Essays on Language

“Language, On and Off Holiday”  (Quarks Daily)

“…how difficult it is to actually learn much at all about words and their attendant conventions once you’ve removed them from the everyday speech and printed page that is their office – once you’re fanning an isolated word with the palm frond of philosophical analysis.”


“On: The Fall and Rise of a Preposition”  (Slate) 

“That is, on seemed to appear as a kind of universal stand-in, the preposition most likely to be pressed into service when uncertainty arose.”


“The Stimulating History of Coffee: Why You Hear This Word Around the World”  (Slate) 

“It’s always recognizable: the two reliable syllables, the seesaw of vowel sounds punctuated by velar stops and fricatives. Why is that?”


“The Brigadoon of the Conversation”  (Quarks Daily)

“Off the very cuff of conversation, they have concocted a moment’s alternate reality, which relies on a shared understanding outside the bounds of workaday communication.”


“Here’s Looking at Yous, You Guys, and Y’all. The Second Person Plural Won’t Be Ignored!”  (Slate)

“It appears that, when speaking, we feel the absence of a distinctly plural form of you and reach for it like a gesture or a confirmation.”


“In Defense of Epigraphs”  (Quarks Daily)

“Who wouldn’t love a well-deployed epigraph? The way they open up wormholes between one time and text and another? The way they make the universe seem connected and meaningful and filled with some kind of transcendental genius?”


“Are You a Double Is-er?”  (Slate)

“…when a particularly prescriptivist friend called me out on my own double-is-ing, I wondered if it might serve a purpose. As it turns out, linguists have been making the case for double-is for decades.”


“What We Talk About When We Talk About the Weather”  (Quarks Daily)

“But still it seemed to me that passing talk of sunlight and snowfall and heat and humidity was different from other small talk. Or, at least, I needed to believe it.”


“Object Correlative: World-Building in Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue (The Quarterly Conversation)

“Chabon crams the nooks and crannies of his fictional rooms with palpable, specific objects and peoples them as expertly as a Dungeon Master.”