All posts by Ben Yagoda

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The Long Game

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Anthony Trollope

I just turned in to the publisher the final version of a book, and have now started on this post. Not exactly a Trollope move, but it’ll have to do. (“Every day for years, Trollope reported in his ‘Autobiography,’ he woke in darkness and wrote from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., with his watch in front of him. He required of himself two hundred and fifty words every quarter of an hour. If he finished one novel before eight-thirty, he took out a fresh piece of paper and started the next…

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The Sound on the Page

candow

David Candow

Last Saturday morning, as is my wont, I was sitting in the club chair in the living room, paging through the newspaper, fitfully checking e-mail, and  listening to Weekend Edition on NPR. My wandering attention was called back home by the sound of host Scott Simon embarking on his weekly essay. I call it an “essay,” but that’s kind of a fussy word for the personal, sometimes quirky, always intelligent commentary I look forward to hearing every week.

On Saturday, it was an obituary f…

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‘-y’ Not?

This all went down in the last month:

  • Facebook comment: "As I know from my rednecky upstate second hometown. ... "
  • Email from a friend: "This morning I was thinking that my hairdresser is getting so Jesus-y with me."
  • Headline from the Baltimore City Paper: "College Guys, Stop Being So Rapey."
  • Homer Simpson line, to Bart: “Hey, boy, we’re supposed to be acting religiousy." (Admittedly, this came from a 2010 episode, "The Greatest Story Ever D'Oh'ed," but I saw it a couple of weeks ago durin...
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Dumber and Dumb

Steven Pinker: "so cliche' is so wrong.

Steven Pinker: “So cliché” is so not good.

The other week, I got an email that referred to an online article I wrote last year, “7 Grammar Rules You Really Should Pay Attention To.” The email read, in its entirety: “There are three grammar errors in the title of your article.”

I was pretty sure that one of the alleged errors was using a preposition to end a sentence with, which isn’t an error, and isn’t really a question of grammar. But I couldn’t figure out the other two, so, against my better …

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Got ‘Gotten’?

Lena Dunham

Would Lena Dunham really have written “I had got”?

I can imagine the scene. Christopher Beam, a young writer based in China, excited to be publishing his first piece in The New Yorker (a very good one about the sometimes violent conflict between doctors and patients in the country), looks at the edited version of the article. There it is, in just the third sentence, a reference to the maladies of the story’s main character: “During that time, his illness, an excruciating inflammation of the spin…

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The ‘Girlfriend’ Experience

Paris Hilton and dog.

Paris Hilton and her tiny dog.

Certain books are so brilliant in idea and execution that they are deservedly and repeatedly revised, eventually coming to be referred to by the author’s last name long after his or her death. So we now have new versions of the 1743 A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist: Containing the Laws of the Game and Also Some Rules; the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language; and the 1926 Modern English Usage. We call them Hoyle, Webster’s, and Fowler.

I hope one d…

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Local Boy Makes Word?

431311Idea for a sitcom: The Big Lang. Theory. Premise is that a bunch of language nerds sit around and talk about their observations, obsessions, and pet peeves. Let’s say their names are Geoffrey, Lucy, Allan, and Ben, and that they’ve got some wacky neighbors, Bill, Anne, Ilan, and Rose. For the pilot episode,  one of the gang, scouring the databases and corpora, thinks she has found a use of a word published prior to the earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary. But it turns out to come …

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All Set With That

I recently returned from a vacation to southeastern Massachusetts, where my wife grew up and I know of as the home of the greatest restaurant in the world (apologies to Calvin Trillin, longtime advocate of Arthur Bryant’s barbecue joint in Kansas City). I refer to The Bayside, in Westport, Mass., which claims the honor via not only its chowder, fried clams, lobster roll, strawberry-rhubarb pie, and Indian pudding with vanilla ice cream, but also view from its dining deck of the Allens Pond Wildl…

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Little Help, Please?

John Updike once commented in a letter to his editor William Maxwell, “It occurs to me that the world would not be significantly poorer if I stopped writing altogether. Only a bottomless capacity for envy keeps me going. That, and the pleasure of reading proofs and designing book jackets.”

I know what he meant, though I would never presume to design a book jacket, or, indeed, anything. One exercise I do get pleasure from is fussing with what to call a book. My forthcoming history of American …

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You Say Expresso, I Say Espresso …

I know, enough already about Weird Al Yankovic’s “Word Crimes,” but bear with me for one more comment on the music video that’s given language prescriptivism it’s its biggest shot in the arm since the glory days of Eats, Shoots & Leaves. Perhaps the weirdest of the 17 admonitions Weird Al crams into the song comes at about the halfway point, when he croons, “There’s no x in espresso,” over this image:

weird-al-yankovik

“Weirdest” because, compared with less-fewer, literally, could care less, and Weird Al’s othe…