Semantics

Dictionary Day

Tweet Noah Webster’s birthday is October 16th, now known to a fraction of the population as “Dictionary Day.” It’s a good day to think about words. We have just witnessed the birth of a new word, twerk – a reminder that our vocabulary is ever evolving. IDennis Baron’s always interesting blog The Web of Language tells of a […]

Evolving First Names

Tweet Here are the first names of the 18 students in my fall class at Montclair State University: Carolyn, Melina, Pamela, Miguel, Nardeen, Kanequa, Julieth, Leslie, Alaysia, Carla, Milena (two Melinas!), Russell, Charles, Iyana, Kejdi, Aya, Klavdiya, Usman. I suspect that finding out the naming rituals in all of the cultures involved would require a couple of weeks of study; the “Charles,” for example, is a Charles IV. Investigating the meanings of […]

Definitions

Tweet This morning I had a discussion with my five-year-old granddaughter about believing in things. She believes in Jack Frost, the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and Rapunzel. I explained why no human could have 14-foot-long hair like Rapunzel, not even the Sikhs who never cut their hair. As for Santa Claus, I told her I […]

The meaning of words

Tweet David Brooks writes a column in the New York Times today about a Google database of books published since 1500 which can be used to tot up word usage. He notes that words such as virtue, decency, conscience, honesty, patience, compassion, bravery, fortitude, faith, wisdom, and evil have been used with declining frequency since 1930.  He further […]

Contemplative pedagogy: Names

Tweet Naming things is an important concept in linguistics.  People have cute, or crazy, or insulting names for people and things in their lives, and that is an area for productive study. Grandmother names are my present fixation — I am called Granna. I remember the struggle after 9/11 to find a name for the […]

Naming baby

Tweet My friend Pamela Satran has a delightful blog called Nameberry which is a treasure trove about peoples’ first names, in American culture. As illustrated below, it would be of limited use elsewhere. When my children were born, their father didn’t want any of the usual names and, since he was Australian, went searching in an […]

Funny language

Tweet As I head off for a few weeks in California (during which I will post from time to time, as I find interesting things to write about), I leave you with a smile on your face. Let’s begin with an homage to Yogi Berra, a Hall of Fame baseball player (and founder of a […]

Sports writing

Tweet A few years ago I was having coffee with a friend who worked at the time at The New York Times. We agreed that some of the best writing on the newspaper could be found on the sports page. Nothing earthshaking happens in sports –the player hits the baseball “out of the park” or […]

Playing with language

Tweet A recent article in The New York Times, “My Life’s Sentences,” by the author Jhumpa Lahiri, mentioned one of her favorite sentences. It is in the short story Araby, by James Joyce: “The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed.” Since we had just read this story in class, I […]

Fiction Exercise: Part 5

Tweet The fiction-writing exercise described in the posts of February 2, 7, 13, and 16 was the first assignment of a class in which the students would later write essays on assigned subjects, using works of fiction and poetry as sources.  The goal was to provide the students with some insight into what it takes to write fiction. (Poetry […]