References made by authors sometimes don't age very well. If these references are lost to history, or fall on deaf ears, it can be very frustrating for the reader. This can be especially true when the reference is part of the title. Many schoolchildren know that the Emma Lazarus poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty is called "The New Colossus," but the reference to the statue of Helios at Rhodes is probably obscure, and the relationship between the two statues themselves is not entirely clear.  Continue reading...
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Revising what one has written is a key part to the writing process. But what about revising the title, the way a work will be known for all time? Literary history is filled with titles that "almost were," and they are difficult to embrace, perhaps because the titles we know are so comfortably familiar.  Continue reading...
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Although turkeys were domesticated by Native Americans, turkey itself is not a Native American word. In this excerpt from a new book The Language of Food, linguist and Stanford University professor Dan Jurafsky charts the complicated path the word turkey followed into English, then serves up a slice of etymological pecan pie.  Continue reading...
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Sing, goddess, sing the wrath of Achilles, son of Peleus... The Iliad's immortal opening lines have let countless generations of readers know just what to expect from this primal epic poem of Western literature—angry men at war—and they have not been and never will be disappointed.  Continue reading...
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For ten years I've given my writing students at St. John's University this exercise: I ask each student to stand up and say, truthfully, their name, where they live, and something that they like to do. When they've all done that, I ask them to stand again and this time make up a name, a place where they live, and something they like to do.  Continue reading...
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Are you baffled by the perplexing terminology favored by American politicians and pundits? A new book by Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark is here to help. Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes is an informative and humorous guide to deciphering contemporary political lingo. Here we present an excerpt from the book's introduction.  Continue reading...
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In my recent reading I've gone on a major Mark Twain kick, and with every page I read, my admiration for Twain's writing grows. William Dean Howells, a contemporary and friend, called Twain "the Lincoln of our literature," and the title rings true, both for the plainspoken American vernacular that the two mastered, and for the boldness with which they faced our democracy's ugliest stain, the enslaving of African-Americans by European-Americans.  Continue reading...
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