All posts by William Germano

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Making Work

works“You’re just making work for yourself,” said somebody’s mother, and possibly mine.

Making work for yourself  – the reflexive component is essential to the judgmental tone — was a phrase I remember from my youth. It meant, of course, an inefficient and unnecessary expenditure of energy. It could be a task that would have to be done again anyway, though more simply and quickly, or it could be an activity that never had to be done in the first place.

The hyphenated term make-work is apparently an A…

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Going Forward

Union Jack umbrella 2It is, let us agree, a semantically pointless Briticism: “Going forward, we will develop integrated, cross-platform systems that will respond to uncertain markets.” This is not a sentiment distinct from “We will develop integrated, cross-platform systems that will respond to uncertain markets.” But going forward sounds as if it adds something — a frame, a launch pad, a directional indicator, and a mark of authority. The decision has been well thought out.

Mark Seacombe wrote about the phrase in

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All Onboard!

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All on board: a barge cruise from Castlefield to Salford, England. Not what HR has in mind.

Since the great age of the iron horse, the cry “All aboard!” has rung out from platforms, the conductor coaxing passengers into their carriages.

It’s not just train conductors. James Brown urged us on, too (“All aboard the Night Train”), and you’ve probably heard “All aboard!” in black-and-white melodramas,  usually at a moment of dramatic tension punctuated by a cloud of locomotive steam.

To be on board …

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I Am So Uber You

Action_Comics_1It 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 …

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Capital Punishment

28vetoThe 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…

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Introductions and Outroductions

thegoldrush1What’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…

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Got Texture?

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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…

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Conspiracy Theory

800px-A_Day_with_Keats,_Neatby_plate_-_Autumn

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 …

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Missing the Point

1200x630_323218_french-language-revolution-in-france 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…

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Big Trochee

diagramtrocheeIt’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…