Monthly Archives: September 2012

Today’s redundancy. Couldn’t help reblogging this, though. It’s so important for us to think about how we depend on imagery in our everyday language use (that ish ain’t just for Shakespeare, kidz).

The Daily Post

Last week, Cheri featured a Freshly Pressed blog and suggested that apt use of metaphor had contributed to the post’s appeal. So I thought I’d take a few minutes to consider metaphor and its figurative cousin simile in a little more detail.

Language is inherently metaphoric in a broad sense, as we use sounds and written symbols as substitutes for items and concepts that exist in the world. It’s little surprise, then, that we’re fond of making further figurative leaps and expressing some of these symbols in terms of others. But there are different ways of making these little leaps, and the two that’re perhaps the most well-known are metaphor and simile.

View original post 584 more words


#instagrammar take 1

Voilà! The first installment of Instagrammar: an Instagrammed tour of grammatical oddities around New York City. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate this larger than average text message.


what should duchamp call your mom?

First, a moment of silence (as it were) for the amazing layout/design in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine:

Damn that’s good.  Speaking of Instagram, I’m toying with the idea of adding a new component to this blog called “Instagrammar” in which I (surprise!) capture grammatical errors in ads around the city using Instagram.  I think it’s a winner.  Updates will be completely unpredictable (just like me).  Also, speaking of the Times, one of my friends just posted this article on facebook, so I just thought I’d share it here as a friendly reminder that girls run this motha.

Okay, now for something that isn’t news… or something that is old news.  However you want to look at it.

Over the past year and some, the Internet has birthed a number of tumblogs that are relevant to my life and interests, among them: #whatshouldwecallme, How Do I Put This Gently, When in New York City, Admissions Problems, My Life as a Black Squirrel, and What Should Brearley Call Me.  This is so much  more than just a meme; it’s a way to create instant anonymous affinity groups for anyone anywhere with any kind of problem.  The Internet cannot spawn enough of these little beauties.

Although I’ll admit that the term “affinity group” might be a bit strong for this type of website, separately, these two words help define the success of these kinds of tumblogs.  Each one has to appeal to a specific demographic or group of people, however broad or specific.  These blogs pull people in by speaking their language, whether it be the jargon of a school, profession, or location.  They also hold on to readers because of the affinity they create through commiseration.  Whether explicit or not, the purpose of many posts is to complain or critique – albeit in a self-effacing way, most of the time.

Humor, though, is the most important element to the success of any of these tumblogs.  Anything too serious or too real becomes a prime candidate for another favorite tumblr of mine.  SO HOW DO THEY DO IT?!  The basic formula is pretty simple: (1) think of a problem and/or encounter said problem in your life, (2) find a gif that expresses said problem or your reaction.  Or is it the other way around?  Regardless, a lot of the time the gif is the punchline, but the joke is the juxtaposition between the title and the gif.

In a Conceptual Art class I took my senior year of college, we often considered the relationship of a work to its title (or was it the other way around?) as a way to create meaning from the pieces we saw/heard/watched/experienced.  Some work depends on its title to make sense.  Forgive me for going there, but Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain does happen to provide a perfect example.  Duchamp didn’t make the urinal himself, but he made the title; he constructed the irony; and he, perhaps, elicited a laugh from his public.

#whatshouldwecallme and progeny rely on the same conceptual framework to be funny.  The authors do not create the content of the gifs or the problems; both the situations and the cultural references must already be familiar to us.  The authors create the juxtaposition and the wording.  The digital nature of this work, though, also requires Internet age brevity.  As for any good joke, the setup has to be perfect: timing is everything!  If the title-build-up is too long, the gif punchline usually falls flat.  You know, it’s that thing of when you have to explain a joke to someone and it still isn’t funny.

And next week… hyperlinks as hypertext.  (Lol not really… but maybe.)

7:57pm — UPDATE: Vinny gets it #jussayin

how to cuss: good, old fashioned lists

About two weeks ago, this song appeared in my news feed and I have been listening to it continuously since then:

Okay, and now that we’ve all had our laugh at her silly Canadian accent, let’s get real.  When you want to scream so loud that your head actually flies up into the air for a moment, do you want the word to be “merde” or “marde”?  Actually, you probably want it to be “putain” or perhaps an f-bomb, but I guess I’d just like to take a moment to marvel at

The sounds we like to say when we say expletives

(an as yet unpublished Raymond Carver manuscript)

  • Spit-able, rickety consonants: f, p, k, t, cks.
  • When screaming: open vowels (hence my slight preference for “marde”).  When whispering/spitting: closed vowels and diphthongs.
  • In American English: monosyllables (highly spit-able).  In French: two syllable words or, better yet, words that can be whined (wound?) out into two syllables (mer-de).

And, when we can’t curse in earnest, how about

The words we say instead

  • Weirdly, French and English speakers replace their most notorious swear words with food words: “Oh fuuudge” and “Purée!”
  • Body parts.  Obviously, you won’t offend anyone by screaming “thumb” and you probably won’t feel much better, but “Oh, ass!” or “Bollocks” are perhaps more forgivable than some of the alternatives.
  • Words that still let us say the word we wanted to say.  The only example that comes to mind is “shih-tzu!” but you feel me.  (Although, in French, they sometimes prefer to say completely innocuous words that have almost nothing to do with the original.  “Merde” becomes “Mercredi” in a heartbeat.)

