Category Archives: Words

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The List Lilt

Stephen Potter

Stephen Potter

I told you about vocal fry. And you know all about uptalk? The inflection that was first discussed by Robin Lakoff in 1976, that was given its name by James Gorman in a 1993 New York Times article, and that continues to rouse the ire of right-thinking people everywhere?

Well, here’s a new one, which I started noticing a couple of years ago, among friends, colleagues, students, and National Public Radio interviewees (basically, my audio universe). It’s a way of voicing a list as if…

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Acknowledging the Corn

It’s time to take a breather from rescuing the humanities. So in this week of Thanksgiving, let’s pause a moment to acknowledge the corn.

William Bradford (1590-1657)

Corn—Indian corn—was on the menu for the first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts in 1621 along with waterfowl, wild turkeys, and venison, according to William Bradford’s memoir Of Plymouth Plantation. (Bradford didn’t mention the Thanksgiving dinner, but he did name the foods the colony had in abundance.)

And it is significant that thi…

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An Angel for the Humanities

Last week in this space I regretted the lack of an acronym identifying the fields of the humanities, an acronym that would be a counterpart to the scientists’ successful STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. A hundred readers joined in the discussion, and one, I think, came up with the answer to our prayers: RAPHAEL.

It would signify:

R – Religion
A – Art
P – Philosophy
H – History
A – Aesthetics
E – English
L -Languages

Admittedly, the acronym isn’t perfect.

—If Art, why not Music and Th…

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Noping Out

keep-calm-and-nope“I love how that goat just nopes out of that situation.” And I love the ring of a newly hatched bit of slang that hasn’t even received its Urban Dictionary definition yet. Here, at its inception, nopes out doesn’t yet sound juvenile to me, or evasive, or overused, or imprecise; it hasn’t yet earned any of the pejoratives that purists may hurl its way if and when it becomes as widespread in the language as amazeballs or totes. Rather, it describes a quick series of actions that seem to have been …

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On Subtitles

A few days ago I happened upon a brief essay by Borges called “On Dubbing,” in which he lambasts the then-recent Hollywood invention (the essay was written in 1945) of  devising “monsters which combine the illustrious features of Greta Garbo with the voice of Aldonza Lorenzo.” Borges calls the mechanism “a malignant artifice” (un maligno artificio). He asks, sarcastically, “How can we fail to profess our admiration for this painful prodigy, for these ingenious phono-visual anomalies?”

I, too, di…

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Pediaphilia

Narcissus2

Caravaggio’s “Narcissus.” The encyclopedia made us look outward.

No, it’s not what you think. It’s the creeping insistence that everything needs its own encyclopedia.

Older readers of Lingua Franca will remember the era of multivolume encyclopedias. Some of you may have grown up with classy sets of Britannicas. Others may have had their parents acquire a humbler set of Funk & Wagnalls, one volume at a time, at the grocery store, as mine did. The books were offered week by week, letter by letter,…

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You Had Meme

In 1996, a movie called Jerry Maguire, written by Cameron Crowe, contained a certain scene:

 

 

Then this happened.

chart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the chart suggests, things started out kind of slow.

Pentagon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But then they picked up, with graphics galore.

BigHead-Joes

 

 

 

 

 

 

Youre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOU-HAD-ME-AT-BACON-pink-500x500

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was rhyme and variation.

You had me at Halo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jello2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow

 

 

 

 

Tweets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving on to other species…

Dog-bookcover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… and other langu…

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Humanities Need a STEM

As long as I can remember, the humanities have felt neglected at our colleges and universities—underfunded, underenrolled, underappreciated by those who want a “practical” education.

Recently the sciences have felt neglected too, at least in the matter of enrollment. We have too few young people aiming for careers in science, they say. So, unlike the humanists, they did something practical about it. They created an acronym: STEM. It stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It…

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F.S.M.

FSM ButtonI’m looking at a little blue pin, the size of a quarter, with the words FREE SPEECH in two lines of capitals and below them the abbreviation F.S.M. in smaller capitals curving around the bottom. That’s all. But half a century ago, when I and many others wore it during the fall semester 1964 at the University of California, Berkeley, it made a significant contribution to the success of the most successful political campaign I have ever experienced: the Free Speech Movement. It was created, flouri…

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What’s Interesting About ‘Disinterested’

how-to-handle-a-disinterested-husbandHistory is so annoying.

Just when you gird your loins to pen an eloquent article about the fine distinctions of language, threading your way among the thickets of the prescriptivist debate to request that we all pause to acknowledge what might be lost when such distinctions collapse, history comes along and thumbs its snotty nose at you. I refer to the difference in meaning accorded the adjectives disinterested and uninterested, of which the noun forms are (or should be) disinterest and unintere…