Monthly Archives: June 2012


We Are Bugged

In my final post on my exploratory study of responses to  sentences from The New York Times, I’ll pick on a few of the actual sentences you judged. First up: “Which begs the perennial question of Silicon Valley: Is this more evidence, convincing evidence, that the tech industry is again on the verge of another bubble popping?” I actually thought three usages might bother people here—“begs the question” used in this sentence to mean “raises the question”; “this” without a clear …


‘Yeah, No’

A motto for our time: There is also a band called Yeah No and another called Yeah No Yeah

One of the pleasures of contributing to Lingua Franca is that clever people share interesting ideas with me. Recently, Emily Gordon, proprietor of the admirable blog Emdashes, e-mailed me and asked, “Weren’t we talking at some point about the expression ‘Yeah, no …’ ?” She then quoted an interview that a young writer named Roxanne Samer conducted with the graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel:

AB: …We were just …


Typographic Book Covers

Roberto Bolano, "The Savage Detectives," cover by Rodrigo Corral

In a recent post about the timing of cover design in the publication process, I mentioned a colleague’s comment that typographic covers have the potential to wow just as much as those that feature a photograph or other illustrative art. To learn more, I put some questions to some design and marketing professionals.

When is a book cover given the typographic treatment? Is it a second-class choice?

“Definitely not, from a marketing…


Not Hole

It’s one of the most important words in English … Not!

That little three-letter word has the power to negate a word, a phrase, or an entire proposition, as in the example above.

Although “not” is not a new word by any means, its importance was recognized by the American Dialect Society when the sentence-negating “Not!” was chosen Word of the Year for 1992. What made “Not!” newly significant was the wait to deploy it until after a statement was completed, a fad made popular by the 1992 movie Wayn…


When Your Computer Is as Easy to Use as Your Phone

The Danish computer scientist Bjarne Stroustrup, inventor of the much-used and very complex programming language C++, is reported in various places as having made this comment:

I have always wished for my computer to be as easy to use as my telephone; my wish has come true because I can no longer figure out how to use my telephone.

Why is that funny?

Such are the private thoughts of a perverse soul like me who loves comedy but is cursed with the habit of reflecting analytically on matters of lan…


Cheers for the Varsity

What a great word varsity used to be!

Nowadays it’s used only in a pedestrian way, to designate the alpha athletic team in any particular sport at a school, college, or university.

But it was originally a cool slang word, a mid-19th century abbreviation for “university” with a smart twist on the vowel. It was properly spelled ’varsity back then, the apostrophe acknowledging it as a contraction. Apparently it began at Oxford and Cambridge, but it quickly hopped the pond to be adopted at American …


More on the ‘However’ Myth

"The Importance of Being Earnest," original production, 1895. Allan Aynesworth (left) is Algernon, with George Alexander as Jack.

When I see the dumb prohibitions that college-educated speakers of American English have been coerced into believing, it makes me want to weep. In a Lingua Franca post last week (“The Comma Sutra”) my colleague and electronic pen-pal Ben Yagoda reported these fully correct judgments (I mark the ungrammatical example with a star):

[1] *The weather is great today, howev…


Results! Results?

OK, folks, the results are in. This week, I’ll begin with some discussion of the discussion of the survey questions, and an observation about the results in general. Next week, more on the results, so stay tuned.

Questions first. Many quibbled about assumptions in the ways in which I framed my choices No. 1 – No. 5. Those who are interested can go to the Comments section from that post. Generally I was criticized, first, for making black-and-white distinctions; and second, for presuming that the…


Anatomy of a Catchphrase

All of a sudden, it is impossible to pick up the paper or listen to the news and escape “the long game.” I’m not talking about coverage of golf or other actual games, but to this sort of thing:

  • The example of guitarist Doc Watson should “serve as inspiration to any musician interested in the long game, in making music that endures not because of its shock value or its keen marketplace vision but because within its measured tones lies universal truth.” Los Angeles Times, June 3.
  • “I mean, [Quee…

Will Your Citations Pass or Fail?

Photo by Manuel Bahamondez H

When an academic book manuscript is under contract and comes to my department for copy-editing, it undergoes an initial review by the assistant managing editor (yours truly) before assignment. If I find any major problems, I send the manuscript back to the acquiring editor, who returns it to the author for what is probably not the first round of revision but is hopefully* the last.

Things have to be pretty awful for that to happen. After all, copy editors expect to d…