Monthly Archives: March 2016


The Trumptionary, Part 2

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David Barnhart

As the Trumpus continues, our living language stretches to accommodate the new notions and perspectives generated by the Donald’s inimitable political career. The lexicographer David Barnhart, author of the quarterly Barnhart Dictionary Companion, has been quick to keep up with the new vocabulary.

He has written entries in the manner of the Oxford English Dictionary for each term, including the detailed entry for Trumpertantrum that I included in my post last week.

Here are some o…


A ‘Perfect’ Storm


Truman Capote

Randye Green, an observant friend of mine, commented not long ago that she’s tired of perfect. Not because the perfect is the enemy of the good, but because, as she said, the word has become such a cliché.

That was news to me, but ever since our conversation I’ve observed a perfect storm of perfect, in both speech and e-mail correspondence. Students, especially female students, are fond of it.

The assignment is due a week from Monday. Perfect. Meet you at six? Perfect. I’ll have a…


Conspiracy Theory


Illustration for “To Autumn” by William James Neatby, from A Day with Keats, 1899

Once upon a time, American conspiracy theory focused on the Kennedy assassination. That was then.

Even those of us least susceptible to paranoid tendencies now inhabit a conspiracy culture where fantasists and bigots, analysts and whistleblowers converge.

The media circus (a term that gives real circuses a bad name) feeds our appetite for suppressions, diversions, and misidentification. These are the misdirections …


When Our Son the Business Student Took Poetry

The poet Simon Armitage 

In his penultimate semester, our son, a double-degree senior in business and economics at Large Public U., discovered he was three humanities credits shy of what he would need to graduate. We weren’t that surprised.

What did surprise us was the course he chose. Who would have thought that our ESPN-watching undergraduate, whose favorite courses were game theory, corporate finance, and basketball, would choose “What Is Poetry?”

As an econ student, he understood that the Un…


Making Categories, Breaking Categories

EDL-900x450Not long ago, I attended a conference at Radcliffe on “Ways With Words: Exploring Language and Gender.” The first, and perhaps most salient, thing to note is that this conference was packed. Cis men, cis women, trans men, trans women, gay people, straight people, old and young and in between — in between ages, genders, sexualities, you name it. Granted, this is academe, and we’re always eager to discuss the political dimensions of the new. But I was surprised at the breadth of interest in …


Order and Chaos in English Spelling

CsccO47XPr-2“But here’s the thing,” wrote David Shariatmadari in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago. “English orthography makes no sense.” No sense? I know it is exaggeration for the sake of humor (no quibble there), but I’ve decided to use it as an excuse to come to the defense of English spelling. It’s a hard case to make, no doubt (note the wonderfully silent b), but here goes. …

The article was a response to Donald Trump’s misspelling of the word honor in this tweet from February 26:

Wow, every poll sai…


Scalia’s Linguistic Acumen

220px-Antonin_Scalia,_SCOTUS_photo_portraitSometimes (in fact quite often) Mark Liberman says things at Language Log that make me want to paint them on the side of the barn. Here is a recent example:

It’s always been a source of wonder to me that (law) code, on which so much depends, is written without any means of bracketing to specify scope, and without even an unambiguous set of conventions for default binding in cases where scope is not explicitly marked. If the universe suddenly shifted so that computer code was written this way, mo…


Sanders in the Ghetto

bigghettolodz2little_ghetto_boy_by_koukloI first heard the word in an Elvis Presley song, “In the Ghetto,” released not long after the Billy Joe Royal song “Down in the Boondocks.” I remember comparing the lyrics. “And his hunger burns,” Presley crooned of his “hungry little boy,”

so he starts to roam the streets at night
and he learns how to steal and he learns how to fight
In the ghetto

Billy Joe Royal’s boy was no less poor but more hopeful, counting on love and hard work to move him from the “boondocks” to a place “on the hill.”

I …


The Trumptionary

220px-Donald_Trump_announcing_latest_David_Blaine_feat_3-altNine months ago, Donald Trump brought forth on this continent a new model for attaining the U.S. presidency, one that focused on statements so outrageous, and thereby so delicious for journalists, that he would be sure to make the top headlines day after day. And incidentally to capture the favorable attention of voters.

With his remarks, the Donald has managed to create an alternate universe, where Mexicans build a wall to keep themselves from crossing the border into the United States, where N…


Portrait of the Artists

220px-PickupartistposterOn Thursday, Mitt Romney played the “Have-you-no-decency?” card against the Republican front-runner for president. He asked the American public to

Think of Donald Trump’s personal qualities, the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics. We have long referred to him as “The Donald.” He is the only person in America to whom we have added an article before his name. It wasn’t because he had attributes we admired.

Now imagine your children and your grandch…