Monday, November 29, 2010

Around the Word

Today we're honoring the rhetorical greats of years past, but we're also excited about the linguistic lights of the future.
  • Fourscore and seven years ago, Lincoln delivered an address that "flouts the rules for writing a good speech"—which is why it is so powerful, argues speechwriter Hal Gordon. Gordon, who once worked for Colin Powell, joins a handful of PunditWire contributors in reflecting on some of the best rhetoric in American history. Former Bush Administration speechwriter Paul Liben delves into Robert F. Kennedy's April 1968 remarks on the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., while Dave Helfert, a veteran Democratic flack, zeroes in on Obama's vision of "A More Perfect Union." What do you think? Who did the pundits overlook—or overrate?
  • And how does your work stack up to the greats? The 2011 Cicero Speechwriting Awards are your chance to find out. Designed to "recognize the work—the sweat and the blood and, with luck, the magic" that goes into penning great speeches, the contest promises winners "broad publicity and public celebration." For submission guidelines, judges' bios, and the texts of winning speeches past, check out the site.
  • The New York Times lights candles for four luminaries of lexicography who passed away this year. Edwin Newman, James J. Kilpatrick, Sol Steinmetz, and Frederick C. Mish were the dictionary dons of the 20th century, earning titles like "lexical supermaven" and "the rex of lex" from William Safire. We wonder how these umpires of usage would have responded to the death of spelling...
  • The Arctic isn't just losing its icecaps—the words used to describe them are also melting away. K. David Harrison, a linguist at Swarthmore College and author of The Last Speakers, has dedicated himself to protecting the world's fragile linguistic ecosystem, from Siberia to Bolivia. In an interview with The Economist, Harrison describes how the knowledge encoded in a language—such as Yupik's 99 terms for distinct Arctic ice formations—vanishes when the language dies.
(UPDATE: We corrected a few errors of identification in the Punditwire piece.)

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