats" from the 1930s and 1940s are the great-grandparents of today's hipsters. The interest of white fans in black music helped fill Harlem's nightclubs and prompted derision. Hipsters were criticized for being the equivalent of a "pretentious poet laureate."
Nov 25, 2013 — Although the slur today is used mostly in the context of the Caribbean, in the past it was often applied to low-wage, immigrant laborers in the United States.
Nov 18, 2013 — Today's thugs can trace their literary ancestry to the highway robbers who formed the Thuggee Cult of India. The thuggees were hunted down, imprisoned or killed in the 19th century during British rule.
Nov 6, 2013 — The unexpected story of how the "young men and lads" who "commit acts of violence and mischief" came to be known as hoodlums. The term was first widely used in the 1870s in San Francisco, where gangs often targeted Chinese immigrants.
Oct 22, 2013 — Companies and individuals are considered grandfathered and exempt from new sets of regulations all the time. But the term and the concept date from the era of segregation that followed the Civil War.
Oct 14, 2013 — What do Commodore Matthew Perry, President Abraham Lincoln and writer F. Scott Fitzgerald have in common? Go ahead and guess. The answer involves an inferiority complex, a nickname and a novel cut short by the author's untimely death.
Oct 7, 2013 — For more than half a century, Americans have used "the boondocks" or "the boonies" to refer to a place in the middle of nowhere. But few people know that the phrase is a relic of American military occupation in the Philippines that was brought into the mainstream by a fatal training accident.
Sep 30, 2013 — Last week, the CEO of AIG invoked the phrase "lynch mob" to compare the vitriolic reaction his company received about its employees' 2009 bonuses. Lynching was so common that a writer even referred to it being as "American as apple pie."
Sep 23, 2013 — For almost half a millennium, the phrase "call a spade a spade" has served as a demand to "tell it like it is." It is only in the past century that the expression began to acquire a negative, racial overtone.
Sep 16, 2013 — TV personality Julie Chen's recent revelation about getting plastic surgery to make her eyes look "less Chinese" has renewed a long-running discussion about how to describe an Asian person's eyes.