Whole lotta shruggin’ goin’ on: Observations on a most peculiar literary quirk

“Epithets, like pepper / Give zest to what you write; / And if you strew them sparely, / They whet the appetite: / But if you lay them on too thick, / You spoil the matter quite!”

Lewis Carroll, “Poeta fit, non Nascitur,” 1869

“A good style should show no signs of effort. What is written should seem a happy accident.”

W. Somerset Maugham, “The Summing Up,” 1938

Leave it to a linguist to obsess over the use of a single word…but, well, that’s what we do. I could write an entire article on the appearance and evolution of interjections like Duh! and meh, or new conversation-stoppers like what-ever (pronounced with falling intonation).

Letter to the Editor of the New Yorker

The latest New Yorker has a very informative and thorough piece on forensic linguistics, in the print version and at

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/07/23/120723fa_fact_hitt .

The following is my letter to the editor:

Dear Editor,

As a practicing forensic linguist (since 1979; I have a PhD in linguistics from the University of Chicago and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Brown, also in linguistics), I thoroughly enjoyed your article on the profession – but with mixed feelings.