Monthly Archives: March 2017

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Thinking in Mayan

wicked-mayan-hieroglyphs-mexico-cityI am writing this in Mérida, Mexico, where my husband and I lucked out in avoiding the snowstorm that hit the Northeast this week. We are baking in the Yucatán sunshine and visiting nearby Mayan sites. Our second day here, in a city park, we bumped into a professor of Mayan studies at a nearby college who wanted to practice his English. Many of the edifices in Mérida were built from the five pyramids of the Mayan city that once occupied this site, and he pointed out to us a series of hierogly…

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A Dash of Zhouzh

a4395f381cf4a0f070e8acd1cc5ca721I’ve been told that my posts could use a little more zhoozh. If only I knew what it means, and how to spell it! Is it zhush, zhuzh, tjuz, tjuzs, joozh, zoozh, or —? Is that a noun, or maybe a verb? Let’s see. …

It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that zhouzh. If Duke Ellington (right) had been a millennial, that’s the word he might have used in place of “swing” — though admittedly there would have been a problem with the rhyme.

The word became prominent a decade ago in the reality TV show Quee…

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‘Done and Done’

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Maria Edgeworth

I texted my wife the other day asking whether she had walked the dog. She answered, “Done and done.” I was like, “Wait — what and what??”

The truth is, the expression, indicating a task accomplished, did have a bit of a familiar ring to it. Going to Google News, I find these examples just in the last 10 days:

  • “I also believe it’s a particularly good match for the free-weekend treatment. You get in, you hopefully have a good time, and you get out. Done and done.” –Destructoid, on…
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Word-Processing Misery

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John Cleese

In a long-forgotten Monty Python sketch, John Cleese is driving a panel truck for the BBC. “I wanted to be in program planning,” he remarks acidly to a colleague, “But unfortunately I have a degree.”

I wanted to work in linguistics. But unfortunately personal computing was invented, and I ended up an amateur software engineer specializing in file format conversion and workarounds for word-processor bugs. I try to do a bit of linguistics in my spare time.

Left to my own devices, I wou…

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Lies, Damned Lies, and Press Releases

Unusual_Views_of_Celebrated_Bridges_in_the_Provinces-Sesshuu_Tenmabashi

Hokusai’s view of Japan (Image via Wikimedia Commons). Wilde: No such country.

If you aren’t nauseated yet by the outpouring of lies from our elected officials and those that serve them, you’ve got a stronger stomach than I do or you’re not paying attention.

But what is a lie, after all?

Mark Twain gave currency to the bon mot that lies come in three flavors:  lies, damned lies, and statistics. Social scientists have been dining out on that one for a century now.

In his little dialogue “The De…

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On, and In, the Bubble

The_Boy_in_the_Plastic_BubbleContinuing on the subject of “>sports, March Madness, aka the Big Dance, aka the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, is nearly upon us, bringing to mind the subject of basketball catch phrases, buzzwords, and clichés. Each year, a new selection of these emerges. Most subside after a few seasons, while a few — such as go-to guy or buzzer-beater or knock down (a basket) from downtown — stick around for the long haul.

Some of these terms have an evident utility. A few years ago, announcers and pundit…

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Data Mining for Personally Targeted Politics

Brexit vote mapRegular Lingua Franca readers may recall that I am a skeptic about both machine intelligence and the dangers of computers invading our privacy. But do not imagine that I am dismissive of all developments in the fields bracketed under the misnomer “artificial intelligence”: Some of the claims made about what computers can do are true, even a little scary.

I know I mocked the pathetic artificial stupidity exhibited by the devices that purport to communicate linguistically with us. I dissed 2013-vi…

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Just Try That With Your Bootstraps

Dr_Martens,_black,_oldIdioms mean what idioms mean. I get that. So at this point, “pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps” means to improve one’s situation or succeed through one’s own efforts, without outside help. But the fact that pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps is, in reality, impossible, is too telling a part of this phrase’s origins to ignore.

I mean, try it. If you have boots with bootstraps, hold onto those loops at the top of the heel and try to launch yourself upward. You can’t do it. You need …

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X-ing Out Excellence

in-pursuit-of-excellenceIn a former lifetime I served as director of publications for a small liberal-arts college whose ambitious president wanted to put it on the map. The word he asked me and others to promote in articles, in capital-campaign materials, in announcements of scholarship opportunities, and the like was excellence. I wondered at the time what was so special about claiming to be excellent. Were there liberal-arts colleges that claimed to be mediocre, or merely good? Perhaps, I thought, I was influenced b…

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Unicorns and Their Opposite

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Katie Workman, an independent retailer, wears unicorn leggings.

As James Thurber once explained in his fable “The Unicorn in the Garden,” the unicorn is a mythical beast. To argue otherwise labels you crazy as a jay bird.

But if you’re really looking for a real unicorn nowadays, you can find it at LuLaRoe. And for that matter, donkeys too. Who knew?

Not I, certainly,

It turns out that LuLaRoe makes, among other things for women, leggings — highly decorative pants that fit like tights. Suitabl…