Monthly Archives: October 2013


My Selfie, My Self

As I said last week, the current leading candidate for the American Dialect Society’s choice of Word of the Year 2013 is surely “Obamacare,” a word whose very utterance (or avoidance) influences public attitudes toward the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Can’t argue with that. But I have a personal preference, a word that has come into its prime this year as a perfect expression of the actions and preoccupations of today’s youth, the so-called millennial generation. You can see t…


Red Smith, Collected

Walter "Red" Smith (photo copyright New York Racing Association)

Walter (Red) Smith (photo copyright New York Racing Association)

My mother had some firm opinions. When I line them up and take their measure now, 40 or 50 years after I first heard them, I don’t always agree, but I do always see her point. Sid Caesar was the best comedian. The New Yorker was the best magazine. Lady in the Dark was the best Broadway musical (that one’s a bit of a reach for me). The Rogues was the best TV show. Brian Bedford was the best actor. She separated writers into categori…


Goodbye to All That E-Mail

Email-MarketingRemember the good old days, when we complained about students e-mailing us all the time?  Like back in 2006, when The New York Times ran an article on students’ pestering of their professors with e-mail:

At colleges and universities nationwide, e-mail has made professors much more approachable. But many say it has made them too accessible, erasing boundaries that traditionally kept students at a healthy distance.

Professors way back then complained that students sent e-mail “with a familiarity…


Conference Season

It’s autumn, and as sure as the flocks of creatures move en masse in a Nature documentary, the herds of academe will soon be gathering up for the Great Migration. Our goal may be less certain than that of the lesser kudu, our objective mostly intellectual and rarely conjugal, but each winter thousands of us leave home and gather in major cities for our annual academic conferences.

Maybe that’s the wrong metaphor. Maybe it’s an impulse akin to taxation or religious observance that drives us a…


Old Hat (Warning: Adult Content!)

oldhat copyI recently reread the brilliant New Yorker piece by Jack Winter titled  “How I Met My Wife,” as I prepared for a short radio segment about negative words that don’t have positive counterparts. Winter plays with dozens of “missing” positive words in the short essay, from “shevelled,” “gruntled,” and “chalant” to “persona grata” and “sung hero.”

The following sentence in Winter’s column prompted me to wonder, for the first time, about the origins of “old hat”:

Nevertheless, since this was all new …


The Jargon Prize

0422JargonThe rumor that unsubscribing yourself from an unwanted e-mail list tends to regenerate your address in other unwanted e-mail blasts bears fruit, in my case, with electronic scatter-bombs from sites promoting educational administration and technology. I have never, for the record, had anything to do with either of these areas of expertise. But I receive regular communications titled “Collegiality from a Positive Leadership Perspective,” “iOS, Android and Mobile Development Tools in Ed Tech,…


‘The Guardian’ Opposes Zombie Rules

Most of what gets said about grammar in the British press is a ludicrous jumble of hoary myths and self-evident nonsense. (Take this “grammar test” in The Telegraph, for example: It is so downright silly that the paper’s own assistant comment editor and science writer, Tom Chivers, took the unusual step of critiquing it online in a Telegraph blog.) So—and I’m sorry if this sounds patronizing—I was genuinely surprised to see a newspaper article about grammar making 10 points about the syntax of c…


Word of the Year? Obamacare!


Image courtesy of Lit Reactor

As the year descends into the dark days ahead, it’s not too early to take a first look back at the language we have used in 2013 in order to find a Word of the Year.

That’s the designation, not always an honor, applied to a word or phrase selected from the verbiage of the year by the American Dialect Society.

The ADS WOTY, as we like to acronym it, is the Oscar of new-word choices, the one that matters most. That’s because it’s the alpha and omega—the first of…


Is the Internet Good for Writing? Part 2: Negative

Last week we took a look at Clive Thompson’s claim that the Internet has brought about a Golden Age of prose. The novelist Jonathan Franzen would beg to differ. He recently published an essay in The Guardian, on the early-20th-century Austrian satirist and editor Karl Kraus, that included some swipes at the Internet’s catastrophic effect on writing. (Getting him on the subject was that Kraus didn’t care for the technology of his day.) Franzen notes his “disappointment when a novelist who I belie…


Talkin’ About Politics

So there are these two guys who want to be governor of Virginia. They had a TV debate about it last week, and darned if they didn’t each of them think he was the right man for the job.

Very nice guys, too. Terry McAuliffe, Democrat, and Ken Cuccinelli II, Republican. Dressed super-conservative in dark suits, white shirts, plain ties. If you missed the debate, you can catch it here, thoughtfully transcribed by someone from the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.

Not bein’ from Virginia myself, …