The actor Cary Grant once said of acting that, “It takes 500 small details to add up to one favorable impression.” That’s true for writing as well—concrete details can paint a picture for a reader and establish credibility for a writer. Details can be tricky, however, and in the swirl of research and the dash of exposition, it is possible to get things wrong: dates, names, quotes, and facts.
Writing instructors and books often inveigh against the passive voice. My thrift-store copy of Strunk and White’s 1957 Element of Style says “Use the Active Voice,” explaining that it is “more direct and vigorous than the passive.” And George Orwell, in his 1946 essay on “Politics and the English Language,” scolds us to “Never use the passive where you can use the active.”
The adjective queer poses etymological problems. Its sense of “strange, odd, peculiar, eccentric” is given an initial Oxford English Dictionary (OED) date of 1513; thus John Bale in 1550 writes of chronicles that “contayne muche more truthe than their quere legendes.”
Terror comes into English in the late fourteenth century, partly from Middle French terreur, and partly directly from Latin terror. The word means both “the state of being greatly frightened” and “the cause of that state,” an ambiguity that is central to its future political meanings. In Early Modern English, terror comes to stand for a state of fear provoked on the very edge of the social.
A few years ago, two colleagues of mine traveled around the country documenting what was going on in the newspaper industry, talking to editors, reporters, and publishers in all 50 states. Reading their book, Practicing Journalism: The Power and Purpose of the Fourth Estate, I was struck by the great passion of journalists and their commitment to public service.
Over the course of history, the word “political” has evolved from being synonymous with “public sphere” or “good government” to meaning “calculating” or “partisan.” How did we get here? This adapted excerpt from Keywords for Today: A 21st Century Vocabulary explains the evolution. The problems posed by political result from a combination of the term’s semantic shift over the last several centuries and the changing face of post-national politics that have become so important since mid-twentieth century.
Recently a friend gave me a copy of It’s Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Clichés by lexicographer Orin Hargraves. I was intrigued to read it because I had been wondering about clichés for some time.
According to editors and grammarians, there is no comma after the word but at the beginning of a sentence. But it is something I see a lot in sentences like “But, there were too many of them to count” or “But, we were afraid the situation would get worse.”
Immigrants who are not fluent in the local language not only have trouble communicating, but may also feel that they don’t fit into the society in which they live, or that majority members might reject them due to their lack of fluency.
Of course is such a trivial phrase that few, I am afraid, will be interested in its history. And yet, what can be stranger than the shape of this most common two-word group?
The students in my class were arguing a question of semantics: is a hamburger a sandwich? One student noted that the menu designer at the restaurant where she worked couldn’t decide if a Chicken Burger should be listed under Hamburgers or Sandwiches.
After reading a draft of something by a colleague, I asked her how she decides when to use hyphens. She responded tartly: “Hyphens. You mean like in well-spoken, or half-assed? I’m not sure. I don’t care for them.” Personally, I’m a big fan of hyphens and sarcasm won’t deter me. Personally, I’m a big fan of hyphens and sarcasm won’t deter me.
With ever-increasing global mobility, today’s workers often find themselves struggling to get along in workplace cultures different from their native norms. Many disciplines, from managerial sciences to linguistics to education, have a vested interest in understanding and addressing these challenges. Research focuses on how international workers adapt to new environments and how local workers accommodate foreign colleagues.
This year I’ve been reading a lot of biographies and writing some short profile pieces. Both experiences have caused me to reflect back on a book-length biography I wrote a few years ago on the little-known educator Sherwin Cody. Writing a book-length biography was a new experience for me at the time. I learned a lot along the way. Here are a few tips based on my experience.
Whatever you associate with the term “historical linguistics,” chances are that it will not be numbers or computer algorithms. This would perhaps not be surprising were it not for the fact that linguistics in general has seen increasing use of exactly such quantitative methods. Historical linguistics tends to use statistical testing and quantitative arguments less than linguistics generally. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Before the 1550s, it was generally believed that people who are born deaf are incapable of learning a natural language such as Spanish or English. This belief was nourished by the observation that hearing children normally acquire their speaking skills without explicit instruction, and that learning to read usually proceeds by first connecting individual letters to individual speech sounds, pronouncing them one by one, before a whole word is read and understood.