Category Archives: Rhetoric

by

On the Ropes at Radio London

St. Mary-le-Bow Church, London

The phone rings during breakfast, and it’s the BBC. They want me on Radio London’s Breakfast Show, hosted by Vanessa Feltz, for a few minutes just after 9 a.m. According to two trashy tabloids (The Sun and the Daily Mail, September 29) BBC TV viewers are complaining about the speech of an announcer, Russell Evans. And it turns out interesting: Feltz is a feisty one, spoiling for a fight.

Russell Evans speaks the ordinary vernacular of the London area rather than th…

by

The Subtle Art of English Ethnic Slurs

michael_oleary

Ryanair, a cut-price airline, made serious managerial errors in predicting pilots’ leave time this fall, and had to cancel scores of flights. Here’s how the story was introduced, under the headline “Ryanair chief forced to grovel over cancellations,” in the tabloid newspaper Metro (front page, September 19):

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has promised compensation after the airline decided to cancel flights for up to 400,000 passengers over the next six weeks.

The Irishman made a frank apology ye…

by

Doddering Dotards

quote-fly-dotard-fly-with-thy-wise-dreams-and-fables-of-the-sky-alexander-pope-61-22-89You know something’s amiss when American social media wax gleeful over a North Korean dictator’s chosen insult for the American president. Last week, Kim Jong-un’s choice of the word dotard to describe Donald Trump prompted a moment of confusion followed by a rush to the dictionary. Merriam-Webster’s Twitter feed had a field day.

Before we get to etymology, it’s worth observing some cultural background. On the one hand, Korean culture puts great emphasis on respect for one’s elders, for whom one…

by

‘Alt’ Alternatives

charlottesville-protests-9

What a world of difference lies between adopting your own moniker and having one thrust upon you. I had never heard the term alt-left before the president used it in his third iteration of comments on the horrific events in Charlottesville, Va. Figuring out what he meant wasn’t exactly rocket science: Just as the alt-right is not really some alternative to right-wing positions but rather an extreme, purist force on the right, so the alt-left would be considered an extreme and purist form of lef…

by

‘Best’ and the Worst

11f38wayne1-469761

North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening, beyond a normal statement. And as I said, they will be met with fire, fury and frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.

There is so much to say, none of it good, about the ad-libbed statement Donald Trump made Monday night at his golf club in New Jersey. (In the video of his remarks, you can see a plaque on …

by

Love Me, Don’t Grade Me

nicklutzapologyletter

When my sons were beginning elementary school, they liked to while away a rainy Saturday afternoon playing school. They wanted me to play the teacher, but apparently I didn’t do it right. “You have to be meaner,” they’d say. “You have to yell a lot.”

I always wondered if their teachers really were shrieking meanies who toned it down when a parent appeared, or if they’d gotten this notion of the harridan-as-schoolteacher elsewhere. I’ve had a similar response to the recent case of the “gra…

by

Stopped-Clock Eloquence

time-is-broken-2-by-applepo3-320x214The saying “A stopped clock is right twice a day” is popular lately, perhaps because we have a president who might possibly be bested by a broken clock in tests of intelligence, sophistication, and sensitivity. (According to the Quote Investigator, Joseph Addison originated the maxim back in 1711, with slightly different phrasing.)

Once in a while, through the stopped-clock formula, Trump is right. And though his vocabulary is spectacularly limited, once in a while he perpetrates actual eloquenc…

by

English Grammar Day

propriety

This Monday, July 3, I’m an invited speaker at English Grammar Day, an annual event involving nonspecialist talks and discussion on aspects of English, held at the British Library in London, and people have been warning me against full-scale frontal assaults on the general public’s beliefs, or polemics against authorities they respect. Be positive and nonconfrontational, they advise. They want me all soft and kind, as if it’s National Brotherhood Week.

Well, I’ve tried that. My article “50 Yea…

by

The Half-Life of Metaphors

220px-Samuel_Taylor_Coleridge_portrait

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The adjective weaponized — meaning “adapted for use as a weapon, equipped with weapons,” or more broadly, “militarized” dates only to 1956, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, when the following was published in the journal International Security: “The fourth was an air burst of a boosted fission weapon using a U-235 core which obtained an energy yield of approximately 251 kt. It was probably a weaponized version of the 1953 boosted configuration reduced to a m…

by

The Importance of Being a Prince

princephilip

The thing about being a prince is that you can say anything you feel like, and they don’t make you resign. In a democracy it’s different: You can be laid low politically for one thoughtless remark.

Do you remember Trent Lott’s lighthearted remarks at a convivial birthday party on December 5, 2002? “When Strom Thurmond ran for president,” said Lott of the birthday boy, “we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these probl…