Separate and United

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as they take part in a session on reforming the United Nations at U.N. Headquarters in New York


“England and America are two countries separated by the same language.” (George Bernard Shaw)

The two countries nowadays are united by a common divisiveness, an internecine feud over their respective futures. This excerpt from the NYTimes* is dated Nov. 18, 2019. Britain or America? The blanks are yours to fill.

A decade on from the crash, __________ is still mired in the longest period of wage stagnation since __________, while productivity growth slows. Unsecured household debt is at a record high, and more than __________ million people in working households live below the poverty line. Among the young especially, for whom unaffordable housing and job insecurity are the new normal, the aspirational story that gently moderated capitalism once told about itself has smashed against the rocks of reality.

Given that the next government must oversee some kind of resolution to the __________, and will have the job of repairing both a dysfunctional democratic infrastructure and a tattered social fabric, the choices it makes will be far more consequential than those usually faced by incoming governments. Throw in the fact that the next __________ will be in charge for [part] of the decade identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as the final one in which full-scale climate catastrophe could be averted, and it is no exaggeration to conclude that the victor [in the election] will set __________’s course for a generation and beyond.

*Jack Shenker, “Britain’s Election Is Not About Brexit.”

(c) 2019 JMN

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E Pluribus Unum: Relief for a Pedant

uncle sam

… If applied to everyone, “they” would complete the leveling-up progress of equal dignity that “you” started centuries ago.

(Teresa M. Bejan, “What Quakers Can Teach Us About the Politics of Pronouns,” NYTimes, 11-16-19)

1. A person has to register early if he wants to vote.
2. A person has to register early if he or she wants to vote.
3. A person has to register early if they want to vote.

As a half-woke pedant I’ve stuck with version 2 until now, but version 3 is winning.

The history provided by Professor Bejan helps me. She notes that English nobles could call themselves “we.” (The Queen still does.) At that time “thou” was the proper singular, so commoners were required to address a noble as plural “you,” since he (or she) considered himself (or herself) to be more than one. (The Duke of York still does, though he “let the side down.”)

The Quakers leveled down by “thou-ing everyone, including blue-bloods, but English eventually went the other way and leveled up. I got to be you, and you got to be you, like our blood was blue, too.

The fact that plural “you” crossed over to singular furnishes a respectable precedent for the migration of “they” to neutered singularity. It relieves one of the cross of pedantry they have borne. They’re chiefest concern now — our chiefest concern, or mine if I’m humble — is to get comfortable with the contracting of future “they-all” into “th-all,” where it will team up with “y’all” as a disambiguator for them, whoever it is.

(c) 2019 JMN

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Latin What?


… Elizabeth Warren… began conducting her outreach to Hispanic voters using the term “Latinx.” (Though she did take a little flack, after the first Democratic debate, for pronouncing it “Latin-X.”)

(Ross Douthat, “Liberalism’s Latinx Problem,” NYTimes, 11-5-19)

Ross Douthat comments that “Latinx” is an ideological word aimed at “dismantling the default masculine” of romance languages, centering gender neutrality or nonbinariness in place of a cisgender heteronormativity.

Be that as it may, I’m still wondering how “Latinx” is to be said. I would capitalize “Romance” as a language family descriptor, on a par with Germanic, Slavic, Semitic, etc.

(c) 2019 JMN

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Boot Edge Edge

boot edge

Even if Mr. Buttigieg fails to capture the nomination, he’s already won himself a coveted place in the political universe. Credit…Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times.

… He acknowledged that his success may have irked those who have seen years of presidential campaign planning tossed aside by his rise.

“I’m not going to comment,” he said, “on the emotions of my competitors.”

(Reid J. Epstein and Lisa Lerer, “Why Pete Buttigieg Annoys His Democratic Rivals,” NYTimes, 11-9-19)

This is a good instance of how, sometimes, the most intelligent comments are the ones “not made.”

(c) 2019 JMN

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Sport Imitates It


Cleveland’s Myles Garrett, right, pulled off the helmet of the Steelers’ Mason Rudolph and swung it at him. Credit…Jason Miller/Getty Images.

(c) 2019 JMN

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Art Hack


Installation view of “Rachel Harrison Life Hack,” a mid-career survey of the artist’s work at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Credit…Charlie Rubin for The New York Times.

In her “Life Hack” exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Rachel Harrison corrals artifacts inside a circle of chairs facing away. Like eat my dust. Irony? Wit? Truculence? Genius? Contempt? Here’s how Holland Carter talks about it:

… I’ve learned that “life hack” is internetese for myriad improvised tricks or techniques devised to make the practical crises of daily existence — how to remove ketchup stains from a shirt, how to relax with strangers — more manageable. No doubt some of these interventions work better than others, but the fact that they’re a popular phenomenon, a thing, suggests that a lot of us are looking around and seeing chaos, and trying, with whatever panache we can muster, to make it productive. Ms. Harrison’s art is really good at that.

(Holland Carter, “Peas, Socks and Sidewalk-Trash Sculptures: Just Keep Looking,” NYTimes, 11-14-19)

I’m drawn to Harrison’s “Brownie,” which scans as a queasy skeleton gagging itself.


“Brownie,” from 2005, is a Giacomettian column embedded with life-size skulls. Credit…Charlie Rubin for The New York Times.

(c) 2019 JMN

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Thanksgiving Turkey


“You should revise your stance towards Turkey, which at the moment holds so many Isis members in prison and at the same time controls those in Syria,” Erdoğan told European countries in remarks to reporters in Ankara on Tuesday.

“These gates will open and these Isis members who have started to be sent to you will continue to be sent. Then you can take care of your own problem.”

(Bethan McKernan, “American Isis suspect stuck on border ‘not our problem’, says Erdoğan,”, 11-12-19)

(c) 2019 JMN

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