All posts by William Germano

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…