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In Plain Engel-ish

"Funny" You Should Ask

Writing an essay about humor is no joke. And therein lies the problem. We all love to hear a good joke; many of us love to tell a good joke; but none of us would ever want to explain a good joke. In fact, if it's a good joke, it should require no explanation. When we have to look at a footnote to understand why something is funny, well, then — let's face it, it just "ain't." And so I begin this essay with an apology for having to analyze a type of literature as seemingly spontaneous and transparent as...

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In Cahoots With Aunt Mollie

Many of you who traveled abroad with me know that Dr. LeRoy King and I conducted over fifty Learning Travel trips abroad through Dickens Destinations from 1982 through 2012. All those tripscertainly impressed me with the amazing linguistic talents of those in the foreign travel industry.From guides to waiters to maids, most non-native English speakers not only spoke and understood English but usually German, French, and Italian as well. And they were certainly aware of the linguistic limitations of their English-speaking tourists. I heard them recite more than once this riddle: “What do you call a person who speaks three...

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Can I Get An Amen?

I’m sure there are those of you reading this blog who feel quite lucky in your choice of occupation. But I am equally certain that you could not be more blessed in your professional life than I have been. And I’m not referring to job satisfaction; I mean literally blessed. I have given so many after-luncheon and after-dinner speeches that the invocation before meals has become an integral part of my career as lecturer.I find the custom of asking a blessing on the food most gratifying. There is something about closing one’s eyes and bowing the head in unison with...

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Freaked-Out Frequent Flier

Flying so frequently to my lecture sites, I’m always landing at airports where I know nobody in the town. Be it Fargo or Fresno, as I exit the plane, I realize that the eager faces at the gate awaiting loved ones will look right past me to scan for that one special person. If I deplane early the faces that meet mine are happy and full of anticipation; if I’m one of the last, the faces look rather grim and anxious, fearing that their loved ones never made the flight.Ironically, this ritual is repeated by me a few minutes later...

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A Star Is Born -- And Dies!

Here begins a sad, sorry saga of how my California graduate career at UCLA became sidetracked into Hollywood. It had all the elements of a classic film script: struggling graduate student lured into tinsel-town; struggling graduate student offered film contract; struggling graduate student mashed and then dropped like the proverbial hot potato.It all began simply by drawing a lot from a hat. I had enrolled in my first Dickens seminar at UCLA. The professor discovered that there were exactly fifteen students in the class; coincidentally, Dickens ultimately wrote fifteen novels. Wanting us each to research a different work by Dickens,...

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