Monthly Archives: October 2017


Appalachian English

If you might could be wondering a little about the kind of English spoken in the Appalachians — the kind that includes double modals like “might could” and asks, “Was you wantin’ to go to town?” Well, there’s a new website, written by the leading experts on that very topic, that tells the truth, the whole truth, about it. It’s free, available to everyone, and it’s right here.

Instead of waiting here for my further explanation, you can go right now to the website and enjoy its many features, inc…


The Strange Language of Harvey Weinstein’s Denial


Harvey Weinstein in 2010 (Photo by David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons)

There is a very peculiar flavor to the grammar of the statement released by Harvey Weinstein (via the spokeswoman Sallie Hofmeister) after he learned about the content of the New Yorker article in which many women allege he assaulted them sexually. The syntax writhes in discomfort:

Any allegations of nonconsensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein. Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any…


The Language of Enslavement

Since reading the novelist Kaitlyn Greenidge’s recent New York Times essay on historical markers of African-American women’s history in New England, I’ve been mulling over her use of enslaved. There’s been a debate about the language of slavery — or slaving, as some writers prefer to call the institution — for several years. The changes that many have proposed, and that Greenidge embraces in her essay, put the emphasis on the humanity of people who were brought to this continent against their…


300 Posts, Still Getting It Wrong

geoff_as_dunce I have just arrived at a small milestone: This post is my 300th on Lingua Franca (see the full listing here).
In August 2011 we started publishing every working day of the year, and I’ve done 50 posts a year with no breaks. That’s a lot of practice. But I’ve hardly ever managed to write a post that is flawless in the eyes of our wonderful and dedicated editor, Heidi Landecker.

The Chronicle does serious editing. We were all told from the get-go that we had to follow New York Times guidelines no…


Our American Poets


In the spring of 1963 I lived for a semester with a handful of fellow students in a pleasant wood-frame house in Berkeley, Calif. The house was perhaps 50 years old and in good condition, but it was to be demolished that May to make room for an apartment building.

In a hallway that I walked through several times a day hung a wood-framed glass-fronted collection of photographs of six distinguished-looking people. And though they were mainly looking at each other — three on the left looking to…


Hell, Yes, I’m Judging You


I have a smart and popular Facebook friend named Carrie Rickey. I mention those two qualities because her status updates usually draw responses that are clever and many. That was the case recently, when she posted: “Can we please retire the word bespoke?”

One hundred thirty-eight comments ensued. A good number agreed with Carrie’s proposal; as one put it, “I think ‘bespoke’ is fine to use if you’re a British tailor. People assembling a museum exhibit can use ‘curate.’ Everyone else can get over…


Christopher Columbus’s Catalan-Inflected Language


Columbus monument in Barcelona, with helicopter bearing symbol of Catalonia (Photo by Carles Ribas, El País)

The violence surrounding the Catalan independence referendum on October 1 has put Spanish democracy under a microscope. Some scholars believe Monday’s holiday, which the United States calls Columbus Day and some localities celebrate as Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead, has an implicit link to the Catalan independence struggle, one that casts some doubt on the national origins of Chris…


How Maria Got Her Name (That’s ‘Ma-RYE-a’)


George Rippey Stewart

Hurricane Maria made its unforgettable impression on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands last month. But where did it get its name? And who first thought of giving names to tropical storms, anyhow?

Was it the National Hurricane Center, which has been naming storms in the Atlantic since 1953? No, earlier than that.

Or did the idea come from Lerner and Loewe, who back in 1951 composed “They Call the Wind Maria” for the musical Paint Your Wagon?

How about American military mete…


Sad React

sad emoji

Over the past few years, students have kept me informed about how texting (and instagramming and facebooking and snapchatting and the like) is changing both written and spoken English. As I have written about before, I am not concerned that these kinds of electronically mediated communication (or “fingered speech,” as John McWhorter calls it) are ruining the language, either spoken or written. I am much more interested in the inventiveness of the usage in these new registers, from punctuation a…


The Rise of the Restrictive Comma


The Major League home-run champion, Giancarlo Stanton. A comma is needed because he’s the only ML home-run champion. (Image courtesy

This message came over the transom the other day:

Hi Ben! I often refer friends or colleagues to an article you wrote about “The Most Comma Mistakes.” I sometimes feel I get on my high horse about when commas before/after names should or shouldn’t be used, but I’m stumped this time. I hope you don’t mind me asking you a question to get your opinion.

I’m tr…