All posts by Allan Metcalf

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Sheetcaking: Seriously?

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Tina Fey [Image via YouTube]

 

This past Sunday afternoon, my wife took time to follow the Pioneer Woman’s recipe for “The Best Chocolate Sheet Cake. Ever.” The result was indeed the best chocolate sheetcake I’ve ever had.

But it wasn’t just a culinary event. It also fed our vocabulary — yet another political word for this turbulent year.

What does cake have to do with politics? The instigator, Tina Fey, explained it on the evening of Thursday, August 17, on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update.

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Take a Gander

Traverse CityEvery summer my wife and I head north from Illinois to the “big lake” — Lake Michigan, of course — at Pentwater and the tourist attractions of Traverse City, Mich., where her daughter lives. Along the way, we meet lots of Michiganders.

A resident of Ohio is an Ohioan. Of Wisconsin, a Wisconsinite. Of Iowa, an Iowan. Someone who lives in Michigan, however, is best known not as a Michiganian, but as a Michigander.

Is that a joke? Or a proud designation? Despite the association with geese, it seems…

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Lollapalooza: a Modern Sockdolager

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A
t times the English language has seemed inadequate to express the expansiveness and exuberance of the American spirit … at times, that is, when the nation felt expansive and exuberant.

Words like expansive and exuberant wouldn’t do; they can be quite accurate in denotation, but too nicely tied to classical Latin roots to express this spirit.

No, for the American experience, a different kind of sesquipedalian nomenclature was needed. And in the early 19th century it emerged, breathing fire and…

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‘Dictionary of American Regional English’ Speaks!

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Chronicle illustration by Ellen Winkler

 

If you read my posts, you may be familiar by now with the grand six-volume Dictionary of American Regional English, completed in print in 2013, but continuing to live beyond that date in quarterly updates on the internet.

Now DARE  has come to life in another way. It’s not just in writing that the dictionary tells us about the different ways we talk in this vast country. DARE  is speaking up!

Now we can hear the recorded voices of some 1,800 people in 1,…

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Body of Punctuation

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The 21st century has introduced new media for language. And it’s not just the modern electronic technology of the internet, carrying messages via email or Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, and the rest. It’s also carrying messages on something as primitive and ancient as human history — our bodies.

Well, not everyone’s bodies. But especially those of the millennials, who seem inclined to punctuate themselves with tattooed marks. And while the body punctuation often conveys the sam…

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Hohumland

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Homeland.
Has this word really been with us for nearly 15 years?
Yes, it has. Congress voted in November 2002 to bring this rarely used word to our attention by establishing the United States Department of Homeland Security.

For naming the new department, Homeland was an excellent choice: little used in everyday speech or writing, but a transparent word which had been in the English language for some time and whose meaning was easy to discern: a land that was someone’s home.

After that, homelan…

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Got a Great Joke About Language? Enter This Contest

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A funny thing happened on the way to today’s Lingua Franca. Well, actually it didn’t, but I’m still hoping.

It’s all the fault of the Linguistic Society of America, which is sponsoring a “Friday Funny” series on Facebook (see the Linguistic Society of America website) and Twitter (@LingSocAm) this summer.

“Linguists love humor,” the LSA says, “but can we practice what we study?”

To answer that question, the society is holding a contest with a deadline very soon: this coming Monday, July 17. “En…

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Repeal and Replace — or Revise? Obamacare!

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So what exactly have those Republican senators come up with to vote on, whenever they can muster enough support?

They have proposed what they call the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, known as H.R. 1628 because it is a revision, indeed a complete replacement, of the American Health Care Act passed by the House last month. And that in turn would have replaced the Affordable Care Act, better known by its nickname, Obamacare, almost since it was proposed in 2007.

So this Republican version …

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Among the Old New Words

4.coverFor three-quarters of a century, the journal American Speech has watched for new words and reported them in a regular feature called “Among the New Words” (ATNW, hereafter). In a recent issue, in celebration of this 75th anniversary, the current authors (Ben Zimmer of the Wall Street Journal, Charles Carson of Duke University Press, and Jane Solomon of Dictionary.com) looked back and selected one word from each of the years since that feature began. (The issue is Volume 91, No. 4, dated November…

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Lexicographers Luxuriate in Barbados

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What happens when you take 50 people who make or study dictionaries and land them on a remote Caribbean island?

The Dictionary Society of North America provided an answer to that question last week, when it held its three-day biennial meeting not within the United States or Canada, as it had all 20 times before, but in the Caribbean, on the island of Barbados.

And that made a difference. The distance from North America discouraged some North Americans from making the trip. On the other hand, th…