Monthly Archives: February 2016

Polysemy, Now You Don’t

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I’ve been thinking about people who proclaim themselves offended by words for which they mistakenly assume the wrong meaning. A celebrated example is “niggardly,” the use of which cost an aide to the mayor of Washington, DC, his job back in 1999, even though he was entirely correct and his detractors entirely wrong (the same word has starred in similar episodes around the country since then). Lately there’s been much to-do about “master.” Continue reading

Football Über Alles

Offense of the Month: February 2016.
Must be the silly season in Iowa. On January 1, Stanford University, the football team, beat the University of Iowa football team in the Rose Bowl, 45–16. But the Stanford marching band lost during half-time, judging by the howls of outrage from Hawkeyes fans. The band featured the typical smorgasbord of demeaning gestures, sendups, and mockery of the visiting institution, including a dancing cow. Nothing that anyone who regularly watches college football hasn’t seen before.

But these antics incensed Iowa state senator Mark Chelgren, Republican of Ottumwa. He introduced a bill that would prohibit the three state universities in Iowa from “collaborat[ing] or cooperat[ing]” with Stanford “until Stanford university officials publicly apologize to Iowa’s citizens and to the University of Iowa for the unsporting behavior of the Leland Stanford junior university marching band.” I’m unclear whether the senator’s sloppy capitalization was meant as a payback dig at Stanford: did he mean to insinuate that it’s but a “junior university”? (Stanford was named for Leland Stanford’s son, Leland Stanford Jr.) But Chelgren’s bill has a howler: it exempts from the ban all “sporting events.” In other words, the activity that caused the supposed offense is off the hook. Play football with Stanford all you want, including, apparently, leaving the band free to multiply its mockeries. But scholarly activities? Not on your life. They must pay the price. That’ll show them.
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Watch that killer metaphor!

Offensive — or merely tasteless? No, not the Iowa primaries; I cover only serious things. But we can tarry in Iowa to consider this item, which I stumbled across as I’ve been attempting, at a snail’s pace, to put my stack of clippings into retrievable order. Seems the president of the University of Iowa, J. Bruce Harreld, loosed his tongue Continue reading