1) A linguist walks into a bar. Gave me a chuckle. (Thanks, David!)
2) “20 Missouri Cities No One Knows How to Pronounce,” by Lindsay Toler. (Thanks, Bathrobe!)
3) “The Jargon Trap,” by David Tuller (from the NY Times’ Opinionator blog). Useful advice for specialists trying to write for the general public:
My colleague Rachel Morello-Frosch, a professor of environmental health sciences at Berkeley, says writing opinion pieces aimed at nonprofessionals forces her to sharpen her focus and think hard about what’s most important. “For a popular audience, you have to get to your point quickly,” she told me in an interview. “In academic writing, the ‘so what’ is usually buried under a lot of verbiage.” Researchers familiar with a particular discipline find great value in academic literature because they’re used to the format. But while the rigid structure and formal language of these peer-reviewed journal articles “are useful for the purpose they’re supposed to serve,” Dr. Morello-Frosch added, “that doesn’t make them well written or interesting to read.”
Tuller tells his students to “forget formal references” and abandon “the promiscuous use of acronyms.” (Thanks, Eric!)
4) “You Say Expresso, I Say Espresso,” by Ben Yagoda, points out that this much-peeved issue is more complicated than you might think:
Whatever the source of its appeal, expresso has had a long and not entirely disreputable history. The Oxford English Dictionary lists it as an acceptable variant. Between 1945 (date of the OED’s first citation) and 1960, it was permitted in The New York Times, with 43 uses compared with 122 for espresso. The paper noted in 1947 that “the Bazaar Francais has some new single-cup pots, one of the expresso style from Italy,” and in 1954, “Expresso coffee has been familiar in New York’s numerous Italian restaurants for many years.” The spelling was also widely used in Britain, especially in references to the coffee houses popular with the bohemian set in Soho. [...] Contrarians have pointed out that expresso is the norm in France, Portugal, and Spain.
5) John McIntyre, “mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper,” has a typically sensible and punchy piece taking issue with a “misguided (read: stupid)” article on lexicography by Michael Dirda:
Before we get to the lexicography, we might ask why Mr. Dirda thought we would be interested in his personal preferences in vocabulary. All of us, I imagine, have words we favor and words we avoid out of aesthetic preferences, but we don’t imagine that the public is keen to be let in on them.
We might also wonder why Mr. Dirda was so eager to fall into the newspaper cliche of The Awful Way Those Young People Talk. Journalists go in for this every few years, about the way The Young are butchering English, and their weird clothes and loud music and degenerate carnality. (For the last, read: having more sex than I am.) I suppose it’s one way to proclaim that one is no longer young, but why that would be of more interest to readers than one’s individual preferences in vocabulary escapes me.
He also seems not to understand the point of slang. Slang is being generated all the time, by different groups, The Young prominent among them. It starts out as a code, an in-group language, and it loses its appeal for the young as soon as older people like Mr. Dirda come to understand it. It’s ephemeral. Most of it fades away quickly, though a little will lodge in the language. Vaporing about it makes as much sense as throwing a hissy about the weather, which is equally changeable.
But we should be getting to the point, the point being that Mr. Dirda appears to be in the dark about what lexicographers are doing. [...]
Read the whole thing; McIntyre is always a delight.