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Once More Into the Fray, Pluto (and Ixion, Among Others)

Pluto itself (NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)

Oh, no: The lexical-semantic battle over Pluto is on again! I learn from space.com that a research group is going to try to get a new geophysical definition of the word planet approved by the International Astronomical Union, and is drafting it in a way that will allow Pluto to count as a planet once more. (It lost that status in 2006 and was reclassified as a dwarf planet.)

The geophysical definition would be (roughly) that a planet (i) weighs less than a star, (…

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Bowery Dance With Boilo?

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Pennsylvania’s boilo

Boy howdy! The Dictionary of American Regional English has done it again — issued its quarterly online update, this one dated Winter 2017. It includes boy howdy as well as bowery, a place where you go for a bowery dance. And you can look it all up for free.

If you’re in the South, the central states, or the Southwest, chances are you’ve heard boy howdy. DARE has examples going back as far as a century ago, with the comment “The exclaim use seems to have arisen, or at least b…

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[Name] [No Comma] the [Category of Thing]

Rocky the Cock-a-Tzu

Rocky the Cock-a-Tzu

 

When the satirist John Oliver returned to his HBO show from hiatus on February 12, he said the happenings of the world had left him kind of depressed. The Chicago Tribune reported:

It’s gotten so bad, Oliver said, that when his phone buzzed with a news alert recently, he looked down and was relieved: “Oh, thank God, it’s just that Mary Tyler Moore is dead,” he recalled thinking.

He spoke of being jealous of Eddie, the dog from Frasier, because of his state of blissful ig…

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Still Looking for a Triple

embeddedReading an article about the latest apparent murder by the North Korean royal family in this week’s Economist (February 18, 2017), I came upon this remarkable example of English hypotaxis:

Kim Kwang-jin, a defector who once worked in North Korea’s “royal court” economy, says that even if rumours that China had hoped to install Jong-nam if Jong-un fell from power are far-fetched, China would nonetheless have seen Jong-nam as useful leverage.

Hypotaxis is packing clauses inside other clauses as su…

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How Dangerous Are Danglers?

starfish-purple-color-420x280I don’t remember many grammar lessons from junior high school, but for whatever reason, one sentence from the lesson about dangling and misplaced modifiers has stuck with me. Here’s the sentence: “Clinging to the side of the aquarium, Mary saw a starfish.” Poor Mary! It is exhausting to have to cling to the side of an aquarium that way.

Now, of course, if we heard this sentence, we would probably assume it was the starfish clinging to the side of the aquarium, as this is the most logical and sen…

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My New Crush on the Dictionary

Trump_Bigly (1)I’m hooked. Merriam-Webster is the coolest thing on social media. In these dark times, where clickbait generally leads down a long tunnel into dystopia, the Twitter resurgence of a venerable dictionary is something to, well, tweet about.

First, there’s M-W’s political savvy. As NPR and other media organizations have observed, the nerdy group in Springfield, Mass., has been having a field day with the malapropisms of the current administration. Just last week, after the president spent part of hi…

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For Want of a Copy Editor the Sense Was Lost

330px-Yuri_Matiyasevich._Portrait_1969

Yuri Matiyasevitch in 1969

When a Russian mathematician collaborates with a French computer scientist on a paper published by Elsevier in the Netherlands, what language do they choose?

English, of course. Unsuitable it may be, but it’s the unavoidable language of science these days.

And that means Elsevier will need to provide expert editors to assist non-native-speaking authors, right?

Wrong. Elsevier’s two and a half billion dollars of annual revenue (only about a billion of it operating profi…

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Futurist Shock

future-shock-by-alvin-toffler-1970-1-728Half a century ago, Alvin Toffler published a book “about what happens to people when they are overwhelmed by change.”  Future Shock became a 1970 chart-topper.

Toffler’s phrase future shock tells us something of the history of cultural anxiety. It also speaks to our response to change now in 2017, the very adolescence of the 21st century, when to be overwhelmed by change has become the standing condition of modernity.

Toffler’s book begat an industry, lodged in no small part in eager business…

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What if the President Couldn’t Read?

2E131CE400000578-3303860-image-m-27_1446654140207A rumor has been circulating about our new president’s level of literacy. First suggested (I think) in a blog post for The Times of Israel, the notion that the president not only doesn’t like to read but cannot read above the fifth-grade level of his campaign rhetoric has made the rounds of Samantha Bee, the Daily Kos and other left-wing opinion makers. I am not here to spread that rumor, but to ask what it might mean for our understanding of both this unusual president’s character and the fut…

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Happy Valentine’s Day! (With the Intelligent Basketball)

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Anita Reeves as Mrs Malaprop in “The Rivals,” by R.B. Sheridan,
Abbey Theatre, 1998. Photo: Amelia Stein.

So much for that greeting. If you’re happily in love, you need no further meddling from me. If you’re not, the last thing you need is a reminder of the day.

So I have a better idea, thanks to some files I was clearing out the other day. Yes, real cardboard folders with paper inside, the way they used to be before the cloud. And they have nothing to do with V-day.

One of the folders was labele…