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But

When I assign my freshmen to write about both sides of an issue, I tell them to pay special attention to the connective words they use. If you’re presenting the other side, you have to make clear that you aren’t suddenly changing your mind and going back on your own position. So you need to introduce the other side with words like “True,” “Admittedly,” “It could be argued that,” to signal clearly that this is somebody else’s position, not yours.

And you can’t leave it at that, either. Even wit…

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To Whomever It May Concern

I was gobsmacked the other day while watching an episode of the NBC series Crisis, which I would describe as my guilty pleasure except that I don’t feel especially guilty about it and it’s not that pleasurable. Anyhow, the show is about bad guys who kidnap a school bus full of children of the rich and powerful, including the U.S. president’s son. A Secret Service agent and one kid, who you can tell is a genius because he’s chubby and has curly hair,

Joshua Erenberg and Lance Gross from “Crisis.”…

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Yo Hablo HTML

We are nearly five months into Britain’s “Year of Code,” an effort to promote computer-coding skills among Britons young and old. The British media’s coverage spiked in February, when the campaign’s director admitted she couldn’t code a computer to save her life, but has ebbed since.

Still, I’ve been taking advantage of some of the Year of Code offerings (which are not restricted to British residents), and spent a few hours last week at codecademy.com learning enough HTML and CSS to create a bar…

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Writing and Manure

 

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Image via Wikimedia Commons

My last post was about Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, a play that apparently isn’t done with me yet.

You will remember that the mystery of Jack Worthing’s birth is revealed in that play’s final moments—Jack turns out to be Ernest Moncrieff, Algy’s elder brother. Happy ending, three marriages, curtain. All the play’s puzzles have been solved.

Except for the matter of dung. We really do need to talk about the dung, Mr. Worthing.

The word worthing has a…

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And the Other Is a Jellyfish

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Image via Wikimedia Commons

Last week the British prime minister, the right honorable David Cameron, was trying to enjoy a quiet holiday on Lanzarote, the easternmost island of the Islas Canarias, ignoring the lurking press photographers constantly seeking to document his leisure activities. Unfortunately he also ignored the advice of locals about sea swimming, and had a painful encounter with an organism of the subphylum Medusozoa.

Cameron is not very popular in Britain. The right wing sees him…

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On Clarity

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What do John Boehner and Rachel Maddow have in common?
Image: Screen shot from MSNBC, via The Blaze

One cannot but be dismayed by the extent to which pollution of thought is endemic in our culture.

The illness is ubiquitous: in Washington, in academe, on the radio and TV, among activists. Being clear, explaining oneself lucidly, seems to be an endangered form of human behavior. Was clarity ever better regarded? Or is the current attitude toward it a constant in history? One could blame the educat…

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A Postcard From Salzburg

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Members of Golden Dawn break up a dictionary launch in Athens. Photograph by Victor Friedman.

Salzburg, Austria—Mozart’s beautiful city provided an ideal locale for the conference I am attending here, where Slavicists and Balkanists have been discussing the role of ideology in grammar. Salzburg is close enough to allow scholars from Croatia or Kosovo or Macedonia to attend easily, without being actually in the Balkan region itself.

Matters relating to the great Balkan laboratory for sociolinguis…

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Which Side Are You On?

Theodore Parker

Theodore Parker

When Vladimir Putin seized Crimea, President Obama said, “Russia is on the wrong side of history on this.” Secretary of State John Kerry concurred, using exactly the same phrase. They were hardly breaking new rhetorical ground for the administration. In his first inaugural address, Obama stated, “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willin…

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Over and Over Again

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King AEthelstan presenting a book to St. Cuthbert, c.895-939. The Laws of AEthelstan included “over” meaning “more than” back in the 10th century. Illuminated manuscript, c.930, via Wikimedia Commons.

For the most part, a newspaper stylebook aims to fly under the radar, directing journalists to use the least obtrusive terminology and forms, so readers will not be distracted from the reporter’s message. But the stylebook is put together by individuals (editors) who have strong feelings about ri…

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Just Call Me …

Email_Names2 copyIn any given week, I typically write several emails to other academics I do not know or do not know well. As I decide what greeting to use, I am reminded of the politics of names and the subtle—or sometimes not so subtle—power dynamics at play in everyday conversations, often in even the smallest conversational choices.

For example, when writing to a colleague I’ve never met, do I have the right to assume we’re on a first name basis, despite the fact we don’t know each other? Or do I go wi…