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Cover Up

Burkini: If you’ve been in seclusion for the past month, you might be excused for wondering if Burkini were inhabitants of Burkina Faso, or maybe Italian devotees of the Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke.

No less improbably, the burkini  — a new name for full beachside covering worn by observant Muslim women and others —  has become a flashpoint in (what else is new?) the regulation of women’s wear in public.

The term burkini — also spelled burqini — combines burqa and bikini. The garment…

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‘Back’ Again

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Former Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson. (Photo: Doug Pensinger /Allsport)

Last week I wrote about the vogue for walking back statements. Ready for another back idiom? I got your back.

Right, that’s it, I got your back. It’s not a new thing — my Lingua Franca colleague William Germano took note of it in 2013 — but over the last year or so it has grown like Topsy. It is pretty much everywhere, and it is used in every possible context. A couple of weeks ago, Joe Biden said, “I want t…

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‘Shenanigans’ in Rio

pic44731_mdThis just in from my friend, the writer Ethelbert Miller:

We know too many are trapped inside the criminal-justice system. After all the dirt of crime we never seem to reach the rinse cycle. We are never able to stop or dry our tears from injustice. One word I never heard any black person incarcerated use was the word shenanigans. I think if we used this word to describe black behavior there would be a reduction in the number of black boys arrested. Think of the word shenanigans recently used by…

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Did You Drop That ‘H’?

337-t1This past weekend I was preparing for a talk I’ll be giving next month in Washington, D.C. At some moment I decided to check the description of the seminar online to make sure that I would be talking about what I said I would be talking about several months ago. (I have learned not to trust my memory on this!)

In the middle of reading the description, I thought, “I didn’t write that sentence that way.” Now, if I wasn’t sure I could remember what I said I would be talking about, how could…

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Back to Back ‘Back’

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“Walk back the cat”refers to  a boat’s cat-davit (crane in the bow).

When it comes to forming idioms and slang expressions, few words are more productive than back. It accounts for 12½ pages in Green’s Dictionary of Slang, from back (a weaker drink to go along with a stronger one, as in “a whiskey with a beer back”) to backyard (n. [US] the buttocks, esp. in the context of anal sex.”) In the Beatles catalog alone, there’s “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “I’ll Be Back,” and “Get Back,” and, among other…

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A Person Who

am-a-simple-person-who-hides-a-thousand-feelings-behind-the-happiest-dGxksS-quoteI heard Barbra Streisand the other day, being interviewed on the radio, describe herself as “a person who likes to live in the moment.” The phrasing made me think of my students, whom I’ll see in two short weeks. We always start our small classes with introductions, and I can no longer count the times I’ve heard, “I’m a person who. … ” To my ear, there’s little difference in basic meaning between I’m a person who likes and I like. Rhetorically, though, the emphasis is different. I decided to dig…

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Trump: Ironies in the Fire

How are we to read Trump?

Does he really mean it when he says he will build a wall on our southern border and make Mexico pay for it? Or when he invites Russia to find Hillary’s missing emails? Or when he points to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as co-founders of ISIS?

Fortunately, the candidate has recently provided us with guidelines to his manner of speaking.

On August 12, he tweeted:

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Machine-to-Human Communication: Nobody Cares

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Ticketless illegals trapped inside tram

I continue to have bad experiences with the machines that purport to talk to me in everyday life. Recently I took one of the new trams to the Edinburgh airport. The computer-controlled doors closed and the tram moved off. As it glided away, a smooth prerecorded voice told us: “Please note that tickets must be purchased, or cards validated, before boarding the tram.” A bit late for that! Couldn’t the system have been programmed to supply that crucial inform…

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What Are We Drinking?

Kool-AidI ran across a Facebook thread recently lamenting the insensitivity of the ubiquitous phrase “drink the Kool-Aid.” The argument was that the phrase originated with the Jonestown massacre of November 18, 1978, when the cult leader Jim Jones called on (and in many cases forced) his followers to drink cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid, resulting in more than 900 deaths in a remote jungle outpost in Guyana. Given its tragic origins, many felt, we should not be using it to describe, say, the followers of Dona…

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New in DARE: Bird’s Nest on the Ground

Flicker/Leimenide

The six-volume Dictionary of American Regional English, completed in print in 2012, continues to augment its coverage with quarterly updates by the chief editor, George Goebel, at the University of Wisconsin. The fifth update, for summer 2016, has just been published, with a dozen new entries and 40 revised ones. Most of the entries update or enrich the letter B, originally published in Volume I more than 30 years ago.

You can take a free look here.

What will you find? To begin…