Archive for the ‘My life’ Category


October 3, 2015

Back on 9/23, I got e-mail from a representative of a California public radio station, sent at 9 a.m. (though I didn’t get to it until later), asking me to do an interview by phone for them at 11:45 that morning, on Yogi Berra and his language. Now, I was offended at the extremely short notice (though journalists do this to me a lot), and I had other reasons for not wanting to do it. After some thought, I decided to meet rudeness with rudeness and just delete the message.


Muhly grass

September 30, 2015

From a recent visit to Palo Alto’s Gamble Garden, a glimpse of a very pretty ornamental grass. Photo from the web:


This is a white variant (White Cloud) of Muhlenbergia capillaris, Muhlenbergia being the genus of muhly grasses. (Note that the common name is derived by clipping from the botanical name.)

The botanical name will take us on an adventure in U.S. history, starting in the early 18th century.



September 28, 2015

From Ned Deily yesterday, a Facebook posting announcing:

Last night’s last meal in Berlin: Leberkäs, what else? — at Berlin Friedrichstraße station. … The joke is that it is neither liver nor cheese and definitely not Berlin-ish.

with a photo:


More photos to come.


Birthday flowers

September 6, 2015

I’m a few hours into my 75th birthday — 75 is a seriously round number — and already I’ve gotten (electronically) two wonderful cards, both with flowers on them, both leading to another plant family, the Asparagaceae, though neither depicts an asparagus (instead, a lily-of-the-valley and a  Joshua tree, which are, amazingly, in the asparagus family). As a bonus, the first card introduces (via four flowers) three more plant families I haven’t discussed in my recent postings on plant families —  one of which, the Primulaceae (which comes via the pimpernel plant), I’ll talk about here. As a further bonus, the second card has a nearly naked young man with notable abs (and a woolly mammoth).


Eat your weeds

August 31, 2015

Laboring on WWI (Weeds, Wildflowers, and Invasives), I was reunited with the work of Euell Gibbons, who (50 years ago) served as a cheerleader for eating foods from nature, rather than agriculture. Eat your weeds!


Twyla Tharp, truncation, and more

July 9, 2015

It starts with a New Yorker Talk of the Town piece (July 6th & 13th), “The Horde” (by Claudia Roth Pierpont), about a Twyla Tharp performance. That led me to my files, where Tharp’s piece “Push Comes to Shove” came up because of the truncation in its title. And then to other Tharp dances in my experience. And to Tharp’s first name.

Tharp in a recent photo:


Aspects at 50

June 25, 2015

Geoff Pullum’s column in the Lingua Franca blog (of the Chronicle of High Education) on the 22nd, “Revolutionary Methodological Preliminaries”, went back 50 years to a signal event in linguistics publishing. Geoff begins:

It is rather surprising that more has not been done this year (thus far, anyway) to commemorate a significant semicentenary: the 50th anniversary of what could reasonably be called the most influential linguistics book of the 20th century. [Aspects of the Theory of Syntax] was published by MIT Press in 1965 as “Special Technical Report 11” of the Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT, and has recently been re-released with a new preface, but it doesn’t seem to have inspired any major conferences or other celebrations. Yet it gets more than 25,000 citations, according to Google Scholar, and it laid the foundation for 50 years of interdisciplinary research on how human minds could possibly create and manage the extraordinary complexity of language.

I was there for the occasion.


Academic friends

June 6, 2015

(A posting about my life and about the academic world, not specifically focused on language.)

In the June 8th/15th New Yorker, a letter about Adam Gopnik’s May 4th piece on Anthony Trollope (“Trollope Trending”), from Deborah Denenholz Morse, a professor of English at William and Mary:

As the author and the co-editor of two books that Gopnik mentions, I was glad to read a piece reflecting that Trollope stands the test of time. He is as relevant today on gender, race, and politics as he was in his own era. Still, I have never taught a student who has read a Trollope novel before taking my class. Many students are thrilled to discover a writer with whom few Americans are familiar. Over the years, I have come to appreciate his work more and more, thanks to scholars such as Robert Polhemus … and James Kincaid … Academic literature helps students see Trollope as writing not only about Victorian England but also about their own lives — about psychology, the environment, the political nature of all relationships, the comedy of human foibles — and about the need for faith in something, usually the love of one individual for another.

What caught my eye here (beyond the further good words about the admirable Anthony Trollope) was the mention of Polhemus and Kincaid, who are old academic friends of mine.


That time again

May 22, 2015

Time for Stanford to appoint me as a Consulting Professor of Linguistics for the coming academic year, so I’ve been asked to supply an updated c.v. This is a requirement that comes down from the School of Humanities and Sciences, which actually makes the appointment. But somewhere along the line, my department is involved.

Now, my c.v. is gigantic (I’ve been a university professor since 1965, after all.), but I passed it along. But, thinking that my colleagues might be concerned about what I’ve doing recently, I added a side note:

for some years, my scholarly work has been conveyed almost entirely on-line, through Language Log (since 2002), my own blog (since 2008), and the American Dialect Society mailing list. I’ve posted about 10,000 times in these places (over 5,000 in my blog alone); this work is sometimes technical, but often it’s essentially educational, making linguistic topics available to a wide audience (my blog is viewed 1000 to 1500 times a day). Some of the topics covered on a regular basis:

language play; language in the comics; the language of sex and sexuality; the language of food; grammar, style, and usage; several types of anaphora (Verb Phrase Ellipsis, so-called “dangling modifiers”, anaphoric islands); morphology (especially synthetiic compounds, back-formation, and what I’ve called “libfixes”); and some semantic/pragmatic topics (e.g., negative polarity items and implicature).

I’m hoping this will be acceptable.

Unconventional lives

April 28, 2015

Following up on my posting on Elsa Lanchester, some remarks on her unconventional family and her relationship with Charles Laughton. And then notes on the spectacularly unconventional lives of Lord Berners and Robert Heber-Percy.



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