The occasion of a papal visit brings with it an opportunity to consider certain comfortable words. I use comfortable in its earlier sense, “strengthening or supporting (morally or spiritually); encouraging, inspiring, reassuring, cheering,” to which the Oxford English Dictionary archly adds, “Obs. or arch.” But then the papacy has something arch. about it, though it is certainly not obs.
What are these words? To begin with, pope. It goes way back beyond the origin of the papac…
I have become allergic to the word diversity. It feels empty, or worse, like a chore. Words lose capital when they are overused or when the cultural climate that fostered their meaning changes. Diversity is a good example.
I am a Latino. I have strongly benefited from the drive toward diversity. I like to think of myself as fostering that drive as well. But the fervor behind it belongs to past decades. Our cultural moment is an altogether different one. America is already deeply, irrevocably div…
Starbucks watchers were taken aback last month when the company made a surprise announcement about its standard-bearing fall beverage. This year, for the first time in its 12-year history, a Pumpkin Spice Latte will contain actual pumpkin, instead of merely spices associated with pumpkin pie.
I will not be able to report on the difference, regrettably. I never tasted the pumpkinless Pumpkin Spice Latte, so vile did it sound to me.
The PSL, as it’s affectionately known, has a cultlike following, …
Last week I promised to explain why I was recently browsing in a little German grammar book I have owned since 1963.
Here’s the straight truth. I have been invited to lecture on data and theory next March at a conference sponsored by the Institut für Deutsche Sprache (IDS) in Mannheim, Germany. And I’m ashamed. Not because I’ll be lecturing in English — that’s the norm for international academic conferences, so no shame there. And yet I have something to expiate.
This year, for the first time, I am teaching a freshman — oops, first-year — seminar. Right there is the problem. As readers of this blog know, I like to be on top of the latest gender-neutral neologism. For many years, the term freshman has belonged to a class of designations (fireman, policeman, mailman) for which our culture has tried to find gender-neutral alternatives. As my Lingua Franca colleague Anne Curzan noted in 2013, within colleges — arguably one of the most progressive institut…
Are these friends of Dorothy or friends of Dorothy’s?
On Saturday, Flavia Pennetta of Italy defeated her countrywoman, longtime doubles partner, and onetime roommate Roberta Vinci to win the U.S. Open tennis tournament. Her acceptance speech was heartfelt and gracious, but what caught my ear was one sentence, which you can hear at about the 7:58 mark in this YouTube clip:
I could be wrong, but what I think she is saying is, “It’s so nice to play with a friend of my.”
Geoff Pullum looked here for a discussion of useless vocabulary and weakened sentence structure in schoolbooks, but didn’t find it. If not here, then where?
I was recently browsing (I’ll tell you why some other time) in my long-neglected copy of The Basis and Essentials of German by Charles Duff and Richard Freund (Thomas Nelson, London, third edition 1945), and a polemical section in the introduction happened to catch my eye. It was a tirade against the practices of language teachers and examin…
Anne Curzan is a professor of English at the University of Michigan, where she also holds appointments in linguistics and the School of Education. Her publications include Gender Shifts in the History of English and How English Works: A Linguistic Introduction. She talks about trends in the English language in a weekly segment, "That's What They Say," on Michigan Radio. View her TEDx talk on language here.
William Germano is professor of English literature at Cooper Union. His most recent book is Eye Chart (Bloomsbury 2017), on the history of visual testing and graphic design since the 17th century and in modern popular culture. In 2016 he published the third edition of Getting It Published: A Guide for Scholars and Anyone Else Serious About Serious Books (University of Chicago Press).
Rose Jacobs is an American freelance journalist and English teacher at the Technical University of Munich. Before moving to Germany, she worked for the Financial Times as a reporter and editor, in New York and London.
Ilan Stavans is a professor of Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College. His books include Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language and Dictionary Days: A Defining Passion. He is general editor of The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature, the publisher of Restless Books, devoted to contemporary literature from around the world, and co-founder of Great Books Summer Program.