All posts by Allan Metcalf


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 Coats has since been replaced by Todd Young, who likewise a…


Homeland Generation: What’s the Word?

millennials-gen-why-5-638At a time when Americans seem more conscious than ever of the separate categories to which they belong — race, gender, ethnicity, religion, political, urban or rural, occupation, native language, etc. — there has emerged a very different  way of categorizing that appears to obliterate all the others: by generations.

Much of the time we are concerned about the divisions in society. Somehow these disappear — e pluribus becomes unum — when we talk about generations. It’s a notion that was introduce…


A Perfectly Nice Drink

maxresdefaultYes, Christmas and New Year’s Day are over, and their celebrations too. But now in most of the country, winter has newly arrived, and it isn’t going away any time soon. Nor are politics, for that matter.

What to do?

Well, keep warm and forget politics with a hot toddy.

What’s that?

Try this, in a coffee mug: 2 ounces of bourbon, 1 tablespoon of honey, 2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice, and a quarter cup of hot water. If you use Koval Single Barrel Bourbon, you have a Koval Hot Toddy.

Or try this …


Hashtag Christmas and Emoji New Year!

emojiBack in 1990, the internet was young, and print still ruled, as it had since the days of Johannes Gutenberg. It followed then that the American Dialect Society, introducing the notion of a Word of the Year, looked to print for candidates. The winner was the sarcastic political term bushlips, referring to President Bush’s failure to keep his promise of “Read my lips — no new taxes.”

Fast forward a quarter century to 2016, and the digital revolution has had its effect on our language. Not only ha…


‘Bigly’ Is Huge

maxresdefaultYes, it didn’t take long for a reader of my Friday post to recognize what I meant when I hinted about my favorite word of the year 2016: ”It’s big.” Betsy Smith, retired from Cape Cod Community College, correctly deduced that my choice, for now at least, is bigly.

Why bigly? Because it contains so much in so little. It has a long history, yet until now was nearly obsolete. Its etymology is disputed. And most important, it expresses the state of mind of the winning candidate for the U.S. presiden…


Words for a Year of Fear

WOTYwordThis week Time magazine announced its Person of the Year, the person who made the most news in 2016. To nobody’s surprise, that was Donald Trump.

But what about the Word of the Year 2016? That’s a little harder.

Trump certainly inspired neologisms. Witness, for example, David Barnhart’s “Trumptionary” that I have excerpted in previous posts.

March 7:

“The Trumptionary”

March 17:

“The Trumptionary, Part 2″

October 31:

“Trumptionary 3: Barnhart’s Never-Finished Dictionary of Politics”

Barnhart’s N…


Hey, You Guys! Listen Up!

you-guys-yall-mapGuys, are you listening? Let me tell you a story. A true story, in fact, about Barack Obama.

Obama has good rapport with the presidential press corps. Or so it would seem.

As White House photographers and reporters crowded in to hear Obama and Donald Trump tell how their first meeting went, two days after the November 8 election, Obama ended the session like this:

“Thank you, everybody. We are not going to take questions. Thank you, guys.

“Come on, guys, yeah, c’mon, guys.

“Thank you, guys, appr…


From N.H. to La.: ‘Dictionary of American Regional English’ Update No. 6

5827-dare-mapWhat do bob house, boo-hag, and bullnozer have to do with each other?

In case you’re not familiar with these terms, a bob house is what people in New Hampshire, some of them at least, call an ice-fishing shanty.  A boo-hag, in South Carolina, is a kind of ghost, by one account a “witchy  woman … who can unzip her corporeal body and hang it up like a coat.” And a bullnozer, in the Appalachians and vicinity, is just another name for bulldozer.

But what do they have in common? Maybe a story of a bo…


T Time: Real Money

“A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” That’s one of the best-known sayings around Capitol Hill, generally attributed to Everett Dirksen, a conservative Republican who served as minority leader in the U.S. Senate in the 1950s and 1960s.

As the researchers Barry Popik and Fred Shapiro have shown, however, Dirksen didn’t originate the saying, which goes back to the Depression of the 1930s. But he did popularize it as a way to satirize government extravagance.


Trumptionary 3: Barnhart’s Never-Finished Dictionary of Politics

Screen Shot 2016-10-31 at 12.55.10 PMWhatever fate the electorate has for Donald Trump next week, he has already gained such attention that he has inspired the media to unprecedented heights in devising new words. A lone lexicographer from the renowned Barnhart lexicographical family has undertaken to collect a heap of these words for posterity, giving each the documentation that befits a historical dictionary.

Last March I had the pleasure and privilege of reporting in Lingua Franca two excerpts from this burgeoning collection.