To Co-Author, or Not to Co-Author?

ucscgraphI noticed recently that I now have more than 100 co-authored works on my publications list. It occurs to me that this rather high number might raise questions or even eyebrows: Is it evidence that I am a pathetically dependent hanger-on, joining other people’s research projects because I can’t come up with my own? Or a domineering research-group leader stamping my name on every paper that the group produces? Or merely a gregarious person who enjoys intellectual interaction?

These are reasonable …


Fool ‘Ish’ Ways

tumblr_lglk43DP9v1qzr2iro1_500It’s smart … ish. It’s cool … ish. It’s up-to-date … ish.

Well, ish!

No, I can’t claim that ish is new. In fact, ish has been in the English language since before there was an English language. Since time immemorial, -ish has been a suffix creating adjectives like English and Turkish, selfish and prudish, to give some examples from the Oxford English Dictionary. And it’s an integral ending for verbs like cherish, languish, accomplish.

But more recently, in the past 500 years or so, -ish has bee…


Write if You Get Work

Bob, as Wally Ballou, interviewing Ray, as the cranberry grower Ward Smith

Bob, as Wally Ballou, interviewing Ray, as cranberry grower Ward Smith

“If they like Bob and Ray, they’re OK.”

—David Letterman, on how to tell if someone has a good sense of humor.

Comedy, in addition to being hard, ages faster than unpasteurized milk. No one is a greater admirer of the best comic writers and performers of the past than I, yet I experience their work only with admiration, almost never with actual laughter. The one consistent exception is when I listen to recordings of Bob and R…


Editor Needed

squirrelIn a junior-high-school grammar lesson about misplaced and dangling modifiers, I was given this memorable sentence to correct: “Clinging to the side of the aquarium, Mary saw the starfish.” Poor Mary. It is exhausting to be asked to hang onto an aquarium wall that way.

I was thinking about that sentence recently when my sister, a lawyer, sent me a provision from the New Jersey Administrative Code. She and her husband are trying to deal with the squirrels in the attic, and so she had checked the …


(Your Name), Enabler

arianne-glitter-geek-little-miss-trouble-enablerIt’s hard to tell exactly when the verb enable spawned the noun enabler. An 1825 issue of the Annual Register, per the OED, provides some hint in suggesting that “the word Habilitador might, if there were such a word, be translated Enabler.” A habilitador, or habilitater, was one who endowed something or someone with ability or capacity. For at least some period of time, an enabler did likewise. As recently as 1978, in the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare’s publication Stimulati…


The New Science

matt-damon-martian-trailer-lands-well-2015Neil DeGrasse Tyson tweeted that it was his favorite line from the film’s trailer: ”I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.”

It’s already the best-known line from Ridley Scott’s The Martian. You might have it on a T-shirt by now.

Vulgar, yes, but it’s also a good example of the rhetorical device called anthimeria, recently explored here.

The Martian is futuristic science fiction. But the education business has been sciencing for a long time.

Our word science  comes from Latin scientia…




So many words for dying, deceasing, expiring, succumbing, giving up the ghost, meeting one’s end, passing away, being taken from us, meeting one’s maker, going to a better place, breathing one’s last … If the numerosity of words and phrases for things really correlated with speakers’ degrees of interest in them (a dumb but extremely popular belief I have critiqued before), we would have to assume that English speakers are fascinated by death in all its forms and discuss it all the time in techn…


How ’Bout That Ass?

donkeyteethSo I’m writing my historical novel, minding my own business, when some sort of semantic bug bites me and sends me off on a language tangent. Does this ever happen to you? Last week, I was describing the building of a gristmill on a tributary of the Hudson River around 1700. Given the rough terrain at the time and the need to haul a lot of heavy stuff around, I thought the mill builders might have donkeys handy, rather than horses. This supposition occasioned a bunch of research into when certa…


Floating Along on Mardi Gras


A pontoon wagon, progenitor of the parade float.

A week from today is Mardi Gras — “fat Tuesday,” on the eve of 40 lean days of Lent. And just in time comes Peter Reitan’s discovery of the origin of the name for a featured item in Mardi Gras parades, a name that we have adopted for all our parades: float.

Reitan’s investigation occupies all 17 pages of the January 2016 issue of Comments on Etymology, Gerald Cohen’s self-published journal focusing on American vocabulary. As usual for Comments, ci…


Oh, Commas

As the self-appointed watcher of commas, known to some (OK, known to myself) as The Comma Maven, I naturally was concerned when I saw the provisional title of my friend Craig Pittman’s forthcoming book about the weirdness of Florida. The book grew out of the tweets that Pittman (a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times) has been putting out for some time, like this:


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And this:

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(Craig is not connected with the person or persons who send out tweets like the following under the handle @_FloridaMan: