All posts by William Germano

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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

2RoadsDJoly

 

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!

Brocken_spectre_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1508885

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…

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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…

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That in Aleppo Once …

Othello

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…

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Cover Up

thumbnail_burkini

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…