28 April 2009

Swine Flu Cataclysm

I think I finally understand how health-related nomenclature works in the age of twenty-four-hour cable news:

  • 1 unconfirmed case: the preferred term is "epidemic"; international news is preempted from the usual news broadcasts. Teasers between programs advise: "Is your child at risk of a lingering and painful death? — find out at eleven."
  • 1 confirmed case: "pandemic"; all domestic news except high-profile sex scandals is preempted. Anderson Cooper announces a special investigation.
  • 2–4 confirmed cases: "global panic"; cable news networks go into round-the-clock-coverage mode. New computer graphics are rolled out: "WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!"
  • 5 or more confirmed cases: "apocalypse"; all coverage is devoted to the unfolding holocaust. Only stories about attractive white girls who've disappeared have any chance of bumping the global plague from the news.

17 April 2009

Lexicographer's Dilemma

A few months ago I mentioned a book-in-progress, then called Proper Words in Proper Places. It's now in the works, and now sporting the title The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of "Proper" English, from Shakespeare to South Park. As with my last few trade books, this one comes from Walker & Co. It's at long last beginning to feel real: I answered the copyeditor's queries last week, and now the book is promised for the end of October. Amazon.com even has a page for it, so I look forward to achieving best-seller status tout de suite.

(Okay, maybe not best-seller. But earlier today, the paperback edition of Becoming Shakespeare broke into the top 100,000 on Amazon.com, which ain't bad. Even Deception and Detection has cracked the top million. Look out J. K. Rowling.)

16 April 2009

I Confess

It was me.

09 April 2009


From Aphra Behn's Oroonoko, 1690:

I ought to tell you that the Christians never buy any slaves but they give 'em some name of their own, their native ones being likely very barbarous, and hard to pronounce.

From The Houston Chronicle, 2009:

A North Texas legislator during House testimony on voter identification legislation said Asian-descent voters should adopt names that are "easier for Americans to deal with." ...

"Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?" Brown said. ... "Can't you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier ... if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that’s easier for Americans to deal with?"