Word of the Week! Neoliberal

Take off your Left/Right/Center political caps, for a moment. Let’s see what “neoliberal” means and when it appeared. It proves a term bigger than politics, if equally disturbing.

This is (to me) a new word, noted by the OED for its first use in 1898. I find the history of how the term got used, and changed over time, fascinating.

Broadly speaking neoliberalism means “various modified or revived forms of traditional liberalism, typically based on belief in free market capitalism and the rights of the individual.”

In my field of writing studies, however, our word has enjoyed much recent usage, to describe how American colleges and universities appear to be more driven today than ever by market pressures. In the crush, the pursuit of knowledge gets put  into a distant second place, if that. Students become consumers and what we produce? A commodity. See our image above, courtesy of IJClark at Flickr.

Over the years I’ve heard Bill Clinton described as the first  modern neoliberal Progressive, and my favorite print publication, Atlantic Monthly, gets derided as neoliberal. It seems that our word only gets employed, by academics anyhow, in a pejorative sense.  Neoliberals get accused of favoring deregulation, weakening unions, harming the environment. I still find the word slippery, used in a haphazard fashion, as do the terms “technocratic” and “neoconservative,” both of which I should explore later.

I’d suggest that students use it carefully to describe a proponent of free markets, de-regulation, and individual rights, with neoliberalism employed as the philosophy.

But the term defies our current (and reductive, even silly) descriptors of conservative and liberal in US life.

Do you have a word or metaphor for this blog?  Send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Metaphor of the Month! Horse Latitudes

Sopranino cover imageEvery summer, I read something nautical. I’m a mountain and not a water person, but sailing and ships really interest me. The closest I get is from my fishing kayak (and this has been a good fishing year for me). Four years have passed (!) since I did my last nautical metaphor, doldrum.

Part of my interest in ships and sailing involves the riches of vocabulary they bring us. In several books I encountered our rather antique metaphor, another of those terms I’d love to see used more commonly again. As the OED informs us, the term refers to a “belt of calms and light airs which borders the northern edge of the N.E. trade-winds.”  Usually the term simply indicates the literal area, even in our time of steam-ships.

The origin of the term remains unknown to the OED editors. The tales of sailors lightening their load by throwing effigies or actual horses overboard seems a stretch to this landlubber, given the animals’ value. Eating them when becalmed and starving? Possibly, according to a writer at Medium.

Metaphorically, our term suits June and early July well for academics. We are deep in our summer projects, and campus is silent of most student noise. Sometimes we have little bursts of activity; the winds pick up, so to speak. In that area of calm between steady winds, Facilities repairs and builds, plans for the year are laid down. It’s my favorite time of year, even though most summer weeks I work from home.

This summer’s read? Sopranino by Patrick Ellam and Colin Mudie. They designed and sailed the world’s smallest ship–a 19′ sailboat rated for ocean travel–across the Atlantic. It’s a great story told in a light, yes, breezy style from a simpler time than ours. They do run into several sudden calms off South America, in the horse latitudes. They also get robbed in Jamaica, but being charmers, content the crooks with a few dollars. The books remains out of print but old copies are easy to find.

As Summer skims along like a fast racing yacht, I’ll post your entries. Do you have a word or metaphor for this blog?  Send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Image from the 2011 edition.

Word of the Week! Hagiography

I just finished One Minute to Midnight, Michael Dobbs’ definitive and minute-by-minute account of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The book is so well written and uses sources so fairly that I want to consider parts of it for a first-year writing textbook I’ll be writing in the coming year.

In any case, I came across this sentence by Dobbs, that “[Kennedy’s friend and aide] Dave Powers makes no mention of Meyer or any other presidential girlfriend in his hagiographic memoir of JFK.”

JFK was no saint; any reading of honest biographies would discover his many very human flaws, including a number of adulterous affairs. Yet some works about his life, ended too soon and so tragically, fall into the realm of our Word of the Week.  At its root, as the OED tells us, a hagiography was a biography of a saint. I trudged through these as a Catholic teen in mandatory Church-history classes. Being a teen, I zoned out, though the martyrdoms stuck with me longest. “Grilled on a griddle! Cool.”  Thus the brain of teenaged boy.

The Saints, of course, led faultless lives and were models of piety and restraint.

