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The Punch in the Voice of Muhammad Ali

11 Jun

Muhammad Ali jabbed not only with his fists, but with his words.  In the boxing ring, both weapons often were working at the same time.  Outside the ring,  Ali’s voice —  bold, original, angry, yet playful — went far to help make him perhaps the most recognizable human on the planet.  Viewed today, even on faded 1960s videotape on Youtube, the relentless rants seem fresh, honest, powerful and poetic, with the added sting of humor.  Give it a listen and you might decide that Ali deserves to be considered the grandfather of slam poetry.

Bust photographic portrait of Muhammad Ali in 1967. World Journal Tribune photo by Ira Rosenberg.

Ali in 1967. (World Journal Tribune photo by Ira Rosenberg)

If you compose or compete in slam, this legacy of language is a gift for you. If you don’t, it’s a voice that is well worth experiencing, admiring and enjoying.  It’s also a form of entertainment. Continue reading

Car . . . “Crash” or “Accident”?

24 May

An online campaign seeks 20,000 individual pledges to self-edit.

In our society, language can be everything.  — Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Chief of the National Traffic Safety Administration


Believing in the power of language to help save lives, the traffic safety czar and others are urging Americans to shift from “accident” to “crash” when describing car accidents caused by human error, which is many of them.  If with a single noun we can communicate more clearly the responsibility of drivers for thousands of injuries and deaths, the argument goes, we can hope to change their behavior behind the wheel.  Adds Rosekind, quoted in The New York Times:  “When you use the word ‘accident,’ it’s like, ‘God made it happen.’ ” 

The logic sounds sensible.  . . . But . . .

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The Case Against Adverbs

20 May
So many good reasons to retire them immediately. Or just to retire them.

Many good reasons to retire them immediately. Or just retire them. (New York Magazine illustration)


A strong and persuasive case, made by Christian Lorentzen in New York Magazine.  This will rub against much of what we have been taught about writing, especially the revered “transition”  that should have been barred from the curriculum decades ago. 

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Darwin’s Brilliant Choice of Language

17 Apr
Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

It goes without saying: Word choice is so important, for capturing with precision an idea we are trying to express, and for creating a desired effect on the reader’s imagination.

Here, from Nautilus, is the story of Charles Darwin’s choice of the term “natural selection” to describe his theory of evolution.  Why was it better than “evolution?”


Darwin’s theory of evolution is often credited with removing the notion of intentional design from biology. But perhaps its genius was in doing so gently: The language in which it’s couched allowed readers to hold onto the idea for just a little while longer.


See the full article here. It’s interesting and short.