National Grammar Day

March 4, 2009

Not to have the blog taken over by short announcements of amusing geek holidays, but again, this one was too good to pass up. Today, March 4, is National Grammar Day! Here are some suggestions from the organizers on how to celebrate:

Speak well! Write well! And on March 4, march forth and spread the word. We want people to think about language and how it can be used best.

Some of our members are planning Good-Grammar Potlucks at their offices. What do you serve at good-grammar potlucks? High-fiber foods, of course. They’re good for the colon. Afterward, at happy hour, we recommend the Grammartini. (Recipes are here.)

Visit their website for good grammar tips and the bad grammar hall of fame.

Feel free to leave a comment with any particularly heinous examples of bad grammar you notice today!

Twilight turns to dusk

August 1, 2008

Hmmm, I’m not sure I’m going to have time to write up a full-blown book review today, but instead, here’s a passage from the book I was reading earlier today that caught my attention:

Sixty minutes later the sky in the east was a dark navy blue, almost black. Visibility was fading fast. Years before, a pedantic schoolteacher in the Pacific somewhere had explained to Reacher that first comes twilight, and then comes dusk, and then comes night. She had insisted that twilight and dusk were not the same thing. If he needed a generic word for evening darkness, he was to use gloaming.

Gloaming was what he had right then. Plenty of it, but not quite as much as he would have liked.

-Child, 407, Bad Luck and Trouble

Assignment for the weekend: Find a way to work gloaming into conversation naturally.


Basque Gastronomy and History

July 11, 2008

I seem to have stored up a backlog of book reviews that I’ve been meaning to post, so I’ll start trying to clear them out of my head and onto the internet now. This first one is somewhat unusual, in that it’s actually non-fiction, which I haven’t been reading much of lately.

This book actually has to be paired with a radio story. Back in May, before I had to leave for my 3-week business trip to Asia (I’m chronicling that over on my personal blog), I heard this piece from the Kitchen Sisters on NPR, from their Hidden Kitchens series: The Sheepherder’s Ball: Hidden Basque Kitchens. While my own cooking skills are notably underdeveloped, I find this series fascinating for the way it explores history and culture through the initial touchstone of recipes and food. In this case, they revealed the existence of a sizable Basque community in the US that I had never heard about before.

Francisco and Joaquin Lasarte came to America in 1964 from Basque country in northern Spain. Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator who repressively ruled the country for nearly 40 years, made life miserable for the Basque people, suppressing their language, culture and possibilities.

The result was a massive exodus, and the only way to come to the United States for many Basque was to contract as sheepherders. There was a shortage of shepherds in the American West, and Sen. Patrick McCarren of Nevada helped craft legislation in 1950 that allowed Basque men to take up this lonely and difficult job.

Neither Lasarte brother had any sheepherding experience when they arrived in America.

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How should the media cover Barack’s blackness?

June 10, 2008

A typo (I think that’s what it is) in today’s lead NYT campaign story caught my eye:

Mr. Obama also has sought to tie Mr. McCain to the country’s current economic woes, charging that the Bush administration has been “the most fiscally irresponsible administration in history.”
“And now John McCain want to give us another,” he said.

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Stop saying “recession”

January 31, 2008

This is a plea to anyone who currently holds a position in news broadcasting. You could be a news anchor, a writer, or even a person likely to be interviewed on economic issues. I am begging you, please, please stop saying the word “recession.” After everyone involved has taken five minutes out of their lives to carefully consider the meaning of the word, you may resume using it, on the sole condition that you do so correctly.

So, to be clear, let me take a moment to share the correct definition here. In the United States, the Bureau of Economic Analysis is responsible for tracking and officially measuring and reporting on the gross domestic product (GDP). This Bureau, one of a number of them under the auspices of the Commerce Department, defines the term as follows:

“A recession is a decline in a country’s gross domestic product, or negative real economic growth, for two or more successive quarters of a year”

Now then. Now that we all are working with the definition, as defined by the organization empowered by law in this country to handle these matters and widely accepted by macro economists, let us consider for a moment how this term might apply to an issue near and dear to my heart and likely to yours: the current status of the United States economy.

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Revisiting Language Death

January 24, 2008

In hearing the news today, from a variety of sources, that the last native speaker of the Native Alaskan language of Eyak has died, I had some time to ponder where my previous explanation of my feelings about language death stories had broken down. One of the stories spoke of a person who had been working to “preserve” the language, and it hit me that what I really object to, aside from the usual melodrama from reporters who only superficially understand the issue, is the terminology that so often gets used, because it is misleading.

What the person in the news story had been working to do was not “preserve” the language, as I see it, but to “record” it. There’s perhaps only a slight difference here, and maybe it’s just in the way I’m defining the words for myself in this context, but I’ll explain why they seem different to me.

