It is no news that the person I call the presumptuous Republican nominee for president likes to use exclamation points in his tweets. Take a look at a tranche of his Twitter feed:
One might think this would be common punctuation on Twitter. One would be mistaken. Of the 50 most recent non-Trump tweets in my feed, only two contained exclamation points. (More commonly, a sort of humorous emphasis is added through ALL CAPS.) But for Trump, this is not only a trademark bit of Twitter punctuation; h…
Not being a tweeter, I rarely think about the octothorpe, now known more commonly as a hashtag. I do mark students’ papers by hand, though, and one thing I tend to insert — when no one is spelled as one word, or when a fictional story leaps from one block of time or point of view to another — is a mark for space, indicated by #. Then, just yesterday, I had to submit a prescription number over to the phone to my local pharmacy and was instructed to press pound when I was done.
I commented here a few months ago on the status of English as a planetwide communication medium and some aspects of the “undeserved good luck” that got it that unlikely status. “The race for global language has been run,” I said, “and like it or not, we have a winner” (see this Lingua Franca post). English continues to expand its reach, and spreads at an increasing rate; many have noted, for example, that the European Union is moving in the direction of conducting most of its business in English…
If [the Oklahoma City Thunder are] clicking on all cylinders, I give them a punter’s chance obviously to put the kind of firepower out on the floor to go head to head with the [Golden State] Warriors four quarters.
—Jalen Rose, quoted in TheNew York Times, April 15, 2016
In the funniest scene in Woody Allen’s last funny movie, Bullets Over Broadway (1994), the aspiring playwright David Shayne (John Cusack) tries to communicate his feelings to the stage diva Helen Sinclair (Dianne Wiest).
Throughout history, at various moments and by various people, not speaking has been recognized as an appropriate and perhaps necessary course of action. After being raped at the age of 8, Maya Angelou was mute for almost five years. In Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird, the chi…
“It will be like catching butterflies in the dark,” a colleague of mine commented.
He was talking about my signing up to teach a course called “Shakespeare in Prison” at the Hampshire County Jail, in Northampton, Mass. It would have a total of 30 students, half inmates and half Amherst students, and focus on the sonnets and a handful of late plays, including King Lear and The Tempest.
“The endeavor is laudable but impractical,” my colleague added. “Language is an impediment. You will be di…
In Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony, the presenter J.K. Simmons described The Danish Girl as a film about someone who had undergone “gender-confirmation surgery.” I immediately recognized the phrase — which I wasn’t aware of encountering before — as a foot soldier in a political war. That is, Simmons’s formulation implicitly cast aside other terms for the same thing, such as “gender-reassignment surgery” or the old-fashioned “sex-change operation,” so as to advance a point of view. As a plastic s…
Just when you need maximally careful use of the uniquely human gift of language, everything goes to hell and people start throwing clichés around like ninja stars. Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, has just called a referendum for June 23 in which the electorate will address this question:
Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
And immediately everything is slogans and fearmongering and soundbites and similes.
Bob, as Wally Ballou, interviewing Ray, as cranberry grower Ward Smith
“If they like Bob and Ray, they’re OK.”
—David Letterman, on how to tell if someone has a good sense of humor.
Comedy, in addition to being hard, ages faster than unpasteurized milk. No one is a greater admirer of the best comic writers and performers of the past than I, yet I experience their work only with admiration, almost never with actual laughter. The one consistent exception is when I listen to recordings of Bob and R…
As the self-appointed watcher of commas, known to some (OK, known to myself) as The Comma Maven, I naturally was concerned when I saw the provisional title of my friend Craig Pittman’s forthcoming book about the weirdness of Florida. The book grew out of the tweets that Pittman (a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times) has been putting out for some time, like this:
(Craig is not connected with the person or persons who send out tweets like the following under the handle @_FloridaMan:
Anne Curzan is a professor of English at the University of Michigan, where she also holds appointments in linguistics and the School of Education. Her publications include Gender Shifts in the History of English and How English Works: A Linguistic Introduction. She talks about trends in the English language in a weekly segment, "That's What They Say," on Michigan Radio. View her TEDx talk on language here.
William Germano is dean of humanities and social sciences and a professor of English literature at Cooper Union. He has recently published the third edition of Getting It Published: A Guide for Scholars and Anyone Else Serious About Serious Books (2016, University of Chicago Press).
Rose Jacobs is an American freelance journalist and English teacher at the Technical University of Munich. Before moving to Germany, she worked for the Financial Times as a reporter and editor, in New York and London.
Ilan Stavans is a professor of Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College. His books include Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language and Dictionary Days: A Defining Passion. He is general editor of The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature, the publisher of Restless Books, devoted to contemporary literature from around the world, and co-founder of Great Books Summer Program.