Burn This Book Review: An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England (2007, Brock Clarke)

I’ve been attending the library book club in my city for close to a decade. I often feel that I don’t read enough books, and preparing for the club forces me to add about a dozen each year. This particular group has a lot of regulars, and while we often disagree about books, for many reasons, I’ve never gotten angry with any of them about our differing opinions. Until last week, when the club discussed this book.

He’s not Bruce Banner. You might still like him when he’s angry.

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ISIS or ISIL? What’s in a name? A lot if you’re paying attention.

I was pleased last week to hear President Obama refer to the “Islamic State” entity in the Middle East as “ISIL.” Most official Obama Administration spokespersons and the US military use ISIL, but the American press refers to the group almost exclusively as “ISIS.” It might not seem important at first glance what one chooses to call the group, but in this case it is, and using ISIS has been a disservice to the news-consuming population.

If you don’t know your Levant from your leavening, click here

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Word Crimes: Weird Al gets it. Why don’t the grammar police?

Weird Al Yankovic has been releasing videos for his new album this week, and the one for “Word Crimes” (based on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”) has gotten a lot of attention in the news and chat circles I follow — which as you might suspect are overpopulated by writers, editors, English teachers, and similar types.

I hadn’t planned to blog about the video, except to stress that “Weird Al has a new album out!” But then I watched as not one, not two, but three different language blogs posted pieces on (ahem) ‘what Al got “right” and what he got “wrong.”‘ This stream of hypercorrection has continued, which prompted me to write a few words to try, in my own small way, to set them back on the path of sanity.

Caution: If you’re a grammar cop, clicking here may cause severe stress!

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What is an epicenter? Maybe not what you think.

There are a lot of words and phrases that get overused (or used incorrectly) especially in the media or in casual conversation. One that catches my attention every time is epicenter.

You’ve heard it or read it: when something is momentous, it’s not just at the center. It’s the epicenter. It’s difficult to not encounter this word. A quick and sloppy search on the web uncovers phrases like these:

“Manhattan was the epicenter of car culture”
“California is the epicenter of climate change”
“Waxahachie should have been the epicenter of science”
“the Church will become the epicenter of imagination”
“Russia has positioned itself at the epicenter of global politics”
“it was the epicenter of the city’s social scene at the beginning of the nineteenth century”
“it’s the epicenter of who I am as a writer”

And so on. There are literally tens of millions of similar constructions out there (according to Google). All you need to do is fiddle with the search verbiage a little (“viewed as”, “seen as”, “considered the”, etc.) and hordes of additional examples appear.

Click to become the epicenter of this post

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If your eyes are on the ground, where did you put your boots?

I keep a very long list of potential topics for this blog. It tracks unusual words and phrases, odd or incorrect usages, new coinages and definitions, as well as all sorts of things that I happen to find interesting at a given moment. Due to the way the list keeps growing compared to the frequency of my posts, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever get to all the topics. In fact, there’s a second list where I move topics which have stopped being interesting, or which have had enough coverage in other places, or which just don’t have enough value (or enough material to work with).

A phrase I had heard repeatedly around two and a half years ago came close to moving to that B-list: “eyes on the ground.” Then I heard it prominently again this past week, so that’s the topic today.

What the heck does it mean? And should you embrace it, live with it, or avoid it?

Keep your ear to the grindstone and your eyes to the…no, wait…

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