Monthly Archives: January 2016


Take a Deep Breath

Arian is a favorite of mine. No, not the stand-alone Arian referring to a heresy in the early Christian church, nor the stand-alone Arian designating someone born under the sign of Aries, but the suffix -arian used to create so many schools of thought, going back four or five centuries.

The Oxford English Dictionary offers dozens of examples, starting with abecedarian, one who is learning or teaching the ABC’s, that is, at the elementary level. If you’re a literarian, you can think of many more….


Grown-Ups Deserve Better


Square Peg, part of the Random House group, is a publisher located at 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London. Kyle Books is another publisher, headquartered at 192-198 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London. The two sets of staff could walk along Vauxhall Bridge Road to have lunch together and discuss upcoming titles. But it looks as if they don’t, because in 2012 they each put out separate books under the same title, Grammar for Grown-Ups.

One was by Craig Shrives, formerly a British military intelligence offi…


The New ‘Politically Correct’ Boondoggle

seinfeld-4eec3efa6f626e3502338fa4d9756e9cI suspect there isn’t a reader out there who doesn’t have a story about being on the wrong side of so-called political correctness. Mine goes this way. In graduate school, my well-meaning professor had attempted to demonstrate to the class that some opening paragraphs for essays were more effective than others, and to that end he had anonymously copied several of our opening paragraphs from our last set of papers. One paragraph went loftily on about a certain theoretical approach the writer …


So They Say

As readers of Lingua Franca know, they won big last year. First it was reported in The New York Times as a substitute for he or she for those who identify as transgender, and thus do not want to be pinned down as either he or she:

  • They took up their pencil and began writing their answer.
  • They got behind the wheel and drove off.

Second, and more widespread in its potential impact, a newspaper, The Washington Post, began to allow “they” (and “their” and “them”) as pronoun reference to a person…


Our National Anthimeria

6a00d8341c4f9453ef01a73d6f4c92970dThanks, Nancy Friedman. Some time ago, I read a blog post by the naming consultant about the trend of anthimeria in advertising — that is, using a word as a different part of speech than normal, as in Turner Classic Movies’ “Let’s Movie” and Nutella’s “Spread the Happy.” (Movie, a noun, is being used as a verb, and happy, an adjective, as a noun.)  Friedman has collected examples for a long time, and a couple of months ago I started following her lead.

All I can say is, enough already. Ads using…


Word(s) of the Year 2015

gender neutral sign copySometimes a bun is just a bun, and sometimes an eggplant is more than an eggplant. It’s that time of year again! This weekend I was in Washington, D.C., where I was attending the annual meeting of the American Dialect Society. On Friday night, we voted on the words of the year for 2015. There were more than 300 people in the room — and more “adult content” than we sometimes have (that is your PG-13 warning for the write-up below!). As we do every year, we voted not only on Word of the Ye…


Overtasked and Overparted (and Multitasking, Too)

Costard the clown from Love’s Labor’s Lost: “ore-parted.”

It’s over. Whatever it is you thought you could do, or others thought you could do, or you thought others could do, you — and they — are probably expecting too much.  You — and probably everyone you know — don’t just have tasks. You’re overtasked.

The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that task is related to the word tax, and that the first occurrence of task in English concerned fines being levied. If you’re overtasked, you’re overta…


‘Hey’ Now

Hey, if you don’t mind, listen to the first 20 seconds or so of this conversation between National Public Radio’s Ari Shapiro and Gene Demby:

If you didn’t care to listen, or experienced technical difficulties, here’s the exchange in which I’m interested:

Shapiro: Hey Gene.

Demby: Hey Ari.


Hank Kingsley of “The Larry Sanders Show”: “Hey now!”

Ari and Gene are partaking of a meaning for hey that’s not recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED defines the word as “A call to attract att…


Thinking Swiftly

Tom_Swift_and_His_Wizard_Camera_(book_cover)Remember Tom Swifties?

I had forgotten that fad of the 1960s that took its inspiration unwittingly from the adverb-laden Tom Swift stories for boys earlier in the century. The challenge was to find an adverb that punned on a character’s remarks, as in these examples from Merriam-Webster:

“I can’t find the oranges,” said Tom fruitlessly.

“Don’t you love sleeping outdoors?” said Tom intently.

“Let’s gather up the rope,” said Tom coyly.

But I was reminded of them memorably when I had the pleasure o…


The Quiet Certainty of Antedating


P.G. Wodehouse in 1904, a few years before coining “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

Recently I mentioned the celebratedly spurious Holmesian nonquotation, “Elementary, my dear Watson.” I pointed out that The Yale Book of Quotations proposes as the earliest known source The New York Times issue of Tuesday, April 30, 1911.

But after my post appeared I got an email from Oliver Kamm, a columnist and editorial writer working for The Times of London. He says he remembers seeing the phrase in an earlier s…