language

OnWords
1:07 pm
Tue October 7, 2014

On Words: 'I Know, Right?'

Rachel McAdams as Regina George in the movie Mean Girls.
Credit http://meangirlgifs.tumblr.com/

There are various origin stories for the phrase “I know, right?” In The Week magazine, James Harbeck attributes the popularization of this phrase to the movie

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Commentary
2:34 pm
Tue September 23, 2014

Explaining Isn't Excusing

Credit Wikimedia Commons

Though we often use them together, an explanation is not an excuse.

An explanation can be used when we give evidence for an excuse, but an excuse is about culpability, which is determined by a set of values, values that can exist outside of a set of facts. An explanation, in contrast, comes about by the application of a set of principles to a set of facts.

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Commentary
12:30 pm
Tue September 9, 2014

Only Boring People Get Bored! Or Something.

Credit Mark Engelbrecht / Flickr / Creative Commons

A former colleague of mine, Rita Peters, pointed out the frequency with which teens and tweens utter the dreaded phrase,“Mom, I’m bored!”

Boredom, it seems, is a major epidemic. But, of course, it always has been. Let’s face it, most things, except perhaps sex, are boring on the surface of them.

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Commentary
12:30 pm
Tue August 26, 2014

Who's Responsible? Who's To Blame?

Credit Google Images / Creative Commons

There’s a big difference between responsibility and blame, even though we often use them interchangeably.

When GM CEO Mary Barra stood up before congress and accepted responsibility for her company’s faulty ignition switches, what she got was blame. Her attempt, it seems, was genuine: she was trying to express the idea that, unlike past GM officials, she was willing to admit that wrong had been done and something was going to be done about it.

As any Midwesterner knows, you can take responsibility for a problem by stepping up and acting on it.

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Commentary
12:30 pm
Tue August 12, 2014

The Educated Person, And What That Means

Benjamin Franklin, by Joseph Siffred Duplessis
Credit Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

The U.S. goes through periodic bouts of doubt regarding what education means.

In the latest round, we have the Common Core and No Child Left Behind pushing us toward ever more measurable outcomes and ever less certainty about what kids actually should learn. These trends equate education with “performance” and “achievement,” “success” and “excellence.”

I’ve been around education circles just long enough to recognize these as only trends, soon to be replaced by other trends, none of them particularly helpful in understanding education.

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Commentary
12:30 pm
Tue July 29, 2014

The View From The Top

Credit Eisenbahner / Flickr / Creative Commons

A co-worker of mine recently registered her displeasure with the term “the 30,000-foot view.”

The 30,000-foot view is meant to invoke a sense of the big picture, to show how a situation might look from 30,000 feet in the air. The attempt here seems admirable: we do sometimes lose sight of the big picture when we get bogged down in the details.

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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 May 20, 2014

The Dangerous Assumptions of 'Excellence'

These guys are excellent, but they don't bother with 'excellence'

“Excellence” ranks right up there with terms like “professionalism” and “family values” as power terms, the vagueness of which is used to subject people to all manner of indignity and peonage.

“Excellent” we might lovingly associate with Wayne's World or Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, in which it's a term of universal application to all things righteous, gnarly or dope. But that same universalism is exactly what makes “excellence” so dangerous.

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