All posts by William Germano


The New Science

matt-damon-martian-trailer-lands-well-2015Neil 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…


Dropping the Subject

Legal_ScalesOfJustice_WEBThere 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…


Overtasked and Overparted (and Multitasking, Too)

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…


Macbeth, the Novel

Classics Illustrated MacbethWhen is Shakespeare’s play not a play but a novel?

I don’t mean adaptations of Macbeth. There are lots of those — Paul Illidge’s Macbeth: A Prose Translation, the filmscript to Akira Kurosawa’s classic Throne of Blood (or, in Japanese, Spider’s Web Castle)the Classics Illustrated comic-book version, the Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø’s forthcoming noir fictionalization — to name just a few.

That’s already a lot of nonplays. At least one even sounds like it might be a novel.

So let me put the questi…


To Affinity — and Beyond

Buzz_LightyearBuzz Lightyear, the challenged but adorable astronaut of the Toy Story films, sets high goals for himself. To infinity — and beyond, he exclaims, as earnestly as an animated toy might hope to.

The world of social relations, especially those crafted by the new media, has little to do with infinity and a lot to do with minimal standards of connectedness. I’d propose that one of the words of the moment (WOTM), not to be confused with the Word of the Year, is affinity.

Affinity seems to have emerged…


Lectern or Podium?


Prof. Dumbledore stood on a podium to speak from his owl lectern.

Today’s investigation into the Oxford English Dictionary concerns two words, with a small hope that we can figure out what it is we talk in front of, or on, or near, when we’re before our students.

The handsome Latinate word podium originally referred to a raised platform that provided a protected seating area for the emperor. It is, of course, related to the root pod-, from the word for foot, and most senses of the word invoke t…


Is [Blank]gasm a Thing?

On a recent Daily Show, Trevor Noah casually slipped the term nerdgasm  into his riff on the new Star Wars trailer.

Wait, what? Did Noah just deploy a term denoting a family-friendly eruption of delight not remotely connected with sex? Is  [blank]gasm now a thing? Is -gasm  the new like? 

Only last week I walked past a store called Shoegasm. This Manhattan retailer describes itself as “a trendsetting shoe parlor”  offering  “shoes you’ll want at prices you’ll love.” OK, so somethi…


Hazing: an Update

The house in Pennsylvania where Michael Deng, a student a Baruch College, died in a fraternity ritual. Photograph by Niko J. Kallianiotis, The New York Times, Redux



Stupid and brutal practices are not unknown in academe.

Among them (and the list may not be small), is the ritual of hazing. The term is less old than I thought. While the Oxford English Dictionary  provides an 1825 definition as “a sound beating, a thrashing,” it isn’t until a bit later in the 19th century that the dictio…


O Mentee, Go Dissertate!


Two words – two quite awful words – have crept into the bosom of academe.

For a long time they’ve been on my list of terms I’d wish away if I could, but being powerless on such matters I’ll blog about them instead.

As Lingua Franca readers know, we academics are a caring tribe, helpful and attentive to the needs of our younger colleagues, especially those working on their Ph.D.s.

They are, most of them, writing dissertations. We mentor  these writers, and that is as it should be.

The word disse…


Members Only


Hobbes’s Leviathan, an organization composed of limbs and other functional elements working together to accomplish something. Like a faculty.

If you want to speak of someone who has a teaching appointment you might refer to her or him as a faculty member or a member of the faculty.

If it were only that simple.

Since the 12th century, the term faculty  has denoted a group, and not any group: a faculty  is an indispensable aggregation and organization, the heart of any institution of higher educat…