Word Play

August 8, 2016

The Places Words Go by Daniel Jose Camacho 

Intersectionality, a concept that started in academia and became popular among grassroots activists, recently has exploded in broader culture. Today, there’s even a viral YouTube video that uses pizza to explain its meaning. So when Hillary Clinton, on March 6, 2016, tweeted that: “We face a complex, intersectional set of challenges…” it signaled intersectionality’s full entrance into the mainstream...

What’s In a Word, Your Honor? By Sam Buell (online-only content!) 

As a social practice that operates through language, law confronts two limitations: The imprecision of words—what the great legal theorist H.L.A. Hart called “open texture”—makes their application to particular instances uncertain. Compounding the problem, limitations of human foresight mean lawmakers cannot see everything the future will produce...

Fighting Words by Lauren Forman (online-only content!)

“I collect words.” That was the first line of my college admissions essay, written before I had any idea where my lists of words would take me. My essay went on to wax poetic about how I jot down each word that piques my interest. “Sometimes,” I explained, “the impulse to ‘collect’ comes from observing a word perfectly suited to its purpose. ‘Meander,’ for instance, seems to stroll casually from its soft, ’m’… A wealth of vowels keeps it from slipping by too quickly.”...

The Power of Pronouns by Steven Petrow 

This past February I was invited to give a lecture at a Duke seminar called “LGBTQ Activism and History.” I arrived a bit late, and each of the dozen or so students had already filled out a name card, a folded piece of paper that indicated their full name and pronouns. I was puzzled for two reasons: First, why state your pronouns? Isn’t it pretty obvious who’s a man and who’s a woman, who gets “he” versus “she”? Second: Two of the students had put down “they, them, their.”...

Scabblers U-N-I-T-E-D by Hannah Rozear

This might be hard for some people to hear, but English majors are terrible Scrabble players. To win in Scrabble one has to come to terms with the fact that “za,” “aji,” and “yez” are far more useful words than ones you’d know from reading Henry James. Chemists, geologists, botanists, sailors, rare coin collectors, and biblical scholars have far handier professional vocabularies for success. As do neurologists and Perkins reference librarians—or at least that’s what my father-in-law, Marvin Rozear M.D. ’66, and I like to think...

The Worst Word in the English Language by Shane Ryan

Our native tongue is beautiful and expressive, even if it’s not technically one of the world’s  Romance languages. English is, by category, a West Germanic language, and German itself is—at least to our ears—a guttural, aggressive array of dense consonant clusters and fricatives and glottal stops. Like our linguistic cousins, we may lack the flowing poetry of Italian or French, but over time English has inherited the entire world; as anyone who watches the annual Scripps-Howard spelling bee knows, our dictionary boasts diverse origins. Language may be the most inclusive aspect of our modern society, in fact, because our adoption of new words is largely unconscious...

Supreme Wordsmith by Evan Young 

Even his detractors acknowledge that few justices ever have approached the clear, powerful, and evocative writing style that the opinions of the late Justice Antonin Scalia consistently typified...