Category Archives: language

The World Is Too Much With Us

I’ve never been an outdoorsy kind of guy, but something about these first few lines from William Wordsworth’s poem resonates with me. The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers …
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100 Percent Hybrid

Sara got a pair of shoes in the mail from Zappos today. On the shoebox, in big, bold lettering, were the words “100% HYBRID” …
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Billy Collins – Action Poetry

Billy Collins is one of my favorite contemporary poets. His writing is always crystal-clear, yet many-layered. A couple years ago I featured one of his poems, Man Listening to Disc, in my “Take a Stanza” series. A couple days ago I discovered (via 37signals) a little gem of a site that accompanies 11 Billy Collins poems with gorgeous animation.
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Take a Stanza – Scaffolding

At some point in my life I had this one memorized; it felt good having it rattle around in my head. It’s one of my favorites from Seamus Heaney–more tender than most of his poems, but still infused with his working-class vigor.
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Favorite Forgotten Words

Last year my mother gave me a desk calendar that had an obsolete English word for each day. It was geeky-cool to be greeted with an example of “Forgotten English” each day at work. Some of the words are just too fun not to be shared. Others are so useful that I think they should be re-adopted into the English language…
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The Book Store Game

Here’s a fun new game that I just made up this morning. Go to a book store and find the New Releases section. It should be staring you in the face as soon as you walk through the door. Now, start reading the dust jackets and inside flaps of as many books as you can as fast as you can and don’t stop until you find one that does NOT contain at least one of the following words…
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Words I Might Be Mispronouncing

Every once in a while a word will gain traction in the press, and reporters, pundits, and other authoritative voices will say it over and over again until it becomes embedded in the public’s consciousness. Occasionally the word that bursts to the forefront of our attention is one that I’ve used, or at least heard others use, in casual conversation for years, the only difference being that now the word is pronounced completely differently. As someone who cares about language and tries to use it properly, both in writing and in speech, I’ve grown increasingly concerned by the realization that I could be blithely mispronouncing hundreds of words and won’t be aware of my misdeeds until the media expose me once again by the new big news. It all started in the early nineties during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings
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Take a Stanza – Mother, Summer, I

It’s time once again for a little poetry. Wait! Don’t run and hide! This is a good poem, and it uses simple language, and it isn’t hard to “figure out.” Larkin can be so curmudgeonly at times that he makes Oscar the Grouch look like Sweet Mary Sunshine, but this poem seems to hold something tender beneath its contrary exterior…
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Take a Stanza – Little Gidding

It would be terribly irresponsible of me not to post a little poetry before the month ends. After all, April is National Poetry Month. The presumptive poem of the month is T. S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” because it starts with these timely lines: April is the cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. But I’d like to take us back in the calendar a month or two, back to the “midwinter spring” of Eliot’s “Little Gidding,” the last of his FOUR QUARTETS. . .
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Memory, Autobiography, and The Road Not Taken

By now just about everyone reading this blog has heard about the big scandal involving best-selling author James Frey and his memoir, A Million Little Pieces. In a lengthy expose, The Smoking Gun confirmed what others had suspected: Some events in the book were either creative embellishments or complete fiction–in other words, lies. Since then, Oprah phoned Larry King to defend Frey, after which she invited Frey back on her own show to give him a public spanking. A lot of journalists and
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