English language

Commentary
12:30 pm
Tue July 15, 2014

The 'Binge' Paradox

Credit Aaron Escobar / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons

The word binge is a paradox connoting both shame and pride.

The very same binge-drinking that is such a concern for parents and college administrators is, for certain students, something to brag about. Note the pyramids of empty beer cans that grace fraternity houses and the murky recollections of weekend benders bracketed with phrases like, “Oh my God, I was sooo drunk that night!”

That some don’t survive these adventures in besottedness doesn’t stop bingeing from happening, and may even increase the binge’s mystique.

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Commentary
12:30 pm
Tue July 1, 2014

What Is 'Privilege?'

Credit Quinn Dombrowski / Flickr / Creative Commons

When Princeton student Tal Fortgang recently complained on Time magazine's blog that, as a white male, he had been repeatedly “reprimanded” to “check his privilege,” the Internet exploded in somewhat predictable ways.

I'll let you and Facebook explore what all is being said about Fortgang's piece, but the word privilege deserves some scrutiny.

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Commentary
12:30 pm
Tue June 17, 2014

OnWords: Meeting Around The Bush

Credit Steve Jurvetson / Flickr / Creative Commons

One language trait I've noticed recently is a peculiar use of the word “around.”

Someone might be describing a new organizational initiative and say, “Let's get together and have a discussion around the new viral marketing campaign.” What the person would have said prior to the around ascendancy is, of course, “Let's get together and have a discussion about the new marketing campaign.”

So what's all this about around—or rather around it? Or whatever?

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Commentary
12:30 pm
Tue March 25, 2014

OnWords: The Mass Production Of 'Product'

Credit Nestle / Flickr / Creative Commons

The word “product” is shifting.

One of my brothers overheard the following at a big-box retailer the other day: “We have various safety devices to keep product from falling on people.”

This use of product as mass noun stands in distinction to the term “a product,” a term identifying something as, well, produced.  

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Commentary
12:30 pm
Tue January 28, 2014

OnWords: Because Science!

Credit The Rocketeer / Flickr / Creative Commons

Those of us tuned in to social media have probably run across someone using a term like “because science” to explain something factual or amazing or both.

But “science” is often used when we really mean “technology.”

To see the difference, look at your cell phone. It’s a neat little bit of technology, but how often do we think about the science behind it? More to the point, how many of us really care?

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Commentary
12:30 pm
Tue January 14, 2014

OnWords: "Studies Show" We're Afraid Of Uncertainty

Credit Scientific Studies / Flickr / Creative Commons

Journalists and bloggers, teachers and everybody on Facebook love to use the phrase “studies show.”

I love it, too.

“Studies show” tickles the part of us that asserts a superior sort of rationality and an up-to-date command of the facts. It makes us feel smart, particularly when the study we cite is surprising or new, but especially when it reinforces what we already believe.

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Commentary
12:30 pm
Tue December 17, 2013

OnWords: Houston, We Have A Problem

Credit coach_robbo / Flickr / Creative Commons

I have learned to avoid the word “problem.”

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Commentary
12:00 pm
Tue March 26, 2013

OnWords: The Contradiction Of Myths

James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.
Credit RottenTomatoes.com

We use the word “myth” in at least two almost contradictory ways. Most commonly, we use myth to mean falsehood, a hoax without the intention to deceive.

This is the myth sites like snopes.com and shows like Mythbusters serve to dispel. It is also a product of the Age of Enlightenment, when a seemingly rational universe called not for myth but for measurement.

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Commentary
12:17 pm
Tue March 12, 2013

OnWords: Functions Of Lying

Credit Wikimedia Commons

The most powerful lies aren’t the day-to-day, so-called white lies--that we’re ”fine” or that we genuinely care if complete strangers “have a good one.” These are, in fact, sometimes important parts of being polite.

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Commentary
12:00 pm
Tue February 26, 2013

OnWords: Ideology, Love It Or Hate It?

Credit Alyson_H / flickr Creative Commons

The conflicted and often contradictory ways Americans use the word “ideology” reveals the conflicted and often contradictory ways we view ourselves.

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