That brings us to works such as the Powers memoir and others that cast a person’s life as perfect; it’s the second OED definition and often how we use our word today. A hagiography is suspect and looked down upon by serious scholars.

Students, learn to smell hagiography when it turns up under your shoe. Then find better sources. That’s as it should be. We can still admire what two imperfect men, John F. Kennedy and his rival Nikita Khrushchev, did to back the world away from the precipice of nuclear war, after the Soviet leader tried to sneak weapons into Cuba and got caught, Red (so to speak) handed.

Praise is one thing. Hagiography another, and it has little role in academic reasoning and writing.

As Summer races along I’ll post most weeks. Do you have a word or metaphor for this blog?  Send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Public Domain image of our Cold War rivals courtesy of Pingnews at Flickr.

Recognition for 2022 Consultants Who are Graduating

It’s been a long year, with the waning of the Pandemic and a lingering sense of anxiety among students, staff, and faculty. So with great relief, and gratitude, I want to congratulate our graduating seniors for their hard work.

A few pieces of news stand out in Spring 2022. First, we had two recipients for Consultant of the Year, an annual award for graduates; faculty nominate Writing Consultants for this honor. And the winners are Maya Lieberman and Jon Gandara.

Jon and Maya finish their time at Richmond with signature accomplishments that marry service and peer assistance. Jon not only assisted several classes in different fields of study, but he also found time to proofread drafts of every faculty summary submitted this year by Consultants working in our Center. He and Joe Essid would then discuss any summaries that needed more. Jon’s job helped to prepare him for the painstaking duties he’ll undertake as a law student at the University of Mississippi.

Maya also worked with different courses, long assisting in Professor Outka’s General Education courses in literature. This year, she helped freshman writers in Representing Civil Rights, a first-year seminar taught by Professor Patricia Herrera in our Department of Theatre and Dance. She will begin work with BookBub in the Editorial & Production Co-op, editing and writing content for the company and its community of book lovers.

Maya and Jon will be recognized in our Commencement program. To both students, congratulations and Godspeed.

Other Consultants are bound for exciting jobs and graduate work. In no particular order save how early I received the news…

  • Ben Weiser has been accepted for the program Master of Public Policy at Oxford University. He is receiving the Jepson scholarship for Oxford, to fund his graduate work.
  • Erin Derubertis was hired as a Data Engineer at a software company called Tresata in Charlotte, NC. She reports that “my writing skills came in handy even in a data-focused position.”
  • Olivia Gallmeyer has been accepted into a Master’s of Women’s Gender & Sexuality Studies at Brandeis.
  • Sophia McWilliams will be working for Kobre and Kim, a global law firm in New York City, for the next year or two before attending law school.

Of course it is with sadness that we bid all of our graduates farewell. If you have news about your work after leaving Richmond, please let us know and I’ll crow about it (there’a a final metaphor) here.

 

Word of the Week! Volatility

This post, so close to the end of the academic year, begins a new series focused on words that every undergraduate should know from the realms of business and economics. I’ve covered one before, amortize, but that’s rarely a concept needed in one’s 20s.

So I’ve asked faculty and professionals for words that they feel every undergrad needs. Kristopher Olexy, of Capitol Financial Solutions, recommended this term and another I will cover here soon.

Why begin with volatility now? We live in volatile times. You’ll find a good entry on the term at the OED, yet it does not capture Mr. Olexy’s sense of market volatility. He means rapid and unpredictable movements of the stock markets. As a long-term investor I don’t tend to panic with the DOW drops, but many ups and downs in he broader S&P 500 can give me the jitters.

So what does “market volatility” mean? I turn to an investment source for beginners, from Fidelity International:

when a market or security experiences periods of unpredictable, and sometimes sharp, price movements.

People often think about volatility only when prices fall, however volatility can also refer to sudden price rises too.

Let’s see how the S&P has done over the past year, using data from Bloomberg’s free market charts: year-to-date return? Down more than 12%!

Should I panic? When I look at the one-year return, there’s an increase of 1.32%, not enough to outpace inflation but rosier than that big drop. And the five-year return? Nearly 92%. Now I feel good.

So has the past year been one of market volatility? If so, why?

It looks volatile. If you’ve not been under a rock, factors driving volatility include the war in Ukraine, the lingering pandemic, associated supply-chain and labor shortages, political turmoil in the United States, energy prices.  All these variables, the Fidelity site notes, increase volatility.

