Archive | Language/Lit

Two New Books with Unusual Angles

Every once in a while, someone writes a book or article deconstructing the use of humor in bleak times. A perfect example is Stalin’s USSR, where jokes were told, quietly, all over the country. But I don’t think I’ve heard anyone talking about humor in Nazi Germany before, and I think that’s because of two […]

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Pet Peeve

“We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.” The suggestion is that maybe some people might be slightly put out in some undefined way. But when the train is 40 minutes late, or your email has stopped working, I think that the people in charge know good and well that there’s been an […]

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Socially Unacceptable Accents

I’ve mentioned this to lots of people over the years, but I’m still not sure about the answer, so I’ll post it here. I’ve noticed that it’s socially acceptable to mimic a French accent. If you attempt a Parisian accent while commenting on the wine, none of your peers will assume that you’re anti-French, or […]

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Word Show-Offs

I was reading a review of a book recently (about vegetarians) in which the reviewer called Britain, “the land of the rosbifs.” As the French are called “Frogs,” or the Germans, “Krauts,” the English are called rosbifs (roast beefs) by the French. I don’t remember why I know this, but it occurred to me that […]

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Here’s to an Old-Fashioned Book Banning

The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (happily abbreviated to the ABFFE) has compiled a list of banned and challenged books (that is, they were, or are in the process of being, challenged or actually banned this year). Some were challenged or banned by school districts, some by retailers, some by public libraries. For each […]

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Image vs. Type points us to the front page of the print edition of The Independent. As he points out, you could list the countries in much less space. But this image sure leaves an impression. Note that I’m not talking about politics in this post. Just about a striking way to present information.

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Samuel Johnson.

Lately, I’ve been reading all about Samuel Johnson (a.k.a. Dr. Johnson), one of the most quotable and scholarly men of the 18th Century. He’s gotten some press lately for having said that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Which it is. The guy’s breadth of knowledge and endeavor is amazing. [Incidentally, I really […]

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In Letter News

Apparently reported by Eric Chaikin on the National Puzzlers’ League mailing list (but I found it in’s “Table Talk”): In the February 17th, 2006 issue of Entertainment Weekly, a blurb on p. 22 about director Werner Herzog contains the sentence: “Then on Jan. 26, Her[zog happened by Joaquin Phoenix’s car wreck and pulled the […]

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