Wednesday, January 26, 2005

This week in my B&C blog:
Why the United States is mostly purple. Plus: desperate house-husbands, the first World Trade Center terrorist attack, death and the med student, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE
My latest Tribune language column:
Why "he or she" and "hir" are inferior solutions to the problem of epicene singular pronouns.
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From Commentary:

To be sure, George W. Bush was hated. He had been the object of a startling amount of contumely during his first term of office, a phenomenon that had already occasioned much comment in the public prints.

M-W:Etymology: Middle English contumelie, from Middle French, from Latin contumelia
: harsh language or treatment arising from haughtiness and contempt; also : an instance of such language or treatment

Saturday, January 22, 2005

This week in my B&C blog:
Things scientists and psychologists believe despite lack of proof. Plus: the battle over windmills in Spain; why groups make good decisions; a 12-year-old prodigy composer; Louisa May Alcott's forgotten father, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

My latest Tribune language column:
On the religious rhetoric of presidential inaugural addresses.
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• Here's a brain-burner for you: is this participle apt?

Sign on telephone pole: "Found: Lost Cat"

LL on twat.

• From an American friend in Kenya:

I had a few interesting language notes from Kenya I thought you might enjoy. First, most educated Kenyans speak excellent English but they can be rather lazy about it, for example they tend to conjugate all past tense verbs with the -ed ending. So something was not 'brought' to you, it was "bringed" to you. There have also been some unique…word shifts. When you ask what they had (have-ed) for breakfast they might respond “A slice of loaf.” At the end of a student chapel the speaker had everyone give a high five and say, “keep the loose.” And my favorite is one from the ‘native’ Kiswahili language, mostly because this one pulls at some cultural strings: when you ask someone how they are doing there are only two responses, and both mean good. You MUST respond in the affirmative. You often hear people complain about how Americans just say “I’m fine,” and don’t tell the truth when they may be having a rather bad day. But here, you MUST say you’re fine…so how are you doing today? I’m good, my Grandma died, I failed my test, and my goats ran away.
Our pastor asked recently, in an anecdote about the cold weather:

"How was this part of the country settled in the first place? ... It's incredible to me that people chose to live here."

Later, she quoted a member who told her about reading over his diaries from years past:

"The discouraging thing about reading over my journal is discovering just how the same I am."
Here's something you don't read every day, from the Trib 12/26:

A YMCA director has been fired and overnight rentals of Chicago's 16 YMCA centers have been forbidden after a children's early-morning swim meet overlapped with an overnight transgender fashion show, a YMCA spokesman said Saturday.
Number-crunching from The Week:

- The day after President Bush was re-elected, American visitors to Canada's main immigration site jumped from an average of 20,000 to over 115,000. AP

- About 4,000 shoulder-fired missiles, which terrorists could use to shoot down airplanes, are missing in Iraq. Wash.Post

- Parents earning more than $70,000 now spend an average of $324,000 to raise a child to age 18. Food alone costs $47,467. New Yorker

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

This week in my B&C blog:
Why civilizations collapse, according to the author of Guns, Germs and Steel. Plus: Green Book Studies in Libya, Sister Helen Prejean's latest book on the death penalty, marketplaces in 19th-century America, Dave Barry on how to heal the red state-blue state divide, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE
My latest Tribune language column:
On the Year of Languages.
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For more on the YOL see Ambassador Michael Lemmon's address here.

Seen at DTWW:

n. a planned period of calm spent together by a just-born baby and its
parents; occasionally, time spent by parents without their baby. [Sheila
Kitzinger claims to have coined the word.] Categories: English.
From the NYT:

But the parade of broadcast journalists - the well known and the up and coming - that has been dispatched to South Asia during the last two weeks to cover the aftermath of the tsunami represents more than an extraordinary response to an unfathomable catastrophe halfway around the world. The tsunami also struck at a critically important moment in the careers of three star anchors - Brian Williams of NBC, Dan Rather of CBS and Anderson Cooper of CNN - who each traveled to the region to lead hours of coverage last week.

That's right: what should concern us in this time of unspeakable tragedy is the career paths of these opportunistic anchors who make more in one minute than most of the tsunami's victims made in their lifetime.

I have an op-ed in the works in response to Brian Williams' appearance on The Daily Show. Here's a link.

