All posts by Allan Metcalf


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…


Sidestepping Haters

taylor-swift-shake-it-off-lyrics-maxresdefaultA year ago, Lucy Ferriss evoked two dozen responses to her Lingua Franca post “Be a Lover,” where hater and its antonyms (lover among them) were the focus of attention.

Now, a year later, hater is hotter than ever. In the words of Donald Trump, for example: “I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump. A hater. He’s a hater.”

The recent prominence of hater and hate has been traced back in part to Taylor Swift, who two years ago sang, “The players gonna play, play, play, play, play, and the hat…


The Pink of Fashion

MagrittePipeWhen young women return to our campuses this fall, many will distinguish themselves by wearing clothing and carrying backpacks labeled in capital letters: PINK.

Why? And especially why, when most of the items labeled PINK are  not colored pink at all?

It’s reminiscent of Magritte’s famous 1929 painting of a pipe with the inscription ”Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” that is, “This is not a pipe.” And indeed, however realistic the painting may be, it isn’t a pipe. It’s just an image of one. He called th…


You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

1011872_612122012174671_1054177590_nSo they say.

Hillary Clinton, for one. On June 1 she told a rally: “You can’t make this up. … Just yesterday we heard the truth about Donald Trump’s big talk about helping veterans. It wasn’t until the press shamed him that he actually made the donations. For months it was just a publicity stunt.”

And Salon on July 19: “Monday afternoon at a pro-Trump rally … a 16-year-old girl named Kate Kuptenko was called to the stage to sing an original song called, and you can’t make this stuff up, ‘Making …