Additions to either of these lists are welcome invited.

study abroad: what?

Dear faithful readers, and especially undergraduates,

Welcome to the second of what I hope will become a useful series of posts about studying abroad, which I think plays a vital role in our linguistic development, both as speakers of foreign languages and of our own.  Last time I wrote to you, I gave you some (useful?) advice about setting goals, figuring out the why of your study abroad experience.  Since this is my blog, and my fake epistolary correspondence, though, I’d like to shift the focus back to me and my experience in particular.

In the fall of 2009, I spent a semester in Nantes, the illustrious sixth largest city in all of France, with IES.  Over the course of that semester, I experienced every stage of this annoyingly accurate phenomenon study abroad offices across the country refer to as “the W.”  Retrospectively, I realize that I may have actually spent a huge chunk of time feeling miserable for various reasons, but I still seemed to think I was having the most incredible experience of my life… and that’s how I remember it.  Likely, I was, indeed, having the most incredible experience of my life, and the misery is part and parcel.

The program I did was a perfect fit for me because it provided the exact amount of support I needed to survive my first time in a foreign country without (s)mothering me.  Instead, the whole experience gave me the courage to explore on my own and to take responsibility for my cultural and linguistic growth.  Below, I have isolated a few features of the program (the what, if you will) that were significant to my experience and personal growth.  Note: immersion was foremost among my priorities.

Why this experience was perfect for me:

  1. Program support: Studying abroad with a program, as opposed to direct-enrolling at a university makes a huge difference!  (Especially in France, where the bureaucracy can seriously prolong any of your problems or concerns.)  You have an entire staff that exists just to support you and isn’t part of a larger organism.  For me, this meant help understanding the University’s scheduling system (nonexistent), program-organized travel around France, a place to congregate with other Americans, and a Tuesday evening conversation group as a way to meet some honest-to-goodness Nantais.
  2. My host family: By some stroke of good luck, I ended up with the perfect host mom for me.  She was the first to help me discover the city, unfamiliar French cuisine, and conceptual art.  We are still in touch to this day, and I had the chance to reconnect with her when I was living in Angers this past year.  I realize that a home-stay can seem unappealing – what if you don’t get along with your family? what if they are really strict? – but living with a host family is the best way to have an immersive experience.  Reputable programs screen and prime their host families.  At worst, you decide you’d prefer to spend most of your time elsewhere (and by default end up doing lots of exploring!); at best, you get along famously and drastically improve your conversation skills.
  3. Living outside the capital city: Often, when I tell people I studied abroad in France they assume I was in Paris, and Paris will always be a temptation for us students of French.  Living in a less cosmopolitan city, though, can often provide a more authentic, immersive experience.  Fewer people were in the habit of speaking English, so even mundane activities tested my ability to communicate in French (and occasionally required a certain amount of daring).  The scale of the city also meant that, within a few months, I really felt like I knew my way around.
  4.  The university: I will be honest: although I took three out of five classes at the Université de Nantes, I would not say that the largest benefit of having access to a university is academic.  The program notified university professors of our presence in their classes, and they set their expectations accordingly low for us.  Having access to a university, though, allowed me access into a pocket of life within the city.  It was a way to discover a different education system and to have some of the important shared experiences that connect people: having an incomprehensible professor who turns his back to the microphone while he’s still talking, eating in the student cafeterias, attending concerts and conferences on campus.  Through the university, I took Friday afternoon salsa lessons and joined a group for international students.
  5. French friends(!): Okay, so, this wasn’t exactly part of my program’s marketing campaign because no one can guarantee who you become friends with… but it was important for me that it be possible to find friends outside of my American compatriots (is that redundant?).  A lot of them wanted to travel all over Europe, and only a few of my friends were particularly keen to speak French all the time.  I was more committed to getting to know the city (and country), culture, and language I had come to experience.  Through my various activities at the university, I ended up making some incredible friends who showed me aspects of life in the city (and in France) that I never would have otherwise discovered.  Also, notably, I dated a French guy: recommended for improving conversation skills.

It’s easy to take certain obvious program structures for granted – location, housing, etc. – but each feature has an impact on the shape your experience will take.

Happy decision-making!


study abroad: why?

Dear College Juniors (and anyone) thinking about studying abroad as an undergrad,

I think you are a bunch of attractive geniuses and I am about to tell you why.

Recently, I have found myself engaged in many a conversation with rising college juniors who are planning to study abroad, and who have looked to me, older and wiser as I am, for advice – advice I would like to share with the Internet at large.  People frequently ask me about my experiences studying and living abroad, I think, because I have shared them so publicly and I evidently have a lot to say.  My semester abroad turned out to be an incredibly formative experience for me both as a student of French and as an individual, and it has informed (continues to inform) my postgraduate trajectory.  In fact, if I hadn’t studied abroad, I would probably have spent the past year languishing in my childhood bedroom and would still have no idea what I want to do with my life.

