The Economist, “Not enough lawyers?”

September 1, 2011

Lawyers keep their numbers carefully pruned, pushing up costs

" ‘OVERLAWYERED’ is the name of a widely read blog on America’s legal system, and many Americans feel that way. Yet three economists think the country is actually plagued by too few lawyers, not too many. Clifford Winston and Robert Crandall of the Brookings Institution, a think-tank, and Vikram Maheshri of the University of Houston, published a book last month arguing that barriers to entry have kept the number of lawyers artificially low for decades. This—combined with an economy over-regulated by lawyers who go on to politics—results in an unearned premium on legal wages."  (Read the whole article.)

The Adelaide Review on You Are What You Speak

August 31, 2011

"Greene’s brushstrokes are like knives as he catalogues how much nonsense has been written about, and how many arbitrary rules imposed upon, our use of English. As all attempts to codify this organic wonder are no more than acts of herding cats, the task is both useless and thankless. This language will always go its own way, shaped by users rather than sticklers and frowning grammarians, and this is equally true now, in an age of and texting, as it has ever been. Move over Lynn Truss and co, he says, we don’t need your snobbery. This is the most engaging book on language in many a year and Greene is particularly acute in his analysis – no secret to anyone yet here so clearly explained – of the relationship between language, power and nationalism." (Read the whole review.)

The Economist, “Word herd”

July 28, 2011

Financial journalists’ writing becomes more homogenous as markets rise

WORD frequency follows a mathematical relationship known as a power law. Some words, like “man”, are very common. Some, like “recidivism”, make up a very long tail of words that are used less often.

In a recent paper Aaron Gerow of Trinity College, Dublin, and Mark Keane of University College Dublin, found that changes in the frequency distribution of English words can be helpful in identifying stockmarket bubbles… They found that journalists’ language became less diverse when stockmarkets were rising, with certain common nouns and verbs like “rise”, “fall”, “close” and “gain” becoming more common still. Like investors, journalists move in a herd when markets are frothy. (Read the whole article.) 

The Economist/Johnson, “Anti-Americanisms”

July 22, 2011

 Since the Beeb’s readers had so little trouble spouting dozens and dozens of "Americanisms" they dislike (the BBC closed comments after 1,295 had arrived), and since such a high proportion seem to be false Americanisms, I propose that this is a common thing, and thus deserves its own noun. We all know what Americanisms are. From here on, Johnson will refer to false Americanisms used to take a cheap but ill-aimed transatlantic shot as "Anti-Americanisms".  (Read the whole article.)  

The Economist/Johnson, “News you can (almost) use”

July 20, 2011

WORD-frequency follows a power-law distribution. Some words (like "man") are very common in English text. Some (like "recidivism") are fairly rare. Two researchers, Aaron Gerow (of Trinity College Dublin) and Mark Keane (of University College Dublin) have found that changes in the frequency distribution reflect stock market movements. Specifically, when stockmarkets climb, journalists’ language (as measured by thousands of articles from the Financial Times, New York Times and BBC) gets less diverse, with certain common nouns and verbs (eg, "rise", "fall", "close" and "gain") becoming more common. In other words, journalists move like a herd as investors do.  (Read the whole article.)

New Books Podcast on You Are What You Speak

July 11, 2011

I had a nice long interview with Cat Davies, of Kent and Cambridge Universities, on the ideas in You Are What You Speak, and what made me want to write the book. The interview is part of the the New Books Network’s excellent podcast series.  Check it out here

The Economist, “The paper chase”

June 23, 2011

Lawyers abusing procedures on evidence slow justice to a costly crawl

America is rightly considered litigation-happy. Opening a case is easy. But once begun, many factors conspire to make the process expensive and frustrating. Ambulance-chasing lawyers and runaway juries are only part of the problem, and probably not the most crucial one. Less than 2% of federal cases result in a trial. The worst problem comes in the pre-trial phase known as discovery…The right to discovery has been used by aggressive lawyers not just to find pieces of information, but to exhaust and impoverish adversaries through endless motions for more… (Read the whole article.)

Huffington Posts

May 26, 2011

I’ve written two pieces for the Huffington Post.  One is about how so many people who say they "love language" really love complaining about other people’s language, and another trying to disentangle the many ways something can be "right" or "wrong" in language. 

A radio Tuesday: All Things Considered and WYPR Baltimore

May 18, 2011

Yesterday NPR aired my "Three Books for the Grammar Lover in Your Life" piece during PM drive-time, thus subjecting the world to my version of "radio voice".  For those looking for something a little more spontaneous, Dan Rodricks and I had a great conversation on WYPR in Baltimore yesterday.  The callers were unusually good, including John the self-described "white rapper", who made some of the best points I’ve heard from a caller.

The Economist audio interview on You Are What You Speak

May 10, 2011

I did a very enjoyable audio interview with The Economist’s own sextilingual (Swahili-speaking!) books and arts editor, Fiammetta Rocco, on the book. 

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