Monthly Archives: August 2013


OK Glass!

As the world’s leading (and only) expert on OK, I have regularly been asked: What’s the future of OK? Will it continue to hold the title of America’s and the world’s greatest word?

My answer is, in the words of Timbuk 3: For OK, the future’s so bright, it’s gotta wear shades. Or at least, glasses. OK is now, officially, a magic word.

That’s because it’s right up front with the next stage in the evolution of personal computing, Google Glass, the glasses you wear that connect you to the Intern…


You Never Even Call Me by My Name

135601_dont-call-me-ariel-my-name-is-helveticaI never thought I’d be tempted by those gender-neutral pronouns, den/”>hir and ze and so on. But the case of Chelsea Manning does give one pause. On August 22, The New York Times announced that Private Manning, who is transgender, had requested henceforward to be referred to as female and addressed as “Chelsea.”

Curiously, as many commenters noted, in reporting the story the Times continued to refer to the whistle-blower-formerly-known-as-Bradley as he.

I’ve always thought the rule of thumb wa…


Why We Speak

Sometimes you wonder if that whole language thing might not have been the best idea. I’m referring not to when people say “Best. [Blank.] Ever.” or misuse sly/”>literally, but to when they use words to dissemble, bully, obfuscate, self-aggrandize, proudly display their ignorance, or and/or snarf up airtime like an imperial power having its way with a virgin land. Other times, though, you really understand the whole concept. One of those occasions, for me, came last week, when I heard excerpts of…


Talking It Out vs. Writing It Down

When students get stuck in the process of writing an academic essay, instructors will sometimes advise them to try talking it out. Take a break from the sometimes paralyzing blink of the cursor, we may suggest, and move into that more comfortable space of speaking. Find someone and try to explain to them what you’re struggling to express on the page. Once you’ve talked out the ideas, you can then write them down.

This advice is well targeted in many ways. Students, like pretty much everyone else…


From Netherlandic-German to Multilingual Sardinia

400px-Languages_spoken_in_Italy_Bis.svgDarryl Myers offers a rich and interesting comment on my Lingua Franca post last Thursday, observing that German is a interesting case to look at. It is indeed.

Splitters (those who incline toward maximizing the number of different languages posited) might point out that some of what we treat as varieties of German are separate languages by the familiar test of mutual intelligibility. A German speaker from Bonn or Berlin will not understand Swiss German dialects like the speech of the Zurich are…


Of Paste and Pasta

nwood.12.0512.08.ravioliI don’t run with a foodie crowd, but I cheer them on. Food writers, chef-authors, food editors. They spin out our foodie dreams for us. But as the Anglophone world becomes more fashion-forward foodwise, the language of food becomes an ever more puzzling place. There isn’t a Chicago Manual of Culinary Style, though maybe there should be. If there were I’d turn to it for advice linguistic, culinary, and social.

My first food questions for a culinary grammarian: When we talk about foreign dishes, w…


Counting the Languages of the World

I wrote recently from Bosnia and Herzegovina about the curious practice of taking a unitary language and trying to find ways of representing it as several different languages for political reasons, in order that each of several ethnic groups should be able to claim a tongue of its own. I wrote on the basis of my own experience in the country rather than delving into reference books about it. But after my return I checked the classic reference work on the languages of the world: the Ethnologue.



Slips of the Brain

do-opposites-attract-largeThere are slips of the tongue, and there are Freudian slips. But I can’t blame my tongue or Sigmund Freud for the mistake I recently posted regarding Southern pronunciations:

“In the South, you hear the ‘ah’ version of long I when it comes before a voiced vowel, as in wide, size, or five. You also hear an ‘ah’ when I comes at the end of a word, as in high or my. Only in some parts of the South does I become ‘ah’ when a voiceless vowel follows, as in light or like.”

A nice concise statement of a …


What’s Greek About It?

greekAs many of us return to campus this fall, we’ll be passing by various buildings adorned with Greek letters that fewer can identify every year. I’m talking about the fraternity and sorority houses, of course—what’s known as Greek life and causes an annual tug-of-war at many institutions. Alumni/ae wax nostalgic over the lifelong bonding that marked their Greek experience. Faculty complain of the hungover frat members they see on Friday mornings. Deans tally the numbers hauled off to the hospital….


Language Mindset List for the Class of 2017

klh20Each year at around this time, the folks at Beloit College put out the “Mindset List,” a half-serious, half-facetious accounting of what incoming first-year students do and do not know. It is ostensibly designed for professors, but it’s always picked up by news media and Web sites, not only because it’s often funny and eye-opening, but because August is usually a very slow news month.

As I write, this year’s edition hasn’t come out, but to give you the flavor, here’s a little of last year’s: