Monthly Archives: April 2014


There Was No Committee


British empire, 1919. Image courtesy Historic UK

English is becoming a global lingua franca not just for trade, industry, aviation, research, and entertainment, but also for higher education. We scarcely needed the conclusions of a new research report by the department of education at the University of Oxford in collaboration with the British Council, released Wednesday, to tell us that.

Ph.D. students in countries like Finland or the Netherlands have (at least in my field) long been writing the…


The Commas Suit Ya

William Burroughs

William S. Burroughs

An interesting Slate piece a few months back by Matthew J.X. Malady noted many Twitter users’ disdain for commas. It’s not just a matter of being frugal with punctuation in order to fit a thought into 140 characters. Punctuational minimalism has emerged as one of the hallmarks of casual online style—social media, texting, commenting, message boards. One inescapable example, which I’ve previously discussed, is the sea change in email greeting from “Hi, Name” to “Hi Name.” Thi…


Yes I Said Yes I Will Yes

Artist’s rendering of “YES!” sculpture, via Daily Camera

Yes! That’s the good word (complete with exclamation point) from the progressive city of Boulder, Colo. Last week the Boulder Public Library announced:

An art project called, “Yes!” by artists R&R Studios based in Miami, was selected by a public art selection panel on March 31. …

Yes! is proposed as free-standing aluminum letters, lit from within, with the light visible through perforations in the red surface. Yes! will be installed outsi…


To Whomever It May Concern

I was gobsmacked the other day while watching an episode of the NBC series Crisis, which I would describe as my guilty pleasure except that I don’t feel especially guilty about it, and it’s not that pleasurable. Anyhow, the show is about bad guys who kidnap a school bus full of children of the rich and powerful, including the U.S. president’s son. A Secret Service agent and one kid, who you can tell is a genius because he’s a little chubby and has curly hair,

Joshua Erenberg and Lance Gross from…



When I assign my freshmen to write about both sides of an issue, I tell them to pay special attention to the connective words they use. If you’re presenting the other side, you have to make clear that you aren’t suddenly changing your mind and going back on your own position. So you need to introduce the other side with words like “True,” “Admittedly,” “It could be argued that,” to signal clearly that this is somebody else’s position, not yours.

And you can’t leave it at that, either. Even wit…


Yo Hablo HTML

We are nearly five months into Britain’s “Year of Code,” an effort to promote computer-coding skills among Britons young and old. The British media’s coverage spiked in February, when the campaign’s director admitted she couldn’t code a computer to save her life, but has ebbed since.

Still, I’ve been taking advantage of some of the Year of Code offerings (which are not restricted to British residents), and spent a few hours last week at learning enough HTML and CSS to create a bar…


Writing and Manure



Image via Wikimedia Commons

My last post was about Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, a play that apparently isn’t done with me yet.

You will remember that the mystery of Jack Worthing’s birth is revealed in that play’s final moments—Jack turns out to be Ernest Moncrieff, Algy’s elder brother. Happy ending, three marriages, curtain. All the play’s puzzles have been solved.

Except for the matter of dung. We really do need to talk about the dung, Mr. Worthing.

The word worthing has a…


And the Other Is a Jellyfish


Image via Wikimedia Commons

Last week the British prime minister, the right honorable David Cameron, was trying to enjoy a quiet holiday on Lanzarote, the easternmost island of the Islas Canarias, ignoring the lurking press photographers constantly seeking to document his leisure activities. Unfortunately he also ignored the advice of locals about sea swimming, and had a painful encounter with an organism of the subphylum Medusozoa.

Cameron is not very popular in Britain. The right wing sees him…


On Clarity


What do John Boehner and Rachel Maddow have in common?
Image: Screen shot from MSNBC, via The Blaze

One cannot but be dismayed by the extent to which pollution of thought is endemic in our culture.

The illness is ubiquitous: in Washington, in academe, on the radio and TV, among activists. Being clear, explaining oneself lucidly, seems to be an endangered form of human behavior. Was clarity ever better regarded? Or is the current attitude toward it a constant in history? One could blame the educat…


A Postcard From Salzburg


Members of Golden Dawn break up a dictionary launch in Athens. Photograph by Victor Friedman.

Salzburg, Austria—Mozart’s beautiful city provided an ideal locale for the conference I am attending here, where Slavicists and Balkanists have been discussing the role of ideology in grammar. Salzburg is close enough to allow scholars from Croatia or Kosovo or Macedonia to attend easily, without being actually in the Balkan region itself.

Matters relating to the great Balkan laboratory for sociolinguis…