All posts by William Germano


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…


Migrant, Refugee

Refugees_in_Hungary_1When is a migrant refugee? As war, starvation, and persecution drive millions of people from their homes and into strange lands, reportage struggles to parse the distinctions between refugee, displaced person, migrant, immigrant, and other terms for people on whom calamity has been visited and movement made inevitable.

I’ll focus here only on two words: migrant and refugee. These terms are critically important for political reasons, since laws and policies may extend to a refugee what might be…


Trump, Card


“Donald August 19″ by Michael Vadon via Wikimedia Commons

It’s difficult to read any standard definition of the word trump and not feel that the lexicographers had an eye on the contemporary political moment.

The word may have never been on our lips as often as in the past year. The Google Ngram Viewer demonstrates an enthusiasm for the word trump as peaking in the 1890s, back in America’s Gilded Age, after which it went into decline until the beginning of this century. Now it seems that the m…


Reading Marathons

41rp4fJoHgL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_For bookish types, the equivalent of 42.195 kilometers is the reading marathon. Instead of running, you sit and listen and cheer the readers on and maybe struggle to stay alert and upright.

The complete Ulysses, every pentameter line of Paradise Lost, each word of that big book about a whale. There have been marathon readings of Catch-22 and Civilization and Its Discontents, Shakespeare’s sonnets, and even Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans.  

Many a Christmas season has seen so-called mar…


The Shortest Generation


Novak Djokovic: No generation between him and Roger Federer

When Novak Djokovic recently paid tribute to Roger Federer, saying that the Swiss master was admired by players of Djokovic’s generation, many academic types might have had a little weep — and not because none of us will ever be able to grade papers at 130 miles per hour, or whatever the conversion might be from mph to pph.

Djokovic was born in 1987, Federer in 1981. That’s not enough time for a biological cycle in humans (though it wou…


Shakespeare in the Courtroom


Marc Antony

Julius Caesar and Otello (the version of Othello by Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Arrigo Boito): These are the texts that framed the final remarks of federal Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted last month of the Boston Marathon killings.

The Tsarnaev case moved Judge O’Toole to reach for the kind of precedent that not law but literature makes available.

“One of Shakespeare’s characters observes: ‘The evil that men do lives after them. The…