Month: August 2011

Posted in Cross Cultural Comments

Learning to like …like!

Here is a wonderful piece of writing by Patricia T. O’Conner originally published in the International Herald Tribune in July, 2007.

All about … like, well, you know, that most common word: like!


Order it from the Book Depository! 

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Posted in Cross Cultural Comments

Kitchen talk

Just a little while ago, I was having a discussion around the kitchen table. We were talking about what’s happening in the USA and in Europe. And we were talking about what courses we took in school and in college that had best prepared us for life in the adult world. My alter-ego suggested this:

Suppose there were a law that, in addition to being a citizen, all candidates for political office had to pass a test … which demonstrated their skills … in logic: otherwise know as reason.

And then we added: Is there a test for common sense?

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Posted in Cross Cultural Comments

Season 12 at the Fringe in Edinburgh

As usual, the Edinburgh Fringe is a gigantic, eclectic affair. With theatrical offerings representing about 30 percent of the overall Fringe program this year (a whopping 2,542 events), options are varied, to say the least. For a theater lover it is possible to mill around this huge smorgasbord for more than a week and not feel filled up.  Read more on the New York Times. 

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Posted in Cross Cultural Comments

“Downgrade” on the Upwswing

August 12, 2011

By Ben Zimmer

All this week, politicians and pundits have been busy reacting to Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the U.S. debt rating from AAA to AA+, the first such credit downgrade in American history. The word downgrade itself has taken on powerful significance, to the point that it has vaulted itself into contention for Word of the Year.    Read the whole article here!


“Downgrade” on the Upswing

All this week, politicians and pundits have been busy reacting to Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the U.S. debt rating from AAA to AA+, the first such credit downgrade in American history. The word downgrade itself has taken on powerful significance, to the point that it has vaulted into contention for Word of the Year.

Much as subprime was the American Dialect Society’s choice for 2007 Word of the Year and bailout was selected for 2008, this year a term encapsulating the country’s economic woes could be the frontrunner for the honors. (For 2009 and 2010, technology took center-stage, with tweet and app winning.) Will downgrade be the term that represents the zeitgeist of these troubled times?

Downgrade isn’t a new term, of course — the Oxford English Dictionary currently dates it to 1858, and Google Books easily takes it back another decade. Back then, a downgrade (first spelled as down grade or down-grade) primarily described a descending slope on a railway line. That is using grade in its “gradient” meaning rather than, say, a score for student performance. But downgrade became extended to refer to other types of declines, for instance, a “downward course or tendency in morals, religion, etc.,” as the OED puts it. And as a verb, downgrading came to be used in the mid-20th century for the lowering of all sorts of people and things from previously lofty status. Both the noun and the verb have an antonym in upgrade, which made a similar move from describing physical upward slopes to any improvement to a higher standard.

In the case of Standard & Poor’s, the grades in question are investment ratings for long-term credit given out by the agency, with AAA (“gilt-edged”) as the highest rating and D (for default) as the lowest. The decision by S&P to remove the gilt from the edges of the U.S. credit rating came just days after the contentious vote in Congress to raise the debt ceiling. Naturally, interpretations of the downgrade have broken down on party lines. Democrats were first out of the gate, with David Axelrod and John Kerry taking to the Sunday morning talk shows to brand the S&P decision as the “Tea Party downgrade,” putting the blame on Tea Party-inspired Republican intransigence in the debt-ceiling debates. Republicans returned fire soon enough, instead labeling it the “Obama downgrade.”

Indeed, as Republicans gear up to oppose President Obama in the 2012 elections, it appears that downgrade will serve a handy political purpose as an emblem of the administration’s perceived policy failures. A website called The Obama Downgrade, launched this week by the conservative public-policy group Let Freedom Ring, offers the message, “Obama downgraded US, should WE downgrade Obama?” (Preaching to the choir, the site features an online poll, to which 91% have responded “yes.”) Already, the semantic flexibility of downgrade is in full rhetorical effect.

