Excellent news from the NY Times: they’ve settled on a replacement for the late William Safire as their language columnist, and it’s linguist and lexicographer Ben Zimmer!

In making the announcement, Gerald Marzorati, editor of the magazine said, “Ben brings both an academic’s deep knowledge and a maven’s eye, ear and passion to his commentary on the way Americans write and speak now. We welcome him to our roster and know our readers and ‘On Language’ devotees will greatly enjoy his columns.”
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be welcomed in the space that William Safire called home for thirty years,” Mr. Zimmer said. “I look forward to continuing this fine tradition with my own take on how language shapes our past, present and future.”

May he serve as long (thirty years!) as Safire; my only faint regret is that I won’t have the pleasure of giving him the kind of beatdown I did his predecessor (God love him), since Ben will actually know what he’s talking about. But my loss is the Times readers’ gain. Congratulations, Ben! (Via the Log.)


  1. The Times also has Carl Zimmer, an excellent science writer. I wish that the Times’s non-Zimmer reporters covering politics, military affairs, international relations, and economics were as competent as their Zimmers.

  2. They’re brothers. If they have a third brother, he should be made editor of the whole sorry mess.

  3. Thank you kindly, LH. (And John, in case you didn’t know, Carl is my brother.)

  4. (Ah, you beat me to it. No, sorry, no more Zimmers, at least not till the next generation.)

  5. Trond Engen says

    No change of editor-in-chief, but it will be announced in a few days that the name of the newspaper will undergo the second consonant shift.

  6. I look forward to reading the new, improved Thimes.

  7. Long live the Son of Room!

  8. Trond Engen says

    That’s the first shift, but you’re probably right. The NY Times won’t accept being second to anyone. And Parsley, sage, rosemary and Thimes could be turned inro a good breakfast. The Timmers could take turns as sage.
    Oh, and congratulations!

  9. Congratulations, Ben Zimmer! They’re soon going to start charging money to read the Times online, apparently, so they’re having to drum up people worth paying for.

  10. Little Bobby Zimmer-man of the Duluth Zimmers knows something of word play. What’s bred in those bones?

  11. The Zeims!

  12. We obviously need to breed/clone more Zimmers.

    They’re soon going to start charging money to read the Times online

    Pity. At least we’ll still have The Log for our Zimmer frei.

  13. How did Zimmer lead to Zimmermann in German?

  14. It must be a person who builds Zimmers.

  15. Trond Engen says

    Zimmer is the High German cognate of timber, so a Zimmermann is a carpenter. The other Germanic cognates have the same meaning as the English, so it’s HG “room” that’s odd. Apparently it’s a case of different semantic specialization – from an original meaning “logwork” or some such. So it seems that the Language Log has been named after him all the time.

  16. Trond Engen says

    And then there’s Frauenzimmer “~female (n.)”, borrowed into Scandinavian (from Low German, I surmise) as fruentimmer. I don’t think the original sense is “woman’s chamber” (although that would be fun) but rather “(good or bad) woman material”.

  17. So Bob Dylan was in fact Mr. Timberine man.
    But I am disappointed to find that he wasn’t really: it seems that timbre (sound quality) is related to tambourine but not to timber (wood).

  18. marie-lucie says

    In my student years I read Goethe’s Elective Affinities in German, and got the impression that Frauenzimmer (which was new to me) was only used as the plural of Frau, never as a singular itself.
    timbre: in French this means two things: “distinctive sound quality” (of voices or some musical instruments), and “stamp” (which can be a dry or inked mark on some legal paper, or a postage stamp). Neither of them has anything to do with English timber.

  19. Frauenzimmer can be used for the singular as well as the plural. There is a well-known old song “Sabinchen war ein Frauenzimmer”.

  20. Fruentimmer is certainly sg. (and I’d never thought about the etymology before – thanks!). It’d be fruentimmere in the pl..

  21. marie-lucie says

    My Goethe-reading days are long past – perhaps I just don’t remember the details about Frauenzimmer. I will take the word of the more qualified persons here. But is that word still very common, as supposed to Frau/Frauen? Is there a difference of style, register, etc?

  22. David Marjanović says

    But is that word still very common

    No. It’s archaic, jocular, and somewhat derogatory… and except for archaic, it probably has always been.

  23. David Marjanović says

    …which is to say, it’s extremely rare.

  24. Here it seems to say that in the 15th century the word meant everything and everybody in a great household that comes under the supervision of the lady as opposed to the lord of the manor (including, for example, the fool and the chaplain).

  25. (Occasionally combined as a cost-cutting measure.)

  26. marie-lucie says

    It’s archaic, jocular, and somewhat derogatory… and except for archaic, it probably has always been..
    I am sure that in Goethe’s novel it was quite normal.

  27. marie-lucie says

    (sorry about the extra italics)
    everything and everybody in a great household that comes under the supervision of the lady
    So then, the semantics went from the woman’s sphere to the women of the household to an individual woman?

  28. (Italics have been Hattically fixed.)

  29. marie-lucie says

    (Thank you for using your magical Hattical powers)

  30. So “Shiver me timbers!” could mean either that Ben Zimmer has a very bad cold, or that he’s written an article that resounded rather badly on its author.

  31. redounded

  32. rebounded?

  33. John Emerson says

    F, h, m, p, and r all make actual words, though some of them only just barely, but none of them work.

  34. W, too, if you alter the vowel sound.
    But what an odd word is redound. I just looked up its origin, and I feel as though I’ve had the wrong for years, influenced unduly by rebound and resound — not that etymology means anything, or … I dunno, you know what I mean…

  35. had it wrong
    or, had the wrong angle on it
    or something
    I dunno

  36. Trond Engen says

    But what an odd word is redound.
    A redundant one?

  37. What redounds overflows abundantly. What is redundant overflows superfluously. Or was that last sentence redundant?

  38. marie-lucie says

    There is bound and rebound, sound and resound, so there should be a dound to go with redound: what can it mean?

  39. I meant that it contained a redundancy, not that the whole sentence was superfluous.

  40. dound to go with redound
    It seems that the ound is like French onde with a d stuck in so that the re- will fit better.

  41. From the Online Etymology Dictionary:
    1382, “to overflow,” from O.Fr. redonder “overflow, abound” (12c.), from L. redundare “to overflow” (see “redundant”). Meaning “to flow or go back” (to a place or person) is from 1382; hence “to rebound” (c.1500), and “to contribute to” (the credit, honour, etc.), c.1500.
    1594, from L. redundantem (nom. redundans), prp. of redundare “come back, contribute,” lit. “overflow,” from re- “again” + undare “rise in waves,” from unda “a wave”.

  42. marie-lucie says

    Thank you, Bathrobe, I had never thought of the derivation of redondant from a verb, let alone from onde.

  43. So the second sound shift would give us the New York Dimes, not to be confused with the March of Dimes.

  44. Sadly, they’ve long since gotten rid of the position of language columnist.

  45. David Marjanović says

    *lightbulb moment*
    Latin re- is regularly replaced by its older form red- before vowels.

  46. Rodger C says

    Jam redit et virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna.

  47. David Marjanović says


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