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Hemingway’s Cuban English

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I can speak and read French but cannot write it; nor Italian, nor German. But can write Spanish. English sometimes too, maybe. –Ernest Hemingway, 1950

Here, in the house, we talk Spanish always. –Ernest Hemingway, 1950

“I have often wondered what I should do with the rest of my life,” wrote Ernest Hemingway aboard a steamship, just after leaving Paris and divorcing his first wife. “Now I know — I shall try and reach Cuba.” The writer, born 118 years ago Friday, would go on to spend ove…

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When Is a Proper Name a Proper Noun?

From “Baby Listens” by Esther Wilkin, illustrated by Eloise Wilkin (1960)

“Tum, tum, tum dee dum, Baby’s beating on his drum.” That’s a line I repeat at least three times a day at the moment — from Page 6 of the Little Golden Books classic Baby Listens. And usually, charmed as I am by the earworm chant, the glorious Eloise Wilkin illustration, and my daughter’s intense engagement with the material, when I read it, I think about work.

Specifically, about my job at the Technische Universität Mün…

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Hohumland

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Homeland.
Has this word really been with us for nearly 15 years?
Yes, it has. Congress voted in November 2002 to bring this rarely used word to our attention by establishing the United States Department of Homeland Security.

For naming the new department, Homeland was an excellent choice: little used in everyday speech or writing, but a transparent word which had been in the English language for some time and whose meaning was easy to discern: a land that was someone’s home.

After that, homelan…

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‘The Americans Have No Adverbs’

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I still remember the awful woman I met at a reception during an English Speaking Union meeting on George Street, Edinburgh, in 2008 (I mentioned her here once before). She told me loudly and confidently, as if playing Lady Bracknell on stage, that English was rapidly degrading; for example, “The Americans have no adverbs. Absolutely none. They’ve just got rid of them.”

I wanted to explain about my American citizenship and quarter-century of living and teaching linguistics in California, and the…

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Blessed Are teh Copy Editors

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Copy editors AWOL? The Washington Post was embarrassed this year when it placed the wrong gender symbol on Page One of its Express.

In a recent Lingua Franca post, I had reason to mention Rogue Riderhood, a character from Dickens’s novel Our Mutual Friend. Even though I had just perused the relevant passages, I wrote the name as “Rough Riderhood.” The mistake did not appear in the published post. That’s because a copy editor, Heidi Landecker, caught it and fixed it.

It wasn’t a rare occurrence. …

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Got a Great Joke About Language? Enter This Contest

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A funny thing happened on the way to today’s Lingua Franca. Well, actually it didn’t, but I’m still hoping.

It’s all the fault of the Linguistic Society of America, which is sponsoring a “Friday Funny” series on Facebook (see the Linguistic Society of America website) and Twitter (@LingSocAm) this summer.

“Linguists love humor,” the LSA says, “but can we practice what we study?”

To answer that question, the society is holding a contest with a deadline very soon: this coming Monday, July 17. “En…

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The Much-Needed Gap

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A few mornings ago I was half-listening to a radio piece that I think may have been about women’s kick-boxing in Jordan. (Forgive me for the vagueness, but it was way before 6 a.m., and I was half dozing to the early morning sound of my bedside clock radio playing the BBC World Service magazine program Boston Calling.) As my mind slowly rebooted, I heard someone quote an inspirational saying:

[1]   Be the kind of woman that when you get up in the morning the devil says, “Oh crap, she’s up.”
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‘All the Good Meetings Are Taken’

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Peter Paul (Paulie Walnuts) Gualtieri,
of The Sopranos

A particular phrase was all over the news on Monday and Tuesday.

  • “Why did Donald Trump Jr. take a meeting with a Russian lawyer?” (CBS News headline)
  • “Trump Jr. previously acknowledged taking the meeting to learn damaging information about [Hillary] Clinton.” (The Associated Press)
  • “He reportedly took a meeting to get dirt on Hillary Clinton that he knew was coming from the Russian government.” (Vox)

Facing increasing criticism about his be…

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Susurrating in Your Ear

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Susurrating pines

My niece looked up from her book. “What does susurrate mean?” she asked. The other adults on the beach looked at me, because that’s what happens if you are an English professor. “Spelled how?” I responded, buying time and thinking perhaps something about the word would become familiar. “S-u-s-u-r-r-a-t-e.” The spelling did not help at all. “I don’t know that word,” I concluded. Her mom ventured, “Whisper?”

Bingo. One of our friends had pulled out a phone and looked it up. While…

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Nina in Siberia

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Elif Batuman and her new book

 

Elif Batuman’s novel The Idiot, published earlier this year, has as its protagonist young Selin who, at the book’s beginning, is starting her freshman year at Harvard. We are in the fall semester of 1995. Selin is more or less a stand-in for her creator: Not only does she want to be a writer, she also has some of the same experiences that Batuman has written about in earlier memoir-essays. The book is self-conscious about the uncertainties immanent in language:…