Monday, June 20, marked the turning point of the year — the solstice, when days stopped getting longer and started on their six months’ journey to long, dark nights. Now we can’t put off thinking about the rest of the year so easily: back to school, Election Day, Thanksgiving. Maybe even a World Series victory for the Chicago Cubs.
So it’s also time to begin thinking about the Word of the Year, specifically the WOTY chosen by the American Dialect Society. The society had the first word, havin…
Davy Crockett: A bigger bloviator than Donald Trump
Bloviator, and its companion verb bloviate, is a 100-percent American creation, in the manner of other sesquipedalian inventions of ours in the exuberant early 19th century, words like rambunctious and splendiferous.
It might seem like one or another of the current presidential candidates is a bloviator, a fine word meaning just what it suggests, one who is a blowhard (another American word from the mid-19th century), that is, a pompous bragg…
A Chicago ‘L’ train in the northeast corner of the Loop
Actually, the way you say it is never a problem. There’s only one way. But how you spell it — that’s another story.
The el, of course, is Chicago’s rapid-transit rail system, operated now by the Chicago Transit Authority and dating back to the 1890s. Eight lines nowadays, more than 100 miles of track, third busiest in the country, etc. The CTA writes it as ‘L,’ with single quotation marks.
However you spell it, its name was always pronounc…
Bully is a word that has taken a beating in recent times. Look for its derivative bullying on the Internet and you’ll find a government-sponsored website called stopbullying.gov. The site explains that bullying is “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.”
The site includes recommendations on how to respond to bullying, and how to prevent it in the first place. As it should be.
Back in the 1980s, the “post-punk” duo calling themselves Timbuk 3 looked like they were headed for popular success. (And they were.) According to Wikipedia, Barbara MacDonald said to her husband, “the future is looking so bright, we’ll have to wear sunglasses.” Pat MacDonald translated that as “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades,” and in 1986 their ironic hit song was born, which as it happened became their greatest success.
In 1985, to much acclaim, Harvard University Press published an ABC of American English — the first volume of the monumental Dictionary of American Regional English, edited by Frederic G. Cassidy and covering the first three letters of the alphabet.
Among 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…
It’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.
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…
Anne Curzan is a professor of English at the University of Michigan, where she also holds appointments in linguistics and the School of Education. Her publications include Gender Shifts in the History of English and How English Works: A Linguistic Introduction. She talks about trends in the English language in a weekly segment, "That's What They Say," on Michigan Radio. View her TEDx talk on language here.
William Germano is dean of humanities and social sciences and a professor of English literature at Cooper Union. He has recently published the third edition of Getting It Published: A Guide for Scholars and Anyone Else Serious About Serious Books (2016, University of Chicago Press).
Rose Jacobs is an American freelance journalist and English teacher at the Technical University of Munich. Before moving to Germany, she worked for the Financial Times as a reporter and editor, in New York and London.
Ilan Stavans is a professor of Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College. His books include Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language and Dictionary Days: A Defining Passion. He is general editor of The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature, the publisher of Restless Books, devoted to contemporary literature from around the world, and co-founder of Great Books Summer Program.