All posts by Allan Metcalf


Greetings and Salutations: Endangered Species

Dear readers:

No, that won’t do for an email nowadays. Try again.

Hello, all:

or should my greeting be less hellish? (A generation ago, a county in Texas adopted “heaven-o” as an alternative to “hello.” No, I won’t go that far. Just this — )

Hi, all:

Maybe that will get me off on the right foot. It’s hard to be sure, because in the world of email the salutations aren’t as fixed as they were for communications on paper. Before the internet, a business letter in hard copy would begin “Dear So&So,”…


The Perils of Being a Cubs Fan


The “W” flag means a win at Wrigley Field

Late this past Tuesday evening, a turning point came in a long and hard-fought campaign, a turning point that may well force a permanent redefinition of what it means to belong to a distinctive group of adherents.

No, nothing as trivial as the current presidential campaign, whose significance pales in comparison with what truly matters — being a fan of the Chicago Cubs. And what that means may be about to undergo a drastic revision.

It is well known that…


Welcome to Norwood University

longwood-debate-badge-dWhatever Mike Pence’s qualifications may be as advocate for the Republican presidential candidate, or for his own vice-presidential and presidential temperament, on Tuesday night he showed himself peerless as a comedian.

In his opening remarks at the vice-presidential debate, he declared, with solemn voice and countenance, “Thank you to Norwood University for their wonderful hospitality and Commission on Presidential Debates. It’s deeply humbling for me to be here.”

Humbling indeed. But he wasn’…


The Vocative in Crisis

Comma Peter Arkle

Illustration courtesy of Peter Arkle*

Readers can you pay attention for a moment?

I know there was a debate last night, but seriously readers wouldn’t you prefer to think about something less ephemeral than a presidential election? Something as durable as … vocatives?

I bet neither candidate mentioned vocatives. And yet there’s a vocative crisis, illustrated in my first two sentences above. Readers, lots of vocatives are losing their protective commas, the commas that set them off from their nei…


M22: Highway Sign and Trademark


Fickr photo courtesy of Kathleen McDonald

M22 is not just another pretty face. In fact, not only is it not a face, it isn’t particularly pretty, unless you think a plain black-and-white road sign with letter M and number 22 on a white diamond on a black background can be pretty. But it stands for all that is beautiful at the west edge of the Michigan mitten. And that designation and design, curiously enough, are private property — as you will discover if you try to sell a T-shirt imprinted …


Good Night, September 22!

resize_1379695571We’re approaching that time next week when the earth under the sun reaches momentary equality with everyone and everything, a moment known to the cognoscenti as the equinox.

On the equinox, to put it simply, everyone on earth gets 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night. To put it complexly, there are all sorts of minor exceptions, especially at the equator, where days and nights are close to equal anyhow all year round.

But this is a comment on the word itself, not a treatise on astronomy. S…


My 20/20 Prediction

Eye-chartWelcome, Class of 2020! The class with 20/20 vision!

Yes, and welcome to the play on “2020″ that is sure to bedevil this year’s cohort of first-year students, not just till Commencement 2020 but for the rest of their lives as alumni. Lake Superior State University, get ready to put it at the top of your annual list of banned words.

It’s beginning already. Just a few examples:

The logo over photos of the incoming class at New York University Shanghai is “2020 Vision.” Bryn Mawr is using the same.


Trump: Ironies in the Fire

How are we to read Trump?

Does he really mean it when he says he will build a wall on our southern border and make Mexico pay for it? Or when he invites Russia to find Hillary’s missing emails? Or when he points to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as co-founders of ISIS?

Fortunately, the candidate has recently provided us with guidelines to his manner of speaking.

On August 12, he tweeted:


New in DARE: Bird’s Nest on the Ground


The six-volume Dictionary of American Regional English, completed in print in 2012, continues to augment its coverage with quarterly updates by the chief editor, George Goebel, at the University of Wisconsin. The fifth update, for summer 2016, has just been published, with a dozen new entries and 40 revised ones. Most of the entries update or enrich the letter B, originally published in Volume I more than 30 years ago.

You can take a free look here.

What will you find? To begin…


Gender Self-Identification: M or W?

funny-bathroom-signs-392__605The politics of gender have come to this: two letters, M and W, on restroom doors. Two letters that cannot begin to encompass the varieties of gender identification that we in the 21st century have learned to recognize and accept.

M and W were perfectly sufficient as long as our gender categories were limited to heterosexuals, lesbians, and gays. But then we learned that there were many more categories, included in acronyms like LGBTQQ2IA, where T is Transsexual, QQ is Queer and Questioning, 2 i…