Monthly Archives: October 2011


Permalinks, Ensparbulation, Etc.

“Bookmark the permalink” says a link at the end of all posts on Chronicle blogs—an injunction absolutely nobody would have understood a few years ago. There is no sign of the word permalink existing from the origins of English down to the end of 2005. It was a word as yet uncoined for a notion all but inconceivable. Now it’s casually assumed to be meaningful to everyone. Lexical change in human languages can be fast.

The conceptual breakthrough that spawned the possibility of unidirectional h…


Use Strong Verbs: a Fairy Tale

Want to get a great job? Here’s what the experts say: Garnish your résumé with strong verbs.

LinkedIn, for example, declares: “Use strong verbs to make your résumé more vibrant.”

All right, let’s vibrate:

Stop! Look! Listen!


Decide! Succeed!

Paste verbs like those in your résumé, we’re told, and you’ll knock the socks off of a potential employer, with zingers like

* Disrupted schedules

* Insulted supervisors

* Laughed at urgent requests

* Created chaos in office

* Crushed hopes

* Exemp…


To Forego or Not to Forgo?

courtesy of Zazzle Productions

We’re going to have a field day, in this blog, with the words so frequently and annoyingly confused in English—not just by spell check, but also by those who never grasped the differences between “flout” and “flaunt,” “effect” and “affect,” “further” and “farther,” and so on. Today I’m obsessed with just one of these teeth-grinding misuses, because I have a hard time getting my dander up about it. I refer to the difference between fore…


Dr. Joke-All and Mr. Hide: Author vs. Writer

Author! Author!

Sweet words to hear, when your book has been published and you’re looking for acclaim, not to mention sales.

Meet the author! Yes, that’s me—or better, It is I, Dr. Joke-all.

Pleased to meet you. Yes, happy to read to you from my book, happy to answer your softball questions: what the book says (didn’t read it? Never mind, as long as you bought a copy), where my brilliant ideas came from, how the world is different and better thanks to my little book.

Yes, I wrote a book and it m…


Love Among the Participles

I have a true story for you, about a rare participle that brought two hearts together and sparked a romance. You may find a tear welling up as you read this, despite the material about inflectional morphology that you have to wade through first.

In 1977 my colleague Deirdre Wilson and I published a paper on English auxiliaries (“Autonomous syntax and the analysis of auxiliaries,” Language 53, 741-788). We defended the tradition of treating auxiliaries as verbs with quirks, and not as odd littl…


Your Word Processor Wants to Please You

In my line of work, I hear a lot about the annoyances of typing on a computer. People hate it when MS Word* springs a pop-up in the middle of certain tasks, or vetoes perfectly good grammar, or automatically uses the Calibri font, or capitalizes words meant to be lowercased, or highlights a whole word when they want to highlight only part of it.

What many writers and editors don’t seem to understand is that computers do as they’re told but would be happy (so to speak) to do otherwise. We can…


Advisor Dissent

Would this company have done as well if it had been called "TripAdviser"?

Quick quiz: What do you call a person whose job is to offer advice? Or, rather, how do you spell that job?

If you said advisor, you would be in accordance with 100 percent of my students; with the practice of my university and I believe most others in this country; with the popular Web site TripAdvisor; with Merrill Lynch, which sends to its customers a publication called Merrill Lynch Advisor; and, in fact, with the Engli…


Ms., 40 Years On

Ms., the magazine: 40 years old in December

With Ms. magazine about to celebrate its 40th anniversary in December (its first issue was a supplement to New York magazine), this seems a good time to tip Lingua Franca’s collective hat to the magazine’s and its allies’ remarkable success in deliberately insinuating a new word—Ms.—into the language. To appreciate the difficulty of that, consider the hundreds of unsuccessful attempts to come up with a gender-neutral third-person pronoun that Dennis …


Attack the Muffled Mendacities of the Administrative Creatures

Fred Inglis is honorary professor of cultural history at the University of Warwick. Honorary professor means emeritus: He’s attached to the university but not drawing a salary or participating in its administration. Yet he recently published a furious article in Times Higher Education (“Economical with the actualité,” October 6, 2011), railing against “the farcical combination of phony science, flat obduracy and lethal money-grubbing that now passes for the language of academic policy.” After…


Getting the Most out of Academic Libraries—and Librarians

Bartle Library, Binghamton University. Photo: bulibraries.

Chatting with a group of college and university librarians recently, I was struck by both their enthusiasm and their frustration: enthusiasm over the increasing power of technology to aid in scholarly research, and frustration that educating students and teachers is proving to be such a challenge.

The group unanimously perceived a lack of skills among its clientele: Students are routinely flummoxed as to how to search for or evaluate the…