Tag Archives: Roger W. Smith

“binary” words

 

 

list of ‘binary words’

 

 

See downloadable Word document (above) containing my compilation/list of “binary words”

 

 

Something got me to thinking about the following: in the English language, when two words are combined to form a compound word.

Two separate words are paired and function as if they were a single, unitary word or idea.

Many of these pairings are ingenious. They most often result in one or both words taking on a new or metaphorical meaning different from the original or literal one. So dotted line (as in sign on the dotted line), while there remains a literal meaning (there are dots arranged in a line), also in our minds becomes something we think of — the two words being conjoined, so to speak — as a thing in and of itself, sort of equivalent to red tape or fine print.

What is a rumor mill or a diploma mill? The word mill is part of the compound. And, there is an adjective, e.g., diploma — formed from a noun. It is the case that many such compounds are formed of two fused nouns where one noun now functions as a qualifier and the other as the substantive. A rumor mill or diploma mill is not really a mill, although there is the idea of mass production. The two nouns having been fused together have become an abstract concept.

Or take smoking gun. There may be literally a smoking gun, but the phrase has become metaphorical, and there is usually not an actual gun. Or, take silver platter, for instance. Something that can be visualized as an object has become metaphorical. And worker bee. In botany, it refers to a specific class of bees. But worker bee has become idiomatic when used to describe a person. And we have the same things with hornet’s nest and close shave.

Often a verb, usually used in the active, has become rather listless as an adjective: e.g., peep show. But there is an implied activity associated with the controlling noun. It’s something generic, a show, and there is something going on that the verb/adjective allows us to visualize: peeping.

Some — indeed, many — of the compounds are devised to serve as euphemisms. have become hackneyed, or serve as stock phrases. To give just one example: damaged goods.

 

 

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The attached Word document contains examples of “binary words” that I thought up over the course of a few days. None are taken from a list. They were all from off the top of my head. They are in no particular order. The words come from all sorts of activities and walks of life; government, the professions, sports, the high and the low, etc.
posted by Roger W. Smith

   June 2020

the poverty of protest rhetoric

“These children that come at you with knives, they are your children. You taught them. I didn’t teach them. I just tried to help them stand up.”

— Charles Manson, trial testimony, November 17, 1970

 

 

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“The museum’s exhibition about the statue was partly a response to the defacing of it by protesters, who in 2017 splashed red liquid representing blood over the statue’s base. The protesters, who identified themselves as members of the Monument Removal Brigade, later published a statement on the internet calling for its removal as an emblem of ‘patriarchy, white supremacy and settler-colonialism.’

“ ‘Now the statue is bleeding,” the statement said. “We did not make it bleed. It is bloody at its very foundation.’ .” [italics added]

— “Roosevelt Statue to Be Removed From Museum of Natural History,” by Robin Pogrebin, The New York Times, June 21, 2020

 

 

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This is impoverished rhetoric (by the so-called Monument Removal Brigade). Which is actually inane.

It shows the impoverishment of their ideas, mental and moral vacuity on the part of so-called revolutionary reformers, and the emptiness of vandalism (excuse me, protest actions).

I could have done better in the third grade.

 

 

Roger W. Smith

   June 2020

POST UPDATED: generic writing (or how to say nothing in 430 plus words)

 

 

 

My post “generic writing (or how to say nothing in 430 plus words)” has been updated with new content. See

 

 

https://rogers-rhetoric.com/2020/06/01/generic-writing-or-how-to-say-nothing-in-430-plus-words/

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

“bombastic prose-poetry”

 

 

“Moralists come and go; religionists fulminate and declare the pronouncements of God as to this; but Aphrodite still reigns Embowered in the festal depths of the spring.”

 

— Theodore Dreiser, Dawn: An Autobiography of Early Youth

 

The words (characterization) “bombastic prose-poetry” are not mine. They are from Scott McLemee, “Keeping It Real,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 30, 2004.

