Category Archives: Academe

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The Structure of University Names

UC Berkeley SealProper names for colleges and universities are of three main types, syntactically. The first, which I’ll call the XU type (for simplicity I limit discussion here to names with the head noun University) has a modifier preceding the head noun, as in Harvard University. The second, the UX type, has a postnominal complement, usually a preposition phrase headed by the preposition of and almost always specifying a location, as in the University of California (UC). The third, the the XUY type, has both…

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‘Serious Academics’ at Play

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That’s me, pursuing one of my favorite nonacademic interests, at a masters swim camp.

As we get ready for the academic year to begin (or, in some cases, are already in the first week or two of the fall semester), folks have been posting or reposting some great advice for new faculty members and their mentors. For example, last week Tanya Golash-Boza published on Vitae a smart piece titled “10 Ways to Support New Faculty.” This past weekend a friend reposted on Facebook this terrific 2013 synth…

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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…

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Unspeakable Drug Names

Capecitabine (C15H22FN3O6) is an oncologically important chemotherapeutic prodrug. It has a trade name: Xeloda (pronounced zee--da, I presume). And it’s just as well, because capecitabine is a train wreck of a name. The normal principles for interpreting English orthography come nowhere near determining even an approximate pronunciation. Try saying capecitabine aloud before you read on. How would you pronounce it, for example, in a lecture? Do you dare to even hazard a guess?

The word could be…

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‘Academic Interest’

Sunaura Taylor

Sunaura Taylor and Judith Butler go for a walk.

In a video that is available online, you can watch Judith Butler, philosopher and winner of a bad writing award, speaking to a crowd at Occupy Wall Street. It is a short speech, pointed and incantatory, and Butler is brilliant.

A wonderful innovation of the Occupy Wall Street movement was the use of the human microphone — the name given to the body of the audience repeating, amplifying, each statement made by the speaker. This practice was probab…

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The Shortest Generation

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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…

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The Fringe Is Coming to Town

castleI love this time of year in Edinburgh. The weather, of course, remains its usual disgraceful self: high winds with on-and-off rain the past few days. The gap between the David Hume Tower and the business school still funnels the wind into gusts that can lift small-framed people off their feet. In May this year we had hailstorms. But you don’t come to Edinburgh for equable weather. When I moved here from California, I vowed never to waste my time grumbling about the cold and the dark.

No, what I …

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What Did You Say?

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Claudia Rankine’s poetry ushers the reader in to an intimacy that comes from acquiring consciousness. (Photograph from Pomona College)

If you are among the 128K followers on Twitter of @AcademicsSay, you have read tweets like the following:

“I have a statement followed by a two-part question.”

“Posit.”

“I often get emotional. But when I do, I call it affect.”

“Let’s unpack this a bit.”

etc.

I recognize myself — and us — in these tweets. Such self-mocking tweets can be amusing and also, if th…

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Human Resources and Thought Control

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George Orwell

Several correspondents sent me links to James Gingell’s recent Guardian article about what George Orwell would have thought about today’s human-resources professionals. Gingell sees HR professionals as evil slimeballs. He thinks Orwell would have deplored their “bureaucratic repression” and hated “their blind loyalty to power, their unquestioning faithfulness to process, their abhorrence of anything or anyone deviating from the mean.” (I note in passing, without dwelling on the poi…

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Babbler Birds and Babbling Journalists

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Chestnut-crowned babblers (Photo: Aviceda, via Wikimedia Commons)

We have seen it before, with bonobos and monkeys and parrots and dogs and cows and dolphins. Even bats. Heaven knows how many beasts of the field and birds of the air have been the subjects of irresponsible science journalism claiming that animal behavior reveals how human language originated, or (more commonly) that they use language just like humans.

I have written many times on Language Log and occasionally on Lingua Franca abo…