All posts by Allan Metcalf

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Me and I, Sailing to Skye

Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall Fraser (Caitriona Balfe), of “Outlander.”

Why me? Why I?

That’s the grammatical puzzle posed by a newly popular Scottish ballad. It’s a strange song, as well as a haunting one, that begins every episode of the Starz series Outlander. Based on Diana Gabaldon’s time-traveling novels, the TV series is an impressively realistic  re-creation of life in Scotland in the 1740s, to which the 20th-century heroine, Claire Beauchamp, finds herself transported. This happe…

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Monday Is OK Day

Monday is the anniversary of the birth of the expression OK, 176 years ago, on the second page of the Boston Morning Post for Saturday, March 23, 1839. OK began as a joke, a deliberately misspelled abbreviation of “all correct.” And it remained a joke for the better part of a century, even as it was being put to serious use in OK-ing documents, train departures and arrivals, and wholesome products like Pyle’s O.K. Soap.

But that’s not the most important reason for celebrating OK. In all seriousn…

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Coming and Going

GrizzlyThe complexity of language mirrors the complexity of life.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the so-called deictic words, those that connect a particular situation in language directly to a situation in life. Consider this and that, for example. This is something closer to the speaker or writer; that  is something more distant.

Similarly, here and there depend on who or what’s closer, whether to the speaker or to something the speaker is discussing. Now and then require decisions about time. 

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OK: Konspicuous, Kurious, Komical

single-k-letter-green-mdAt last it’s March, a month to celebrate the arrival of spring and the anniversary of America’s greatest word. On March 23, three days after the vernal equinox, comes the 176th anniversary of the birth of that word: OK.

Among the many unusual qualities of OK is the fact that we know exactly when and where it was created, thanks to the indefatigable research of Allen Walker Read of Columbia University. It came from the pen and the newspaper of Charles Gordon Greene. On Page 2 of the Saturday, Mar…

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Greek Weekend

As the Romans did thousands of years ago, so today we continue to hold the ancient classical Greek language in high regard. Among other things, this regard gives us a triad of Greek occasions on the second weekend of March 2015.

One is pi day. Not pie but pi, although many celebrate the day with pies. But this is the Greek pi, standing for perhaps the most famous number in mathematics, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. The ancients, starting with Archimedes, figured thi…

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Going Native

IMB-branded-content-on-AtlanticIf you search the web for an example of “native advertising,” surprise! You will not find National Geographic photos of quaint retailers in Belize or Brooklyn painting handmade signs, or of rustics at farmers markets lettering labels for the vegetables they vend.

No, you’ll find something like this, perhaps, in the middle of Lingua Franca:

[paid advertising]

PARSE ME, LA!

By  a Lingua Franca Blogger

I’ve just spent the most enjoyable moments of my recent life demolishing the pretensions of my en…

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Greek Gift: Triskaidekaphobia

Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” begins during the Lupercalia, an ancient purification festival celebrated from the Ides of February (the 13th) to February 15. Here, Caesar refuses the diadem presented to him by Mark Antony.

By a quirk of the calendar, or more fundamentally by a property of the set of integers, the number 14 always follows immediately after 13. It has been thus ever since the invention of counting, countless years ago.

So when the 13th falls on a Friday, the 14th will always be a S…

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‘Dibs’: the Great Northern Parking Tradition

Say the magic word, and it’s yours.

Please? No, not please. The magic word that truly cements ownership, at least for a lot of us, is dibs.

If you’re not familiar with dibs, you can look it up. For this word, the grand new Dictionary of American Regional English has first dibs for lookup. There we find dibs (always plural) defined as “a claim; rights; right of priority—often used as exclamation.” And DARE presents examples of use going back to 1930 in South Carolina. Likewise,  the Historical Di…

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Hashtags Hammer Grammar (or Not)

The hashtag is a major innovation in language. It was invented just a few years ago, to allow quick and easy categorizing of tweets. And then hashtags became an easy way to comment on the topic of a tweet, as in You had one job: A show about a detective with OCD, and that’s how they designed the box for the last season. #wellplayed Often a hashtag is a comment on a comment: I’m done with science #stopcorrectingparties2k14 Im extremely obsessive about everything I love Fall Out Boy so much #Super…

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O Canada! in New Orleans

LouisiCANADA“I’m so New Orleans, when I go out of town people ask me if I’m Canadian.”

A joke, right? No, it seems that, contrary to all expectations, a certain Canadian pronunciation is beginning to emerge in the Big Easy.

I heard about it in a talk by Katie Carmichael of Virginia Tech at the annual gathering of linguists this month in Portland, Ore. She found “when I go out of town people ask me if I’m Canadian” on Facebook, together with this response: “most people don’t come out and say, ‘are you canadi…