The Web of Language

blog navigation

Dennis Baron's go-to site for language and technology in the news
Results for "October, 2006"

blog posts

  • I found it on Wikipedia, the eBay for facts

    You can kind find anything you want to buy on eBay, a site where anybody with something to sell can put up an ad. And you can find any information you want on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia where anyone can write or edit any article, no matter how much or how little they know about the subject. Wikipedia is the new eBay for facts.

  • Stood the course, now what? Favorite Bush slogan is retired

    George Bush is looking for a few good slogans.  His mission in Iraq accomplished, he stood the course till Aug. 31, the last time he used the phrase “stay the course” in public, according to White House press secretary, Tony Snow.  

    Faced with dwindling support for the war at home, throughout the world, and worst of all, in Iraq itself, not to mention fading Republican hopes for the midterm election, the president did what all good advertising executives do when their campaigns go south, he cut and ran.

    Of course he can’t say that, not out in the open.  So Snow explained to reporters that stay the course “left the wrong impression about what was going on.”

  • Grammar's back in school

    Daniel De Vise reports in the Washington Post that grammar is coming back to the high school English class in response to the SAT's new essay. 

    Explicit grammatical instruction has cycled in and out of the school curriculum since the mid-1800s.  It was first seen as an aid to good writing, then a deterrent, then an aid, then a deterrent.  And now it's back again as an aid, not to good writing, but to higher test scores. 

    The writing sample on the SAT is only worth about 200 of the 800 points students can earn on the new writing-and-grammar section, while grammar accounts for the other 600 points.  So it's natural to expect that schools, constantly pressured to teach what will be tested, will focus not on nurturing a writer's voice while developing critical and analytical skills, but on drilling students in the difference between a noun and a split infinitive. 

    That, to me, is not grammar.  And it won't make for better writers.

  • Grammar: Good for your health?

    Students have always considered grammar a deadly subject, but the journal Nature is reporting that grammar may actually be a life saver.  Applying the rules of grammar, a team of MIT scientists has created new peptides which fight disease by destroying bacteria.  In a convincing demonstration that grammar is not only healthful, it’s also vital to our national security, two of the peptides even destroyed anthrax bacteria.

    We’ve suspected for centuries that grammar, known to be a nonaddictive sleep aid, may also be a powerful aphrodisiac.  Although grammar didn’t do much for Stanley Kowalski in his pleas to win back Stella in Tennessee Williams' Streetcar Named Desire, Sir Philip Sidney plied the powers of grammar in a sonnet sequence in order to get his own Stella to submit to his amorous advances.  Instead of animalistic cries of “Stella, Stella,” Sidney’s Astrophil takes the brainy approach, arguing that since grammar says two negatives make a positive, Stella’s “No, no” is actually a “Yes” (sonnet lxiii).

  • All bloggers are liars

    The Cretan philosopher Epimenides is famous for his paradoxical statement, All Cretans are liars. The paradox is pretty clear. If hes from Crete and tells you that Cretans lie, then his statement is itself a lie. But if hes lying when he says that Cretans are liars, then.... As Gilbert and Sullivan put it, a paradox, a paradox, a most ingenious paradox.

  • U.S. government rewrites dictionary, or, twisting the definition of torture

    Common Article III of the Geneva Convention (1949) prohibits cruel treatment and torture. It prohibits violence to life and person, and humiliating and degrading treatment. And it requires signatories to provide prisoners of war all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized people. Civilized people might read this and think, What part of 'don't torture prisoners' do you not understand? But administration officials want the language of the Geneva convention clarified, which means that they want to define for themselves offenses like torture, cruel and unusual punishment, and habeas corpus the right of an accused to know the charges and fight them in a court of law.