Tag Archives: language

Sins against the comma

Sins against the comma

While fiction writers have a special dispensation to scatter sentence fragments and comma splices throughout their ripping yarns, writers of academic prose are held to higher standards. Examiners of theses and reviewers of journal articles expect to see punctuation in the ‘right’ places; that is, correctly deployed according to the current conventions of formal writing. […] … learn more→

Blogging in the growlery

Blogging in the growlery

Like Shakespeare, Charles Dickens liked to invent new words. Along with flummox, abuzz, and whiz-bang, he is also often credited with ‘the growlery’, which he mentioned in passing in Bleak House. There is some debate about whether this word is his creation, and most dictionaries suggest it is an archaic term he adopted but that […] … learn more→

Language could be humankind’s most impressive technological invention

Language could be humankind’s most impressive technological invention

Humans have speculated about the emergence of language and linguistic diversity since Antiquity. Perhaps the earliest reference to this question is in the book of Genesis in the Judeo-Christian Bible. In this narrative, God spoke to Adam and gave him authority to name every being in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve could apparently […] … learn more→

Shakespeare in the courtroom

Julius Caesar and Otello (the version of Othello by Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Arrigo Boito): These are the texts that framed the final remarks of federal Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted last month of the Boston Marathon killings. The Tsarnaev case moved Judge O’Toole to reach for […] … learn more→

Whose students?

A few years ago I stopped referring to my students in my writing. It’s not that I ceased talking about students; I stopped referring to them as mine. Or at least I try. I am sure I still fall into the phrase my students sometimes in my written work (one of the astute readers of […] … learn more→

With good reason

The query took me by surprise. A few weeks ago an editor who was reviewing a piece I had submitted (for a publication other than this one) wrote: You start one paragraph: “There’s good reason we associate. … ” It caught my eye — and I figured I better check! It’s such a subtle little […] … learn more→

Garage sociolinguistics

Read the above title aloud before you continue. I have a real problem about pronouncing it. Let me explain. In the fall I was quite unexpectedly forced to move house.My new home has not only an off-street parking spot but also a standalone structure (pictured at left) intended for storing an automobile (but actually occupied […] … learn more→

Words for beginners

Ex. 1: torture. Today, class, we will look at a word that is not complicated. Our friends at the Oxford English Dictionary help us get started: 1.a. The infliction of severe bodily pain, as punishment or a means of persuasion. Wait, some part of that wasn’t clear? Then let’s follow the OED on to the […] … learn more→

Can I get a better way to order food?

A couple of years ago, the BBC published an essay on that staple of British journalism, the terribleness of Americanisms polluting the mother tongue. The Beeb invited readers to send in their own pet peeves and got such a response that it published a list of the 50 that were sent in most often. The […] … learn more→

Waiting for the word of 2014

For 2014 there seems to be no leading candidate for Word (or Phrase) of the Year. 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 […] … learn more→