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Unpopular grammar rules

Language is a fluid, living social construct. The rules of grammar were not carved on stone tablets and handed down by God. They were created by human beings who had observations about how language works, and opinions about how it should work. “Subject pronoun,” “predicate nominative,” and the like are almost insider terms, ones that many people forget shortly after learning them in school. As we say, knowing why those…

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They called it a “flashlight” because early handheld lights weren’t designed to shine steadily

A student’s short story featuring a treasure hunt at an ancestral mansion uses a vintage name for the mistress of the house a vintage name and supplies a butler, suggesting a Victorian Engliand setting. But the story also used the term “flashlight” — an Americanism for what the Brits are more likely to call an “electric torch”. So I looked up the history of flashlights.

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The six wives of Henry VIII, in pie chart form

If you’ve ever wanted to see the reigns of Henry VIII’s wives represented in a pie chart, the New Statesman is here to serve. Catherine was queen for 24 years. That’s nearly seven times longer than her nearest successor. It’s nearly 50 times longer than Anne of Cleves, who was queen for all of six months. There was barely time to adjust the headband on the crown. Frame it a…

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The secret life of a public library security guard

This made me think of a college friend who regularly Facebooks anecdotes about his job as a librarian, and a former student who produces a radio drama about a hard-boiled, square-jawed time-traveling librarian. Enter the library intoxicated and you’ll get a talking to — the warning — and be asked to leave for the day. Petrovich understands that “everybody gonna have booze and come in library.” But if drunkards try…

BaptismRiver
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Reflections on Flannery O’Connor’s “The River”

I’m teaching “The River” today in an “Introduction to Literary Study” course. Demonstrating that we know what to do if we ever encounter such a little boy in real life won’t help us to understand O’Connor’s literary accomplishment. From a Catholic perspective, the mysteries of God are beyond anyone’s understanding. Anyone who prays for God to help them win the ball game (“listen to my prayers, not the prayers of…

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Lincoln’s last play; or, the continuing fascination with “Our American Cousin”

E. A. Sothern as the foppish and silly Lord Dundreary stole the show. His part was originally small, but his ad libs were received so well by the audience that his part was expanded. Our American Cousin wasn’t just the last play President Lincoln saw.  It  was one of the great commercial successes of its day.  It made a star our of E. A. Sothern and cemented the reputation of…

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We don’t need more STEM majors. We need more STEM majors with liberal arts training.

A chemist celebrates the liberal arts. Our culture has drawn an artificial line between art and science, one that did not exist for innovators like Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs. Leonardo’s curiosity and passion for painting, writing, engineering and biology helped him triumph in both art and science; his study of anatomy and dissections of corpses enabled his incredible drawings of the human figure. When introducing the iPad 2,…