While I’d rather live in boring times, we have to play the market we have, as investors large or small. My students recently expressed their love for crypto-currencies, an investment vehicle I would not touch with your money. But they are young and can take a greater risk on a very volatile market for crypto. I won’t. Stocks can be unsettling enough.

Aside from that, what should a college student know about market volatility? Not panicking at a first drop in prices is one. Volatility is normal, within reason. It’s also good to accept more of it when young, because too few grads start investing early enough (I did not until my 30s). Imagine putting a few hundred away in one’s 20s, each month, and seeing that blossom into hundreds of thousands by retirement, in addition to other investing and despite volatility.

So I tell college grads not “plastics,” the mantra from the coming-of-age film The Graduate. I tell them to “start investing now. Volatility is okay at 20. At 60, you might lose sleep over it.”

Do you have a word or metaphor for this blog?  Send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

 

Word of the Week! Blackberry Winter

BlackberriesUntil a week ago, I did not know this phrase. Singer-songwriter James McMurtry, son of two renowned wordsmiths, used it on stage but didn’t explain what the “old timers” meant by it. He has an ear for language that seems on the verge of disappearing.

Since I write this post on a day of Blackberry Winter, let’s explore the idea.  First, I’m surprised that the OED has this regional colloquialism in its pages online. What the definition does not explain, however, concerns the usefulness of a day like today, that last cold-snap before the agony of our region’s hot, humid summer (I detest humidity and prefer cold weather to hot).

The term has its first recorded usage in the 19th Century, so it’s new by linguistic standards. But the idea is old: a late cold front reportedly can help blackberries “set” on their canes, to insure an abundant harvest. Readers can find other “little winters” discussed in this entry at a gardening blog.

I’m a minority in my preferences for cold and snow. So be it. I hope we’ll remember that a cold snap has salutary effects on our food supply, just as those humid July nights make certain a red tomato. If you only know food from the grocery store, it’s worth pondering. Here’s to our Blackberry Winters and Red-Tomato Summers.

If you want to  hear McMurtry sing about a Blackberry Winter, here it is.

Do you have a word or metaphor for this blog?  Send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Word of the Week! Sybaritic

Theatre of Sybaris

Here’s a term (a metaphor, really) that I misunderstood. For the longest time, I believed that it implied sensual decadence, the sort we might associate with gluttons and pornographers. In other words, hedonism.

Wrong. Though excess is possible for sybarites, my guide to a more nuanced meaning of our word comes from Patrick Leigh Fermor’s excellent, three-volume account of a walk he took from The Hook of Holland to Constantinople. I’ve finished volumes one and two, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and The Water. Simply put, Leigh Fermor proved himself one of the finest travel writers of the 20th Century, among other things all starting with the letter P: polymath, prodigy for languages, patriot. You’d do well to pick up his books.

And yes, he was a sybarite who enjoyed drinking, art, natural scenery, and beautiful women. No wonder James Bond and Indiana Jones are said to have a bit of Fermor in them.

As a commando in the Second World War, his fluency in both German and Cretan Greek was so prodigious (another P) that he led a team of commandos disguised as German officers who captured Major General Heinrich Kreipe. While waiting for a boat to Egypt, Fermor and Kriepe sat in a cave, passing the time by smoking cigarettes and spouting lines of verse at each other in ancient Greek.

But like the man himself, I digress. Fermor’s digressions go on for pages, but they entertain. I’m not sure that a dissertation on Sybaris, an ancient Greek city in southern Italy “noted for its effeminacy and luxury” in the words of the OED entry, would prove even a shadow of Fermor’s words.

We today recoil at the use of “effeminate” in a pejorative, even misogynistic sense. In Fermor’s reckoning, however, anyone can enjoy good food, drink,  art, or the company of witty, beautiful people. I remain uncertain about how the prosperous Greek city came to be associated with decadent enjoyment. Jealousy, perhaps, of the wine cellars and good life to be  had in Sybaris? I’d prefer life there to, say, Sparta. Both cities are curious ruins today: perhaps that too is a warning about the virtues of moderation?

Yet forget moralizing and think luxurious thoughts for April, perhaps our most sybaritic month of all.

Do you have a word or metaphor for this blog?  Send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

 

Metaphor of the Month! Tomfoolery

Fool's Cap

In what seems now ancient history in the year 2019, I covered the metaphor of an April Fool. It is April Fool’s Day as I write this, so I sought about for another foolish word.

