Electronic technology has had an impact on our language. And one of the greatest impacts, like that of an asteroid smashing into the Yucatan peninsula, is the way we greet each other: Hello!
Most greetings, in English or other languages, involve respect (Sir), the day (Good morning), health (How do you do, Howdy), or the like. Informally nowadays we say Hey or Hi, which might be condensations of How are you.
But none of these is the case with Hello. It has nothing to do with the day or the heal…
The poet Bunthorne, courtesy Blackburn Gilbert & Sullivan Society
Clichés are something else. By definition, they are weeds in the gardens of language. No more, no less.
And there’s the rub. Clichés are a whole different ballgame.
No plants are weeds by nature or by definition. They are weeds if and only if a particular gardener doesn’t want them around. One man’s uprooted dandelion is another man’s dandelion soup.
Likewise, no words or phrases are clichés by definition. They are clichés if an…
“Politeness is another word for deception,” James W. Pennebaker, chair of the psychology department at the University of Texas at Austin, is quoted as saying in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal. The statement brought me up short because it is so different from how I discuss politeness in my courses.
As I say to students, living together is hard. And I don’t mean “living together” in the sense of sharing an apartment or home with roommates or romantic partners. I mean “living t…
by revolution cycle via Wikimedia Commons
Early one weekday morning you are at work in your study when the front doorbell interrupts you. On the doorstep you find a total stranger who hands you two dog leashes, a small container of kibble, and some keys. He states brusquely that you’ll need these later. You stare blankly as he walks away.
Five minutes later the phone rings, and someone from down the street whom you barely know explains that her dog-walker has canceled at short notice. …
Nemanja Vidic playing for Manchester United
(via Wikimedia Commons)
The sports section of the The Guardian last week carried an article by Jamie Jackson about developments in the Manchester United soccer team, where a number of players are apparently not sure they will stay. The article cited the opinions of one player who is probably not coming back from Fiorentina, where he is currently on loan; and then it continued with this shockingly uninformative sentence:
The futures of several senior pla…
G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831); steel engraving by Lazarus Sichling after a lithograph by Julius L. Sebbers
(via Wikimedia Commons)
This week in his superb, extraordinary, unparalleled, remarkable Lingua Franca post on the “tenure code” (I hope I’ve included enough superlatives to properly sustain his reputation at Amherst), Ilan Stavans wrote, “What I don’t know, where I’m in the dark (as other outside reviewers surely are, too), is in regards to particular institutional codes.”
When a usage change oc…
“The Battle of Jericho,” Gustave Doré
“And the Canaanites slew the Amirites, because they had done evil in the name of linguistic brevity.”
That punishing thought may not actually show up in any of the Biblical accounts, but in recent months the amirites have invaded my social media. My first reaction (I’d been looking at a lot of Italian librettos recently) was that an amirite was some Italian or Latin second-person plural I didn’t get. But of course it isn’t, it’s just am I right reduced to …
The writer Bich Minh Nguyen posted a question on Facebook the other day that drew a swell of discussion:
Grammar dilemma over here. According to grammar sites we’re supposed to write “Hi, Jane” rather than “Hi Jane” (because “Hi” is different from “Dear”). But this just doesn’t sit right with me. I dislike the two commas involved: “Hi, Jane,” looks cluttered compared to “Hi Jane.” I’m starting to feel a little anxious whenever I start an email. Will the person I’m writing disapprove of my (lack …
Martha Vickers as Carmen Sternwood in “The Big Sleep”
(Image courtesy of Filmfanatic.org)
It’s so cute the way people use it. Like in the “Cute Quotes” on Pinterest:
but in a cute way.
Like an elevator ride,
but with puppies.
There’s a contemporary definition of cute posted a decade ago by “anonymous” on Urbandictionary.com:
cute A girl who is lovely and dreamy and cuddly and shy and beautiful and awwww *druels.*
That definition has been affirmed by more than 8,000 thumbs up a…
“Concern trolls thrive on passive constructions the way vultures thrive on carcasses,” says Alexandra Petri in a Washington Post blog. My attention was captured not so much by the weird vulture comparison (she really hasn’t thought that through), but by the question of whether she had correctly diagnosed the “passive constructions” to which she refers. I’ll answer that question shortly. (In the meantime you might like to guess.) But first, some context.
Petri is commenting on a New York Times ar…