All posts by Allan Metcalf


Trump: Ironies in the Fire

How are we to read Trump?

Does he really mean it when he says he will build a wall on our southern border and make Mexico pay for it? Or when he invites Russia to find Hillary’s missing emails? Or when he points to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as co-founders of ISIS?

Fortunately, the candidate has recently provided us with guidelines to his manner of speaking.

On August 12, he tweeted:


New in DARE: Bird’s Nest on the Ground


The six-volume Dictionary of American Regional English, completed in print in 2012, continues to augment its coverage with quarterly updates by the chief editor, George Goebel, at the University of Wisconsin. The fifth update, for summer 2016, has just been published, with a dozen new entries and 40 revised ones. Most of the entries update or enrich the letter B, originally published in Volume I more than 30 years ago.

You can take a free look here.

What will you find? To begin…


Gender Self-Identification: M or W?

funny-bathroom-signs-392__605The politics of gender have come to this: two letters, M and W, on restroom doors. Two letters that cannot begin to encompass the varieties of gender identification that we in the 21st century have learned to recognize and accept.

M and W were perfectly sufficient as long as our gender categories were limited to heterosexuals, lesbians, and gays. But then we learned that there were many more categories, included in acronyms like LGBTQQ2IA, where T is Transsexual, QQ is Queer and Questioning, 2 i…


Sidestepping Haters

taylor-swift-shake-it-off-lyrics-maxresdefaultA year ago, Lucy Ferriss evoked two dozen responses to her Lingua Franca post “Be a Lover,” where hater and its antonyms (lover among them) were the focus of attention.

Now, a year later, hater is hotter than ever. In the words of Donald Trump, for example: “I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump. A hater. He’s a hater.”

The recent prominence of hater and hate has been traced back in part to Taylor Swift, who two years ago sang, “The players gonna play, play, play, play, play, and the hat…


The Pink of Fashion

MagrittePipeWhen young women return to our campuses this fall, many will distinguish themselves by wearing clothing and carrying backpacks labeled in capital letters: PINK.

Why? And especially why, when most of the items labeled PINK are  not colored pink at all?

It’s reminiscent of Magritte’s famous 1929 painting of a pipe with the inscription ”Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” that is, “This is not a pipe.” And indeed, however realistic the painting may be, it isn’t a pipe. It’s just an image of one. He called th…


You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

1011872_612122012174671_1054177590_nSo they say.

Hillary Clinton, for one. On June 1 she told a rally: “You can’t make this up. … Just yesterday we heard the truth about Donald Trump’s big talk about helping veterans. It wasn’t until the press shamed him that he actually made the donations. For months it was just a publicity stunt.”

And Salon on July 19: “Monday afternoon at a pro-Trump rally … a 16-year-old girl named Kate Kuptenko was called to the stage to sing an original song called, and you can’t make this stuff up, ‘Making …


Adviser Advisory

Letterpress StyleThe mark of a real journalist, I learned long ago, is knowing the proper spelling of adviser.

It stands out because until stepping into journalism, most neophytes have learned the other spelling. In high school, clubs and activities have advisors.  In college, more of the same, usually with academic progress monitored by a faculty advisor.

Against that background, adviser seems, er, a little undignified. But it’s an ironclad rule in journalism. The entry for the word in The Associated Press Styl…


Capital Capitals

Capital letters, as my Lingua Franca colleague Bill Germano noted recently, aren’t very welcome on the internet. I SAID, CAPITAL LETTERS ARE NOT VERY WELCOME. Get it?

It doesn’t matter what you say. Any message at all,  like the one above, is annoying when delivered in capitals. Even complimentary and loving messages become irritants when capped: YOU ARE SO SMART, I JUST LOVE THE WAY YOU LOOK, I’M YOURS FOREVER.  Stop shouting! I can’t hear you through the noise!

If you’re old enough, you can re…


There’s Trump, OK?


President Martin Van Buren, to whom Donald Trump owes a rhetorical debt (Wikimedia Commons)

OK. It’s America’s greatest word, OK?

Anybody should know that. Born on a page in a Boston newspaper on March 23, 1839, and co-opted the next year for use in a presidential election campaign, “OK” has become the American way of reaching agreement (“OK?” “OK”), introducing or concluding a topic (“the lecturer’s OK”), marking approval, announcing that everything is satisfactory, or expressing a pragmatic, c…


Half Time for WOTY

WOTY-scrabbleMonday, 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…