Monthly Archives: December 2012


A Rule Which Will Live in Infamy

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” That was how President Franklin D. Roosevelt opened his famous infamy speech, 71 years ago. Ignoring the writing handbooks, he opened with a passive construction, which of course is just right for the rhetorical context (America as innocent victim). And he also ignored another bogeyman rule: He introduced a restrictive …


What’s the Story?

Read any good stories lately? Maybe not, but Facebook thinks you read a lot of them—thousands, in fact—though “reading” may not be the term to describe what you’re doing.

I check Facebook with an unseemly regularity. I’m not sure what I check it for, though a lot of my academic friends have accounts, and a good thing, too.

If they didn’t I’d miss out on many important things. Their locations at airports. Pictures of sunsets. Kids in costumes. Cats (not in costume—costumed animals are almos…


Slinging Southpaw Lingo

I broke my right wrist over the Thanksgiving holiday and am clad in a cream-colored cast up to the elbow. Being right-handed, I’m finding it dodgy to correct student papers, grade exams, etc., at the very end of the term. I also find myself in numerous conversations about handedness and brain dominance. Invariably I mention that I was born lefthanded—a “soft lefty,” in some parlance—and my parents tried switching me until research came out suggesting that such persuasion was not good f…


Information, Please

The major ink the Obamas’ fist-bump cover gets in Wikipedia’s “New Yorker” entry suggests one of the problems with crowd-sourced reference works.

Allan Metcalf recently reported in this space that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt had acquired and will presumably continue to publish Webster’s New World Dictionary. Roughly at the same time, word came that the Macmillan Dictionary and Thesaurus would no longer come out in print editions, only online. The editor-in-chief of the line said: “The traditiona…


Why Do New Words Survive? 5 Rules

Extrapolating from a recent post of mine about Words of the Year that have faded into obscurity, a commentator with the handle “px7_mq9” offered a proposal for:

Metcalf’s Law:

As the amount of human-accessible information grows, the probability of any neologism taking hold approaches zero.

Flattering as it is to become one of those who have natural laws and diseases named after them, I must demur. I have reached no such conclusion.

But px7_mq9 is right that it’s difficult for a new word to bre…