Category Archives: Varia


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 learning enough HTML and CSS to create a bar…


On Clarity


What do John Boehner and Rachel Maddow have in common?
Image: Screen shot from MSNBC, via The Blaze

One cannot but be dismayed by the extent to which pollution of thought is endemic in our culture.

The illness is ubiquitous: in Washington, in academe, on the radio and TV, among activists. Being clear, explaining oneself lucidly, seems to be an endangered form of human behavior. Was clarity ever better regarded? Or is the current attitude toward it a constant in history? One could blame the educat…


Which Side Are You On?

Theodore Parker

Theodore Parker

When Vladimir Putin seized Crimea, President Obama said, “Russia is on the wrong side of history on this.” Secretary of State John Kerry concurred, using exactly the same phrase. They were hardly breaking new rhetorical ground for the administration. In his first inaugural address, Obama stated, “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willin…


Final Madness

We’ve finally come to the end of Language Madness, and not a moment too soon. Just as Kentucky and Connecticut, two storied programs, will face off tonight in the NCAA men’s basketball finals (finals  instead of final  being another instance of rampant pluralizing), the LM tournament closes out with a classic matchup.

To recap, we started out with 16 “sins against the language.” As many have noted, they were a mixed bowl of wrongs. Some were mistakes or “mistakes” people love to hate, such as th…



Red checkThis past weekend I escaped the polar vortex for a few days of vacation in warmer climes, and I found myself thinking a lot about the word perfect. It had nothing to do with the weather (which was lovely, but not perfect) or the hotel (also lovely, but is any hotel perfect?). It was the service. Not that the service was perfect. It just seemed that everything I ordered or said was perfect.

Server: “What can I get for you?”

Me: “I’ll take the salmon bento box.”

Server: “Perfect. And how would y…


Do Chicanos Have an Inferiority Complex?

010006-MexAmericanThe etymology of Chicano is surrounded in mystery. I’ve seen its roots traced to Nahuatl, specifically to the term Mexica, as the people encountered by Hernán Cortés and his soldiers conquering Tenochtitlán in the early quarter of the 16th century where known. In Spanish, the word is pronounced Meshika: the x functions as sh. Mexico, as a nation, opts to look at the Mexicas as their defining ancestors. Curiously, when first registering the name, the missionaries spelled it Méjico, with a j. It t…


The Predictive Fallacy

A cool data-visualization website called Information Is Beautiful has a page titled “Rhetological Fallacies: Errors and manipulations of rhetoric and logical thinking.” Here’s a taste:

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 9.12.16 AM

If the creator, David McCandless, ever does Fallacies 2.0, I hereby suggest an addition, “Appeal to Predictability: Purporting to score a blow against an opponent by accurately divining something(s) he or she has said, or predicting what he or she will say.”

The only source I’ve found that has commented on this p…


Obama’s State of the Onion


Barack Obama in 2014
(Image from

I’m saturated with Obama’s rhetoric. I’m not talking about his politics, which, in and of themselves, have been disappointing. The list of miscalculations, overreaching, and unfinished business is staggering: immigration reform, drone use, NSA, a stumbling health-care reformulation.

All that worries me. But his speeches put me to sleep.

I voted for him twice. The Republican alternative was unbearable—it still is. I thought Obama would be not just the…


Siri’s Sex Change

imagesI don’t have Siri, and so my experience of Apple’s virtual personal assistant is limited to eavesdropping on my friends’ iPhones. But it has struck me as fascinating that the voice for several years was a woman’s, at least in this country. Despite the impression that a female avatar would be “less knowledgeable,” than a male, according to the Stanford researcher Clifford Nass, Apple’s initial roll-out was given a female voice because female voices are preferred in the “helper or assistant ro…



Recombobulation1We’re nearing the end of the year, which has me thinking about the annual Word of the Year vote at the American Dialect Society meeting in January. We’ll be in Minneapolis this year, and Grant Barrett (Vice President of Communications and Technology for ADS) is soliciting nominations for a list of possible contenders. I asked students last week if they had suggestions, and they came up immediately with twerk, turnt, and insta (as a noun and verb, < Instagram).

But I’m writing this post not to …