Monthly Archives: January 2017

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A Language Museum?

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Franklin School in Washington, D.C. (Image via Wikimedia Commons.)

The question mark was to get your attention. As of last Wednesday, we can change it to a period: A language museum.

On January 25, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development in Washington, D.C., announced that the historic Franklin School has been approved for development into a museum called Planet Word. The project is spearheaded by — and privately funded by — the philanthropist and former reading …

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Pussies and Appropriation

womens-march-pink-1024x676They were hard to ignore, those square-shaped pink knit caps carpeting the Mall in Washington and flooding the streets of New York and other major cities around the world. Weeks before the Women’s March, when I first saw organizers sporting these things, I thought they looked stupid, an awkward flop of pink atop the head. Then a crafty friend knit me one, and it not only kept me warm through a gray, blustery day in Washington; it empowered me.

The Pussy Hat Project is a classic example of approp…

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An OK Day in March

imagesOn March 23, 1839, a funny little abbreviation that would greatly affect all our lives was born. Though it was destined for influence and long life, its beginning was anything but auspicious. It appeared Page 2 of the Boston Morning Post in a long humorous story about Boston’s Anti-Bell-Ringing-Society, a group of young men who opposed legislation prohibiting the ringing of dinner bells. (That’s right. Don’t ask.)

In the midst of that complicated, supposedly humorous story, the author and editor…

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Is ‘Mens’ Becoming a Word?

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In deciding whether or not to use, and where to place, an apostrophe after a genitive (or possessive) word, I have always relied on men. That’s men, the word. Here’s what I mean. If I wanted to refer to the school I attended as a youth, there are basically three choices: “a boy’s private school,” “a boys private school,” and “a boys’ private school.”  (“Boy private school” doesn’t sound right.) I’d be able to eliminate the first option quickly, as it implies that the school was designed for or …

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Call It Macaroni

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Just in time to palliate the itch to add my learned commentary to Kellyanne Conway’s remarkable coinage of a hot candidate for Word of the Year 2017, “alternative facts,” the snail mail this week brought from the Missouri University of Science & Technology, in Rolla, the latest issue of Gerald Cohen‘s Comments on Etymology. As is frequently the case, Cohen is not only editor but author of the half-dozen articles in the 32 pages of Vol. 46, No. 3-4 for December 2016-17. …

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Recovering My Heritage

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It’s January 25, and as everyone knows, that is the birthday of the Bard of Ayrshire: Robert Burns.

And since a small conference on the Scots language is being held today at the University of Edinburgh, there is surely only one possible choice for what to do tonight: We’re having a traditional Burns Night Supper.

A Burns Supper, though the format is informal and flexible, typically involves certain rituals, and of course certain characteristic foods. The food at our gathering will be fully in l…

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The New Cruelty

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Illustration for “Lycidas” by Samuel Palmer

“Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth,” wrote John Milton in what was once, I am assured, a poem every schoolboy knew by heart. The poem, of course, is “Lycidas,” Milton’s glorious memorial to a young friend who has drowned.  The line’s first three words became the title of a 1929 novel by Thomas Wolfe, less read now than it once was.

But it’s those last three words – melt with ruth – that might stop you. The sense of that phrase – may the ang…

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Hypotheticals vs. Contrary-to-Fact

situational-hypothetical-questionsSomehow I am getting news announcements from The New York Times on my iPhone. I don’t know how I elected this option, but it’s interesting to see what they choose to send me and how they choose to word it. Here’s what floated in on the morning of January 17:

18 million would lose insurance and premiums would soar in 2018 if Obamacare is partially repealed, a congressional study says.

Now, I know we get our panties in an unnecessary twist when it comes to things like the conditional tense and the…

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Hoosiers, Suckers, Badgers, and Wolverines

featureImage_miniDon’t get distracted by the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue on Friday. The really big news from Washington came a week or so ago, when the
U.S. Government Publishing Office announced that it has finally adopted Hoosier as the official name for folks from Indiana.

The GPO made the change in its stylebook at the instigation of two U.S. senators from Indiana — Joe Donnelly and Dan Coats, who last summer sent a letter requesting the change. Coats has since been replaced by Todd Young, who likewise a…

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On Dogs Catching Vehicles

Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 2.12.46 PMIn Texas this month for the annual meeting of the American Dialect Society, I picked up a copy of the local alternative weekly, The Austin Chronicle. It turned out to be the year-in-review issue. Chosen as Quote of the Year was a sentence uttered by Matt Mackowiak, identified as a “GOP strategist,” on November 10: “Donald Trump is the dog that caught the car.”

Not only was it a great quote, but it was already on my mind: Even before I got to Austin, I felt as if I were hearing versions of it eve…