Monthly Archives: November 2016

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Travails With My ‘Aunt’

Scott Simon says "ahnt"

Simon says “ahnt”

I’ve written before about a trend I first noticed in my students, then observed in the wider world: eschewing the common or standard spelling, pronunciation, or version of a word in favor of one that is or seems fancier or more British. Examples include amongst (instead of the traditional among); whomever instead of whoever in the subjective case (“I’ll give a ticket to whomever wants one”); the British spelling grey (gray) and the faux-British spelling advisor; and pronouncing…

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Recalculating Route

2RoadsDJoly

 

Because I don’t own a car, whenever I need to rent one I discover, all over again, the weird comfort of the NeverLost GPS.

I do have a few skills that operate at a fairly high level, but spatial orientation isn’t one of them. The idea of never being lost — or of being NeverLost ™ —  seems like a dream. (That word neverlost  is absurd. Is it a rock star’s California ranch? A classic of Edwardian children’s lit?)

When I drive, I use the GPS constantly, sometimes talking back to the voice of the…

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‘Arrival’: Just Say Yes

louisebanks

Spoiler alert: I will make no attempt to avoid revealing plot points as I discuss the celebrated recent science-fiction movie Arrival. First, I figure if you’re destined to see it you’ve probably already seen it. And second, it’s actually too deep to spoil, and the whole theme of the story suggests that it couldn’t be spoiled anyway.

Joe Fruehwald organized a group outing to see Arrival in Edinburgh, and the linguists who attended were all agreed on one thing: Seeing a movie give any kind of de…

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Hey, You Guys! Listen Up!

you-guys-yall-mapGuys, are you listening? Let me tell you a story. A true story, in fact, about Barack Obama.

Obama has good rapport with the presidential press corps. Or so it would seem.

As White House photographers and reporters crowded in to hear Obama and Donald Trump tell how their first meeting went, two days after the November 8 election, Obama ended the session like this:

“Thank you, everybody. We are not going to take questions. Thank you, guys.

“Come on, guys, yeah, c’mon, guys.

“Thank you, guys, appr…

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Not Normal

81e48716ddf4ca3d44ade161a8930d2dI’m a very recent convert to the idea of normal.

My allergy to the word has come from two separate strands. One is a trend I’ve noticed among students for at least 20 years, wherein they apply the word normal to forms they consider standard. My creative-writing students, for instance, decry John Barth’s as being “not normal” stories. My literature students ask if I want them to write a “normal” essay. I want to shake them by the shoulders and say, “There is no normal story! There is …

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The Collected Tweets of President-Elect Donald Trump

In a 60 Minutes piece that aired the Sunday after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, Lesley Stahl asked Trump if he would continue to use Twitter. He replied, in part:

It’s a great form of communication. Now, do I say I’ll give it up entirely and throw out, that’s a tremendous form — I pick up– I’m picking up now, I think I picked up yesterday 100,000 people. I’m not saying I love it, but it does get the word out. … I’m going to do very restrained, if I use it at al…

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Thanksgiving Victuals

Thanksgiving ClipartThis week many of us are thinking about or shopping for Thanksgiving victuals. If, that is, we are people who use the word victuals. Otherwise, we’re thinking about or shopping for food.

The word victual(s) is on my mind not because it is Thanksgiving week but instead because a Lingua Franca reader mentioned the word in response to my column about spelling reform and supercede/supersede. The anonymous commenter noted that the spelling supercede probably wasn’t going to be the end of civilizati…

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Bases Loaded

415AduVvBZL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_No, not the Cubs.  (Too late.)  Or the election. (Too soon, and also too late.)

I’m puzzling over the usage shift from based on  to base off  and based off of, a development that has only picked up speed in the student writing I encounter. I hear it in spoken English too, though it makes its strongest impression on me in what is meant as formal writing. My Lingua Franca colleague Anne Curzan made note of the construction a few years back, but its persistence makes it worth revisiting.

A couple o…

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Literally, Seriously?

In the days after last week’s election, I seemed to encounter one observation everywhere.

  • “The American establishment took Trump literally but not seriously, whereas his supporters appear to have taken him seriously but not literally.” —David Aaronovitch, The Times (of London), November 10.
  • “I read a perfect election summation: The people who were against Mr. Trump took him literally but not seriously. His supporters took him seriously but not literally.” –Glenn Beck, The New York Times, Novemb…
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Words of Solace, Words of Action

d510962f696c5b1a77bf1a42fcad5846Votes did not save us from the precipice last week. Yet, so often, language has buoyed us — given us wings, or perhaps simply currents of warm air, to carry us onto steadier ground. I have no such words of my own, but in the past 10 days I’ve been hearing some wise voices, from other dark times. Here are a few:

From W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939”:

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose building…