Monthly Archives: March 2017

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Virginia Festival of the Book

VA-Book-Fest-2017-620x400-DLBooks are still alive and well.

I discovered this last weekend in Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia, at the 23rd annual Virginia Festival of the Book. Authors too are alive and well, and abundant. There were hundreds of them, surrounded by thousands of books, at tables filling the lobby of the Omni Hotel. Along with hundreds more of bibliophiles, browsing and buying.

Even the sun contributed to the festivities, shining benevolently through a cool sky on outdoor book displays.

T…

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For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Said.

babyshoes-l300In this space a couple of weeks back, I wrote about a mass email containing 25 Will Rogers “quotations.” As I explained in the post, I am virtually certain none of them were actually said or written by Rogers. Now, after reading Garson O’Toole’s new book, Hemingway Didn’t Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations, I realize that the misattributions were a result of “Host” — one of the 10 mechanisms by which, according to O’Toole, so much false attribution happens nowadays. He explains that …

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The Team Sat in Its Hotel Drinking Its Beers

Lucky BarWhen Business Insider recently published a listicle entitled “21 common grammar mistakes and how to avoid them,” naturally the old chestnut about its being an error to use they (or their or them) “as a singular pronoun” was included.

It repeats a familiar mistake by saying “as a singular pronoun.” Nobody uses they as a singular pronoun. The word is grammatically plural, as you can see from the form of a present-tense verb that has they as subject: You get They are responsible (as with Women are …

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Folly!

Garden_Folly,_Thorp_Perrow_Arboretum_-_geograph.org.uk_-_68768

Trump’s wall along our southern border is not your garden-variety folly.

One of the most oft-misquoted lines in English literature is the three-word escape clause “ignorance is bliss.” You’ve heard it often, probably when the speaker wants to brush off some awkward fact or rumor.

Readers of Lingua Franca know, of course, that this famous observation by Alexander Pope does not endorse ignorance.

Also it’s not Pope. It’s Thomas Gray, whose best-known poem is “Elegy Written in a Country Churc…

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The Total Tell

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel in WashingtonI have totally been thinking about this word.

No, that’s not true. I have been thinking about many other things: midterm grades, spring allergies, whether to freeze half the massive pot of chili I cooked last night, how proud I am of my March-blooming orchid. But in informal parlance, totally simply supplies emphasis. It’s not normal for a person to spend much time mulling over a single adverb; the space it’s taking up in my brain is surprisingly large. Hence, totally; or, were I under 35, like,…

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A Brown Eyed Handsome Man

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 1.25.19 PMI’ve been mourning a gifted African-American poet who died this week. Charles Edward Anderson Berry was 90. The news media talked mainly about his brilliance as a guitarist and showman and his historical importance as perhaps the prime creator of rock and roll, and all that was true, of course. But what I always admired most of all about Chuck Berry was the extraordinary verbal fluidity and imagination of the songs he wrote.

Berry loved to tell stories in song. “Maybellene” (1955), his first rec…

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The Fun of It

grammar fun copyWhen I was invited to give a talk at Aquinas College on singular they, I barely finished reading the invitation before saying yes. It never crossed my mind that a lecture on this kind of grammar topic might seem like a recipe for the pedantic or dull, until friends teased me about it later. (As Lingua Franca readers can imagine, given my multiple posts on the topic, I have at least an hour’s worth of thoughts on this pronoun and what is at stake in using it — or prohibiting its use.)

The talk ha…

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Milking a Comma for All It’s Worth

cow and milkThe case of the dairy drivers has captured the world’s attention. From The New York Times to The New Yorker and Language Log, the $10-million award granted (some say) because of a missing comma makes news in which we all — well, maybe not Oakhurst Dairy, in Maine — can delight.

Readers of Lingua Franca may well know the facts already. The workers’ guideline at issue noted that overtime pay would not cover “the canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for s…

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OK, Okay, Happy 178th Birthday!

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 3.51.37 PMThis Thursday, March 23, 2017, is the 178th birthday of America’s (and the world’s) greatest word.

OK?

Yes, OK is the word. And it was born on Page 2 of the Boston Morning Post on Saturday, March 23, 1839.

Actually, OK was so successful from the beginning that its birthday couldn’t be discerned until more than a century later, when the Columbia University professor Allen Walker Read published a series of articles on OK in the journal American Speech. Perusing nearly every page of every newspaper…

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The ‘Boom!’ Boom

I’ve been seeing this commercial a fair amount:

The thing that strikes me is how Neil Patrick Harris says, “They said it was impossible to have a great-tasting light beer. Boom!”

The onomatopoeic word boom has done an awful lot of service over the years: for example, the nickname of Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion, David Rabe’s play In the Boom Boom Room, and the 1968 Liz Taylor-Richard Burton film Boom! In music, there’s Eddie Cantor’s 1929 novelty number “I Faw Down an’ Go Boom” and Randy Newman’…