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    Mille Dinesen as the title character, a teacher, in the Danish TV series “Rita”

    In a bullying situation, it shouldn’t be hard to tell the bully from the victim, should it?

    Well, in our sensitive 21st century, it’s not always so easy. Here’s a case in point.

    In Episode 4 of Season 4 of Rita, the acclaimed Danish television series focusing on an incorrigibly wayward but brilliantly successful elementary-school teacher, the first scene is about a new student named Liam and his classmate Knud.

    To he...

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    Photo courtesy of Roger Shuy

    One of the least recognized linguistic tools is the speech event. It’s not an “event” in the broad sense of the term, such as an anniversary or a party. Speech events are defined by the language used in them: job interviews, business meetings, visits to the doctor, police interrogations, trials, sermons.

    Most people don’t think about the usefulness of such events any more than they think about riding a bicycle or climbing the stairs. The words used during these hum...

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    William Wordsworth

    When I read about the reboot of Roseanne, which followed the reboot of One Day at a Time, which followed the reboot of Hawaii-Five-0, I naturally thought of writing a Lingua Franca post on the word reboot. I went to the Oxford English Dictionary, which sketched out the history. Reboot, verb, “To boot (a computer, operating system, etc.) again, esp. after a power failure or malfunction,” first citation 1971. Reboot, noun, meaning such an act of rebooting, first citation 1980. R...

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    hqdefaultBeing ill in Paris is like being ill anywhere else — you spend a lot of time in bed, half-sleeping, half-thinking of all the work you’re not doing, waiting for your lazy immune system and the antibiotics to kick in. The only difference, as I recovered from bronchitis this past week, was that I found myself thinking of another young lady who lay in a bed in Paris and stared at the ceiling. I’m referring, of course, to Madeline, the subject of Ludwig Bemelmans’s famous book, one of my favorites as...

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    The Chelsea player Dujon Sterling scored an own goal in the European Under-19 Championship last year.

    I was listening to NPR the other day, as I do, when a guest — a lawyer representing some Americans jailed in Iran — lamented that U.S. efforts to free his clients have all been by means of talks with American allies that have relationships with Tehran. “These are all bank shots,” he said.

    My ears perked up because they recognized a new entry in a list I informally collect: sports-originating ne...

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  • 06/10/18--12:38: The Language of Airportland
  • airport-l-pti-1In a few days, I will be leaving France for Airportland, whose delights I will savor for about 11 hours before I find myself once again in the United States.

    Most readers have spent time in Airportland. We know its particular wan light; the general flatness that makes the incline of jetways such a shock; its salty, sugary, and alcohol-infused cuisine; its detached social ambiance; its modes of travel (the long slog down the moving walkway, the hum of the people-moving carts, the standing-room-on...

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    It makes sense for movies shown on airplanes to be appropriate for most if not all ages. That limits the selection, needless to say. On my flight home from France, I chose Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, of which none of the reviews had reported any sexual component or aspect of violence that would warrant cutting, and I wanted a grown-up film that hadn’t been butchered.

    But wait — language. At the beginning of the film, there’s the announcement that it has been modified from the ori...

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    Elaine’s Bizarro-world friends: Kevin, Gene, and Feldman

    In a recent interview, the rapper Kanye West said being bipolar is his “superpower.”

    He is not the only capeless person to recently make such a claim. The following statements were made this month:

    • An article in the New Bern (North Carolina) Sun Journal declared, “Losing Things Is My Superpower.”
    • A hockey writer suggested that the Vegas Golden Knights coach Gerald Griffin’s “secret superpower” is not holding players accountable for their ...

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  • 07/05/18--14:27: Messages by the Numbers
  • nazi_number_88Remember favorite numbers? Mine was seven. I liked how it combined the magic numbers three and four; how it was prime; how it looked, especially when my first-grade teacher executed it in Palmer script; how there were five sevens in our family’s seven-digit phone number; and how, when doubled, it became the date of my birthday.

    Numbers have always worked, like words, as symbols. Think of the nine muses, the seven deadly sins, the 10 commandments, the Trinity, the four directions. I remember a ca...

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    U. of Barcelona

    Wireliz Soto-González recently completed her master’s in art history at the University of Barcelona. Jorge Fernández de Jesús received a master’s in biology at the University of Navarra at Pamplona and is a teacher of English with the Council on International Educational Exchange. Both graduated from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. 

    What was it like studying at a Spanish university?

    Soto-González: The matriculation process went smoothly and classes were not as dem...

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    montanaBureaucratic language is everywhere. I don’t object to it, for I rely on bureaucrats to help us understand our laws and regulations. The secret is writing these explanations in language that average readers can understand. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. For instance, if you’d like to get a hunting or fishing license out here in Montana where I live, it’s not easy. I don’t hunt or fish, but I’m amazed at the language hoops that hunters and fishermen (fishers?) have to jump through to ...

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    job-interview-panel-tease-today-160328It’s about that time of the academic year when eager young Ph.D.s and A.B.D.s spend more than they can afford to attend the annual meetings of their disciplines with the goal of landing a job for the coming year.

    Advice to them about how to be interviewed isn’t hard to find, but there isn’t as much information to help faculty members conduct these interviews. They do it anyway, however, some better than others. Their purpose is to find out what the candidates know and whether they look like ...

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  • 12/02/18--14:42: The Dreaded Ph.D. Oral Exam

  • A topic sometimes discussed in the faculty lounge is the dreaded Ph.D. oral exam. As a faculty member who has chaired and otherwise participated in many of these events, I’m tempted to think that I’ve seen them all. I don’t recall ever being taught about how to chair one, and I’m sure that I was never instructed in how to take one effectively.

    As far as I know, there is no standard practice about how to conduct or take an oral exam for the Ph.D. Variations appear to be wide. I was told of one v...

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    Lloyd’s in the early 19th century (above). The insurance business has been around longer than the word “coverage.”

    Curricular conversations nationwide lament, cheer, and debate the decline of something once called, without irony, “coverage.”

    More than a decade ago, a senior art historian confided to me that “coverage is dead.” Art history required new ways of thinking about what gets taught and how.

    Many of us, though, may still think in terms of some sort of coverage.

    We will cover the history...

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    The Thinker, a pencil-tip sculpture by Jasenko Dordevic

    Two years ago, the Technical University of Munich’s language center hosted a conference about university-level writing in a second language. Things didn’t start out well when our keynote speaker, Leslie Sage, an editor at Nature, appeared to undermine some of our work as language instructors. Asked how much scientists should worry about the quality of the English in their journal submissions, he responded, “We really don’t care.” Cue nervou...

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    stamperIn March 2017, Kory Stamper’s book Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, was published to great and justified acclaim.

    The book, a delightful inside look at the lessons she learned as a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster, was a best book for both Publishers Weekly and Amazon. It was an Adult Crossover Nonfiction Plus choice for the Junior Library Guild, though with the “potentially sensitive areas” of “strong language, mild sexual themes.”

    Asked how a book about dictionaries could have “m...

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