All posts tagged language

Lake Superior State University

Lake Superior State University in Sault Saint Marie, Michigan has published its list of banished words for 2022. The number one offender is the phrase, “Wait, what?” I congratulate them on their choice. I also think it has become an offense to the sensibilities. It seems as if every time I turned on the TV, someone said it. As if they all wanted to be sure they were seen being clever enough to do so. Worse, I was finding it in books. TV is almost understandable. It is an ephemeral medium, so any momentary foolishness will soon be gone from view. But a book? It will be right there in print for ages, mercilessly exposing the shallowness of imagination in any writer unfortunate enough to have written it. Of course, if they’re using it in dialogue, then it might be okay. There can be plenty of good reasons for a character to be saying things like that. There had better be, anyway.

Here are the top three guilty words/phrases:

1. Wait, what?
2. No worries
3. At the end of the day

Go to the Lake Superior State University website for the rest of the top ten.


Grammar of the Day – Apostrophe

The Apostrophe Protection Society website was created in 2001, and it looks like it. Never mind. It’s the content that matters, not the style. Right? That’s how it used to be, anyway. In the good old days when substance mattered more than appearance. And (coincidentally?) people knew how to use apostrophes. Go to the site and have a look. It has examples of badly used apostrophes. It even has a song called Apostrophe Apostasy.

They took a light-hearted approach to the fight to save the apostrophe, but they were serious about it. John Richards, the founder of the society, was appalled at the indignities being done to it and he and his many supporters fought hard to defend it. But Richards is getting old and the problem is only getting worse. It seems he has lost hope in the prospect of success. As he said in his resignation message, uncaring ignorance and laziness seem to be prevailing.

With regret I have to announce that, after some 18 years, I have decided to close the Apostrophe Protection Society. There are two reasons for this. One is that at 96 I am cutting back on my commitments and the second is that fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English Language. We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!

The society website has a FAQ for the use of the apostrophe. Or should that be an FAQ? It also has a lot of examples of misused apostrophes.

Go visit the Apostrophe Protection Society website, if only because it might be your last chance to see it. They say they’re going to continue, but it might be hard with the departure of their founder. Also see my earlier post on the apostrophe.


I’ve written about racism before. I think I’ve made it clear that I don’t think science can justify dividing us into “races.” The similarities among us are too great, and the differences within the “races” are also too great. As I have said, if you see races, you’re racist. Here’s a link to an article that covers the subject more thoroughly, including the admission that racists are not idiots. Not all of them, anyway. They know about the science too, and they know how to bend it to support their bias.

via How Science and Genetics are Reshaping the Race Debate of the 21st Century – The Seattle Star

Over the last decade, there have been hopes that the US has become a post-racial society, free of racial prejudice and discrimination. However, the most recent months indicate the contrary: race remains an incendiary issue. Race and racism are not new issues, but in today’s 21st century Trump-era, discussions about race are distinct from those of the past in that they possess an entirely new dimension: that of genetics and DNA.

Ancestry test kits are the new “it” item—and with their success is the tacit admission of our belief that our DNA can sort us into categories like the “five races:” African, European, Asian, Oceania, and Native American.

If separate racial or ethnic groups actually existed, we would expect to find “trademark” alleles and other genetic features that are characteristic of a single group but not present in any others. However, the 2002 Stanford study found that only 7.4% of over 4000 alleles were specific to one geographical region. Furthermore, even when region-specific alleles did appear, they only occurred in about 1% of the people from that region—hardly enough to be any kind of trademark.

In the biological and social sciences, the consensus is clear: race is a social construct, not a biological attribute.

… the broader public is not convinced of this. After all, if an Asian person looks so different from a European, how could they not be from distinct groups? Even if most scientists reject the concept of “race” as a biological concept, race exists, undeniably, as a social and political concept.

Despite the scientific consensus that humanity is more alike than unlike, the long history of racism is a somber reminder that throughout human history, a mere 0.1% of variation has been sufficient justification for committing all manner of discriminations and atrocities.

Mounting scientific evidence has shown that humans are fundamentally more similar than different from each other. Nonetheless, racism has persisted. Scientific findings are often ignored, or otherwise actively misinterpreted and misused to further racist agendas of extreme political groups.

If you’re interested in a synopsis of the current state of “race” and the science around it, follow the link to the original article.

via How Science and Genetics are Reshaping the Race Debate of the 21st Century – The Seattle Star


People ask why I use human referents in my stories about aliens. Why, for instance, did Archie take the name Archimedes when his history doesn’t include Archimedes? Shouldn’t Archie have named himself after a great mathematician from his own world? The answer is, he did, and I’ve substituted that alien name with one we recognize immediately. I have communicated why he chose the name without having to write an explanation of his history into the story. I have saved the reader a lot of reading, and myself a lot of writing, if only we agree to imagine the alien equivalent when we see a human referent.

Rather than thinking of these stories as translations of alien texts, I think of them as whole-text transliterations, where I present the human equivalent and not the raw result. So, if you will agree with me to use this shorthand, we will save ourselves both a lot of work.