So who was Tom? A generic name, equivalent to our “Joe Blow” or “John Q. Citizen,” if we are to believe the etymology given by Merriam-Webster’s Online site. This origin gets repeated by sources found with Google. Thome would have been foolish indeed for his example to endure many centuries. Admittedly, we do still call miserly folks “Scrooges,” but we have Uncle Ebenezer (I played him in our 6th Grade Christmas play) to remind us of Dickens’s original humbugler.

As usual, I sought out the OED for clarity and authority on this matter. Thome Fole was English, right?

Yes indeed. Tom was a common name in Medieval England, and as the OED explains, the earliest recorded examples from the 14th Century likely refer to specific jesters named Tom. I’m reminded of a later Tom, “Poor Tom,” the madman Edgar feigns to be from King Lear. Later, the term simply became generic, with the older spelling “fole,” from the Anglo-Norman foole, becoming our “fool.” And there we have it.

Who else from myth or history has a name that became metaphor? Tyrants, certainly, and dictators. Think of all the “Little Hitlers” since 1945. Consider the many Lincolns who have freed people and scores of Cassandras trying to warn us (though we fools do not listen).

Send words and metaphors, wise or foolish, to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Word of the Week! Kerf

Table Saw BladeFor the past month, I have been cutting wood with a table saw, a jigsaw, and a compound miter-box saw. I’m a competent if not expert carpenter. So in this age of high prices for materials, I decided that wooden weather-board siding made at home would be cost-effective and beautiful for a porch we turned into a three-season room.

This sounds like my blog about rural life, Tractorpunk, but I’m not going to focus on DIY here, fun though it is. I’m going to focus on a concept and word that merit wider use.

As the photo (thanks, Wikipedia) indicates, a saw-blade removes material as it moves through wood. In carpentry we call that the “kerf” and if one saws hundreds of boards, as I have done, the kerf adds up in big piles of sawdust.

Do readers see the potential for a new metaphor here, one as fresh as the smell of sawdust and far better than that once-wonderful cliche “death by a thousand paper-cuts”?

The OED entry on our word traces it to Old English cyrf, as well as Old Norse a current Icelandic terms; in Iceland a kerfi is a bundle of twigs. All the words refer to a cut, the act of making one, or the result.

If kerf becomes more widely used, I’d use it this way: what gets lost when cuts get made? Thus: “Remind Mister Horrible that laying off these recently hired workers may appear wise, but the long-term kerf will be bad for our bottom line.”

What do you think about kerfs and kerfing? How might this word enjoy wider usage without your losing a finger in a table saw? Seriously. Use new words widely, but don’t use any of the tools I mentioned without a mentor. We cannot fix those kerfs.

Do you have a word or metaphor for this blog?  Send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

Metaphor of the Month! Pyrrhic Victory

Battle of Santa CruzWe have, for the first time since the 1990s, a European war on. In fact, we have the first since 1945, if one considers the tragedy in the Balkans, after the breakup of Yugoslavia, to be a civil war.

If President Putin triumphs, however, it appears that his victory will be pyrrhic. That metaphor has a long, interesting history but also, as descriptor, it reveals a long past of human suffering.

The adjective pyrrhic denotes an ancient Greek war-dance. Check that etymology at the OED link. In this sense, the term has no related to King Pyrrhus of Epirus, who won a battle against the Romans but at a terrible cost in irreplaceable manpower. Recent examples might include some of Japan’s early victories in World War II. Their navy, in particular, lost aviators who had been some of the best in the world, in 1941. They never replaced them properly, with horrible consequences for their military and civilian population.

Wikipedia lists other examples. The term enjoys use beyond military history; any contest where the winner comes out weaker could be labeled a Pyrrhic Victory. Consider this example from 1998, in  the OED entry on pyrrhic as adjective:

For the Chancellor who has been running Germany for 16 years, pushing through the euro could be pyrrhic.

That entry also has a great deal about our metaphor, including a first usage in the 17th Century.

Any victory that the Russian President and his circle of minions achieve may be added to the list of nation-breaking victories. I’d prefer peace, with honor for Ukraine, and without more bloodshed. Right now, however, that prospect appears remote.

Do you have a word or metaphor for this blog?  Send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

Image of Battle of Santa Cruz courtesy of Wikipedia.