This month’s book recommendation is Becoming Duchess Goldblatt, by Anonymous. Duchess Goldblatt—Her Grace or DG to her thousands of Twitter followers, myself included—has been an indelible, wholly invented presence on Twitter for some eight years. Her avatar is a 1633 portrait by Frans Hals, and her distinctive voice—firm yet loving, barmy yet authoritative, warm yet tinged with acid—has inspired endless speculation about her “real” identity. You won’t learn that secret from this memoir, but you will learn how the anonymous author (now a woman of perhaps middle age) came to create her, during a terrible period in her life during which she lost her marriage, her house, her job, and most of her friends. The Duchess became her 81-year-old alter ego: an escape from loneliness and an outlet for her considerable writing talent. The book combines memoir with selected DG tweets, and if you choose the audiobook—try your local library system—you’ll enjoy not just the primary narration by Gabra Zackman but also the wonderful actress J. Smith Cameron reading the tweets and singer/songwriter/actor Lyle Lovett reading the Lyle Lovett parts. (Lovett and Her Grace have a mutual admiration society, and if only DG would deign to follow me back on Twitter we could make it a threesome.)
Writers can be a lot of fun at parties, but word to the wise: Keep an eye on your good memories. They’ll strip them down for parts.
That was the phrase in a tweet sent on May 28 from the @realDonaldTrump account—and retweetedby the official White House account—that caused Twitter to append a notice of rule violation: “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible” (capitalization sic). If you want to see the original tweet, you need to click “View.” Replies to the tweet are hidden.
Twitter’s action provoked a lively discussion of First Amendment protections (which don’t apply to private companies, even publicly traded ones) and the source of the rhyming threat (a statement in 1967 by Miami’s chief of police, about which the president claimed ignorance—possibly because a staffer with greater historical knowledge had suggested the line).
But historian Peter A. Shulman had something else on his mind.
Curious about the once again omni-present word "looter," I looked up the etymology.
This month’s book recommendation is The End of October, by Lawrence Wright, the New Yorker staff writer best known for his deeply researched nonfiction (The Looming Tower, about Al-Qaeda and 9/11; Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief). This new book, however, is a novel, although you’ll be forgiven for mistaking it for journalism.
It’s set in a time very much like the present (the US president is “self-conscious about his girth” and keeps a tanning bed in the White House Cosmetology Room—an actual room in the actual White House), in which a viral pandemic spreads from Indonesia to the hajj in Mecca to a submarine under the Atlantic to North America and beyond. Our hero, epidemiologist Henry Parsons, scrambles to decode the virus and prevent its spread while civilization’s institutions crumble on every continent. If the plot is a little overstuffed and the dialogue speech-y, you’re unlikely to care, because the story is so eerily prescient and timely. (Wright began writing the book in 2015 and turned in the manuscript in 2017, long before COVID-19 broke out.) Wright’s journalistic background serves him well: you’ll learn a lot—painlessly—about viral reproduction, cytokine storms, and the workings of submarines. I listened to the audiobook, which is well narrated by Mark Bramhall: it’s the audio equivalent of a page-turner.
Third in a series of posts about US brands that are thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic.
My previous posts in this series looked at Lysoland Zoom, brands that have filled real-world needs—for sanitizing and for video-meetings, respectively—during the pandemic. This post is about Steak-umm, a brand whose claim to pandemic fame isn’t its product—although that product has its fervent fans—but its soothing, amusing, occasionally bemusing Twitter account.
many brands haven’t meaningfully responded to this crisis due to internal bureaucracies, self-preservation, or overthinking their “image,” so by the time any message gets out it’s just a watered-down ambiguous ad that’s like “in these uncertain times we’re still here ok”
Goodnight decade! Goodnight year! Goodnight words that made us cheer—or jeer—and which summed up the stories of 2019.
So far, Oxford Dictionaries has selected climate emergency as its #WOTY19, Collins Dictionary—clearly tapping into the same zeitgeist—picked climate strike, and Cambridge Dictionary chose upcycling. In Australia, Macquarie Dictionary singled out cancel culture from a longlist of 75 words (see my own take on canceled below). Here in the US, Dictionary.com chose existential (as in existential threat and existential choice) while Merriam-Webster picked they(the singular gender-neutral or nonbinary pronoun). “What do these words tell us?” asked CNN’s Samantha Allen. “That it’s Generation Z’s world now—and if it’s not already, then it should be soon.”
One of my favorite non-dictionary WOTY lists is posted each year as a countdown from December 1 to 31 by “The Emmett Lee Dickinson Museum” in “Washerst, PA.” As of this writing, the Dickinson has given us constitutional crisis, perfect, Green New Deal, infested, and other 2019-isms. Meanwhile, on Twitter, John Cunningham proposed plant-based, a non-judgmental alternative to fake meat.
On Friday, January 3, the American Dialect Society—the progenitor of all these WOTY contests—will vote on its own Word of the Year at the society’s annual meeting in New Orleans. If you’re in the neighborhood, you may want to drop by; the voting is free, open to the public, and hella fun. You may also submit nominations by email.
My list follows ADS guidelines, which say that a WOTY must be
— demonstrably new or newly popular in the year in question — widely and/or prominently used in the year in question — indicative or reflective of the popular discourse — not a peeve or a complaint about overuse or misuse
The NBCNews.com headlineover Jonathan Allen’s story kvetched about the lack of “drama” on the first day of the impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives, but the person in charge of the Twitter account chose a more, well, pizzazz-y synonym for “drama.”
Analysis: The first two witnesses called Wednesday testified to President Trump's scheme, but lacked the pizzazz necessary to capture public attention. https://t.co/1UfkaeZ3I4
You know what an apostrophe is. It’s the little squiggle above the baseline in don’t and it’s that substitutes for a missing letter (o and i, respectively). Or it’s the little squiggle that denotes possession, because there is in fact a missing letter in those words: In Chaucer’s time, genitives (the linguistic term for what we casually call possessives) were formed by inserting an e before the s (the doges bone). We get apostrophe from Greek, with stops in Latin and French; the original form means “avert, turn away,” which is why we also use apostrophe for the rhetorical device of “turning away” to briefly address some person or thing—as one often does, say, on Twitter.