All posts by Allan Metcalf

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Our Alt-Universe

universe

A year ago, on the day after April Fools’ Day, the Associated Press announced that soon internet would no longer begin with a capital letter. No fooling.

This was the announcement:

“We will lowercase internet effective June 1, when the 2016 Stylebook launches.”

And they explained:

“. . . the lowercase spelling is in line with the public utility aspect of the net, just as radio and television are spelled down as generic terms in mass communications.”

When the AP changed its internet style, other…

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A Name for It

9-11 memorial

National September 11 Memorial, by PWP Landscape Architecture

About 13,000 young people who were born on September 11, 2001, are turning 16 on Monday. That makes most of them now eligible to get their drivers’ licenses. And also to admonish the rest of us: “It’s 9/11 day. Remember to do one good deed.”

Like the rest of us, the new generation of young people keeps the designation 9/11 for the day that the United States suffered its greatest terrorist attack. And the memory of that day may be help…

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Sweet Freak

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Politics seems to dominate American discourse in 2017, making it likely that in January 2018, when members and friends of the American Dialect Society choose the Word of the Year 2017, their vote will go to a political word or phrase. One week sheetcake has everyone’s attention for its new political meaning; the next week it’s Dreamers, and so on.

But despite the preoccupation with politics, it’s still possible that WOTY 2017 could be something quite different, and a lot sweeter: the freakshake

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Finaciously, More Regional Words for ‘DARE’

DAREmap

DARE’s map represents population density when the words were collected, instead of land area.

Without an accident (as they used to say in the South), it’s time again to harvest a quarterly crop of regional words for the online Dictionary of American Regional English. As usual, the new update is available free on DARE’s website, though a subscription fee is required to get the whole six-volume 60,000-word dictionary online.

The dictionary was compiled in 1965-70 by researchers from the University…

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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!

Dare Image by Ellen

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

Question-Mark-Wrist-Tattoo-10

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…