All posts by Rose Jacobs

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Cursing in a Second Language

Conchita Wurst, 2014 Eurovision Song Contest winner

Europeans cast their votes this week in a European Union parliamentary poll in which nationalist, Euro-skeptic parties are expected to do well—suggesting waning enthusiasm for the European project, and growing xenophobia.

I saw evidence to the contrary, however, on display two weeks ago in the final rounds of the Eurovision Song Contest. (Americans make fun of the marathon of mediocre music and canned camp aesthetics, but if soccer’s anything t…

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Questionable Behavior

Wallace Shawn and Alicia Silverstone in Clueless (1995)

You should have been reading this post yesterday. That, at least, was the plan a week ago, before William Germano and I traded slots—a move our editor forgot, because she sent an email on Thursday politely prodding me for copy. At first, I panicked: Could I rearrange my busy Friday schedule to get her something before the weekend? If not, would she mind editing it out-of-hours? Then I remembered the switch, and so wrote back: “I thought…

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Yo Hablo HTML

We are nearly five months into Britain’s “Year of Code,” an effort to promote computer-coding skills among Britons young and old. The British media’s coverage spiked in February, when the campaign’s director admitted she couldn’t code a computer to save her life, but has ebbed since.

Still, I’ve been taking advantage of some of the Year of Code offerings (which are not restricted to British residents), and spent a few hours last week at codecademy.com learning enough HTML and CSS to create a bar…

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Academic Language, Codified

DNA wordlA new semester of classes started at German universities this week, which means I’ve spent the last few days asking fresh rounds of students about their language goals. The greatest number in any class want, above all, to improve their speaking skills. But a significant group has also mentioned vocabulary expansion. Given that most of the students are on course to complete master’s degrees in the natural sciences, mathematics, or engineering, which at the Technical University of Munich means mos…

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Are You Feeling It?

I’ve never been a huge McDonald’s fan (my loyalties lie with Wendy’s), but lately the Golden Arches have become a particular bugbear. Many of you will recognize the chain’s slogan of almost a decade, “I’m lovin’ it,” and some will find its grammar grating. Traditionally, after all, English stative verbs—those that describe a state of being, what we think or how we feel—are not conjugated in the present continuous form. Before the lovin’ it campaign, a tasty Filet-O-Fish would have prompted most …

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In Praise of Speed

From Disney's "The Tortoise and the Hare," 1935

Disney’s “The Tortoise and the Hare,” 1935

“By the time I hit my 60s, I have a feeling Oliver Sacks is going to be writing about me,” said a friend recently. He was explaining his experience of reading. “I’ll sometimes look at a page of text and I don’t see words that convey meaning. Instead, I notice all the curves and lines of the letters.”

Sadly, Sacks isn’t likely to be working in 25 years’ time. In the meantime, my friend is searching for solutions to his, well, “condition.” He’s a person w…

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Only Connect—or Don’t, for a Change

When working with my students—Germans and other nonnative English speakers—on papers and theses, I can often spot those who have taken an academic writing class by the number of conjunctive adverbs that litter the work. My impulse is to cut all these therefores, consequentlys, and additionallys, though I recognize their appeal. When I’m working as a journalist, I often need to write quick articles that rely heavily on conjunctive adverbs and conjunctions (but, nor) to pull readers through the tw…

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English for Everyone

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Tower of Babel

When I was working as a reporter in London, I witnessed one of those “two countries separated by a common language” moments one soggy spring morning in 2012. A Boeing executive visiting from Seattle had made time ahead of a press conference to chat with the journalists in attendance, and we were all eager to forge the sort of personal connection that can lead to future scoops. The executive gamely opened the small talk with a comment about the weather. “Oh yes,” laughed on…

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Misappropriation

Kombischild-Foto-Handy-verbotenIn summer 2012 my mother-in-law, a daughter of the German industrial heartland, mentioned plans for the afternoon that had her very excited: She was headed to a public viewing. It  wasn’t morbid curiosity—some sort of Teutonic necrophilia—that had her raring to go. In Germany, a viewing has nothing to do with open caskets. Rather, it’s the public screening of a film or a televised event—in this case, the London Olympics.

She couldn’t hide her annoyance at my confusion. It was an English phrase…