Monthly Archives: August 2012


William Wordsworth, CEO

“A poem,” Archibald Macleish wrote in the heady days of 1926, “should not mean/But be.” I thought of Macleish this past weekend, when on one of those lovely summer evenings stretched to its vanishing point by heady conversation, our foursome chewed over the news that Simon Bainbridge, professor of Romantic studies at the University of Lancaster, was now offering his “practical exercises linked to the themes of Wordsworth’s poetry” to individual entrepreneurs for the modest sum of $247/day.



You Are Software; Don’t Greet Me

At the top right corner of the browser window in the version of WordPress that we use for maintaining the Lingua Franca blog there is a message I have to mouse over in order to get to important things like the profile-editing and logout options. And what that message says is: “Howdy, Geoff Pullum.” I flinch every single time I see it.

It’s not because of the nickname. I prefer friends, acquaintances, and students to address me as Geoff, rather than by my title or my full given name. Only two cla…


The Half of It

One of my favorite—and now badly dated—childhood books was Edward Eager’s Half Magic, a fantasy about an enchanted token that granted exactly one half of what you wished for. So wishing that your pet could talk would mean that your pet could sort of talk (shades of Scooby Doo), and wishing that your sibling were as far away as China could result in her suddenly finding herself in a desert midway between you and Peking (definitely not Beijing).

In each of Eager’s scenarios, it was clear what half


‘The New York Times,’ of Course

Mr. Ed. Besides existential equine tautologies, what else is self-evident? Perhaps the Newspaper of Record can provide a clue.

The phrase of course has appeared in  The New York Times 420,663 times since 1981, and 12,388 times this year alone. Below are 15 of the most recent iterations, all appearing between August 7 and 10, 2012.

“Of course, projecting rookies is a difficult task.” (The Fifth Down, football blog)

“Europe, of course, has also been through much this past year.” (“Letter from Euro…


Hello, New New England

The dropped “r” in New Hampsha. Photograph by Dan O’Halloran.

On the chalkboard menu of the Bagel Basement in Hanover, N.H., close by the border with Vermont (to the west), is a reminder of the difference in spoken English between the two states. The menu lists for “Classics”:

  • The Lower East Side
  • Famous No. 2
  • Vermonter
  • New Hampsha’

(The Vermonter has turkey, cheddar, green apples, and honey mustard; the New Hampsha’ has roast beef, bacon, boursin and red onions, both for $6.50.)

The written na…


Whose Student Is It, Anyway?

A couple of days ago, the Mercer Island Reporter ran an article called “Tips to Ease the College Launch.” Some of the tips were:

  • “If you are driving your student to school, start saving all those 20 percent Bed Bath & Beyond coupons that come in the mail.”
  • “Evaluate the college health plan carefully, as it might be more expensive and less comprehensive than keeping your student on the parents’ insurance until age 26.”
  • “Set up a Skype account so that you can actually ‘talk’ with your student per…

Limericks: a Lingua Franca Contest

It’s time to treat matters of punctuation and usage with the seriousness that is their due. And it’s the dog days of August. So, limerick time!

In that spirit, I offer some examples and a challenge. My examples:

At Oxford, the fate of a comma
Has become an occasion for drama.
Is it more of a sin
To leave out or leave in?
It’s truly an eats-shoots dilemma.


Pundits have forecast the doom
Of the personal pronoun “whom.”
But when being polite
“Whom is speaking?” sounds right,
So move over, plain “…


Of Periods, Serifs, and Politics

It sits alone. At the top of the Web site. “It” being “Forward.,” the slogan rolled out, debated, pummeled, touted and ridiculed by those in favor of or opposed to the 2012 Obama presidential campaign. Motto, meet soundbite.

The first appearance of the slogan (as far as this blogger can tell) was the seven-minute video released by the Obama campaign on  April 30, which begins with black-and-white footage of the economic debacle of 2008, in which the only text is numbers and newspaper headlines …


The Riddle of Frisney and Frarney

A long time ago in southern England, a young woman from a foreign country in Europe stayed for a few weeks in the household where my mother was growing up. Mum can’t remember what country she came from (it may have been France, but the territory starting at Calais tended to be referred to as “the Continent” back then); but she tells a story from that visit that she still remembers eight decades later.

One day at breakfast the foreign guest explained that something about the use of English in the…


4 Songs in Jamaica

Harry Belafonte album cover

In a parking lot in Port Antonio, leaving the Maroon Conference, loitering with a woman from the States and a woman from Jamaica. My people, I was saying, are from here, Portland Parish; I’d been to Jamaica before, had visited family in Kingston and Mandeville, but this was my first ever trip to Portland. I’m a wayward son, I said. “Prodigal son,” suggested my American friend, because that’s got the possibility of rapprochement but, feeling rakish, I sang a bit of Pat…