All posts by William Germano

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Impactful, Impact-Empty

Lydia Davis, short-story writer

Lydia Davis: Unlikely to stand up for “impactful.”

I’m one of those readers and teachers who find impactful really ugly, and that’s not an argument I can win. It’s not even an argument.

The last — or at least the most recent — straw was a social-media post from Penguin Random House announcing a new book aimed at writers of short stories.  The message included this sentence:

“Signature’s exclusive Short Story Writing Guide features advice from favorite authors on how to craft slim, impactful writ…

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‘This Whirligigging Age’

WG815x260_Updated“This madcap world, this whirligigging age.” That’s Edward Guilpin, a minor Elizabethan satirist, observing that the world is a crazy place and it’s moving too fast.

That was in 1598.

What’s a whirligig?  A toy, a plaything, something that spins? The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that the word’s etymology is what you might have guessed, essentially two words — the verb whirl  and the noun gig, here a toy that can be made to spin. There are wonderful old forms, too, as beautiful as old recip…

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How Much Covfefe Is Enough Covfefe?

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The hashtag #covfefe has spread across the Twittersphere, prompting some creative interpretations of the latest from the tweeter in chief.

For those who abstain from social media, President Trump tweeted “Despite the constant negative press covfefe” on May 31 at 12:06 a.m. The message ended midmuddle, leaving us to scratch out heads and reach for our smartphones.

A “rosebud” for our time, or at least for our next 15 minutes, covfefe is already laying the groundwork to become Wrdo fo teh arYe, w…

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Hedging One’s Bets

anotherhedgeOne of Shakespeare’s most irritating scamps is the rascally Autolycus, a peddler and trickster-thief whose carryings on slow down the progress of The Winter’s Tale, with its sublime conclusion in which queen Hermione seems to return from the dead.

The Winter’s Tale is a play about a king given to paranoid delusions and capricious anger, with the resulting loss of life. It’s a sadder play than King Lear. I think that’s because it’s a comedy. (Yes, yes, a romance, which is a comedy without laughs….

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Grade-Grubber in Chief

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Mayor Koch would famously ask, “How am I doing?”
But his was a rhetorical question. Getty Images

A friend posts on social media, “Is it grade-grubbing season already?”

Grade-grubbing combines pleading with outrage, supplication with casuistry.

Even if you love teaching (and, please, if you don’t, do find some other line of work), one part of the job that will age you fast is grading. Or, if we can speak frankly, defending the grade you’ve assigned when confronted with an indignant or self-rig…

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That’s Spicey With an ‘E’

170205122517-snl-melissa-mccarthy-sean-spicer-00010505-1024x576It began innocently enough, our sense of the word spicy.  The Oxford English Dictionary starts us off pleasingly, with a reference to a 1568 herbal: “the shel smelleth well, and is spycye, not onely in smell, but also in taste.”

The spice islands, the fragrance of spices, that old collection of things in the cabinet near the stove that you save just in case there’s a recipe that calls for epazote, ajwain, and fenugreek.

Spice is something we were once told made life interesting, as in that weary…

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At the Coalface

AttheCoalfaceDo you work at the coalface? Do you have to work as a miner to feel the expression applies to you?

The coalface is the wall of coal, way down below the surface of the earth, where miners pick away at the poster child for fossil fuel.

The British expression to be at the coalface invites the listener to imagine  brutal, dangerous, and exhausting work. At the Coalface was the title of a memoir by one Joan Hart, a British pit nurse, who spent decades serving the mining community.

Cooked up in the 1…

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Folly!

Garden_Folly,_Thorp_Perrow_Arboretum_-_geograph.org.uk_-_68768

Trump’s wall along our southern border is not your garden-variety folly.

One of the most oft-misquoted lines in English literature is the three-word escape clause “ignorance is bliss.” You’ve heard it often, probably when the speaker wants to brush off some awkward fact or rumor.

Readers of Lingua Franca know, of course, that this famous observation by Alexander Pope does not endorse ignorance.

Also it’s not Pope. It’s Thomas Gray, whose best-known poem is “Elegy Written in a Country Churc…

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Lies, Damned Lies, and Press Releases

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Hokusai’s view of Japan (Image via Wikimedia Commons). Wilde: No such country.

If you aren’t nauseated yet by the outpouring of lies from our elected officials and those that serve them, you’ve got a stronger stomach than I do or you’re not paying attention.

But what is a lie, after all?

Mark Twain gave currency to the bon mot that lies come in three flavors:  lies, damned lies, and statistics. Social scientists have been dining out on that one for a century now.

In his little dialogue “The De…

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Heart of Smartness

Du BoisSo you think you’re so smart?

Somewhere in one of his novels, David Lodge gave us the game of Humiliation. You know, the one where people who are supposed to have read everything (yes, I’m talking about you people in literature) have to admit to what they haven’t read.

Think Truth or Dare, the Doctoral Edition.

There are lots of Important Books that we don’t read. And I mean those of us in the Reading Business (don’t worry, I’ll run out of capital letters soon), whatever our fields. But th…