Naturally, I have become a huge advocate of study abroad because of the profound effects it can have on your personal and intellectual development.  Yes, of course, it’s a great addition to your résumé, and it has a positive effect on postgraduate job placement, but that isn’t why you should go abroad.  In fact, you shouldn’t take anyone’s word (not even mine!) as your reason to study abroad.

Let me be clear: I don’t think you should ever ask yourself, “Should I study abroad?”  Of course you should!  You may, at some point, have to ask yourself, “Can I study abroad?”  Certain majors can make it very difficult to study abroad (notably the sciences and psychology), so some of you will need to plan ahead.  Although some of you may be reluctant to miss out on campus life and time with your friends, don’t deprive yourself of this opportunity; college is the best and easiest (and, often, most financially feasible) time to spend an extended period of time abroad.

So, now, you’ve decided to study abroad, you clever, clever person.  Now you ask, “Why should I go abroad? What do I want to gain?”  Perhaps you already have a country (or at least a continent) in mind, but setting a goal for yourself will help you choose the perfect program.  Going to France with a program that teaches all its classes in English won’t do you any good if you want to improve your French.  Try going through the following laundry list to figure out your study abroad priorities.

When I go abroad, I want…

  1. to travel.
  2. to learn a new language.
  3. to become fluent in a language I already speak.
  4. full cultural and linguistic immersion.
  5. to engage in service or social justice work of some kind.
  6. the opportunity to do an internship for credit.
  7. a home-stay with a host family.
  8. to live in my own apartment or in a dorm at a foreign university.
  9. to learn about foreign policy and/or government.
  10. to take classes at a university.
  11. to take classes in English in a non-anglophone country.
  12. a program that is more experience-based than class-based.
  13. to meet students from all over the world.
  14. to meet and travel with other [insert your nationality here]s.
  15. to fulfill requirements for my major/graduation.
  16. to live in a big, iconic city.
  17. to experience life in a smaller city or town.
  18. to feel uncomfortable (in the sense of being pushed beyond your comfort zone… except I think “comfort zone” is a cliché that doesn’t mean anything).

As you narrow your priorities, you will find that choosing a program will become easier.  No detail is too large or too small, and you may need to do some initial research before you figure out exactly what appeals to you, but I think it’s important to enter your study abroad experience with a sense of purpose.  Perhaps that purpose will change over the course of your study abroad experience, but it will remain a source of motivation and stability.

In my next letter, I’ll break down my own study abroad experience to the essential elements that made it amazing as a guide for you to translate different programs’ features into the actual experiences they will create for you.  I’ll also continue to post study abroad advice throughout the year, and I would love your guidance: what do you want to know?

Until next time, I think you are all beautiful.



hair are you looking? my eyes are up hair.

And a happy Labor Day to you, too!

In the spirit of such a delightful American holiday, and in celebration of all the office workers who will not be working in the office tomorrow, I’d like to share this ad that I saw on TV two days ago:

Although the “any press is good press” philosophy probably prevails down at Axe HQ, I feel obligated to deal with this publicly (or, you know, as publicly as a little-read blog can be public).  I’m a long-time Axe iconoclast; over the summer before my sophomore year of high school (that was 2004, for those of you who want to know), I wrote a piece for a Pop Culture essay writing class I was taking on another Axe masterpiece, which I found leafing through an issue of Maxim.

The image, featuring a man-sized armpit with legs and conveniently placed pit hair (and, I dare say, a more conveniently placed female hand), objectifies the man most literally, but also turns the female into both a sex-driven presence and a sex object.  What is the marginal copy suggesting about “winning,” anyway?

The Axe oeuvre has, apparently, retained the classic motif of bipedal body parts over the years, and in its latest addition presents us with both a walking head of hair and a bipedal pair of breasts.  While I’m pretty sure I don’t have to explain what’s problematic about this kind of objectification, let’s skip to the end.  Implicit in the closing message – “Hair. It’s what girls see first.” – is the notion that the first thing men notice about women is their breasts.

Oh, wait.  Did I say men and women?  Excuse me.  Sorry.  I meant: the first thing boys notice about girls is their breasts.

Now that that’s sorted out, I need to address the imbalanced imagery.  Although the little head of hair provides a subtly phallic presence in the ad, it’s also reminiscent of Cousin It and an iconography of cute, weird little fuzzy things (Furbys included).  The isolated breasts, on the other hand, lack any otherworldly charm, and in their styling – somewhat exposed, cleavage galore – become little more than an object of lust.  Although, ultimately, the ad seems to be poking fun at male immaturity – women notice hair, men notice boobs – the breasts are still the implicit punchline of the subtextual joke.

Oh, goodness!  Did I say “women” and “men” again?  Silly me!  I must have meant girls, because really, what are breasts if not a sign of burgeoning sexuality?  They certainly wouldn’t be a sign of maturity, motherhood, or womanhood in anyway.

On the other hand, a “boy” is almost certainly the appropriate counterpart for the exaggerated, isolated breasts.  A boy, ridden with immaturity, inexperience, and ignorance.