Category Archives: Style

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Finger-Pointing, Trouble-Saving, and Pussyfooting

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In an earlier Lingua Franca post I grumbled about writing advisers who vilify the passive as if it were a dangerous drug (despite using it copiously themselves in private). Warnings against the passive have in fact been getting increasingly extreme for about a hundred years (for the evidence, see my article “Fear and Loathing of the English Passive“). So when I encounter a book that’s a bit better than the average, as I recently did, it’s only fair that I should comment. The Handbook of Good En…

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Making Work

works“You’re just making work for yourself,” said somebody’s mother, and possibly mine.

Making work for yourself  – the reflexive component is essential to the judgmental tone — was a phrase I remember from my youth. It meant, of course, an inefficient and unnecessary expenditure of energy. It could be a task that would have to be done again anyway, though more simply and quickly, or it could be an activity that never had to be done in the first place.

The hyphenated term make-work is apparently an A…

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The Worst Form of Government

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Robert Briffault

The British people’s referendum vote on June 23 proposed (by a slim majority of 51.9% to 48.1%) that the country should leave the world’s largest single market and embark on an unpredictable standalone future for which there had been no political or economic planning. A Churchillian remark crossed my mind immediately: the one about democracy being the worst form of government apart from every other one that had ever been tried.

The country’s politics fell apart straight away. As…

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Capital Capitals

Capital letters, as my Lingua Franca colleague Bill Germano noted recently, aren’t very welcome on the internet. I SAID, CAPITAL LETTERS ARE NOT VERY WELCOME. Get it?

It doesn’t matter what you say. Any message at all,  like the one above, is annoying when delivered in capitals. Even complimentary and loving messages become irritants when capped: YOU ARE SO SMART, I JUST LOVE THE WAY YOU LOOK, I’M YOURS FOREVER.  Stop shouting! I can’t hear you through the noise!

If you’re old enough, you can re…

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Going Forward

Union Jack umbrella 2It is, let us agree, a semantically pointless Briticism: “Going forward, we will develop integrated, cross-platform systems that will respond to uncertain markets.” This is not a sentiment distinct from “We will develop integrated, cross-platform systems that will respond to uncertain markets.” But going forward sounds as if it adds something — a frame, a launch pad, a directional indicator, and a mark of authority. The decision has been well thought out.

Mark Seacombe wrote about the phrase in

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Linguification: That’s the Name of the Game

Narendra Modi, peripatetic prime minister of India

The term linguification originated on Language Log in 2006. I coined it to denote a peculiar kind of rhetorical device: People saying things like “The words ‘X’ and ‘Y’ are always found together” to mean “The concepts X and Y are related,” or (to cite a recent headline on Quartz India) this sort of thing:

Three continents in 140 hours — Narendra Modi shows he doesn’t know the meaning of “jet lag”

Does Modi’s itinerary really show that? Of course…

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Ellipses and I

ellipses-mainI have been thinking about the changing nature of the ellipsis as a grammatical device.

A few days ago, I was going over a draft of a graphic novel I am about to send to the publisher. It is called Angelitos, and it is about a Mexican priest who devotes his life to protecting homeless children. I had written two versions, one in Spanish and the other in English, about a year ago. I had put them aside to simmer. When I looked at them again, I was struck by the abundance of ellipses in the two ver…

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And Loving It

5635292On my short list of core principles is this: Only good things can come from giving people (sincere) compliments.

I acted on it the other day, when I commented via email that I admired a friend’s writing. The person responded, in part:

I think that, as with lovemaking, you can’t really do it well unless you love doing it. I really enjoy coming up with an idea — any old idea, to start with — and writing about it, and tweaking what I’ve written until it seems just right, sometimes through dozens of…

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Liars and Snakes: Plumbing New Rhetorical Depths

Boris Johnson visit to the USA - Day 3

Boris Johnson: Trump with a thesaurus?

Britain is now deep into campaigning for the referendum on whether to back out of the political and economic union defining the world’s largest single market. After about eight years here I still feel mostly like one of the many Americans in Edinburgh, and our focus is mainly on the U.S. presidential election campaign; but the referendum struggle is capturing ever more of a share of the news media here.

I came to hate referendums (referenda, if you insist o…

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Triciaisms

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It would have been Tricia’s 49th birthday today, if cancer had not brought a premature end to her life back in January.*

My thoughts are still of Tricia for several minutes of every hour and several hours of every day. And not just of her dynamic physical presence — her flashing eyes and long legs and lust for life — but of her fast and irreverent wit, and her wonderful way with words.

Often her humor was dark. She would joke even about her own impending death. She knew her cancer was terminal,…