It began with Nietzsche. Now it’s about taxicabs.
We have entered the world of uberness, or possibly Überness. The Übermensch, Nietzsche suggested in Also Sprach Zarathustra, is an alternative to divine authority, a model for living beyond what he regarded acidly as the restrictive values of organized religion.
Nietzsche’s early translators struggled to English the term Übermensch, and we’re still not really there. Overman, Superman — neither feels quite right. Both feel awfully 1938. On the …
The New York Times reported recently that the National Weather Service has decided to stop yelling at us, at least typographically. FLOODING will now be flooding, and 9.2 ON THE RICHTER SCALE will be smaller, if only in appearance.
In the digital world, all caps are important for writing code, but the long-familiar convention may be becoming less welcome in journalism. It’s certainly not the way to make friends on email.
Capital letters are, of course, a boon to legibility, and have been since a…
What’s the opposite of an intro? If outro comes to mind, you may be riding a trend. The word shows up in student papers. People say it. People hearing it don’t ask what you mean.
The term outro is now often used to describe the ends of things — music mainly, but other forms, too. “Sympathy for the Devil” has an outro, and we know this because there is at least one YouTube tutorial to help you master it.
The Oxford English Dictionary dates outro to 1967, providing the definition “a concluding s…
Granular and unsweet.
When did comprehension become something you could rub your fingers over? When, in other words, did we begin to talk about textured understanding? When I think of texture I think of oatmeal, or good beach sand, or chenille bedspreads.
Writing in The New York Times about the Hewlett-Packard career of Carly Fiorina last fall, Michael Barbaro leaned on this now reliable modifier. “But lost in those dramatic accounts,” he observed, “is a textured understanding of how Mrs. Fiorin…
Illustration for “To Autumn” by William James Neatby, from A Day with Keats, 1899
Once upon a time, American conspiracy theory focused on the Kennedy assassination. That was then.
Even those of us least susceptible to paranoid tendencies now inhabit a conspiracy culture where fantasists and bigots, analysts and whistleblowers converge.
The media circus (a term that gives real circuses a bad name) feeds our appetite for suppressions, diversions, and misidentification. These are the misdirections …
The news from France is grim. Whether you adore France or have a love-hate relationship with all things French, one thing we’ve all been able to agree on is the spelling of the words hôtel and août.
But l’Académie française, guardian of the French vocabulary, has agreed that la langue can do without the pointy lid that sits atop certain words.
The plan to remove the circumflex has sparked outcry and bemused commentary. A New York Times op-ed beat me to the punch with its title, “Hats Off to…
It’s hard not to be familiar with the term Big Pharma, an acidulated nickname for the pharmaceutical business.
Where drug company is plausibly neutral and pharmaceuticals generalizes a product into a descriptor, the term Big Pharma points an accusing finger at opaque, monopolistic control over medicines.
Big Pharma isn’t meant as a compliment. The capital letters even look thuggish.
The word pharma is a trochee, a two-syllable foot with the stress on the first element. There’s something abou…
Neil DeGrasse Tyson tweeted that it was his favorite line from the film’s trailer: ”I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.”
It’s already the best-known line from Ridley Scott’s The Martian. You might have it on a T-shirt by now.
Vulgar, yes, but it’s also a good example of the rhetorical device called anthimeria, recently explored here.
The Martian is futuristic science fiction. But the education business has been sciencing for a long time.
Our word science comes from Latin scientia…
There are few sweeter, sourer patches in the academic year than drop and add, an imaginary space in which students do things to their schedules and to the minds of their professors.
In the world of academic registration, drop and add are the scales of justice. We can tell ourselves that there are no value judgments in students’ choice of classes. We can remember that students work, and have other required courses, or commute too far for early morning or late evening classes.
But that sensible pe…
Costard the clown from Love’s Labor’s Lost: “ore-parted.”
It’s over. Whatever it is you thought you could do, or others thought you could do, or you thought others could do, you — and they — are probably expecting too much. You — and probably everyone you know — don’t just have tasks. You’re overtasked.
The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that task is related to the word tax, and that the first occurrence of task in English concerned fines being levied. If you’re overtasked, you’re overta…