Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

What a difference 30 years makes

September 6, 2014

Just arrived: Dan Jurafsky’s delightful The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu (Norton, 2014):

I’ll have more to say about the book later; here I’m focusing on chapter 1, “How to Read a Menu”, because it takes up a topic than Ann Zwicky and I wrote on in 1980 (“America’s National Dish: The Style of Restaurant Menus”, in American Speech 55.83-92; available on-line here). A lot has changed in 30+ years.


In memoriam Martha Pigeon

September 5, 2014

(Only a little bit about language.)

From New Scientist on 8/30/14, “Beautiful but doomed: Hubristic humans should heed the tale of the passenger pigeon” by Adrian Barnett, beginning:

This September marks a melancholy anniversary: the first of the month is the centennial of the death of Martha the pigeon in Cincinnati zoo and, with her passing, the extinction of the passenger pigeon. It was an extinction that 100 years earlier would have been inconceivable.

This was a species that moved in flocks of billions of individuals, so dense as to blot out the sun and take days to pass.

… The anniversary has been marked by the publication of three very different books, all focusing on how a species can go from sky-darkening abundance to a single, aged individual in a matter of decades – and what this may tell us about the future.


A further Nixonian note

August 11, 2014

In a posting yesterday I paired Richard M. Nixon with the poet Frank O’Hara, both of whom have significant anniversaries this year:

A startling juxtaposition of personalities: the awkward, often surly, and fiercely ambitious politician Nixon versus the charming and gregarious poet, with his great gift for friendship.

I went on the embroider some on O’Hara, but didn’t expand on my brief and cautious characterization of Nixon. Into the breach steps distinguished historian David M. Kennedy in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review, in “On the Record: ‘The Nixon Tapes 1971-1972’ and ‘The Nixon Defense’ “, which hits RMN with both barrels.


Yesterday’s anniversaries

August 10, 2014

Yesterday, August 9th, was the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s resigning the Presidency of the United States. And the New York Times had an appreciation of Frank O’Hara’s “Lunch Poems”, which was first published in 1964 and has now been reissued by City Lights. A startling juxtaposition of personalities: the awkward, often surly, and fiercely ambitious politician Nixon versus the charming and gregarious poet, with his great gift for friendship.


Clickbait schemes

July 17, 2014

Andras Kornai wrote me on Tuesday to comment on a prominent pattern he’d seen in online clickbaiting, exemplified by:

You Won’t Believe What This Cop Did When The Cameras WEREN’T Rolling. WOW!

Man Attempts To Hug a Wild Lion. What Happens Next Stunned Me

He’s collected hundreds of similar examples and wondered whether others had noticed the pattern (many have in fact been annoyed by it) and whether it had gotten a name (not so far as I know). In this particular schema, the “hook” is an expression of astonishment or surprise, which can be expressed in a number of ways, referring to the reader (“you won’t believe”, “you’ll be amazed”) or to the presumed writer (“… stunned me”, “I couldn’t believe”), in a variety of syntactic constructions. As a temporary expedient, I’ll refer to this as the SURPRISE! clickbait scheme.

The scheme is “semi-formulaic”, in a way that’s reminiscent of the precursors to snowclones (see “The natural history of snowclones”, here): a culturally significant idea is given a number of formulations; one version achieves special status (in a formula); and then this formula serves as a template for new expressions. The SURPRISE! scheme hasn’t yet crystallized as a formula, but it’s nevertheless recognizable by its form(s) and functions.


Graphic cookbook and more

May 11, 2014

Recommended reading: Lucy Knisley’s Relish: My Life in the Kitchen (First Second, 2013). It’s a graphic memoir (about Knisley’s growing up) combined with a gentle introduction to eating and cooking, tailored for kids but equally useful for inexperienced adults.

The cooking advice covers a range from American comfort food to more adventurous stuff (like making sushi at home).


Is never good for you?

May 2, 2014

Heard on KQED-FM yesterday morning, on the Forum program (an interview and call-in program hosted by Michael Krasny), Bob Mankoff of the New Yorker. From the KQED website:

In his new memoir, Bob Mankoff recalls being an indifferent student who frequently cut class during college. Once, when he showed up in sociology class for the final exam, his professor asked “Who the hell are you?” Mankoff replied: “You know, I could very well ask you that same question.” Despite his slacking, Mankoff’s sense of humor served him well. He became a successful cartoonist, fulfilled his dream of getting published in the New Yorker and eventually became the cartoon editor at the magazine. Mankoff joins us to discuss his new memoir, “How About Never — Is Never Good for You? My Life in Cartoons.”

Charming, down-to-earth, very funny, and full of information about how cartoons are created and how things work at the magazine. Also lots and lots of cartoons, only some by Mankoff himself.


Carl Barks

April 24, 2014

For my grand-daughter’s 10th birthday, I gave her a couple of presents, including the Carl Barks book of comics for Disney, Donald Duck: Trail of the Unicorn (2014). Pre-ordered, arriving well after the birthday, which was unfortunate, but at least guaranteed that she hadn’t already read it (she reads an enormous amount).


Eating and nothingness

April 22, 2014

Today’s Zippy, on the emptiness of the Automats, with a nice pun in the title:



For John Gumperz

March 29, 2014

Passed on by Damien Hall, forwarded from the Variationist mailing list on 3/25:

We just published an edited volume of the Journal of Ling Anthro on the work and legacy of John Gumperz. Wiley graciously agreed to provide full and free access to the issue. Check it out:

On Gumperz and his work, on this blog, see here. Another colleague who is much missed.


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