Category Archives: Academe

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Just Call Me …

Email_Names2 copyIn any given week, I typically write several emails to other academics I do not know or do not know well. As I decide what greeting to use, I am reminded of the politics of names and the subtle—or sometimes not so subtle—power dynamics at play in everyday conversations, often in even the smallest conversational choices.

For example, when writing to a colleague I’ve never met, do I have the right to assume we’re on a first name basis, despite the fact we don’t know each other? Or do I go wi…

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Dolphin Talk and Human Credulity

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Potentially communicative bottlenose dolphin
(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

It appears to have been just bad luck that one British newspaper, The Independent, chose April 1 as the day to publish James Vincent’s science report about a significant animal-to-human communication breakthrough.

I hope it worries animal researchers at least as much as it worries me that I had to do some reading around and cross-checking to be sure that the report wasn’t an Onion-style April Fool’s Day hoax. But I found t…

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Communicating With the Public

The last time I dared to look at Tom Chivers’s article about my work and my views online (published inSeven, the Sunday Telegraph magazine, March 16, 2014, 16–17), the number of comments had risen to more than  1,400. And they formed a sorry spectacle. I couldn’t bear to do much more than skim a small quantity of the discussion. Even if the average comment length is no more than 50 words, the whole thing must be approaching monograph length. But not monograph quality.

If I had ever thought that …

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The Sex Class

550px-Censored_rubber_stamp.svgIn the last few weeks, the topic of my class “Love” has been romantic love, and, within that category, the language of sex.

I told students that by language I implied a standardized system of signs that serves to express a wide range of meanings and that by sex—not sexuality but sex—I implied intercourse, that is, sexual intercourse. Sex, then, has its own grammar. Could we analyze that grammar together?

For starters, I asked why, when referring to the act of having sex, we say to make love? Do …

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Brevity and Attractiveness: Misreporting Linguistic Science

The Daily Telegraph recently carried a science report suggesting that logorrhea might damage men’s sexual chances. “Why silent types get the girl,” said the headline: “Study finds that men who use shorter average word lengths and concise sentences are preferred, while men who use verbose language are deemed less attractive.”

Apparently the “Hollywood cliché that the strong, silent type always gets the girl” has been scientifically validated. The most appealing guys are “men who use shorter avera…

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Auto-Corrected

“Can I be spermed?” a student asked in an email last year, requesting to forgo an extra assignment. I laughed. At the bottom of the message, it read: “Sent from my iPhone.”

In less than five minutes, the student wrote back. “Apologies, Prof. It wasn’t me but A-C. I really meant ‘spared’.” And she added: “It won’t happy again.”

This time I just smiled.

The complications brought on by technology are countless. And in them, the opportunities for Freudian slips never stop. Are we in charge, or has a…

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Linguistics qua Affliction

I’d like to tell you something about what it’s like to have a training in linguistics, if I may.

The cheap pine boxes used for shipping bottles of wine from vineyards in France, Italy, and Spain make nice storage boxes when cleaned up and oiled. Several are in use in my home. (I am getting to my point; trust me.) One box bears the name MONTRESOR™, together with some lines in Italian:

Egli me riprese il braccio,
e continuammo il cammino.
- Queste cantine – osservò – sono molto estese.
- I Montres…

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Real-Time Automated Essay Writing?

When I first tried EssayTyper, for just a moment it chilled my blood. Of course, it’s just a little joke; but I hope students everywhere will be sophisticated enough to see that, because a person who was unusually naive, lazy, and ignorant just might mistake it for a computer program that will enable you to type out custom-designed essays on selected academic topics, even topics you know nothing about, even if you can’t type. The EssayTyper home page presents a box saying:

Oh, no! It’s finals we…

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Only Connect—or Don’t, for a Change

When working with my students—Germans and other nonnative English speakers—on papers and theses, I can often spot those who have taken an academic writing class by the number of conjunctive adverbs that litter the work. My impulse is to cut all these therefores, consequentlys, and additionallys, though I recognize their appeal. When I’m working as a journalist, I often need to write quick articles that rely heavily on conjunctive adverbs and conjunctions (but, nor) to pull readers through the tw…

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The Predictive Fallacy

A cool data-visualization website called Information Is Beautiful has a page titled “Rhetological Fallacies: Errors and manipulations of rhetoric and logical thinking.” Here’s a taste:

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If the creator, David McCandless, ever does Fallacies 2.0, I hereby suggest an addition, “Appeal to Predictability: Purporting to score a blow against an opponent by accurately divining something(s) he or she has said, or predicting what he or she will say.”

The only source I’ve found that has commented on this p…