I'm cynical about cynicism. So was LBJ:

"If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: PRESIDENT CAN'T SWIM." Lyndon B. Johnson
My sister Lisa has a blog! Drop everything and bookmark it. Lisa is a wise woman; she had the foresight to move to Canada even before Bush was re-elected.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

My latest Tribune language column:
A preview of PBS' Do You Speak American?
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• I was trying to figure out why the month of January, named for the Latin word for "door" or "entry," was not originally the first month of the year. Then I read that the Roman year originally went from March to December--January and February were added later. More:

3. Weird Words: Janus-faced
Having two contrasting aspects.

The name of the Roman god Janus comes from Latin "ianua", an
entrance gate. He was the god of doorways and gateways; as doors
can be passed in either direction, he came to represent both the
past and the future. Because of that, his image was of a man with
two faces, looking both forwards and backwards. The Romans always
put Janus first in prayers, because in particular he symbolised
beginnings. But he could also represent success or failure,
especially in war. He was the god of January, whose name comes from
him (in Latin "Januarius (mensis)", the month of Janus), which had
become the first month of the Roman calendar probably some time in
the second century BCE. A person who is "Janus-faced" has two
contrasting aspects and in particular is two-faced or deceitful.
Israel Zangwill wrote a century ago that "Life is Janus-faced, and
the humourist invests his characters with a double mask; they stand
for comedy as well as for tragedy." A "Janus-faced word" is a
contronym, a word like "cleave" that has two opposing meanings.
-From WW Words/more

Update: From AHD:

A holiday for janitors ought to take place in January, for the two words are linked. In Latin, ianus was the word for "archway, gateway, or covered passage" and also for the god of gates, doorways, and beginnings in general. As many schoolchildren know, our month January - a month of beginnings - is named for the god. Latin ianitor, the source of our word janitor and ultimately also from ianus, meant "doorkeeper or gatekeeper." Probably because ianitor was common in Latin records and documents, it was adopted into English, first being recorded in the sense "doorkeeper" around 1567 in a Scots text. In an early quotation Saint Peter is called "the Janitor of heaven." The term can still mean "doorkeeper," but in Scots usage janitor also referred to a minor school official. Apparently this position at times involved maintenance duties and doorkeeping, but the maintenance duties took over the more exalted tasks, giving us the position of janitor as we know it today.

• Here's a string of words that have probably never been strung together before in the history of the English language. From a spam message I got: "The unusual things do happen sometimes potassium"

• Fun stuff from DTWW:

n. a gift bag or package containing unknown and varied merchandise, sold at
the New Year for a large discount. [From Japanese ? fuku 'good fortune;
luck' + ? fukuro 'bag'] Categories: Japan. Japanese. link

metric butt-load
n. a large but indeterminate quantity. Categories: English. Slang. link

• After reading the books of a couple of linguists, I have a theory that studying other languages can inhibit your rhythm when you write in English. John McWhorter, whom I admire, coins this sentence in his book "Power of Babel": "I still use the Web more when I must than as an ingrained habit." (p.15) (It makes sense, but ...) McWhorter also uses the word "strayest" (p.23); I'd never seen that word before as a comparative.

• Clipped a while back from the Sun-Times' QT:

QT Grammar R Us Seminar on the English Language

News Item: ". . . widespread commercialization is
literally just around the corner. . . ."
News Item: ". . . more tough times are literally just
around the corner. . . ."
News Item: ". . . an eruption is literally just around
the corner. . . ."
News Item: ". . . with a session of the Georgia
General Assembly literally just around the corner. . .."

Be careful next time you walk down the street.
Why Star Wars is better than Titanic; quotes, and more.
Sez Eric Zorn:

Why all the celebratory stories every January about which baby was born first in the calendar year? The coolest baby--the one entitled to the most huzzahs upfront -- is the last one born before the clock strikes 12 the night of Dec. 31. That baby gives his parents a tax deduction for all of last year even though he was in the womb for all but the last few minutes of it.
They did call him Slick Georgie, didn't they?

Yes, ma'am? Right here, this lady. No--she! Yes--right--second row [pointing]. Next to the guy in the blue shirt, holding her left hand up. It's a he--sorry about that. Gotta be careful. I'm very sorry. Go ahead! I'm--excuse me--I'm very sorry. Go--ah--I--a thousand apologies--go ahead. George H.W. Bush
Clipped from the Washington Post a while back:

"The Catcher in the Rye" is now, you'll be told just
about anywhere you ask, an "American classic," right
up there with the book that was published the
following year, Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and
the Sea." They are two of the most durable and beloved
books in American literature and, by any reasonable
critical standard, two of the worst.
My dad: the coolest Calvinist scholar I've ever watched football with.