Every once in a while someone decides to do something about the fact that English has no gender-neutral pronoun. They either call for such a pronoun to be invented, or they invent one and champion its adoption. Wordsmiths have been coining gender-neutral pronouns for over a century and a half.
Apparently an English professor was ejected from a Starbucks on Manhattan’s Upper West Side for–she claims–not deploying Starbucks’ mandatory corporate-speak. The story immediately lit up the internet, turning her into an instant celebrity. Just as Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who couldn’t take it anymore, became the heroic employee who finally bucked the system when he cursed out nasty passengers over the intercom and deployed the emergency slide to make his escape, Lynne Rosenthal was the customer who cared so much about good English that she finally stood up to the coffee giant and got run off the premises by New York’s finest for her troubles. Well, at least that’s what she says happened.
By Dennis Baron
A rare occurrence of “Ms.” in 1885 suggests that the term is an abbreviation of “Miss.” Ever since “Ms.” emerged as a marriage-neutral alternative to “Miss” and “Mrs.” in the 1970s, linguists have been trying to trace the origins of this new honorific. It turns out that “Ms.” is not so new after all. The form goes back at least to the 1760s, when it served as an abbreviation for “Mistress” (remember Shakespeare’s Mistress Quickly?) and for “Miss,” already a shortened form of “Mistress,” which was also sometimes spelled “Mis.”
One of the big news stories this week was about JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater, who famously unleashed an expletive-ridden rant over his plane’s PA system, then pulled emergency-evacuation chute lever and made a dramatic sliding exit onto the JFK tarmac. It is only appropriate, I think, that we take this moment to consider the intersection between e-readers and airplane safety. Please pull your desk chairs into the full, upright position and enjoy the following musings from Dennis Baron.
They’re coming, and they’ll be here by September! Robot teachers, programmed with a single mission: to save our failing schools. Funded by the Frankenstein Foundation, computer engineers in secret mountain laboratories and workshops hidden deep below the desert floor are feverishly soldering chips and circuit boards onto bits of aluminum to create mechanical life forms whose sole purpose is to teach English. We need this invasion of English-teaching robots because, according to researchers at the University of California, San Diego, “an unprecedented number of children in the US start public school with major deficits in basic academic skills, including vocabulary skills.”
In a list of the colonies’ grievances against King George III Jefferson wrote, “he has incited treasonable insurrections of our fellow-subjects, with the allurements of forfeiture and confiscation of our property.” But the future president, whose image now graces the two-dollar bill, must have realized right away that “fellow-subjects” was the language of monarchy, not democracy, because “while the ink was still wet” Jefferson took out “subjects” and put in “citizens.”
Well the time has come for me to say goodbye to all of you lovely readers. Running the OUPblog has been a dream job and leaving is very bittersweet. So I thought before I left we could take a trip down memory lane and review some of the best blog posts of the past. This list certainly is not conclusive, just a few of the thousands of posts I had the honor of sharing with you. Please keep in touch. You can follow my adventures on twitter @FordBecca. Ciao!
Dennis Baron looks at “Gutenberg moments”.
Dennis Baron looks at how we read.
Dennis Baron looks at Wikipedia.
Dennis Baron looks at the destabilizing technologies of communication.
Dennis Baron evaluates the success of the internet.
A look at the iPad.
Dennis Baron looks at multitasking.
Dennis Baron looks at the dilemma of being old in the internet age.
Dennis Baron wishes the internet a happy birthday!