My Grammar Ain’t So Good

grammarTrue confession: most of what I know about grammar starts with ABC. That’s why this post about language will devolve into math.

I’m certain that would be unwelcome news to the Sisters of St. Joseph who did everything in their power to make the prescriptive case for language. Their chosen texts, as I recall, were arranged in numbered sections, like a technical Continue reading


Is Someone’s Mind on Vacation?

CV1_TNY_08_04_14Chast.inddWhat’s up on 42nd street?

That’s terribly vague. So let me ask a more specific question: did The New Yorker give the entire editorial staff an extended summer holiday? I fear the answer must be yes based on the 6 pages or so of space wasted on John Lanchester’s story, Money Talks, in the August 4 issue. (Free access for the rest of the summer.)

Lanchester doesn’t like the language of finance. He says of it, “You are left wondering whether somebody is trying to con Continue reading

Weeds, Words and Sustainability

Some tasks lend themselves to extended thinking. Swimming. Painting. And reclaiming my lawn. The latter is a task that’s been going on all summer and grabs my attention for several hours each weekend. I tend to do math while swimming laps. The bucolic nature of working beneath the pine trees puts me in a greener frame of mind.

Creeping Charlie

When we moved into the house my friend Viviane, the noted vegetarian food writer, took Continue reading

Fresh Pulp: How Popular Fiction Became Literature

Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 1940s
James M. Cain, Horace McCoy; Edward Anderson; Kenneth Fearing; William Lindsay Gresham; Cornell Woolrich

Here’s a recipe for creating literature: write to make a living (in other words, embrace the nakedly commercial), incorporate new things floating around the zeitgeist, ignore the professoriate and critics, sell to the movies, wait 50 years, put between hard covers and press. That, at the very least, is what the Library of America has done with 6 dime-store novels of the 30s and 40s that truly deserve to be part of our national literature.

“It was nothing but a roadside sandwich joint, like a million others in California.” That’s a very early Continue reading

Exceptional Language

My friend Joan called to my attention a post by Paul Brians on the William James & Company blog. Brians takes as his subject the sometimes cavalier use of words by academics. Actually, that’s not quite fair and it’s worth reading the whole thing if only to check that my take away is right.

Brians notes some infamous examples of the language used in literary criticism.  He cites recent usage where the words chosen by academics Continue reading

What’s in a word? The problem with ‘hot.’

Does anybody remember the Marx Brothers? Here’s 10 minutes of The Cocoanuts. The important part starts at 7:39 (but you may want to watch the whole thing).

For the uninitiated what Groucho is doing with Margaret Dumont is what was known as wooing. (I suppose he is really doing a parody of wooing.) That became flirting. Somewhere along the line that became hitting on and now, if I believe Tom Wolfe, and I tend to believe Tom Wolfe, it has Continue reading