All posts by Allan Metcalf

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Vivat Academia!

NumenLumen.svgAmong the relics of medieval Latin still venerated by modern American colleges and universities are the mottos inscribed or circumscribed on the great seals that adorn their diplomas. Long before mission statements were sine qua non at institutions of higher learning, their seals evoked their aims.

Harvard, of course, leads the pack with a coat of arms reading ve ri tas: One word for “truth,” in a trinity of syllables. Lest there be any doubt about the nature of this trinity, the coat of arms wa…

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O Tempora, O Mores!

College_graduate_studentsIt’s that time of year when respectable denizens of colleges and universities don caps and gowns and assemble amid the groves of academe, some to confer academic degrees and some to be conferred upon. Their faux medieval vestments are vestiges of that time in western Europe when Latin was the lingua franca for all serious scholarship.

It isn’t anymore. But other vestiges of Latin remain, connecting the English-speaking colleges of today with their ghostly ancestors in the Middle Ages.

Alas, with…

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Readability, Understandability, and ETS

Presidential Candidates Address AIPAC Policy Conference

Donald Trump’s speech to Aipac scored above a grade-level 6 in readability.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the formulas available for estimating readability are less than foolproof. It doesn’t even take a linguist to notice that things are missing from the formulas.

Last week I offered a link to the website Readability Score, where you can take any text and paste it in for an instant estimate by half-a-dozen different formulas, all purporting to determine the grade level o…

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Instant Readability

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Lincoln at Gettysburg

No, the age of miracles hasn’t passed. I’m about to give you a free tool that will make you an instant expert on readability.

Readability? What’s that?

It’s the ability of a text to be read and understood. It’s vital to measure readability, for example, in choosing texts that will be understood by elementary or high-school students at their appropriate grade levels. And it’s also vital in court, for another example, to determine whether a typical consumer could understand t…

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Sidestepping the Semicolon

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Illustration courtesy of Helen Gräwert*

If a struggling writer is having trouble with apostrophe’s, too bad. Spoken English doesnt use them and doesnt give the slightest hint about where they might be needed in writing, but youd better put them in, or the writing will look like this paragraph. Cant do that.

On the  other hand, there’s one thing you can do if you’re a struggling writer: avoid semicolons. Entirely.

We all know the looks of the semicolon: a comma with a dot on top. But what good i…

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Sloganeering for President

jeb-bush-to-donald-trump-im-flattered-that-you-stole-my-tax-planIf you’re running for president, as half a dozen candidates are doing these days, you need money, you need meetings, you need enthusiastic supporters — and last but not least, you need slogans. Right?

Well, maybe. In August 2015, when the campaign was just getting started, the website Tagline Guru conducted a 2016 Campaign Slogan Survey. They asked some 250 “branding, marketing, and advertising professionals” to evaluate the official slogans of the 22 announced candidates in the running then.

Th…

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OK, Presidential Hopeful? Celebrate Today.

> on July 24, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Bernie Sanders: “It’s not a question of me being OK.”

Happy 177th birthday to America’s greatest word … OK!

Entirely curved O, entirely straight K — put them together and they are the two-letter, two-syllable combination that confirms agreements, certifies that something works, gives lecturers a way to sum up, and expresses the American philosophy of pragmatism. I could write a book about it (and I did).

For 177 years, ever since OK was born on Page 2 of the Boston Morning Post on March  23, 18…

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The Trumptionary, Part 2

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David Barnhart

As the Trumpus continues, our living language stretches to accommodate the new notions and perspectives generated by the Donald’s inimitable political career. The lexicographer David Barnhart, author of the quarterly Barnhart Dictionary Companion, has been quick to keep up with the new vocabulary.

He has written entries in the manner of the Oxford English Dictionary for each term, including the detailed entry for Trumpertantrum that I included in my post last week.

Here are some o…

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The Trumptionary

220px-Donald_Trump_announcing_latest_David_Blaine_feat_3-altNine months ago, Donald Trump brought forth on this continent a new model for attaining the U.S. presidency, one that focused on statements so outrageous, and thereby so delicious for journalists, that he would be sure to make the top headlines day after day. And incidentally to capture the favorable attention of voters.

With his remarks, the Donald has managed to create an alternate universe, where Mexicans build a wall to keep themselves from crossing the border into the United States, where N…

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OK, Happy 177th!

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Just after the vernal equinox of 1839, and just a month before the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, OK was born. America’s and the world’s greatest word came to the light of day as a humble joke on Page 2 of the Boston Morning Post for March 23, 1839: “o. k. — all correct.”

It needed that gloss because the meaning of this new expression was far from obvious. The joke, of course, was that all does not begin with o, and correct does not begin with k, so the resulting combination is a paradox…