Benjamin Zimmer (born 1971) is an American linguist, lexicographer, and language commentator. He is a language columnist for The Wall Street Journal and contributing editor for The Atlantic. He was formerly a language columnist for The Boston Globe and The New York Times Magazine, and editor of American dictionaries at Oxford University Press. Zimmer was also a former executive editor of Vocabulary.com and VisualThesaurus.com.
Zimmer graduated from Yale University in 1992 with a B.A. degree in linguistics, and went on to study linguistic anthropology at the University of Chicago. For his research on the languages of Indonesia, he received fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the Fulbright Program, and the Social Science Research Council. He taught at the University of California, Los Angeles, Kenyon College and Rutgers University.
In 2005, Zimmer was named a research associate at the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science at the University of Pennsylvania and became a regular contributor to Language Log, a group weblog on language and linguistics. He was named editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press in 2006, and the following year launched "From A to Zimmer," a weekly lexicography column on the OUP blog.
In 2008, Zimmer was appointed executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus, an interactive reference tool from Thinkmap, Inc. He edits the online content of the Visual Thesaurus and its sister site Vocabulary.com, and writes a regular column on word origins entitled "Word Routes."
Zimmer's research on word origins was frequently cited by William Safire's "On Language" column for The New York Times Magazine. On March 11, 2010, Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati announced the appointment of Zimmer as the new “On Language” columnist, succeeding Safire, the founding and regular columnist until his death in late 2009. Zimmer's last "On Language" column was published on February 27, 2011. In it, Zimmer wrote that the column was "finally coming to a close" and that "it [was] time to bid adieu, after some 1,500 dispatches from the frontiers of language."
On December 18, 2011, The Boston Globe announced that Zimmer would be a regular language columnist for the newspaper's Sunday Ideas section. His Globe column continued until June 28, 2013, when he began a new weekly language column for The Wall Street Journal's Saturday Review section entitled "Word on the Street."
Zimmer's writing on language has appeared in two blog anthologies: Ultimate Blogs (Vintage, 2008, ISBN 978-0-307-27806-7) and Far from the Madding Gerund (William, James, 2006, ISBN 978-1-59028-055-3). He has also written for Slate, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Times Sunday Review, and The Atlantic.
The Linguistic Society of America gave Zimmer its first ever Linguistics Journalism Award in 2014. In January 2017, Zimmer was one of the speakers in the LSA's inaugural Public Lectures on Language series.
This week marks Ben Zimmer’s debut as a regular Word columnist for Ideas.
His column will appear weekly in this space.
Benjamin Zimmer's 'Language Log' reads like a wonderfully expansive and more self-aware William Safire column.