All posts by Allan Metcalf


Happy Valentine’s Day! (With the Intelligent Basketball)


Anita Reeves as Mrs Malaprop in “The Rivals,” by R.B. Sheridan,
Abbey Theatre, 1998. Photo: Amelia Stein.

So much for that greeting. If you’re happily in love, you need no further meddling from me. If you’re not, the last thing you need is a reminder of the day.

So I have a better idea, thanks to some files I was clearing out the other day. Yes, real cardboard folders with paper inside, the way they used to be before the cloud. And they have nothing to do with V-day.

One of the folders was labele…


Trumping the Extremists


Barry Goldwater

O tempora, o mores!

The language of politics used to be so straightforward.

More than 50 years later, I can still hear the echo of Barry Goldwater’s acceptance speech at the 1964 Republican convention:

“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Goldwater lost the presidential election to Lyndon Johnson that year, by a considerable margin. You can argue what Goldwater …


An OK Day in March

imagesOn March 23, 1839, a funny little abbreviation that would greatly affect all our lives was born. Though it was destined for influence and long life, its beginning was anything but auspicious. It appeared Page 2 of the Boston Morning Post in a long humorous story about Boston’s Anti-Bell-Ringing-Society, a group of young men who opposed legislation prohibiting the ringing of dinner bells. (That’s right. Don’t ask.)

In the midst of that complicated, supposedly humorous story, the author and editor…


Call It Macaroni


Image: Wikimedia Commons

Just in time to palliate the itch to add my learned commentary to Kellyanne Conway’s remarkable coinage of a hot candidate for Word of the Year 2017, “alternative facts,” the snail mail this week brought from the Missouri University of Science & Technology, in Rolla, the latest issue of Gerald Cohen‘s Comments on Etymology. As is frequently the case, Cohen is not only editor but author of the half-dozen articles in the 32 pages of Vol. 46, No. 3-4 for December 2016-17. …


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…