All posts by Rose Jacobs

by

When Is a Proper Name a Proper Noun?

From “Baby Listens” by Esther Wilkin, illustrated by Eloise Wilkin (1960)

“Tum, tum, tum dee dum, Baby’s beating on his drum.” That’s a line I repeat at least three times a day at the moment — from Page 6 of the Little Golden Books classic Baby Listens. And usually, charmed as I am by the earworm chant, the glorious Eloise Wilkin illustration, and my daughter’s intense engagement with the material, when I read it, I think about work.

Specifically, about my job at the Technische Universität Mün…

by

Beyoncé, Cute Kittens, and Titles That Draw You In

Silly season is approaching — that late-summer period when so little is happening in the serious worlds of politics and business that newspapers start running front-page stories about flying-rodent attacks and ice cream socials for dogs. Except the definition is breaking down: Politics in the Trump era is simultaneously absurd and deadly serious year-round, and academe may be one of the few professional enclaves left where summer brings with it an across-the-board vacation (let the enraged co…

by

When I Hear the Word ‘Culture’ …

7113768205_0728435aaf_zThere’s a debate going on in our department at the moment over teacher evaluation forms. The current questionnaire asks students to rate their instructors on whether they “ignited an interest in the language and corresponding culture.” Some people in the English department argue that the question isn’t appropriate for our courses. They have two reasons. First, which culture? Our staff is peppered with Americans, Australians, Brits, Indians, South Africans and even a German or two. And our studen…

by

German for Beginners

Refugees arrive in Germany

Refugees, mainly from Afghanistan, arrive in Bavaria. (Photo by Falk Heller/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

MUNICH — Spende, reads the sign leaning against a tent outside Munich’s main train station. Donations. Items needed for the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have been pouring into Germany in recent months. Germany, the final destination — the refugees hope — of long, arduous, often heartbreaking journeys from Afghanistan, Somalia and, in greatest numbers, Syria.

Bottled water
Baby formul…

by

Saving El Gordo

(Credit: We Love Philosophy)

A few years ago, a Spanish psychologist and his team of researchers asked about 700 students to decide whether they would kill one person to save five. It was a version of the classic trolley dilemma: A small train is trundling toward five people on the tracks who will perish in the crash; you see this from your perch on a footbridge and realize you can save them by shoving one of your fellow pedestrians—a fat man—off the bridge, into the train’s path. Do you do it? …

by

This Transatlantic Life

I’ll grant that it might have been my location at the time—sitting in a university clinic—that made the phrase “winding up in hospital” jump out at me when listening to a recent podcast of This American Life. But I put the jolt down to the lack of an article. This was This American Life, after all, and the speaker, Nancy Updike, sounded as Yankee as they come; shouldn’t it have been “winding up in the hospital”?

Well, yes, according to custom and Google’s Ngram viewer:

That’s looking in the Ame…

by

All I Want for Christmas …

Even though European shops seem to resist promoting their Christmas products just a bit longer than their American counterparts, living four weeks away in package-delivery time from most of my family gets me planning my gift-giving early. Which is why I spent some time last week investigating the contents of the 2014 editions of The Best American Essays and The Best American Short Stories—although I don’t know why I bother: The collections are consistently fantastic, and this year’s are no excep…

by

Overhypoed Typos

To spell-check or not to spell-check? Many people would find this question absurd: Of course you run spell-check on anything longer than a text message. Take some pride in your work! But I wandered away from that moral high ground recently after fiddling around with software called Lingofy that lets you run style-guide checks on your writing using The Associated Press Stylebook (or a style book of your own making).

It was tempting for me because I write for both British and American publications…

by

Man or Machine

Many people talk about becoming a different person in a foreign language—funnier or bolder or more suave. What they don’t mention is that, on the way, you become a computer.

That’s what struck me last month when reading about “Eugene Goostman,” the first machine to pass the Turing Test, by convincing 10 of 30 judges that it was a human based on a five-minute, instant-message conversation.

Eugene’s conversational style isn’t so different from that of other machines that have taken up the challeng…

by

Story Time

red2

Copyright MousePlanet Inc.

I’ve been working recently with a Romanian-German engineering student with business-school aspirations who is trying to improve his English writing skills. My student’s spoken English is excellent, and he can write fluently when talking about himself (in particular, about his rather impressive tennis career; the kid’s multitalented to say the least). But whenever he shows me a report, a formal letter, or a research paper, the work is a mess: The grammar falls apart und…