Monthly Archives: October 2015


Responding to Deafness

deaf-500x152A colleague came to me yesterday with a question about a student paper on hearing loss. Should the student, he wanted to know, have capitalized the word deaf?

Simply by writing the word as lowercase, above, I have apparently made a political choice. We have reached agreement, albeit with complications, on the upper- or lowercasing of purely ideological or political terms. AP Style, for instance, supplies helpful sentences like ”The conservative Republican senator and his Conservative Party col…


‘Skedaddle,’ ‘Selfie,’ and Many More Words of the Generations

Generations cover jpeg

What if everyone born within a particular generation shared the same view of the world, a view that was different from that of generations before and after?

(Full disclosure: I’m going to shamelessly encourage you to buy my new book.)

Hard to believe,  if you think about it — everyone born during a 20-year period in the whole country having the same attitudes and inclinations to action? Yet we’ve come to believe it, as we knowingly discuss the traits of the different generations — the heroi…


Going Grammando

rant-clipart-anger-clipart-blogangerThere is a great new word that promises to get us out of a not so great metaphor. I’m going to plead its case and hope against hope that the word might get some traction. (As a scholar, I know how hard it is enact conscious language change, but that doesn’t always stop the idealist in me from trying! And yes, I am aware that it is a super prescriptive move on my part to advocate a change in usage like this.)

The not so great metaphor is grammar nazi (or grammar Nazi or Grammar Nazi, depending on…


From Seneca to Self-Help

HowProustIn 1997, Alain de Botton published his book How Proust Can Change Your Life. I was charmed by it. I remember using it in a course on cultural criticism for a graduate class that had a mix of theorists and creative writers. I thought of de Botton’s book as a model we could adopt. Here was an original work of criticism that taught me something about Proust while it playfully adopted a popular or low-brow form of writing — that is, the self-help book.

Like every other self-respecting academic, I’…


Saying ‘the’ in German


A tiger in the Berlin zoo. Tiger is masculine, though Katze (“cat”) is feminine.

As I have explained, I spent 18 months of my dissolute youth in Germany without learning German. I still feel a little ashamed every time I visit that fine country.

You might think it’s too late for me to fix this: It is widely believed that adult brains lose the language-acquisition knack. But I actually think that’s a cop-out.

Infants have various often-overlooked advantages: cogni…


O Mentee, Go Dissertate!


Two words – two quite awful words – have crept into the bosom of academe.

For a long time they’ve been on my list of terms I’d wish away if I could, but being powerless on such matters I’ll blog about them instead.

As Lingua Franca readers know, we academics are a caring tribe, helpful and attentive to the needs of our younger colleagues, especially those working on their Ph.D.s.

They are, most of them, writing dissertations. We mentor  these writers, and that is as it should be.

The word disse…


German for Beginners

Refugees arrive in Germany

Refugees, mainly from Afghanistan, arrive in Bavaria. (Photo by Falk Heller/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

MUNICH — Spende, reads the sign leaning against a tent outside Munich’s main train station. Donations. Items needed for the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have been pouring into Germany in recent months. Germany, the final destination — the refugees hope — of long, arduous, often heartbreaking journeys from Afghanistan, Somalia and, in greatest numbers, Syria.

Bottled water
Baby formul…


The Third Flaw in the Second Amendment

9EEFE82C-D60F-4F34-B5DA-CFA2325E40E5I was at a department barbecue in California last summer, where conversation had turned to some recent school shooting, and how gun-control legislation can never be enacted because we cannot get round the Second Amendment. A nonacademic visitor suddenly interjected: “Nonsense. You’ve already done it.”

Several professorial heads turned toward her. “How do you mean, we’ve already done it?”

“You’ve already passed laws limiting the Americans’ ownership of arms. Individuals aren’t allowed to have nuc…


Amid the Amidsts

dont-you-just-hate-the-word-whilstFirst-year undergraduate writing leaves so much to be desired that it seems silly to get stuck on two letters. But as I grade my first set of papers, I’m struck by the sudden ubiquity of –st:

  • It is interesting to note that whilst the character is dreaming …
  • The true nature of his actions is unbeknownst to the reader.
  • Amongst his peers, Melville was the best at this.
  • Whilst we should not overly concern ourselves with that here …

What’s going on? Most language mavens see the –st forms of these w…


Happy Birthday, Lingua Franca!

Slightly more than four years and a thousand posts ago, at the behest of the editor Heidi Landecker at The Chronicle of Higher Education, this Lingua Franca blog came into being. Since that time, day after day, our motley crew has mused, elucidated, queried, uncovered, advertised, challenged, and pontificated about language, more or less as Heidi and Liz McMillen, The Chronicle’s editor,  had envisioned. And you, dear readers, have responded with everything from dissertations of your own to com…