Protesters in San Francisco block a Google bus, which shuttles employees from the city to its location in Silicon Valley. cjmartin/Flickr hide caption

toggle caption cjmartin/Flickr

Decades ago, the SAT test was seen as a measure of raw ability, not as something students ought to cram for. Now, test prep is a huge industry. Linguist Geoff Nunberg wonders what exactly students learn when they're flipping through vocabulary flashcards. Mario Tama/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Mario Tama/Getty Images

President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron pose for a "selfie" with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., talks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 3. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Scott Gries/Scott Gries/Invision/AP

A conference attendee tries Google Glass during the Google I/O developer conference in San Francisco in May. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Andrey Kuzmin/

Visitors paid their respects at a makeshift memorial on Boylston Street on April 20, near the scene of the Boston Marathon bombings. Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Geoff Nunberg says a good definition extends to the past as well as the present: It's not just about what "marriage" has come to mean; it's all the word has ever meant. hide caption

toggle caption

Linguist Geoff Nunberg finds that in the film Lincoln, screenwriter Tony Kushner oscillates between old and modern meanings of "equality." DreamWorks/Twentieth Century Fox hide caption

toggle caption DreamWorks/Twentieth Century Fox

There are those who say the phrase "the whole nine yards" comes from a joke about a prodigiously well-endowed Scotsman who gets his kilt caught in a door. iStockPhoto hide caption

toggle caption iStockPhoto
Adam Gryko/

Geoff Nunberg says that, like a lot of the Britishisms peppering American speech these days, "spot on" falls somewhere in the blurry region between affectation and flash. Zdenek Ryzner/ hide caption

toggle caption Zdenek Ryzner/

President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney finish their debate at the University of Denver on Oct. 3. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

In 1961, the publication of Merriam-Webster's Third International Dictionary sparked an uproar with its inclusion of the word "ain't." Flickr User Greeblie hide caption

toggle caption Flickr User Greeblie

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor