Monthly Archives: December 2011


Academic Hate Mail

About a month ago I got an e-mail from a total stranger that had no purpose other than to insult me. The sender must have stumbled on this Chronicle article or some of my posts on Language Log. I’ll quote the message in its entirety (there was no salutation: in this man’s eyes I do not merit a “Sir,” let alone a “Dear”):

I just came across your essays on Elements of Style while browsing the Internet. Although I cannot argue with your commentaries, I find your arrogant tone far more offensive...

‘Folks’ Hero

I love it when President Obama rolls up his sleeves, loosens his tie, and smudges up the Ivy League luster. He starts droppin’ his gs and sets to talkin’ about folks. His predilection for that word, in particular, is deep indeed.

A search on The New York Times Web site for articles in which both Obama and folks appear yields 1,305 hits (in a few of them, the word is used by a person other than the president). The first came from his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention, in which he…


So It Turns Out That Everyone’s Starting Sentences With ‘So’

Ernest Borgnine as Marty

So my favorite recent language article is a piece by Anand Giridharadas that appeared in The New York Times last year. It’s about the use of the word so in speech, specifically the custom of starting non-interrogatory sentences with so, specifically among academics and other members of the chattering classes. It’s apparently been around for a while. The article quotes Michael Lewis’s 1999 book, The New New Thing: ”When a computer programmer answers a question, he often…


Beware the Misles

I recently learned the story of a colleague’s secret shame. Revealing his name would bring humiliation down upon him. But journalism is cruel and blogging is worse. He is Professor D. Robert Ladd, a distinguished phonologist and phonetician at the University of Edinburgh, noted especially for work on prosodic phenomena like intonation and stress. Which relates (oh, the irony!) to his dark secret: For a number of years, when he read the word biopic, he privately assumed a totally wrong stress…