All posts by William Germano

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Futurist Shock

future-shock-by-alvin-toffler-1970-1-728Half a century ago, Alvin Toffler published a book “about what happens to people when they are overwhelmed by change.”  Future Shock became a 1970 chart-topper.

Toffler’s phrase future shock tells us something of the history of cultural anxiety. It also speaks to our response to change now in 2017, the very adolescence of the 21st century, when to be overwhelmed by change has become the standing condition of modernity.

Toffler’s book begat an industry, lodged in no small part in eager business…

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Sewer Trouble

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Rome’s Cloaca Maxima, shown by a red line: not the sewist’s realm.

A friend writes that she’s looking forward to putting energies into being a sewist, a word that made me reach for the Oxford English Dictionary, the smelling salts not being handy. While the OED was silent, the subject, and the term, have recently been discussed on the Grammarphobia blog.

Sewist seems to be a relatively new coinage — a decade or so old — providing an alternative to sewer, meaning one who sews, either professional…

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The New Cruelty

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Illustration for “Lycidas” by Samuel Palmer

“Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth,” wrote John Milton in what was once, I am assured, a poem every schoolboy knew by heart. The poem, of course, is “Lycidas,” Milton’s glorious memorial to a young friend who has drowned.  The line’s first three words became the title of a 1929 novel by Thomas Wolfe, less read now than it once was.

But it’s those last three words – melt with ruth – that might stop you. The sense of that phrase – may the ang…

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Getting Over Gifting

cheap-gifts2Christmas and Hanukkah have done their work, and it’s time to look soberly at the wreckage. You have given gifts and received them, whether you liked it or not. And whether you’ve liked it or not, you’ve gifted or been gifted.

Two weeks ago, the marketplace of gifts was at a white heat. Now, in early January, the gifting is a done thing, and it’s all over but the returns.

Seasonal Language Disorder (SLD) affects many of us at this time of year. There are no words to adequately express certain em…

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Transformers

doll-s_house_posterHow many psychoanalysts does it take to transform a lightbulb? One — but the lightbulb really has to want to transform.

What’s happened to the verb transform? Has it undergone some transformation when I was looking away?

Here’s a typical sentence in what I think is the most up-to-date campus usage:

“The character of Nora transforms in the last act of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.”

Nora does not transform some thing into something else. There’s no thing here that is being subjected to Nora’s powers…

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Recalculating Route

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Because I don’t own a car, whenever I need to rent one I discover, all over again, the weird comfort of the NeverLost GPS.

I do have a few skills that operate at a fairly high level, but spatial orientation isn’t one of them. The idea of never being lost — or of being NeverLost ™ —  seems like a dream. (That word neverlost  is absurd. Is it a rock star’s California ranch? A classic of Edwardian children’s lit?)

When I drive, I use the GPS constantly, sometimes talking back to the voice of the…

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Bases Loaded

415AduVvBZL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_No, not the Cubs.  (Too late.)  Or the election. (Too soon, and also too late.)

I’m puzzling over the usage shift from based on  to base off  and based off of, a development that has only picked up speed in the student writing I encounter. I hear it in spoken English too, though it makes its strongest impression on me in what is meant as formal writing. My Lingua Franca colleague Anne Curzan made note of the construction a few years back, but its persistence makes it worth revisiting.

A couple o…

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Nasty, Nasty, Nasty!

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Brocken spectre over Glenridding

Oh, that nasty woman. Wait – isn’t Halloween about nasty women? A 1990 film released in English as The Nasty Girl was originally titled Das schreckliche Mädchen schrecklich here means something like awful or terrible, but it can also mean horrible in the Halloween-y sense.

Nasty  is rich with definitions. The Oxford English Dictionary dates nasty to the late 14th century and meaning filthy or dirty. Like a perfume with complex notes, nasty can also mean “offens…

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Our Divided Nation

No one who hasn’t been living under a rock could be unaware that America is divided over a man who has been pushed — suddenly and improbably — to one of the pinnacles in the mountain range of fame.

His five-letter name has been known to us for years, yet only in 2016 have we been asked to think of him in an entirely new guise. Mention of his name is enough to provoke  stirring cheers and a sense of deep puzzlement, even disappointment. Shouldn’t it have been someone else?

The man’s name isn’…

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Up for Debate

Trump_&_ClintonIt has not always been a term describing a gladiatorial contest or a beauty pageant. It has not always been about popularity.  It has not always felt like a truck pull. It has not always been a public event regarded by the media with lipsmacking delight simply because audience size was comparable to the Super Bowl.

Yes, the word debate comes into English through Old French debatre and its Romance analogues, all of which have something to do with fighting, quarrelling, and other forms of contesta…