 

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

    June 2020

generic writing (or how to say nothing in 430 plus words)

 

 

 

Reflections on This Moment

 

This is an unprecedented moment in our history; we all feel it. The pandemic continues to be deeply challenging for everyone, and tragic for too many. Now, the horrifying death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the protests that have followed are weighing heavily on all our minds. COVID-19 has magnified and exposed our most deeply embedded failings and fault lines. We stand with the Black community, our hearts aching for a country so divided by racial injustice, arrogance, and hatred. It’s hard not to be sad, not to be angry, and to remain hopeful.

In the face of cruelty, fear, and anxiety, we need to search for what we can still hold on to, what we can still believe in. We can all be proud that the mission of the Library—to educate, welcome and respect all perspectives, convene safe and productive conversations, and offer opportunity to all—directly combats divisiveness, ignorance, hate, and racism. It is and remains our founding idea: that everyone can learn and contribute, and must be respected. And in learning about others we learn about ourselves and hopefully find ways to live together, to embrace and better understand each other.

Our varied backgrounds and experiences within our city and society are our greatest source of strength: bringing new ideas and perspectives, teaching empathy, and shining a light on how we falter. But not if we close our eyes and ears to the lessons of diversity, rejecting the validity and equal value of experiences and lives other than our own. When we fail as a society to respect learning and each other, we become inhumane and untold tragedy follows.

We all have a responsibility to actively participate in our democracy as informed citizens, to collectively refine, demand, and enact justice. Educating ourselves further about the legacy of racial injustice in this country is a key piece of this.

The Library, your Library, is committed to enabling that learning. We will offer every tool, book, and collection we can, welcome and serve all, and encourage all to respect each other, learn together and from one another. All the accumulated knowledge we hold reminds us that we are capable, yes, of horror, but on balance, we are still capable together of imagining and achieving better.

For 125 years, whether in person or for now only online, we have led the fight against ignorance to support understanding, empathy, and solidarity. In this difficult moment, we reinforce our mission, and stand with all of our communities against injustice and racism.

Thank you, and please stay safe.

 

 

Yours,

Tony

Anthony W. Marx

President, The New York Public Library

June 1, 2020

 

 

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I am a devoted New York Public Library patron.

This message came in the form of an email.

I was hoping that Mr. Marx might say something about library services and plans for or the possibility of reopening.

If I may be permitted to do so, I ask what has Mr. Marx said here? Perhaps we have had similar thoughts in our private musings. But what is his purpose in writing this message? To library supporters and patrons. What has he said that might affect our views on anything one way or the other? And what does any of this have to do with the library, or Mr. Marx’s role as its president?

 

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

   June 1, 2020

 

 

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addendum, June 2

 

 

There have been similar posts this evening from other cultural institutions in the City such as the Park Avenue Armory and Queens Public Library.

It has occurred to me that what Mr. Marx and the other executives of these institutions are doing amounts to preening. They are using the tragic death of George Floyd to get credit for THEMSELVES and perhaps increased support for their institutions. Should I, should I be so inclined, put a post here stating the obvious: that I am greatly distressed about George Floyd’s death — to perhaps show myself in a good light as someone who cares? Should I, could I afford it, take out an advisement in a newspaper for the same purpose? What would the point be? All decent people feel the same way. Should I tell everyone that I do? Do they need to hear that? Would it do them good to hear it?

 

 

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addendum, June 10

 

 

The following are recent messages sent by email to alumni and members of the Brandeis University community by Brandeis University President Ronald D. Liebowitz.

 

 

June 1, 2020

 

Dear Members of the Brandeis Community,

George Floyd’s killing was cruel, inhumane, and contemptible. The injustice of violence against black people must stop.

The history of our great university is intertwined with the pursuit of justice. Brandeis was created in response to antisemitism and bigotry. We cannot tolerate discrimination, hatred, or violence against another person based on their race, religion, or background. These values are as important today as they were at our founding.

These are not just words or noble ideas. These are principles that inspire us at Brandeis to educate, to learn, and to act.

With that in mind, I join with Mark Brimhall-Vargas, chief diversity officer, in calling for us to come together, even if virtually. In the message Mark sent on Friday, he mentioned two different events happening this week. The Heller School is hosting a conference, “Co-Constructing Racial Justice through Life and Work.” And Mark will host “Coming Together to Face Systemic Racism.” I hope you will join me in attending both.

