All posts by Allan Metcalf

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‘Crawdaddy,’ ‘Boomba,’ and a ‘Bounce-Around’: an Online Update of Regional Words

DARE9780674425071-lgThe eighth in what we hope will be an unending series of online updates for the Dictionary of American Regional English is now available, free, to all who wonder what else there is to say about the varieties of American English vocabulary already caught in the six massive print volumes of the dictionary.

This eighth update shows there is always plenty to be added, and always will be, as long as we continue speaking (or writing) American English in an endless variety of ways.

But first, some good…

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News, False and Fake

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The Handmaid’s Tale, Hulu

“Sometimes I wish she would just shut up and let me walk in peace. But I’m ravenous for news, any kind of news; even if it’s false news, it must mean something.”

Recognize this sentiment? It’s more than three decades old, predating Twitter (2006), Facebook (2004), Google (1996) and the internet (1990s) by a wide margin. But it shows that even in the good old days, there was concern about the validity of news reports, as well as eagerness for them. At least there was tha…

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Trump: Down to Earth but Not Dignified

Andrew Jackson was the first down-to-earth president.

When John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died, coincidentally both on July 4, 1826, half a century after the Declaration of Independence, they must have thought that the character of the presidency had been thoroughly established in the mold of George Washington. After Washington came Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and then the start of the next generation of college-educated, well-to-do gentlemen: John Quincy Adams.

Adams and Jefferson could…

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Truly Weighty Words

IMG_2138Once upon a time, way back in the 20th century, newspapers were not electronic but mechanical. Last week I reminisced about the mechanical tools used by reporters and copy editors: the standard manual typewriter, powered by the writer’s own fingers; half-sheets of newsprint rolled through the typewriter and taking imprints of the keys; and a No. 1 soft black Mirado pencil for marking paragraphs and making corrections.

But one big step was still needed before the marked-up typewriter copy, light …

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Weighty Words of Yesteryear

Vintage-40s-UNDERWOOD-Standard-Manual-Typewriter-Art-Deco-_57Nowadays, thanks to the internet (which has lost its capital letter in the AP stylebook, for becoming too ordinary) and our numerous computers, smartphones, and other devices, our words flit from device to device to publication as light as their weight in electrons.

But as we veterans of the 20th century know, it wasn’t always that way. There was a time, back before anyone had thought of cluttering our (literal) desktops with computers, when our words were always hard copy, beginning with ink on…

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Language Birthers

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Shakespeare birthers believe that anyone but the Bard wrote the plays and sonnets.

Birther is an excellent word, invented about a decade ago to designate those who claimed, against all evidence, that Barack Obama was born in Africa (or Asia — anywhere outside U.S. territory) and thus prohibited by Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution from holding the office of president of the United States. (Nobody claimed that he had not attained the age of at least 35 years, or had not been a resident…

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You Say EEther, I Say AYEther

76019either or neitherSay what you will about it, either deserves a second look. Or a second hearing. And neither too, for that matter.

In a usage book like Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage, you’ll see that in its written form, either presents usage experts with conundrums, having to do with meaning and verb agreement. Even to summarize those discussions would occupy more space than this entire column, so forget about that. What I’m interested in is a simpler yet more mysterious matter: how you s…

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Virginia Festival of the Book

VA-Book-Fest-2017-620x400-DLBooks are still alive and well.

I discovered this last weekend in Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia, at the 23rd annual Virginia Festival of the Book. Authors too are alive and well, and abundant. There were hundreds of them, surrounded by thousands of books, at tables filling the lobby of the Omni Hotel. Along with hundreds more of bibliophiles, browsing and buying.

Even the sun contributed to the festivities, shining benevolently through a cool sky on outdoor book displays.

T…

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OK, Okay, Happy 178th Birthday!

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 3.51.37 PMThis Thursday, March 23, 2017, is the 178th birthday of America’s (and the world’s) greatest word.

OK?

Yes, OK is the word. And it was born on Page 2 of the Boston Morning Post on Saturday, March 23, 1839.

Actually, OK was so successful from the beginning that its birthday couldn’t be discerned until more than a century later, when the Columbia University professor Allen Walker Read published a series of articles on OK in the journal American Speech. Perusing nearly every page of every newspaper…

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A Dash of Zhouzh

a4395f381cf4a0f070e8acd1cc5ca721I’ve been told that my posts could use a little more zhoozh. If only I knew what it means, and how to spell it! Is it zhush, zhuzh, tjuz, tjuzs, joozh, zoozh, or —? Is that a noun, or maybe a verb? Let’s see. …

It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that zhouzh. If Duke Ellington (right) had been a millennial, that’s the word he might have used in place of “swing” — though admittedly there would have been a problem with the rhyme.

The word became prominent a decade ago in the reality TV show Quee…