Category Archives: Gender

by

Hemingway’s Cuban English

EH Cuba correos2

I can speak and read French but cannot write it; nor Italian, nor German. But can write Spanish. English sometimes too, maybe. –Ernest Hemingway, 1950

Here, in the house, we talk Spanish always. –Ernest Hemingway, 1950

“I have often wondered what I should do with the rest of my life,” wrote Ernest Hemingway aboard a steamship, just after leaving Paris and divorcing his first wife. “Now I know — I shall try and reach Cuba.” The writer, born 118 years ago Friday, would go on to spend ove…

by

The Case of the Missing ‘Miss’

156803-004-45406991

Philip Roth: not the sort of person you would call “Phil.” (Photo: Joe Tabbacca, AP)

I recently RSVP’d for an event at my university and was asked to choose the “title” I preferred. No surprise in the choices that were offered, but I was surprised by a choice that was not.

Dr., Mr., Mrs., and Ms. were the options. Missing — no pun intended — was Miss. I was well aware that Ms. has been commonly used as a courtesy title since the ’70s, but I was a bit puzzled by this suggestion that one of the te…

by

Call It Macaroni

what-is-this-my-son-tom-1774

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Just in time to palliate the itch to add my learned commentary to Kellyanne Conway’s remarkable coinage of a hot candidate for Word of the Year 2017, “alternative facts,” the snail mail this week brought from the Missouri University of Science & Technology, in Rolla, the latest issue of Gerald Cohen‘s Comments on Etymology. As is frequently the case, Cohen is not only editor but author of the half-dozen articles in the 32 pages of Vol. 46, No. 3-4 for December 2016-17. …

by

The New Cruelty

782a6651-72e7-4b92-b864-9ade90a9e0e7_g_570

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…

by

Hey, You Guys! Listen Up!

you-guys-yall-mapGuys, are you listening? Let me tell you a story. A true story, in fact, about Barack Obama.

Obama has good rapport with the presidential press corps. Or so it would seem.

As White House photographers and reporters crowded in to hear Obama and Donald Trump tell how their first meeting went, two days after the November 8 election, Obama ended the session like this:

“Thank you, everybody. We are not going to take questions. Thank you, guys.

“Come on, guys, yeah, c’mon, guys.

“Thank you, guys, appr…

by

Girl Talk

mgid-uma-image-logotvMaybe it’s because I’m in the midst of teaching Mary Karr’s groundbreaking 1995 memoir, The Liars’ Club, but when I hear about studies that purport to determine the differences between how men and women speak, I want, in Karr’s inimitable lexicon, to earp.

Granted, these studies do not decree that biology is destiny. But they do claim to have sifted through thousands of language samples looking for language that is “aggressive” and language that is “tentative” and studying the parts of s…

by

Pronoun Challenge in Ann Arbor

pronouns8I’ve learned to be suspicious whenever any change in language is described as inconvenient. It’s inconvenient, when you think about it, to have so many forms of the past tense in English. It’s inconvenient that we in America spell a number of words differently from the British. When the honorific Ms. was introduced in the 1960s, people complained that it was inconvenient to have to insert a new option into the list of choices on forms, or to wonder how a woman wanted to be addressed. So-called i…