As Brandeisians, not all of our experiences are shared ones. We come from different backgrounds and have different perspectives. But I know that there are some things we have in common. This includes an unwavering commitment to justice, equity, and inclusion. It includes respecting other people, no matter their background.

I hope to see you at one of the events tomorrow or the next day. Let us come together to express our commitment to ending racist violence.

Sincerely,

Ron Liebowitz

 

 

 

June 9. 2020

Dear Members of the Brandeis Community,

Black Lives Matter.

Last week, I wrote to all of you saying violence against Black people must stop. The killing of George Floyd by police was inhuman, contemptible, and tragic. We gathered together virtually, and I heard many of you express outrage, fear, and the exhaustion of living with cruel racism in your lives and on our campus.

I said then that we must do more; we must do better.

In that spirit, I am announcing an initiative that will transform our campus and address systemic racism. I have asked key administrators to develop and submit action plans in the next 90 days.

• These action plans must include ongoing, significant engagement with members of the campus community. We must listen, and understand the kinds of systemic racism, bias, and ill-treatment experienced by Black members of our community. But we must go further than dialogue and understanding. We must rapidly move toward concrete change.

• The action plans I am calling for must be transformational, including new approaches regarding the roles and responsibilities of Public Safety, the Department of Community Living, Human Resources, Athletics, the Academy, and all of us who are charged with creating and sustaining a safe, respectful environment for learning and living.

• Action plans must be developed with broad input from diverse constituencies. Black students, Black student organizations, other students of color, other student organizations, faculty, members of each of the aforementioned departments, and other staff should all be invited to be part of the drafting process.

I am asking the following administrators to develop and submit these action plans by September 1:

• Executive Vice President Stew Uretsky, Vice President of Campus Operations Lois Stanley, Vice President for Human Resources Robin Switzer, and Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police Ed Callahan for the plans for Public Safety and Human Resources

•Vice Provost for Student Affairs Raymond Ou, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Tim Touchette, and Director of Athletics Lauren Haynie for the plans for Community Living, Residential Life, and Athletics

• Provost Lisa Lynch, Dean Eric Chasalow, Dean Dorothy Hodgson, Dean Katy Graddy, Dean David Weil, and Vice President Lynne Rosansky for the plan for the Academy and its constituent Schools

Despite concerted efforts to address past incidents on campus, discrimination and bias continue to be issues for us at Brandeis. While we have piloted a number of initiatives, most of them voluntary in nature, across the university, we are committed to a more comprehensive approach to addressing racism in order to build stronger, more respectful relationships within the community.

Our university was founded on principles of inclusion that are as relevant today as they were in 1948. As I said at the community virtual gathering last week, we have not always lived up to our ideals, but those ideals — our values — point us in the right direction. The administration and I are committed to moving beyond “business as usual” and requesting voluntary efforts for change. We must work together to build a community that is diverse, welcoming, and free from bias and discrimination.

Sincerely,

Ron Liebowitz

 

 
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These communiqués are similar to the above email sent by Anthony W. Marx, President of the New York Public Library, on June 1.

I am a Brandeis University alumnus. The school has always been a liberal, forward looking place, in terms of views on the issues and the university community. University President Liebowitz feels it is incumbent upon him — he has taken upon himself, as have administrators of all sorts of educational and cultural institutions — to articulate his views at this time as the voice of the university.

But what has he said? What do these communiqués tell us? Why is he writing?

Because he feels he ought to say something.

President Liebowitz says in his first communiqué: “We cannot tolerate discrimination, hatred, or violence against another person based on their race, religion, or background. These values are as important today as they were at our founding.” And, in the second, he writes: “We gathered together virtually [after the murder of George Floyd], and I heard many of you express outrage, fear, and the exhaustion of living with cruel racism in your lives and on our campus.”

This is so vague as to be meaningless.

If there are racial injustices embedded in university policies — or in present campus realities — President Liebowitz could have said what they were, without necessarily going into detail. Then, we could see what they were; what problems he feels the university should address; and steps he is contemplating or undertaking. No such problems or injustices are mentioned. They are conspicuous by the absence of any mention of them.

So why should one read these communiqués? President Liebowitz did mention that the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis was hosting two conferences on addressing the problem of systematic racism. They don’t sound interesting to me, but at least this is informative.

