Archive for November, 2011

November 3rd 2011
Natural history Thursday: Honey badger doesn’t give a $hit.

Posted under fluff

Go honey badger, go! (H/t to LD for this.) NSFW or small children (unless you don’t mind children who curse like stevedores.)

Really pretty bada$$!


November 2nd 2011
An elegy for the apostrophe, and a defense thereof (in a manner of speakin’.)

Posted under American history & bad language & European history & jobs & students

Henry Hitchings suggests that my crusade to make students understand the correct use of the apostrophe may put me on the wrong side of history.  He says the apostrophe vexed printers and writers who were confused about its application almost from the time of its invention in the sixteenth century, through its proliferation in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century print culture:

[C]ontrary to what defenders of the apostrophe imagine, its status has long been moot.Before the seventeenth century the apostrophe was rare. The Parisian printer Geoffroy Tory promoted it in the 1520s, and it first appeared in an English text in 1559.

Initially the apostrophe was used to signify the omission of a sound. Gradually it came to signify possession. This possessive use was at first confined to the singular. However, writers were inconsistent in their placing of the punctuation mark, and in the eighteenth century, as print culture burgeoned, everything went haywire. Although it seemed natural to use an apostrophe in the possessive plural, authorities, such as the grammarian Robert Lowth, argued against this. In a volume entitled “Grammatical Institutes” (1760), John Ash went so far as to say that the possessive apostrophe “seems to have been introduced by mistake.”

By the time Ash was writing, the apostrophe was being used to form plurals.Among those who did this was the typographer Michael Mattaire. In a grammar he brought out in 1712 he suggested that the correct plural of species was species’s. Some rival grammarians could barely contain their rage in the face of such recommendations. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the experts (all self-appointed) urgently debated the mark’s correct application.

.       .       .       .       .       .

[H]ere’s the rub: say any of these names aloud and you’ll be struck by the fact that the apostrophe works on the eye rather than the ear. Simply put, we don’t hear apostrophes, and this is a significant factor accounting for the inconsistency with which they are used.  Continue Reading »


November 1st 2011
Nationalism FAIL: suck it, Revolution.

Posted under American history


It’s not just that it’s difficult to teach the quintessentially nationalistic course in American history in an era in which a great deal of the historiography is transnational or at least comparative, although that is a challenge for me considering the way I teach the rest of my courses.  It’s really the overwhelmingly nationalistic, solipsistic, chest-beating, flag-waving, screaching bald eagle totality of the historiography.  In the United States at least, there is no more nationalistic course, and no course that is taught in such a one-sided, pro-American manner.  And the students love it!  They demand it, in fact, and they revel in the opportunity to indulge in nationalist agitprop in their essays.

Every course I ever took on the American Revolution–from unreconstructed Whiggy consensus historians to the leftiest of the New Lefties–was unanimous in its judgment that the Americans were right to seek independence from Britain, and American military and diplomatic victories were cheered unreservedly.  The courses differed only in that the the Whig-consensus dudes argued that everything was pretty cool for everyone who counted by 1787 or thereabouts in the land of the World’s Last, Best Hope, whereas the New Lefties focused some attention on the people the American Revolution didn’t liberate:  enslaved people, poor white men, Native Americans, and women of all ethnicities, and pointed out the unfairness of it all that so many were left out of the World’s Last, Best Hope.  Continue Reading »


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