All posts by William Germano


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’…


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…


Destinated Americans

aeneas's travelsThe New York Times urges that “now is a good time to make our own those who have come as migrants and propose to remain as permanent residents.”

At least it did in that editorial, which appeared in 1925.

Written with an open acknowledgment of immigration quotas, the position piece speaks to 21st-century questions, however different the challenges of a different era.

Life then: Two-thirds of America’s immigrants, reports the Times, were coming from Canada and Mexico; a third of the Italians who a…


That in Aleppo Once …


Shakespeare’s Othello recalls having killed an enemy in Aleppo.


When, in an MSNBC interview with Mike Barnicle on Morning Joe, the Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson tripped and fell over Aleppo — “And what is Aleppo?” — he provoked a mystified response, “You’re kidding!” and then Johnson’s fate-sealing “No.” High-minded groans.  Twittersphere code red. Facebook posts asking whether Johnson thought Aleppo might be, say, an acronym. Americans Like Excusing Po…


Cover Up


Photo: Getty Images

Burkini: If you’ve been in seclusion for the past month, you might be excused for wondering if Burkini were inhabitants of Burkina Faso, or maybe Italian devotees of the Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke.

No less improbably, the burkini  — a new name for full beachside covering worn by observant Muslim women and others —  has become a flashpoint in (what else is new?) the regulation of women’s wear in public.

The term burkini — also spelled burqini — combines burqa and…


What’s the Matter With ‘Me’?

When did we decide that me was ungrammatical? Or if not ungrammatical, then maybe vulgarly self-promoting?

“Sally, who had given the keys to Jim and I, discovered that she was locked out of her office.”

“Congratulations from Susan and I on inheriting that time share!”

“Sadly, the carton of tangelos promised to Mildred, Juan, and I never reached Bushwick.”

The problem is hardly new,  and writers on usage, including Mignon Fogarty (aka Grammar Girl), have gently admonished us to mind our I’s and m…


Bad Optics

“Tarzan has always had bad optics — white hero, black land — to state the excessively obvious,” wrote Manohla Dargas in her review of The Legend of Tarzan in The New York Times.  This time around, the muscular white expanse of Tarzan is supplied by Alexander Skarsgard, who induces no eye strain. The use of optics is another matter.

Optics, the science of light and lenses and sight, has given way in popular use to the sense of “the way in which a situation, event, or course of action is perceiv…


Making Work

works“You’re just making work for yourself,” said somebody’s mother, and possibly mine.

Making work for yourself  – the reflexive component is essential to the judgmental tone — was a phrase I remember from my youth. It meant, of course, an inefficient and unnecessary expenditure of energy. It could be a task that would have to be done again anyway, though more simply and quickly, or it could be an activity that never had to be done in the first place.

The hyphenated term make-work is apparently an A…


Going Forward

Union Jack umbrella 2It is, let us agree, a semantically pointless Briticism: “Going forward, we will develop integrated, cross-platform systems that will respond to uncertain markets.” This is not a sentiment distinct from “We will develop integrated, cross-platform systems that will respond to uncertain markets.” But going forward sounds as if it adds something — a frame, a launch pad, a directional indicator, and a mark of authority. The decision has been well thought out.

Mark Seacombe wrote about the phrase in


All Onboard!


All on board: a barge cruise from Castlefield to Salford, England. Not what HR has in mind.

Since the great age of the iron horse, the cry “All aboard!” has rung out from platforms, the conductor coaxing passengers into their carriages.

It’s not just train conductors. James Brown urged us on, too (“All aboard the Night Train”), and you’ve probably heard “All aboard!” in black-and-white melodramas,  usually at a moment of dramatic tension punctuated by a cloud of locomotive steam.

To be on board …