Here, in essence, is the letter I would have written: We deplore the murder of George Floyd. We deplore the racism endemic in our society and the murder of our black citizens. We are ever mindful of these issues and are holding two virtual conferences this week that you may wish to attend. …

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   post updated June 10, 2020

a writer’s writerly morning musings

 

 

Something occurred to me when I was half awake this morning.

You may say it’s self evident or trivial.

I was reading something in the newspaper and a sentence or two came into my mind.

(Sort of like one is driving and sees a sign ahead.)

 

He is dead.

His writing lives on.

 

My brain works like a writer’s. I think in sentences and paragraphs and very literally– like I’m always writing an English paper.

How do you punctuate that, I thought.

 

1. He is dead, his writing lives on.

2. He is dead; his writing lives on.

3. He is dead. His writing lives on.

 
Option 1 – No. Maybe okay for a fiction writer, but a comma splice.

Option 2 – I like to use a semicolon, but not here.

Option 3 – The best choice. Keep as two short, independent sentences. Reads best and is clearest.

 

Sentences are indeed the building blocks of expository writing. Short or long.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 21, 2020

Mx.

 

 

 

From today’s New York Times:

 

For Laura Campbell, a manager at Half Price Books in Renton, Wash., being laid off was an emotional blow but not, at least in the short term, a financial one. Because of the extra $600 per week being paid to unemployed workers right now, Mx. Campbell — who uses the gender-neutral title “Mx.” and plural pronouns — is making more than the $16.05 hourly wage at the bookstore.

“I have been able to pay off two credit cards,” they said.

Still, the experience has exacerbated Mx. Campbell’s longstanding concerns about the future of retail. Even before the pandemic, workers often asked one another how long the business could continue in the Amazon era. And while not expecting physical retail to disappear overnight, Mx. Campbell doesn’t plan to wait to find out: They will start a new job, at a local tech company at the end of the month.

 

 

— “When Shoppers Venture Out, What Will Be Left? A 16.4 percent sales decline in April may signal the bottom for retailers, but the climb back will be hard, and some companies may not make it,” by Ben Casselman and Sapna Maheshwari, The New York Times, May 15, 2020

 
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Despite my dislike of language engineering by the language police.

I do feel the advisability or necessity of observing certain conventions in language use dictated by present day rules that have somehow been promulgated and are now accepted and expected as the norm in polite discourse.

For example, when I was in high school, black people were referred to as Negroes — not only by whites but, ordinarily, by blacks, including civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. I would not be so obstinate or misguided to continue using Negro in speech or writing.

I have a distaste, to put it mildly — as does former New Yorker proofreader Mary Norris (author of Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen) — for the ugly sounding and unpronounceable Ms. — yes, it (Ms.) looks on the page like Mr., but the time honored “Mister” sounds just fine to me.

But I am not going to try to buck the trend, so to speak. If I am writing to a woman (especially a woman I don’t know well) whose last name is Simmons, it’s “Dear Ms. Simmons.”

 

 

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I love studying languages (as I have written before), both foreign ones and my own. Like a boy poking his head under the hood of a car to see how the engine works, or opening up a watch, I love to examine details and how they vary from one language to another.

How Russian and other Slavic languages lack the definite and definite article and there is no present tense verb to be in Russian. How nouns designating inanimate things in most European languages have a gender, while in English common nouns (with a few exceptions) don’t.

I don’t like to contemplate meddlers mucking around with or dismantling basic grammar.

It has occurred to me: will the officious language purifiers (as they view their self-appointed role) be calling any day now for the eradication of gender in languages such as the Romance ones and German? It’s a frightening thought: el mano becomes x- mano. Or maybe just mano. But then one loses the distinction in meaning conveyed by definite versus indefinite article.

Believe me, the language police won’t care.

The “problem,” which is to say the key issue, here is that languages are fine tuned for a reason. Obviously, they were not designed or constructed a priori, top down. They evolved. But most grammatical features convey information (often making fine distinctions), such as gender. In the case of pronouns, we do this with he versus she. (In Cantonese, this is not possible because there is only one third person singular pronoun.)

