All posts by William Germano

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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!

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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…

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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

Map_of_downtown_Rome_during_the_Roman_Empire_large-annotated

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

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…