Pullum at The Chronicle

« previous post | next post »

Fans of Geoff Pullum will want to read his contributions to the Lingua Franca blog ("Language and writing in academe") at The Chronicle of Higher Education. So far there's just one: "I Wish I'd Said That", 8/26/2011.

For those who don't routinely follow relevant links  — and there are some of you out there, as your comments sometimes demonstrate — here's the core joke from the cited post:

I recently heard the University of Manchester computer scientist Ian Pratt-Hartmann handle a cellphone lecture interruption with the coolest line. I knew immediately I would thieve it. I’ll share it with you, but don’t tell anyone else (this is a brand new blog; it probably has about 12 readers including the editor and you; keep it under your hat).

We were in a seminar room at the University of Sofia, Bulgaria. Ian was presenting a technical paper about the computational complexity of logical reasoning in ordinary English, to an audience of 30 or so. I found it riveting, but one needed to concentrate. The sudden Latin-American music of the ring tone that disrupted the talk seemed impossibly loud in the intimate surroundings and tight acoustics. I thought someone was going to suggest starting a conga line.

As the embarrassed owner fished around in her bag for the offending noise source (“mobile phone,” as they say in Europe), and fumbled around trying to make it stop, it got louder. Ian watched stone-faced, and waited until the samba subsided. When everything was silent, he said very seriously in a kind of official-announcement voice, to the audience at large, “Please remember to switch your mobile phones back on again after the lecture.”

Exactly what I’d been looking for. A touch of velvet humor, but wrapped around an ice-cold shaft of disapproval.

But wait, there's more: fantasies of classroom assault, and at least two other recyclable witticisms. So read the whole thing.


  1. Victor Mair said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 6:05 am

    A most auspicious beginning for GKP on the Lingua Franca blog over at the Chronicle. Geoff's ire reverberates with my own when this sort of thing happens, whether during lectures, meetings, concerts, or any sort of event where people are concentrating hard on some shared experience and do not want to be disrupted by a loud, extraneous ring tone. (I'm always amazed at the huge volume that those little electronic devices produce; and some of them rumble-buzz at the same time.)

    The most annoying — no, outrageous — offenders I've encountered are those who, when their cell phone goes off (even if they're sitting right near the front of the hall) casually, and without the slightest embarrassment, get up, open the phone, and start taking the call as they edge to the side of the hall and then walk toward the back. In such cases, it is all I can do to keep from throttling or tackling the person.

    Only those who stay seated and begin their conversation in place are more liable to have their cell phone (or their teeth) smashed. In such cases, one viscerally feels that something more than a bon mot is called for.

  2. Arjan said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 7:04 am

    I wouldn't want to witness Geoff's ire after finding out that, dare I say it, Elements of Style by Strunk and White can now be found on Time's All-TIME 100 Best Nonfiction Books list. Yes, it's right there in that list, together with Noam Chomsky's Syntactic Structures! Or wait, I would actually want to witness that ;)

  3. Geoffrey K. Pullum said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 7:29 am

    Yes, there it is: The Elements of Style in the "self-help" section of a list of the hundred best books of all time. (It should be on a list of the best books for people who have pork where their brain should have been.) Thanks a bunch, Arjan: I'm in a bad mood now. Mad enough to smash a cell phone. People better stay out of my way today.

  4. noahpoah said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 7:34 am

    Nice column, though I feel like the experience would have been enhanced if comments had been turned off here in Professor Pullum's honor.

  5. Gregory Dyke said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 7:49 am

    I don't know about English, but this passive-agressive/witty form of "don't be f***ing impolite by letting your mobile phone interrupt" is widespread in French to the point of being a cliché. I would never use it.

  6. Classroom interruptions and why we hate it! « Entertaining Research said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 8:12 am

    […] Pullum at Linuga Franca (via Language Log): I hate cellphone interruptions more than almost any lecture-interrupting event not involving […]

  7. Victor Mair said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 8:31 am

    @noahpoah — about turning off the comments in Prof. Pullum's honor —

    But then we wouldn't have the delightful exchange between arjan and GKP himself! (though I do appreciate the irony of your remark)

  8. KeithB said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 8:48 am

    When I worked for Motorola we had an all-hands talk by one of the Galvin family. A pager beeped in the audience (this was in the mid nineties). Most rolled their eyes at the social faux pas, but Chris Galvin just looked around the room and said "That's all right, everytime I hear a pager go off, it is money in my pocket."

  9. Leonardo Boiko said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 8:54 am

    There was a memorable class of Digital Projects when the professor gave a stern talk about how ringing cellphones wouldn’t be tolerated, and later in the same class his phone started to ring. He answered it nonchalantly, said he was on class now, and turned it off. Then he paused for a moment and, in a tongue-in-cheek demeanor, answered the silent question: “Why can I do this? ’Cause I am the teacher, and I’m authoritarian and unfair.”

  10. Ellen K. said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 8:56 am

    @KeithB: What's an "all-hands" talk?

  11. Barney said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 9:31 am

    An all hands talk is one that everyone (in some group, perhaps the company, building or department) is supposed to attend. 'Hands' is used in the same sense as in 'all hands on deck'.

  12. Mr Fnortner said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 9:51 am

    A professional facilitator I worked with would begin sessions with the admonition to set our cell phones to "stun". This, of course, was the vibrate feature, and the humor of the nod to Star Trek was enough to soften the request so that virtually everyone complied with a smile. (It was also protocol to leave the room before saying "Hello" if someone really had to take a call.)

  13. Ben Hemmens said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 10:44 am

    » I am the teacher, and I’m authoritarian and unfair.«

    Once during a lecture with our head of dept., we had a fire alarm, and when we returned, his approximately Churchillian form was still standing there and he remarked "I got back first … because I'm fit". In reality he had just stayed there and taken a chance to work on his permanent cigar, which he always parked with care on the lectern before beginning to speak.

  14. Amy Stoller said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 11:02 am

    The "switch them on after" line is used in some theatres. It gets an appreciative laugh, but there are still boors who don't check, or don't care.

  15. Jon Lennox said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 11:11 am

    In the interest of not being distracted by interrupting phone calls:

    The computational complexity of logical reasoning in ordinary English sounds fascinating. Is this book chapter (found by a Google search) on Ian Pratt-Hartmann's website roughly the same content?

  16. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 12:29 pm

    > For those who don't routinely follow relevant links — and there are some of you out there, as your comments sometimes demonstrate — here's the core joke from the cited post: […]

    Hey, maybe you can try asking readers to “Please remember to come back to this post after reading the linked page”? :-)

  17. Julie Sedivy said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 12:52 pm

    My favorite response to the jangling of a cell phone during a talk was by Karen Wynn, who as an invited speaker had the presence of mind to exclaim "Oh! That must be the President!" I confess to having recycled the line more than once. Thanks, Karen.

  18. Nathan Myers said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 11:01 pm

    EoS appearing in Time's list tells us more about Time than about EoS.

  19. Peter G. Howland said,

    September 2, 2011 @ 4:10 am

    Thanks for the link to the Lingua Franca blog…the side-trip comments on GKP's use of "thieve" as a transitive verb alone were worth the price of admission to the CoHE site. In addition, ther…Uh, hang on a minute; I gotta go answer my neighbor's screeching cell phone. Where's my hammer?

RSS feed for comments on this post