“Politeness is another word for deception,” James W. Pennebaker, chair of the psychology department at the University of Texas at Austin, is quoted as saying in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal. The statement brought me up short because it is so different from how I discuss politeness in my courses.
As I say to students, living together is hard. And I don’t mean “living together” in the sense of sharing an apartment or home with roommates or romantic partners. I mean “living t…
The 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 Beatles during the filming of Help!
(image via flickr)
I heard a Brazilian iron-ore magnate speaking on a BBC news program about how he had become so rich, and he said that at one point “the price of iron ore came from $10 a ton to $180 a ton.” I realized that there was a subtle mistake in English usage here: Even if the price is still $180 now, we do not say that the price came from $10 to $180; we say the price went from $10 to $180. But why?
Come is standardly used for motion (including me…
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:
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…
OK. Mark your calendar now for March 23, OK Day. It’s the day we pause to celebrate the birthday of OK in Boston, Hub of the Universe, on March 23, 1839.
Yes, OK! How can we sufficiently sing the praises of America’s and the world’s greatest word?
Let’s try. OK is the expression we use countless times every day to make arrangements, give approvals, and get by, often with a cascade of OKs:
“How about 2 o’clock? OK?”
And of course that’s not all. There’s the “OK” that …
The new movie The Monuments Men may interest you because of its story line about the recovery of looted Nazi art, or because of George Clooney and the rest of the A-list cast, or because it suggests that it’s actually possible to make a film about adults, for adults. It interests me because it’s called The Monuments Men.
That is, it appears to represent a phenomenon I have been monitoring for some time: the increasing use of the plural form of nouns in nonhead elements of compounds. Last year,…
Col. Robert McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, wanted to simplify English.
The other afternoon I was surprised by a phone call from a concerned citizen who identified himself as Eugene Segar of Detroit, 83 years old. He wanted to talk about reforming English spelling to make it more accessible to students and second-language learners.
His message wasn’t what surprised me. The ineluctable complexity of English spelling has been evoking calls for reform for centuries. No, it was rather…
Ammelaphus imberbis, formerly Tragelaphus imberbis, the lesser kudu
(Image via Wikimedia)
Kudos: the Greek word κῦδος means, according to the OED, “praise or renown,” implying that the person who possesses that quality has done something to merit it.
On the rare occasion when I have to say it out loud, I find myself taking pains to pronounce the second syllable so that it rhymes not with nose but with MS-DOS. That reference gives you an idea how long it’s been since I’ve said it aloud.
Tower of Babel
When I was working as a reporter in London, I witnessed one of those “two countries separated by a common language” moments one soggy spring morning in 2012. A Boeing executive visiting from Seattle had made time ahead of a press conference to chat with the journalists in attendance, and we were all eager to forge the sort of personal connection that can lead to future scoops. The executive gamely opened the small talk with a comment about the weather. “Oh yes,” laughed on…
by revolution cycle via Wikimedia Commons
Early one weekday morning you are at work in your study when the front doorbell interrupts you. On the doorstep you find a total stranger who hands you two dog leashes, a small container of kibble, and some keys. He states brusquely that you’ll need these later. You stare blankly as he walks away.
Five minutes later the phone rings, and someone from down the street whom you barely know explains that her dog-walker has canceled at short notice. …