Category Archives: Uncategorized


Beyoncé, Cute Kittens, and Titles That Draw You In

Silly season is approaching — that late-summer period when so little is happening in the serious worlds of politics and business that newspapers start running front-page stories about flying-rodent attacks and ice cream socials for dogs. Except the definition is breaking down: Politics in the Trump era is simultaneously absurd and deadly serious year-round, and academe may be one of the few professional enclaves left where summer brings with it an across-the-board vacation (let the enraged co…


Just Like a Woman

naked-cartwheelOn occasional Thursday evenings I participate in a figure-drawing circle. Artists of all abilities sit with their easels in front of them and a nude model in the center, who poses first in short stints, then in a “long pose” broken by five-minute breaks. A month or so ago, a new model, very young, intriguing-looking and flexible, posed for us. She had short hair tinged blue (as was her pubic hair), multiply pierced earlobes, a petite figure. There was something different about the way she he…


Pivoting Away from ‘Pivot’

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 10.41.46 AMHillary Clinton keeps trying to pivot to the general election. But Bernie Sanders — like a white-haired white Bill Russell — won’t let her.

I will let the pundits break down the politics involved. What interests me is pivot. Originally a noun meaning (in the Oxford English Dictionary‘s words) a “short shaft or pin on which a mechanism turns or oscillates,” it was being used as early as 1841 to refer to the act of turning, as if on a pivot. That’s where the basketball maneuver, and that sport’s n…


How ’Bout That As?

Logo_AsEnglish offers plenty of opportunities for repeating words. A perennial favorite, maxing out at five instances, is “I think that that that that that man used should have been a which.” The sentence cheats a bit, in my view, because like President Clinton’s famous utterance, “It depends what the meaning of is is,” one instance of the word must be set apart as word-qua-word. Still, that that is a common repetition, with is is not far behind. As my colleague Ben Yagoda has pointed out, the repetiti…


Whoo-Hoo for ‘Woo Woo’

Woo-woo tips mingle with practical pointers. “Eat from heart-shaped bowls, and put heart stickers on your refrigerator,” Minich recommends. (Why? “To keep the spirit of love alive,” duh.)

The New York Times, March 27, 2016, review of Whole Detox, by Deanna Minich

… “Valley of Love,” a logy, woo-woo drama about a former couple who, at the request of their son, who killed himself earlier that same year, have come to find answers in the California desert.

The New York Times, March 24, 2016

“I f…


‘Huge’ Is Massive

64618100After Yale upset Baylor in the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the Bulldogs’ star player, Justin Sears, said, “It’s huge. Just to be among the first guys to get that first big win of the tournament is huge.” After reporting the quote, the New York Times article about the game observed, “It was another huge victory for the Bulldogs.”

As perfect is to goodness, so huge is to literal and metaphorical largeness: the hyperbolic adjective of the moment, supplanting big, grand,enor…


OK, Happy 177th!

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Just after the vernal equinox of 1839, and just a month before the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, OK was born. America’s and the world’s greatest word came to the light of day as a humble joke on Page 2 of the Boston Morning Post for March 23, 1839: “o. k. — all correct.”

It needed that gloss because the meaning of this new expression was far from obvious. The joke, of course, was that all does not begin with o, and correct does not begin with k, so the resulting combination is a paradox…


From Seneca to Self-Help

HowProustIn 1997, Alain de Botton published his book How Proust Can Change Your Life. I was charmed by it. I remember using it in a course on cultural criticism for a graduate class that had a mix of theorists and creative writers. I thought of de Botton’s book as a model we could adopt. Here was an original work of criticism that taught me something about Proust while it playfully adopted a popular or low-brow form of writing — that is, the self-help book.

Like every other self-respecting academic, I’…


Waiting for the Word of 2014

For 2014 there seems to be no leading candidate for Word (or Phrase) of the Year, as I said last week. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of candidates. Just last week, for example, the news from Washington was generously sprinkled with enhanced interrogation techniques, the disputed CIA practice for obtaining information, and cromnibus, the disputed Congressional practice for obtaining government funding.

The lack of an obvious WOTY 2014 doesn’t mean that the American Dialect Society won’…


‘-y’ Not?

This all went down in the last month:

  • Facebook comment: “As I know from my rednecky upstate second hometown. … “
  • Email from a friend: “This morning I was thinking that my hairdresser is getting so Jesus-y with me.”
  • Headline from the Baltimore City Paper: “College Guys, Stop Being So Rapey.”
  • Homer Simpson line, to Bart: “Hey, boy, we’re supposed to be acting religiousy.” (Admittedly, this came from a 2010 episode, “The Greatest Story Ever D’Oh’ed,” but I saw it a couple of weeks ago during the