Recently, on Facebook, I saw the following. It confused me for a second. (I or anyone fluent in English shouldn’t have to be confused.) “Anne Kelleher [a Facebook friend of mine] updated their cover photo.”

Whose cover photo? Anne’s? Or some relatives or people she knows? Did she do someone not conversant with Facebook a favor?

Well, I can guess the answer, but why should I have to stop and think? Facebook’s language engineers have gone politically correct. Of course, it’s convenient for them in this case.

Instead of THEY will start a new job — since non-binary gender people don’t want to be spoken of with gendered pronouns — how about Mx. Campbell will start a new job? It doesn’t matter if Mx. Campbell is repeated a few times.

I was actually confused, momentarily, when I read this. I thought the Times writers were by way of example talking about the difficult work experience of an individual. Why should I have to be confused by a story in The New York Times , which prides itself on clear, straightforward, factual reporting, just so some self-appointed wordsmith/overseer doesn’t get offended? Just who is writing the piece anyway?

 
— Roger W. Smith

   May 15, 2020

another brilliant lead

 

 

 

In journalism school it was called the lede.

 

 
“If you’re lucky when you report your sexual assault, you’ll become known as a person who was sexually assaulted. If you’re unlucky, you’ll become known as a person who lied about being sexually assaulted.”

 

— “Democrats, It’s Time to Consider a Plan B: Tara Reade’s allegations against Joe Biden demand action.,” by Elizabeth Bruenig, The New York Times, May 3, 2010

 

]

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 3, 2020

 

the demise of the sentence (remember that?)

 

 

 

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a bank branch in Manhattan to request some documents for tax preparation purposes A bank officer who did not look busy asked if she could help me.

 

I told her that I needed to get a printout of my bank statements for the past year, and that I had been informed when I called the bank’s 800 number that I had to do this in person.

 

The bank employee seemed to regard the request as routine. She left me at her desk for a few minutes and came back with a printout of the statements I needed.

 

I looked at them to see if it was what I wanted. Then I said to her (began to say): “I didn’t ask you for this. but I realize that the statements are only for the year ending on December 31, 2019. Could you also print out the statements for the past three months of this year [2020]?”

 

She heard the words “I didn’t ask you this,” and, seemingly annoyed, responded, interrupting me mid-sentence: “I gave you what you asked for.”

 

“Could you let me finish,” I said. “What I was saying [meant] is that even though I didn’t ask you to [my “fault”], I realize now that I need you to print out the additional statements for this year.”

 

 

 

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This morning I called my internist’s office. The medical practice is not scheduling in person visits. Only on line or phone visits are possible. I had a medical matter that I wanted to discuss with my physician. It was not critical, but I felt I should not neglect it.

 

The scheduler who answered the call, after a wait, asked me the purpose of my call and then asked my name and date of birth. “I want to schedule a telephone consultation with Dr. _______,” I said.

 

She asked me when.

 

I replied as follows: “I would like to speak with the doctor as soon as possible. But it’s not an emergency.”

 

It was as if she didn’t hear me. She said, “When?”

 

“I thought I just answered that,” I said.

 

“Today, Thursday, Friday? WHEN,” she said.

 

“Well, I just said as soon as possible. But, today, since you want a date.” I tried to finish, to explain that I didn’t want to pressure the doctor, but would like to hear back, as I had explained, at his earliest possible convenience. She kept interrupting me.

 

She was annoyed.

 

 

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My parents always spoke in complete sentences. They were well spoken and admirably clear.

 

No one can handle a sentence nowadays. At least the generations that came after me can’t.

 

The schools don’t teach this sort of thing in English classes any more. I just verified this with my wife. We both remember diagramming sentences. (Heaven forbid! So old fashioned, tedious and retrograde. It would be unthinkable to subject today’s students to such an exercise.)

 

My wife and I both remember learning in fifth or sixth grade English: A sentence has a subject and predicate. A sentence expresses a complete thought.

 

This elementary knowledge has gone by the boards. (Grammar teachers are an extinct species.) But, what’s worse, people don’t talk this way, and they often can’t comprehend or pay attention when an answer is longer than a word or two, or when someone communicates precisely, in “old fashioned” complete sentences.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

 

   April 29, 2020