In the Washington Post, Monica Hesse riffed on the downgrade theme to compare America’s fortunes to various other devaluations, from the Honda Civic’s Consumer Reports ratings to the Zagat rating of chef Gordon Ramsay’s New York restaurant, Maze. “Maybe everything, in the court of public dissection, has been downgraded,” Hesse mused.

One downgrade that Hesse failed to mention was the demotion of Pluto from planetary status in 2006, when the International Astronomical Union decreed that it was merely a “dwarf planet.” But Pluto got a consolation prize when the year was over. The American Dialect Society named plutoed, meaning “demoted or devalued,” as Word of the Year. That probably wasn’t the most forward-looking choice (five years later, we’re not talking about the U.S. credit rating getting plutoed), but downgrade clearly has more heft, a resonance that will be remembered. As chair of the ADS New Words Committee, I’ll be keeping tabs on downgrade, and we’ll see how it stacks up against other contenders at year’s end.

Do you think downgrade has what it takes to be Word of the Year? Let us know in the comments below!


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Posted in Photos Cross Cultural Comments France History Paris

St Ex


   In honor of

Antoine de Saint Exupéry

Poet, Novelist, Pilot

disappeared in the course of a

reconnaissance mission July 31, 1944.


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Posted in Photos Cross Cultural Comments France Paris Paris Favoritz

The Panthéon

The Panthéon (French: [pɑ̃.te.ɔ̃]; Latin: pantheon, from Greek πάνθειον (ἱερόν) ‘(temple) to all the gods’)[1] is a building in the Latin Quarter in Paris, France. It originally functioned as a church dedicated to Paris patron saint Genevieve to house the reliquary châsse containing her relics, but secularized during the French Revolution and designated as a mausoleum containing the remains of distinguished French citizens. It is an early example of neo-classicism, with a façade modelled on the Pantheon in Rome, surmounted by a dome that owes some of its character to Bramante‘s Tempietto. Located in the 5th arrondissement on the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, the Panthéon looks out over all of Paris. Designer Jacques-Germain Soufflot had the intention of combining the lightness and brightness of the Gothic cathedral with classical principles, but its role as a mausoleum required the great Gothic windows to be blocked.

For more … consult Wikipedia: The Panthéon

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Posted in Photos Cross Cultural Comments France Paris

Honoring Jean Moulin and André Malraux at the French Panthéon

Jean Moulin was a high-profile member of the French Resistance during World War II.[1] He is remembered today as an emblem of the Resistance primarily due to his role in unifying the French resistance under de Gaulle and his courage and death at the hands of the Germans.

André Malraux was a French adventurer, award-winning author, and statesman. Having traveled extensively in Indochina and China, Malraux was noted especially for his novel entitled La Condition Humaine (Man’s Fate) (1933), which won the Prix Goncourt. He was appointed by General Charles de Gaulle as Minister of Information (1945–1946), then as Minister of State (1958–1959), and the first Minister of Cultural Affairs, serving during De Gaulle’s entire presidency (1959–1969).

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Posted in Cross Cultural Comments Online Language Resources for English Video

The Minimalist: Spicy Shrimp Salad With Mint – by Mark Bittman

Look at this!

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Posted in Cross Cultural Comments

Vita and Violet: The Greatest Bloomsbury Love Story By TONI BENTLEY

“Heaven preserve us from all the sleek and dowdy virtues, such as punctuality, conscientiousness, fidelity and smugness!” So wrote Violet Keppel in her unruly call to arms to the great ruling passion of her life, Vita Sackville-West. “What great man was ever constant? What great queen was ever faithful? Novelty is the very essence of genius and always will be. If I were to die tomorrow, think how I should have lived!” And indeed, how this woman, this “unexploded bomb,” as Vita called her, “lived!”

From the New York Times where you can read the entire book review.


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Posted in Cross Cultural Comments

Voting in America: The Electoral College

This is why someone can lose the majority of the popular vote … but win the election! 

…. one of the strangest and most unsatisfying features of our Constitution is the electoral college. In 1824, this led the country to outrage at what most thought to be an underhanded presidential election. Since party nominating conventions were not yet developed, six formidable candidates competed in the general election … Read this and more at

Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America by Walter R. Borneman by Random House

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