Is a Secret Ancient Language of Wanderers a Harbinger of Our Future?

The European Travelers’ Tongue Rotwelsch—Which Gave Us the Phrase ‘in a Pickle’—Has United Outcasts for Centuries

Have you ever been “in a pickle”?

Then you have encountered Rotwelsch, an ancient language of the road, spoken by vagrants and refugees, merchants and thieves since the European Middle Ages. This tongue was based on a combination of German, Yiddish, Hebrew, a smattering of Romani (the language of Sinti and Roma, pejoratively known as Gypsies), Czech, and Latin—and was incomprehensible to all but initiates.

I was inducted into this strange language during my childhood in Southern Germany. My earliest memories were of strange figures, dressed in long coats that …

Why Hawaiian Pidgin English Is Thriving Today

Continuously Evolving, the Language Gives Its Diverse Speakers a Common History and Shared Values

The origins of the Hawaiian pidgin language reflect the history and diversity of the islands. First used in the mid-19th century by the sugarcane laborers who spoke Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, …

How Moving to England Cured My ‘American Verbal Inferiority Complex’

The Beauty of Rule-Based American English Is That It's More Democratic Than the Brits' Version

I had lived in England for three years when Eats, Shoots and Leaves struck in 2003. English writer Lynne Truss’ “zero tolerance approach to pronunciation” became a British publishing phenomenon—helped …

Chimpanzee Behavior Isn’t Just Monkey Business. It’s Culture.

Grooming, Using Tools, and Fishing for Termites Show the Humanity of Our Primate Cousins

In 1961, famed primatologist Jane Goodall discovered that wild chimpanzees were fashioning tools from sticks and using them to fish termites out of their nests—revolutionizing our understanding of culture and …

The Sanitized Rhetoric That Makes Nuclear War More Likely

To Rid the Planet of Atomic Weapons, We Should Dismantle the Language That Makes Them Possible

The nuclear age began 73 years ago when a brilliant, terrible flash lit up the pre-dawn sky in the New Mexico desert. That first explosion at the Trinity site in …