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Did You Drop That ‘H’?

337-t1This past weekend I was preparing for a talk I’ll be giving next month in Washington, D.C. At some moment I decided to check the description of the seminar online to make sure that I would be talking about what I said I would be talking about several months ago. (I have learned not to trust my memory on this!)

In the middle of reading the description, I thought, “I didn’t write that sentence that way.” Now, if I wasn’t sure I could remember what I said I would be talking about, how could…

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Back to Back ‘Back’

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“Walk back the cat”refers to  a boat’s cat-davit (crane in the bow).

When it comes to forming idioms and slang expressions, few words are more productive than back. It accounts for 12½ pages in Green’s Dictionary of Slang, from back (a weaker drink to go along with a stronger one, as in “a whiskey with a beer back”) to backyard (n. [US] the buttocks, esp. in the context of anal sex.”) In the Beatles catalog alone, there’s “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “I’ll Be Back,” and “Get Back,” and, among other…

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A Person Who

am-a-simple-person-who-hides-a-thousand-feelings-behind-the-happiest-dGxksS-quoteI heard Barbra Streisand the other day, being interviewed on the radio, describe herself as “a person who likes to live in the moment.” The phrasing made me think of my students, whom I’ll see in two short weeks. We always start our small classes with introductions, and I can no longer count the times I’ve heard, “I’m a person who. … ” To my ear, there’s little difference in basic meaning between I’m a person who likes and I like. Rhetorically, though, the emphasis is different. I decided to dig…

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Trump: Ironies in the Fire

How are we to read Trump?

Does he really mean it when he says he will build a wall on our southern border and make Mexico pay for it? Or when he invites Russia to find Hillary’s missing emails? Or when he points to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as co-founders of ISIS?

Fortunately, the candidate has recently provided us with guidelines to his manner of speaking.

On August 12, he tweeted:

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Machine-to-Human Communication: Nobody Cares

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Ticketless illegals trapped inside tram

I continue to have bad experiences with the machines that purport to talk to me in everyday life. Recently I took one of the new trams to the Edinburgh airport. The computer-controlled doors closed and the tram moved off. As it glided away, a smooth prerecorded voice told us: “Please note that tickets must be purchased, or cards validated, before boarding the tram.” A bit late for that! Couldn’t the system have been programmed to supply that crucial inform…

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What Are We Drinking?

Kool-AidI ran across a Facebook thread recently lamenting the insensitivity of the ubiquitous phrase “drink the Kool-Aid.” The argument was that the phrase originated with the Jonestown massacre of November 18, 1978, when the cult leader Jim Jones called on (and in many cases forced) his followers to drink cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid, resulting in more than 900 deaths in a remote jungle outpost in Guyana. Given its tragic origins, many felt, we should not be using it to describe, say, the followers of Dona…

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New in DARE: Bird’s Nest on the Ground

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The six-volume Dictionary of American Regional English, completed in print in 2012, continues to augment its coverage with quarterly updates by the chief editor, George Goebel, at the University of Wisconsin. The fifth update, for summer 2016, has just been published, with a dozen new entries and 40 revised ones. Most of the entries update or enrich the letter B, originally published in Volume I more than 30 years ago.

You can take a free look here.

What will you find? To begin…

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What’s the Matter With ‘Me’?

When did we decide that me was ungrammatical? Or if not ungrammatical, then maybe vulgarly self-promoting?

“Sally, who had given the keys to Jim and I, discovered that she was locked out of her office.”

“Congratulations from Susan and I on inheriting that time share!”

“Sadly, the carton of tangelos promised to Mildred, Juan, and I never reached Bushwick.”

The problem is hardly new,  and writers on usage, including Mignon Fogarty (aka Grammar Girl), have gently admonished us to mind our I’s and m…

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The Linguistics of Assassination Threats

The media have been blandly paraphrasing Donald Trump’s hint about the use of firearms without close reading of the text, and obediently quoting utterly disingenuous spin from supporters as if it were fit to be taken seriously. Four linguistic points are crucially relevant. Three were touched on in a recent Language Log post. Let me review all four somewhat more carefully.

What Trump said in his speech at the rally in Wilmington, N.C., was this (the line breaks roughly correspond with his oddly …

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Brit Thesps Nail Yank Lingo

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Hugh Laurie can talk the talk.

The American characters in Genius — screening earlier this summer in art-house cinemas everywhere — are played by the following actors.

Thomas Wolfe: Jude Law (English)

Maxwell Perkins: Colin Firth (English)

Aline Bernstein: Nicole Kidman (Australian)

Ernest Hemingway: Dominic West (English)

F. Scott Fitzgerald: Guy Pearce (Australian)

Zelda Fitzgerald: Vanessa Kirby (English)

I didn’t see the film, but I don’t have to in order to know the American accents are …