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Blogroll Additions: Language Geeks and Truckers

January 11, 2008

I found a couple new blogs to add to the blogroll, and thought you fine people should be alerted to these fabulous new options for entertainment and procrastination.

First, the Cognition and Language Lab blog, which is highly interesting to me, and will presumably be so to all my fellow linguistics geeks as well.

Second, another blog by a Grinnell alumnus, On the Road (again), in which Mark Bourne chronicles his experiences as a trucker. We Grinnellians know how to put our liberal arts education to work, yes we do! He is also keeping a blog about the progress on building his bread oven, which is what the trucking money is going towards with the end goal of having a bread baking business. Mmmm, bread.


Blogroll Addition Extravaganza!

November 29, 2007

Okay, it’s been a while since I pointed out additions to the blogroll, and it appears that the advent of allergy/asthma/holiday/exam/video game season is cutting into our collective writing, so, if you find youself without fresh geekings to read here, try these other fine blogs.

Blogs by Grinnellians

Bittersweet, the personal blog of our friend Molly, a (currently) former middle school teacher and aspiring YA novel author. She blogs about life, books, dogs, and often posts very realistic criticisms of our public education system.

Brood, the always amusing blog of Sarah Aswell, MFA, former writer for Grinnell’s campus paper, current minion for the publishing industry, and part-time (working toward full-time) journalistic writer for a variety of publications. She has several ongoing features on her blog, including “Sarah vs. Britney Spears,” “Ripley: Cat on a Diet,” “Lifetime Movie Reviews,” and, of course, book reviews. You can peruse a list of her published articles here.

Puffery is yet another blog featuring our own kidsilkhaze/Jennie. It’s amazing she has time to keep up with all this blogging! Puffery is actually a group blog, too, again with mostly Grinnellians, about beauty and bath products. If you’re a girl who wants to acknowledge your girly side and get some practical advice about what and what not to buy, go read! If you’re a boy who wonders what all the fuss is about all this girly stuff, go read! Moisturizer, makeup, bubble bath, shampoo, soap… they’ve got it all.

Sports Guy Talkin’ Crazy Again, a blog by a Grinnell English professor. It is, as he describes it, “Erik Simpson’s commentary on the way people talk about sports.” Only updated as often as Simpson notices people saying something interesting about sports, but when it’s updated, it’s always good. (His non-sports blog is Underlying Logic.)

Blogs by Other Worthy People

The following are blogs by recognizable famous journalist authors that you may already be reading, but if you aren’t, you should check out. is Malcolm Gladwell’s blog. Gladwell is the author of The Tipping Point and Blink, and writes regularly for the New Yorker magazine. He blogs, as he writes, on a wide variety of interesting subjects.

The Loom is Carl Zimmer’s science blog. Zimmer is a science writer who focuses on evolutionary biology. He is the author of Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, Parasite Rex, Soul Made Flesh, At the Water’s Edge, and The Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins. He also writes for the New York Times, National Geographic, Wired, and numerous other magazines.

Relatedly, From A to Zimmer is written by Carl’s brother, Ben Zimmer, a linguist who also writes for Language Log. From A to Zimmer is his column on the Oxford University Press blog. Mmmmm, linguistics and etymology.

Why I’m a bad linguist

November 16, 2007

While perusing the news this morning, I came across this article: Split imperils Mexican language. The first paragraph sums up the issue nicely. (Actually, as is typical of BBC news articles, the opening paragraph is actually just a sentence. Why did I even bother to teach my ESL students that a paragraph should usually be at least three sentences?)

An indigenous language in southern Mexico is in danger of disappearing because its last two speakers have stopped talking to one another.

The situation itself is rather comedic, but of course the rest of the article goes on to highlight serious and somewhat hysterical facts, such as:

More than 20 of these [indigenous languages of Mexico] are under threat of extinction.


According to the UN, one language disappears across the world every two weeks.

As a person who has nearly gotten actual degrees in linguistics twice (and does at least have language and linguistic-related degrees), I get these kinds of articles forwarded to me a lot by friends wanting to know what I think about language death. I know that I am supposed to be horrified. All that knowledge we are losing! A whole language, gone, dead, never to return! And of course, some part of me is saddened by the situation.

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On Snobbishness

September 10, 2007

An oddity of language just occurred to me, and I thought I’d share. I was pondering another intended post, and the opening line that occurred to me was, “I find I am becoming an [X] snob.” At this point, I got distracted by considering the way the word “snob” seems to be changing in use.

The definition of snob, according the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, is:

1 British : COBBLER
2 : one who blatantly imitates, fawningly admires, or vulgarly seeks association with those regarded as social superiors
3 a : one who tends to rebuff, avoid, or ignore those regarded as inferior b : one who has an offensive air of superiority in matters of knowledge or taste

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