Category Archives: Writing

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Capital Punishment

28vetoThe New York Times reported recently that the National Weather Service has decided to stop yelling at us, at least typographically. FLOODING will now be flooding, and 9.2 ON THE RICHTER SCALE will be smaller, if only in appearance.

In the digital world, all caps are important for writing code, but the long-familiar convention may be becoming less welcome in journalism. It’s certainly not the way to make friends on email.

Capital letters are, of course, a boon to legibility, and have been since a…

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Transadaptation

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Emily Dickinson

Efforts to translate a text within the same language, from, say, the French of Molière to the present-day language of immigrants in Paris, are common today. Not long ago, I got a copy of  Andrés Trapiello’s faithful modernization of the entire Don Quixote, all 126 chapters. His argument is that today’s readers, especially young ones, no longer read Cervantes’s novel. Since its antiquated language might be one of the causes, why not render it it in 21st-century Iberian Spanish?

Ev…

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Readability, Understandability, and ETS

Presidential Candidates Address AIPAC Policy Conference

Donald Trump’s speech to Aipac scored above a grade-level 6 in readability.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the formulas available for estimating readability are less than foolproof. It doesn’t even take a linguist to notice that things are missing from the formulas.

Last week I offered a link to the website Readability Score, where you can take any text and paste it in for an instant estimate by half-a-dozen different formulas, all purporting to determine the grade level o…

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Let Us Edit Your Article

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You have to laugh at some of the spam you get, don’t you? Or maybe weep. Today I received a spam email from a proofreading and academic editing company. “We majorly specialize in proofreading academic documents,” it told me, with a majorly eyebrow-raising adverb (wouldn’t “mostly” have been better?). But before I had finished reading it I decided this one was a laugher, not a weeper.

Bafflingly, the company that sent the email (and I have decided it would be kinder not to name the company here)…

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Instant Readability

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Lincoln at Gettysburg

No, the age of miracles hasn’t passed. I’m about to give you a free tool that will make you an instant expert on readability.

Readability? What’s that?

It’s the ability of a text to be read and understood. It’s vital to measure readability, for example, in choosing texts that will be understood by elementary or high-school students at their appropriate grade levels. And it’s also vital in court, for another example, to determine whether a typical consumer could understand t…

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Being an Antecedent

On the morning of April 1, I heard a BBC newsreader say (without levity, April Fool’s Day though it was) that Sajid Javid, the British government’s secretary of state for business, innovation, and skills, had “assured the steel workers that ministers were doing everything they could to save their jobs.” And for a few misguided milliseconds my brain was saying “Typical: politicians trying to protect themselves!” I had linked the genitive pronoun their to t…

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An Exercise in Bad Writing

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The Cathedral of St. John the Divine from Morningside Park

An invitation came by email to contribute to a teaching volume. A brief piece, only a few hundred words long, was needed. Describe a favorite teaching exercise from your literature classes. The word “fun” was also used. I responded immediately. The previous semester I had asked my creative-writing students to do a simple exercise in class. They were required to produce bad writing.

Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants…

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Scalia’s Linguistic Acumen

220px-Antonin_Scalia,_SCOTUS_photo_portraitSometimes (in fact quite often) Mark Liberman says things at Language Log that make me want to paint them on the side of the barn. Here is a recent example:

It’s always been a source of wonder to me that (law) code, on which so much depends, is written without any means of bracketing to specify scope, and without even an unambiguous set of conventions for default binding in cases where scope is not explicitly marked. If the universe suddenly shifted so that computer code was written this way, mo…

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Being an Interjection

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Facebook was in the news last week for introducing a choice of five emoji you can use to tag a post or other online object that inspires some emotion in you. Formerly, your only recourse was the thumbs-up icon of the Like button: You could tag an item to say “Like!,” which might mean you agreed with it, you were amused by it, you were moved emotionally by it, you hope others will look at it, or any number of other things. But now, if you hover the mouse cursor over the Like button, you get a ch…

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‘Room’ With a Point of View

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Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay star in the film version of Room.

If you heard I had posted on Lingua Franca about Emma Donoghue’s Room, you might justifiably expect that I’d written about the way  the narrator of the novel, 5-year-old Jack, uses language. Jack’s entire life has taken place in an 11-by-11 foot room, where he is confined with his mother. (That situation becomes apparent in the first few pages of the book, so this is not a spoiler.) And I could well have written such a post, as Don…