Monthly Archives: July 2012


Are You Good?

Because my partner and I entertain a lot in the summer—grown children, siblings, friends passing through—we tend to be making offers more often than during the academic year. “Would you like a refill on that?” “How about another beer?” “Do you need sunscreen?” “Can I carry some of that overstuffed luggage?”

In response to these questions, what I’ve heard this summer more than ever before is, “I’m good.” In fact, what I’ve heard myself saying, when my partner makes to me the same genero…


Speak Up!

When attending academic conferences I try to learn not just about the advertised subject matter but also about a key aspect of our shared profession: communicating with an audience. I often reflect on what makes the difference between a good lecturer and a bad one. And I have to say that I am frequently staggered by the inability of some academics to communicate effectively.

Let me set aside coherence and structure and content for now, and focus on just one aspect: audibility. Surely a key quali…


Help Me Understand My Copy Editor: a Lingua Franca Dialogue, Part II

Today Lucy Ferriss and I continue a  conversation we started on Wednesday about why copy editors do the things they do.

Lucy: What is with the love of italics? Again, this peeve applies mostly to the personal essay or fiction. If the internal monologue or remembered bit of conversation is clearly designated as such, I prefer to keep it in roman. All that italic makes me feel as though people are either whispering or shouting. I see increasing amounts of italic for imagined conversations, what a …


Away From One’s Desk

We are now well into the time of the year when many academics are away on research trips, or vacationing, or moving across the country to a new post, or attending overseas conferences, and they have to turn to the important task of crafting their out-of-the-office auto-reply messages. So many choices, so many temptations.

The first linguistic choice is whether to use the first-person singular (“I am out of the office right now”) or the third (“Geoff Pullum is away at the moment”). I long ago dec…


Help Me Understand My Copy Editor: a Lingua Franca Dialogue, Part I

For some days now, my Lingua Franca colleague Carol Saller and I have been exchanging queries on the productive but sometimes perplexing relationship between writers and their copy editors. Below are some of the fruits of our exchange. Carol’s post, on Friday, will feature the second half of this dialogue. I hasten to add, before we launch into the Q&A, that I have often been blessed with the kindest, smartest, most discerning, and least condescending copy editors in the universe. They have save…


Big Bowl of I Was Wrong, Part II

On page 188 of my (2007) book, When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech, for Better and/or Worse, the following sentence appears:

You heard it here first: by the middle of the 21st century, the epicene “they” will rule in speech and writing.

Now in my own defense, it’s only 2012, and I have at least a couple decades or so till “midcentury,” so I don’t have to admit defeat yet. But I will. The epicene they is not happening.

A bit of explanation and definition. What I was referrin…


Destination Destination

A “destination” is nothing new. We’ve used that word for centuries. An example is in Heaven’s My Destination, the title of a 1934 novel by Thornton Wilder about a pious schoolbook salesman. Wilder prefaces the story with a verse that, he says, “children of the Middle West were accustomed to write in their schoolbooks”:

George Brush is my name;
America’s my nation;
my dwelling place
And Heaven’s my destination.

Until recently, “destination” was always the head noun of a noun phras…


The English Ask More Questions, Innit?

Obsessed as I am with British words and expressions that have taken hold in the United States,   ESPN’s coverage of the European Cup soccer tournament over the past few weeks left me spoiled for choice. The network’s predominantly British broadcasting team used British terminology with impunity and apparent glee–”pitch” for “field,” “side” for “team,” “supporters” for “fans,” and, of course, “football” for “soccer.” A subtler usage—adopted even by the mostly American in-studio analysts—was e…


The Top 10 Edits to Academic Book Manuscripts

Photo: Martin Thomas

Even after a well-written and well-prepared book has made it past an acquiring editor and through peer review, there is plenty for a manuscript editor to do.

I’ve written perhaps too much already about the trials of editing footnotes and bibliographies, so this time I’ll set those parts of the manuscript aside. Here are the issues my colleagues and I spend the most time on in the main text, in reverse order of how much labor they require.

10. Spacing. Although unwanted space…


‘Wall Street Journal’ Pushes Grammar Panic

In the past week or so people have been urging Lingua Franca to comment on an article by Sue Shellenbarger in The Wall Street Journal on June 20, headed: “This Embarrasses You and I*: Grammar Gaffes Invade the Office in an Age of Informal Email, Texting and Twitter.” But Lingua Franca scarcely knows what to say about this kind of nonsense. I think it might be better for people to pay no attention to grammar at all than to be cowed by the parade of trivialities and blithering stupidity that Shell…