Category Archives: Academe

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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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Once More Into the Fray, Pluto (and Ixion, Among Others)

Pluto itself (NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)

Oh, no: The lexical-semantic battle over Pluto is on again! I learn from space.com that a research group is going to try to get a new geophysical definition of the word planet approved by the International Astronomical Union, and is drafting it in a way that will allow Pluto to count as a planet once more. (It lost that status in 2006 and was reclassified as a dwarf planet.)

The geophysical definition would be (roughly) that a planet (i) weighs less than a star, (…

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Still Looking for a Triple

embeddedReading an article about the latest apparent murder by the North Korean royal family in this week’s Economist (February 18, 2017), I came upon this remarkable example of English hypotaxis:

Kim Kwang-jin, a defector who once worked in North Korea’s “royal court” economy, says that even if rumours that China had hoped to install Jong-nam if Jong-un fell from power are far-fetched, China would nonetheless have seen Jong-nam as useful leverage.

Hypotaxis is packing clauses inside other clauses as su…

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Happy Valentine’s Day! (With the Intelligent Basketball)

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Anita Reeves as Mrs Malaprop in “The Rivals,” by R.B. Sheridan,
Abbey Theatre, 1998. Photo: Amelia Stein.

So much for that greeting. If you’re happily in love, you need no further meddling from me. If you’re not, the last thing you need is a reminder of the day.

So I have a better idea, thanks to some files I was clearing out the other day. Yes, real cardboard folders with paper inside, the way they used to be before the cloud. And they have nothing to do with V-day.

One of the folders was labele…

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How Not to Teach Chinese

Chinese_characters_logoVictor Mair wrote on Language Log last month about a test in what appears to have been a third-year class in Chinese at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School, in New York. What made it news in China (see in particular this story in the South China Morning Post) was that the test involved giving synonyms for a number of words written with Chinese characters so rare and archaic that many Chinese people were prepared to admit on social-media sites that they would not have been able to pass the …

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A Language Museum?

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Franklin School in Washington, D.C. (Image via Wikimedia Commons.)

The question mark was to get your attention. As of last Wednesday, we can change it to a period: A language museum.

On January 25, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development in Washington, D.C., announced that the historic Franklin School has been approved for development into a museum called Planet Word. The project is spearheaded by — and privately funded by — the philanthropist and former reading …

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Where Are the Happiness Boys?

Professor with bubbles coming out of pipeExactly 58 years ago today (I write on December 17, 2016), E.B. White wrote a letter of protest to his editor, J.G. Case, who had been trying to get him to take some grammar advice and modify some of the proscriptive ukases in a usage book that White was revising. White wouldn’t yield an inch to what he called “the Happiness Boys, or, as you call them, the descriptivists”:

I cannot, and will-shall not, attempt to adjust … to the modern liberal of the English Department, the anything-goes fellow….

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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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Make American Accents Great Again

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Image by Jenny Chang, courtesy of BuzzFeed*

A recent Daily Briefing email newsletter from The Chronicle of Higher Education to its subscribers included this snippet of news from a sample of faculty members who mailed in about things they have learned from student feedback on their courses:

Shaun Bowler, a political-science professor at the University of California at Riverside, wrote that he had received a course evaluation reading, “His accent is a problem. Why can’t we have teachers who speaks…

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Post-Truth and Chaos

latitude-north-star-5-degrees-above-horizon_8d32bb0c6f9cb1e2I don’t know when prefixes stopped meaning what we think they mean, but it was a long time ago. I’m just wrapping up a course in recent American prose, for instance, where the term postmodernism keeps coming up. The students initially thought, quite logically, that postmodernism was a movement that came after modernism — even though, since they look around at a world they consider to be modern, they had a hard time wrapping their minds around its post- period’s being in the recent past. We wor…