They Will Never Forget You …

R-5768580-1402134572-1404.jpegGlenn Frey died in New York on January 18. Viewed from Britain, his death was completely overshadowed by another death in New York eight days earlier, that of David Bowie. Everyone, it suddenly seemed, had been in love with Bowie. You couldn’t tune to the BBC’s Radio 4 (the country’s NPR equivalent) without hearing excerpts of Bowie songs and talk of his endlessly creative self-reinvention. Every radio presenter and journalist seems to have been a lifelong Bowie fan. The Economist did something …


Aussie Aussie Aussie! Oi Oi Oi!


The tiddly oggie is actually of English origin, but it typifies the Australian penchant for diminutives and abbreviations.

I’ve been in Australia for two weeks now, and all I can say is the people here must be extremely busy. Why else would they feel obliged to abbreviate so incredibly many words? I started to write down examples shortly after I arrived, and already my notebook is almost full.

A lot of the abbreviations are diminutives: Tasmania is Tassie, mosquitoes are mossies, politicians are…


The Awful Chinese Writing System


Is the Chinese writing system a sufficient reason on its own to guarantee that Mandarin will not become a global language like English? That’s what someone asked me after I discussed the prima facie unsuitability of English to serve as a world communication medium. And while I make no claims at all to sinological expertise, I know enough to tell you that the answer is yes. The system is a millstone round the neck of the whole sinophone world, and should have been ditched decades ago.

Don’t hold…


Dropping the Subject

Legal_ScalesOfJustice_WEBThere are few sweeter, sourer patches in the academic year than drop and add, an imaginary space in which students do things to their schedules and to the minds of their professors.

In the world of academic registration, drop and add are the scales of justice. We can tell ourselves that there are no value judgments in students’ choice of classes. We can remember that students work, and have other required courses, or commute too far for early morning or late evening classes.

But that sensible pe…


How We Love Spelling

IMG_0138The illustration at left is from my local walk-in medical clinic, where I finally went after the New Year’s Cold persisted for two weeks. (I’m better now, thanks.) It interests me not only because of the continuing debate about doubled consonants, but also because of its implied narrative.

First, the debate (which isn’t much of a debate). Generally speaking, doubling or not doubling the consonant at the ended of a two-syllable word with the accent on the first syllable is regarded as one of th…


Take a Deep Breath

Arian is a favorite of mine. No, not the stand-alone Arian referring to a heresy in the early Christian church, nor the stand-alone Arian designating someone born under the sign of Aries, but the suffix -arian used to create so many schools of thought, going back four or five centuries.

The Oxford English Dictionary offers dozens of examples, starting with abecedarian, one who is learning or teaching the ABC’s, that is, at the elementary level. If you’re a literarian, you can think of many more….


Grown-Ups Deserve Better


Square Peg, part of the Random House group, is a publisher located at 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London. Kyle Books is another publisher, headquartered at 192-198 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London. The two sets of staff could walk along Vauxhall Bridge Road to have lunch together and discuss upcoming titles. But it looks as if they don’t, because in 2012 they each put out separate books under the same title, Grammar for Grown-Ups.

One was by Craig Shrives, formerly a British military intelligence offi…


The New ‘Politically Correct’ Boondoggle

seinfeld-4eec3efa6f626e3502338fa4d9756e9cI suspect there isn’t a reader out there who doesn’t have a story about being on the wrong side of so-called political correctness. Mine goes this way. In graduate school, my well-meaning professor had attempted to demonstrate to the class that some opening paragraphs for essays were more effective than others, and to that end he had anonymously copied several of our opening paragraphs from our last set of papers. One paragraph went loftily on about a certain theoretical approach the writer …


So They Say

As readers of Lingua Franca know, they won big last year. First it was reported in The New York Times as a substitute for he or she for those who identify as transgender, and thus do not want to be pinned down as either he or she:

  • They took up their pencil and began writing their answer.
  • They got behind the wheel and drove off.

Second, and more widespread in its potential impact, a newspaper, The Washington Post, began to allow “they” (and “their” and “them”) as pronoun reference to a person…


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…