Monthly Archives: June 2016


An Ancient Poetic Device Called — ?


Dido & Aeneas, in the cave.

As my final Stateside treat before leaving for Corsica this weekend, I’ve just finished my friend Ann Patty’s book Living With a Dead Language: My Romance With Latin. Ann will be subbing for me next week, so I want to introduce you to her — though probably the best introduction would be to read the book, which is just out in bookstores.

My affectionate response to Living With a Dead Language has to do with more than friendship, though. I’m in my third year of trying…


The Great Bloviators


Davy Crockett: A bigger bloviator than Donald Trump

Bloviator, and its companion verb bloviate,  is a 100-percent American creation, in the manner of other sesquipedalian inventions of ours in the exuberant early 19th century, words like rambunctious and splendiferous.

It might seem like one or another of the current presidential candidates is a bloviator, a fine word meaning just what it suggests, one who is a blowhard (another American word from the mid-19th century), that is, a pompous bragg…


Bring It

headWriting on language shibboleths a couple of weeks ago, I pooh-poohed the idea that one needs to be vigilant about not using bring instead of take, or vice versa. I argued:

No one would ever say “Take me the mail,” and there is absolutely nothing wrong with “Bring your shoes to the room.” You just … have to imagine the action from the point of view of the room. As Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage says“A native speaker of English will hardly ever misuse bring or take; the problem ex…



way station copyIn response to my previous post on dashes, one of Lingua Franca’s readers, Dan K, sent me an email noting that Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, spells semicolon without a hyphen. I had spelled it with a hyphen — because in my head, that word has a hyphen. And the editors clearly didn’t have strong enough feelings about the spelling to change it.

The fifth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language agrees with Merriam-Webster’s spelling, not with th…


Direct Objects or Lack Thereof

71pLyLC3SELAs a memento of my visit to the London offices of The Economist I took away a printed copy of the 2013 edition of the magazine’s style book. Its 200 sides of heavy, high-gloss paper are spiral-bound to remain open on the desk at the user’s elbow: The book is intended for daily use.

It has a personality; you can sense it. Take a look, for example, at the beginning of the entry headed “transitive and intransitive verbs”:

The distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs is often now disreg…


Racists and Racialists — and What’s the Difference?

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 9.57.48 AMOn June 7, a New York Times editorial addressed Donald Trump’s remarks that Judge Gonazalo Curiel has “an inherent conflict of interest” in a lawsuit against Trump University because he is “of Mexican heritage.” “Republicans who say they disagree with Mr. Trump’s racialist statements,” the Times declared, “have tried to assuage the public by arguing that he doesn’t really believe those views.”

Racialist is the word that jumps out. The Oxford English Dictionary says it is equivalent to racist but…


Just Like a Woman

naked-cartwheelOn occasional Thursday evenings I participate in a figure-drawing circle. Artists of all abilities sit with their easels in front of them and a nude model in the center, who poses first in short stints, then in a “long pose” broken by five-minute breaks. A month or so ago, a new model, very young, intriguing-looking and flexible, posed for us. She had short hair tinged blue (as was her pubic hair), multiply pierced earlobes, a petite figure. There was something different about the way she he…


Liars and Snakes: Plumbing New Rhetorical Depths

Boris Johnson visit to the USA - Day 3

Boris Johnson: Trump with a thesaurus?

Britain is now deep into campaigning for the referendum on whether to back out of the political and economic union defining the world’s largest single market. After about eight years here I still feel mostly like one of the many Americans in Edinburgh, and our focus is mainly on the U.S. presidential election campaign; but the referendum struggle is capturing ever more of a share of the news media here.

I came to hate referendums (referenda, if you insist o…


All Onboard!


All on board: a barge cruise from Castlefield to Salford, England. Not what HR has in mind.

Since the great age of the iron horse, the cry “All aboard!” has rung out from platforms, the conductor coaxing passengers into their carriages.

It’s not just train conductors. James Brown urged us on, too (“All aboard the Night Train”), and you’ve probably heard “All aboard!” in black-and-white melodramas,  usually at a moment of dramatic tension punctuated by a cloud of locomotive steam.

To be on board …


The ‘L’ You Say


A Chicago ‘L’ train in the northeast corner of the Loop

Actually, the way you say it is never a problem. There’s only one way. But how you spell it — that’s another story.

The el, of course, is Chicago’s rapid-transit rail system, operated now by the Chicago Transit Authority and dating back to the 1890s. Eight lines nowadays, more than 100 miles of track, third busiest in the country, etc. The CTA writes it as ‘L,’ with single quotation marks.

However you spell it, its name was always pronounc…