September 2009 Issue

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi


Hey, according to my Kitten of the Day calendar, it’s still September, so quit whining.  I guess I should do a column on “just under the wire” sometime soon.


Through his On Language column for the New York Times and his many books on language, William Safire, who died on September 27, awakened and sustained an interest in language among millions of readers.  Although he never missed an opportunity to “gotcha” solecisms and silliness in the media (especially when uttered by politicians), he was far from being a language scold or usage purist.  He took an infectious delight in documenting new slang and jargon, and he took lexicographic research very seriously.  I never met Mr. Safire, though I recall speaking to him once on the phone years ago, and his researchers contacted me many times to ask if I had any information on, or an opinion of, a word or phrase which had suddenly popped up on his radar.  I was, of course, only a very small fish in the sea of sources he employed, but he took the trouble to plug my books and this website in his column, for which I am very grateful.

The Times obit refers to Mr. Safire as a “linguist,” although, strictly speaking, he wasn’t.  I suspect he would have preferred the term “philologist,” from the Greek philologos, meaning “lover of words and the study of human speech.”


Onward. As I mentioned last month, our sister site (more of a wife site, really) How Come? has been updated yet again, and is eagerly soliciting questions.  Ask a question, win a book!


Elsewhere in the news, this month marks the debut of a new WordPress theme for this site, Atahualpa, apparently named after some Incan malcontent.  Like most rural hermits, I hate change, so I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to make it look as much like the old theme as I can. The advantage of this new theme is that it’s fluid, expanding to fill your screen and making the center column (if you operate at a resolution greater than 1024 x 768, anyway) much wider.  (The old theme looked a lot like this.)  It seems to work fine in all the browsers I’ve had a chance to test it on, though it looks a bit funny on Google Chrome on Windows, which a whopping 3.20% of you use.  So I suggest you folks stop using both Windows and Chrome.  Thanks.

The advantage of having a wider center column, incidentally, is that it makes text easier to read and will give me room to restore the column illustrations I had to drop because of space constraints.  I plan to start posting them again next month, but picking them is time-consuming, so don’t hold your breath.

If you’re looking for something to read while you wait, I suggest Give Me Something to Read.  I keep reading scary articles about how no one has the patience to read long things online anymore, but evidently some of us still do.

I know there’s something else I was going to say, but my mind has gone blank.  Oh right, please subscribe.  I often receive emails from folks who explain that they’re subscribing after “meaning to for years” but just never getting around to it.  Better late than never, of course, but if we could trim that “years” down to something that would satisfy a bunch of hungry cats (not to mention a rapacious mortgage company), it would be awesome.

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