Articles by Jerome Shea

Jerome Shea is an emeritus professor of English at the University of New Mexico, where he still teaches his classical tropes course every fall and his prose style course every spring. He has been the Weekend Wonk since January of 2007. His email is

A Rose by Any Other Name

  November 25, 2011

In a recent column Tom and Ray Magliozzi, my favorite car guys, said of a certain unethical mechanic that he had earned a place on their “fecal roster.” I chuckled all morning over that felicitous rephrasing of “sh*t list,” and even sent it to a couple of friends. I am calling that a euphemism, and I would like to talk about euphemism this week, along with its evil twin, dysphemism. We seem incapable of calling a spade a spade.


  November 25, 2011

At some point in the tropes course—last week, this time around—we study the argumentums, which are great things to hang tropes on. I’m talking about such familiar terms as argumentum ad hominem, argumentum ad populum, argumentum ad ignorantium, and so forth (no, I am not going to add ad nauseam, although it seems sometimes that it ought to be included). The first thing to know is that these are not valid arguments in the syllogistic sense (all birds have two legs, Socrates has two legs, therefore Socrates is a bird…something like that; I was never real good at it).

Big Stuff, Deep Stuff, Heavy Stuff

  November 25, 2011

We live among immensities of time and space. Sometimes the question is not so much how we manage to grasp those immensities, but how we entertain that knowledge without just blanking out, clicking off, like a spaniel trying to understand quadratic equations (woof?). What started me thinking about this was a couple of recent science articles guaranteed to titillate us laymen. In one, astronomers think they have discovered a galaxy—make that “evidence of a galaxy”—that is the earliest, which is to say oldest, that has been seen so far.

Do You Feel a Draft?

  November 25, 2011

In a typically brilliant Gary Larson cartoon, we find a deer behind a tree, hiding from a hunter in the near distance. Panicked, the deer is saying to himself, “He is definitely shooting at me! I’ve gotta think: do I know this guy?” We laugh because we seldom see it that way—a hunter has no personal grudge or vendetta against a deer that he kills. But in fact random killing is a fact of life—or rather, death—and nowhere more so than in war.

Fiat Lux

  November 25, 2011

Light. The first Light. “Let there be Light,” said the Lord God, and it was so. Light is both humble and holy, practical and profound. Modern artificial light, electric light, is a wonder that we take for granted. I like to remind myself from time to time what a small miracle it is to get up in the pitch (wonderful word, that) dark, hit a switch, and instantly flood a room with light.

Final Doings: Danube

  November 25, 2011

So on the eleventh of July, the Sheas and the senior Dinsmores (aka Bob and Pat) got on a Lufthansa Airbus at Boston’s Logan Airport for a long hop to Frankfurt, a short hop to Budapest, and the beginning of their Danube cruise. Ports of call would be Budapest, Vienna, Passau, and Regensburg, with special stops for the monasteries at Melk and at Weltenburg, in the Danube Gorge. We would leave the Danube at Kelheim, the beginning of the gorge, making our last leg the Danube-Main Canal to Nuremberg.

Giants in the Earth

  November 25, 2011

While I was writing about the Neanderthals, something else kept flitting through my mind: that mysterious and startling line in Genesis 6:4. “There were giants in the earth in those days.” What’s up with that? Well, just a few hours’ research shows the Neanderthal story to be simple and straightforward compared to this particular tangled web. Let me back up. Here (KJV) are verses 1 through 4: And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth and daughters were born unto them, [T]hat the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.

Great Wits Are Near to Madness Close Allied

  November 25, 2011

Many years ago—so many that the card catalogue was physically a card catalogue—I was trolling through it idly and came upon the intriguing title—Gravity and Levity—of a book by a psychiatrist named Alan McGlashan. It is an interesting little collection of essays that roam the borderland between medicine and mysticism. What mystified me was that it was shelved not in our main UNM library but over in our Science and Engineering library, and then I realized that someone had taken the title literally, as in the force that large bodies exert, and its opposite, as in lighter-than-air gases.


  November 25, 2011

Most writing taught in schools is fairly conservative. Some leeway might be allowed depending on the crowd (sorry about the rhyme…or maybe not, as we’ll see), but the usual requirements include spelling correctly, eschewing sentence fragments and the dreaded comma splice, and so forth: all the things that your equally dreaded freshman composition teacher enforces with an iron fist and a red pen. But there is a subversive tradition in the history of writing in English.

Me and Charlie Rose

  November 25, 2011

(I seldom stay up late enough to watch Charlie Rose on PBS, but when I do I am always reminded of how much I’ve been missing. Charlie is an excellent interviewer, I think because he has a genuine interest in his guests and in ideas and events. He is definitely and definitively connected. Add in that dulcet North Carolina accent and you have a real treat. His guests the other night were Tom Brokaw and Calvin Trillin—Charlie doesn’t traffic in the usual Tinsel Town fluff—both pushing their latest books.

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