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Dinomite via Wikimedia Commons // GFDL
Dinomite via Wikimedia Commons // GFDL

A Linguistics Museum Is Coming to Washington D.C.

Dinomite via Wikimedia Commons // GFDL
Dinomite via Wikimedia Commons // GFDL

Museums are great places to learn about history, science, and even math, but if the language arts were your favorite subject in school, there are fewer options. As City Lab reports, philanthropist Ann B. Friedman is hoping to change that with a new institution dedicated to all things linguistics. Washington D.C. officials recently announced that the historic Franklin School building downtown will serve as the home for Planet Word.

At the free museum, visitors of all ages and reading levels will find immersive exhibits and activities meant to inspire a love of language.

"Visitors will hear the hottest spoken-voice poets, listen to authors read from their newest books, and have an opportunity to enroll in classes on songwriting, storytelling, or sign language," according to the museum’s website. "They’ll create a marketing campaign, listen to themselves give a famous speech, or climb a rhyming word wall. Visitors will solve problems by being forensic linguists or visiting our in-house language research lab. When it’s time for a break, snacks, and meals chock-full of wordplay will be available at the museum café."

Linguistics is more than just a quirky theme to set Planet Word apart in a city of museums. It’s also a mission that’s close to the hearts of the people behind the project. According to the museum, 21 percent of adults read below a fifth-grade reading level, and according to The Annie E. Casey Foundation, kids who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. Planet Word emphasizes that the space is meant for all types of visitors, including non-English speakers. CEO and Founder Ann Friedman says on the website:

"Where would we be without words? We would be less human. Without words we couldn’t communicate precisely and in our own distinctive style. We couldn’t read, write, talk, debate, joke, rhyme, sing, pray, chant, or cheer."

She goes on to describe some of the activities the museum will offer including climbing a Tower of Babel, crawling through a prepositional playground, and identifying what word you use to describe a "hoagie." It’s hard to imagine what some of these exhibits might look like in reality, but logophiles will know soon enough: The museum is expected to open to the public by winter 2019.

[h/t City Lab]

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Big Questions
Where Does the Phrase '… And the Horse You Rode In On' Come From?
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Horses may no longer be the dominant form of transportation in the U.S., but the legacy of our horseback-riding history lives on in language. When telling people off, we still use the phrase “... and the horse you rode in on.” These days, it’s rare for anyone you're telling to go screw themselves to actually be an equestrian, so where did “and the horse you rode in on” come from, anyway?

Well, let’s start with the basics. The phrase is, essentially, an intensifier, one typically appended to the phrase “F*** you.” As the public radio show "A Way With Words" puts it, it’s usually aimed at “someone who’s full of himself and unwelcome to boot.” As co-host and lexicographer Grant Barrett explains, “instead of just insulting you, they want to insult your whole circumstance.”

The phrase can be traced back to at least the 1950s, but it may be even older than that, since, as Barrett notes, plenty of crude language didn’t make it into print in the early 20th century. He suggests that it could have been in wide use even prior to World War II.

In 1998, William Safire of The New York Times tracked down several novels that employed the term, including The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1972) and No Bugles, No Drums (1976). The literary editor of the latter book, Michael Seidman, told Safire that he heard the term growing up in the Bronx just after the Korean War, leading the journalist to peg the origin of the phrase to at least the late 1950s.

The phrase has had some pretty die-hard fans over the years, too. Donald Regan, who was Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan from 1981 through 1984, worked it into his official Treasury Department portrait. You can see a title along the spine of a book in the background of the painting. It reads: “And the Horse You Rode In On,” apparently one of Regan’s favorite sayings. (The book in the painting didn't refer to a real book, but there have since been a few published that bear similar names, like Clinton strategist James Carville’s book …and the Horse He Rode In On: The People V. Kenneth Starr and Dakota McFadzean’s 2013 book of comics Other Stories And the Horse You Rode In On.)

It seems that even in a world where almost no one rides in on a horse, insulting a man’s steed is a timeless burn.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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language
How to Say Merry Christmas in 26 Different Languages
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“Merry Christmas” is a special greeting in English, since it’s the only occasion we say “merry” instead of “happy.” How do other languages spread yuletide cheer? Ampersand Travel asked people all over the world to send in videos of themselves wishing people a “Merry Christmas” in their own language, and while the audio quality is not first-rate, it’s a fun holiday-themed language lesson.

Feel free to surprise your friends and family this year with your new repertoire of foreign-language greetings.

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