All posts by Allan Metcalf


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…


The Great Bloviators


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…


The ‘L’ You Say


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 Pulpits and Pulpit Bullies

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 10.41.16 AM

Theodore Roosevelt

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 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.

But a century ago, and more, bull…


Selfies With Sunnies

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.

You can still watch their video of it on YouTube.

It begins: