Category Archives: Varia

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The Social Consequences of Switching to English

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…

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‘Punter’s Chance’ or ‘Puncher’s Chance’? I’ll Punt

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 The New York Times, April 15, 2016

As I have mentioned here before, I am the sole owner and proprietor of Not One-Off Britishisms (NOOBs), a blog devoted to charting British expressions that have become popular in the United States. And when I read the quote by …

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Don’t Speak!

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…

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‘Gangsta’ Shakespeare

“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…

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Who You Calling Phobic?

LiliElbe 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…

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Leaps in the Dark: the Discourse of Brexit

EUJust 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.

The wording of the questi…

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Write if You Get Work

Bob, as Wally Ballou, interviewing Ray, as the cranberry grower Ward Smith

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…

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Oh, Commas

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:

 

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 9.40.00 PM

And this:

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 9.39.06 PM

 

(Craig is not connected with the person or persons who send out tweets like the following under the handle @_FloridaMan:

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Them, Themself, and They

stan carey conspiracy keanu reeves meme - singular themself as a descriptivist plotThe Lingua Franca bloggers Allen Metcalf and Anne Curzan have written about the American Dialect Society’s laudable selection of singular they as Word of the Year. But they, like most commenting on the topic, have not addressed a pressing and, to a large extent unresolved, issue: the word’s corresponding “emphatic and reflexive pronoun” (in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary).

Dennis Baron and others have shown that they has been used to refer to singular nouns for centuries; the emphati…

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Our National Anthimeria

6a00d8341c4f9453ef01a73d6f4c92970dThanks, Nancy Friedman. Some time ago, I read a blog post by the naming consultant about the trend of anthimeria in advertising — that is, using a word as a different part of speech than normal, as in Turner Classic Movies’ “Let’s Movie” and Nutella’s “Spread the Happy.” (Movie, a noun, is being used as a verb, and happy, an adjective, as a noun.)  Friedman has collected examples for a long time, and a couple of months ago I started following her lead.

All I can say is, enough already. Ads using…