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Why Is Othello Black?

To us today, the word “black” carries with it a specific cluster of associations informed by history, culture, stereotypes, and literature. Othello may have started in conversation with Shakespeare’s definition of blackness, but today, he speaks with ours. A much more interesting question, really, is: Why is Othello black? Why did Shakespeare write a domestic tragedy about jealousy, and make the husband a Moor? Is Othello’s race a canard, or…

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Editors and editorial board quit top linguistics journal to protest subscription fees

When I publish as a scholar, my goal is not to make money, but to share my intellectual creation. That’s part of my job description, so my university writes my paycheck with the expectation that I will publish. My publications will have more impact if more people read them. Hiding them behind subscription paywalls will reduce their audience. Scholars at public instutitons, whose salaries are paid by taxes, have a…

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‘NPR Voice’ Has Taken Over the Airwaves

  In literary circles, the practice of poets reciting verse in singsong registers and unnatural cadences is known, derogatorily, as “poet voice.” I propose calling this phenomenon “NPR voice” (which is distinct from the supple baritones we normally associate with radio voices). This plague of pregnant pauses and off-kilter pronunciations must have come from someplace. But … where? A primary cause of NPR voice is the sheer expansion of people broadcasting…

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Battle of Agincourt — 600 Year Anniversary of Henry V’s “St. Crispin’s Day Speech”

Sure, Marty McFly Day is interesting and all that, but Oct 25, 2015 marks the 600 year anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, the occasion for Henry V’s famous St. Crispin’s Day Speech, which, as Shakespeare rendered it around 1599, ends thus: This story shall the good man teach his son; And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by, From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it…

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Every conversation between a parent and a child, in four conversations. (Slate)

This whole item applies very well to one of my children. Me: Put your shoes on. Child: Did you know that we don’t actually vote for president, we vote for people who vote for president? Me: I don’t care, put your shoes on. Child: I am. Me: You’re not. Put your shoes on. Child: Why do we have shoes anyway? Me: Just put your shoes on. Child: That reminds me, where are my shoes? Me: What? They’re right there! Right next…

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The secret history of “Y’all”: The murky origins of a legendary Southern slang word

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is usually academics’ first go-to for all things linguistic, and it cites the first occurrence of “you all” in print in 1824, from Arthur Singleton’s Letters from the South and West:“Children learn from the slaves some odd phrases;..as..will you all do this?”This example is important for understanding not only the term’s origins but also the difficulties surrounding it.First, does this count as “y’all”? It doesn’t…