Category Archives: Academe

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Commencement, Anyone?

Commencement_2012_(7349144966)

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

So we’ve made it through commencement, many of us, anyway. I had two in May—the graduation of my son, Chris (with honors—hey, I am a parent),  from Northeastern with a double major in computer science and video-game design, which means two fields too difficult for his father. A couple of weeks later I was at Cooper Union’s own graduation rites, where I get to sit on the stage and try not to fidget under hot lights. Janet Napolitano spoke at the Northe…

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Questionable Style in the News

office-chairAn article about the benefits of standing desks in last week’s Washington Post highlighted a problem, and I’m not talking about the problem of sitting too long in a chair at the office (although this is a real problem). I’m talking about a different kind of chair.

My friend Barbara Beaton pointed out to me that the article refers to Loretta DiPietro, a pioneering advocate for standing desks, as “chairman of the department of exercise science” at the Milken Institute School of Public Health a…

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The Vague Main Clause of the Second Amendment

secondamendment

I have often reflected on the problematic vagueness of the initial absolute adjunct clause of the Second Amendment. Reading about yet another university massacre last week, the topic came to mind again. But this time I realized that the worst thing about the amendment may be the main-clause syntax.

The absolute adjunct clause (“A well-regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state”) has been much discussed. Its comma is extraneous under modern punctuation rules (an unmotiva…

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The Politics of Taboo Words

sunTwo currently hot news items in Britain involve public figures using controversial language with political consequences. The Chronicle follows strict New York Times style rules about vulgarity, so I must use caution in giving some of the details about the cases I want to contrast.

The first concerns a radio DJ who made the mistake of playing the wrong version of a song: a 1932 recording with lyrics containing a word that today is regarded as an offensive racial slur (though in 1932 it wasn’t). O…

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What’s in a Name?

“That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet,” says Juliet. And Romeo, a few lines later, replies, “My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself.”

Onomatology, also known as onomastics, is the discipline that studies proper names. In the United States, that discipline borders on extravagance, although it never ceases to amaze me how, in spite of the rapid transformation of American society, things remain constant.

Is there something to be said about the names of our students? …

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His Very C’s, His U’s, and His T’s

 

The Shakespeare world has been abuzz recently with news of a 1580 copy of Baret’s Alvearie, a four-language dictionary, heavily annotated and, according to its owners, possibly by Shakespeare’s own hand. There has been much in the press, popular and professional, on the plausibility of the claim.

Jennifer Howard has covered the story in these pages. Adam Gopnik has used the event as the basis of his recent New Yorker meditation on the inexhaustible cult of Shakespeare.

Regarding the Alvearie,

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The Importance of Not Knowing

Graduation_cap copyIt’s graduation season, a time when we celebrate the academic accomplishments of students. At this moment when we are celebrating learning, I think it is important to remember the importance of not always knowing—a message I had the opportunity to share a few years ago at a high-school commencement in Cleveland. I wanted to share part of that speech here in hopes that it might be meaningful for some of this spring’s high-school graduates and students already in college. So, a few thoughts…

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There Was No Committee

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British empire, 1919. Image courtesy Historic UK

English is becoming a global lingua franca not just for trade, industry, aviation, research, and entertainment, but also for higher education. We scarcely needed the conclusions of a new research report by the department of education at the University of Oxford in collaboration with the British Council, released Wednesday, to tell us that.

Ph.D. students in countries like Finland or the Netherlands have (at least in my field) long been writing the…

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Yo Hablo HTML

We are nearly five months into Britain’s “Year of Code,” an effort to promote computer-coding skills among Britons young and old. The British media’s coverage spiked in February, when the campaign’s director admitted she couldn’t code a computer to save her life, but has ebbed since.

Still, I’ve been taking advantage of some of the Year of Code offerings (which are not restricted to British residents), and spent a few hours last week at codecademy.com learning enough HTML and CSS to create a bar…

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And the Other Is a Jellyfish

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Image via Wikimedia Commons

Last week the British prime minister, the right honorable David Cameron, was trying to enjoy a quiet holiday on Lanzarote, the easternmost island of the Islas Canarias, ignoring the lurking press photographers constantly seeking to document his leisure activities. Unfortunately he also ignored the advice of locals about sea swimming, and had a painful encounter with an organism of the subphylum Medusozoa.

Cameron is not very popular in Britain. The right wing sees him…