Linguist weds

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Yes, of course, it happens all the time. But not often to two men, and it usually doesn't get reported in the New York Times. Entirely by accident, I came across the announcement (Sunday 10 August, p. 14 of the Style section) of the marriage of Michael Flier and David Trueblood. Flier

is the Oleksandr Potebnja professor of Ukrainian philology in the Slavic languages and literatures department at Harvard and is the director of its Ukrainian Research Institute. He was the chairman of Harvard's linguistics department from 1994 to 1999.


is the director of public relations at the Boston Foundation, which makes grants to nonprofit organizations in the Boston area and …

Note that the NYT reports on very few weddings: at least one of the couple has to be notable in their own right or have a notable family, and if possible the couple should be of interest to New York City readers (which means that references to the law firm Paul, Weiss [etc.] and to the investment bank Morgan Stanley are denser than you'd expect in the social pages of other newspapers).

There's a lot I could comment on here: for instance, the NYT's forbearance in the use of upper case (which I applaud); the age of the grooms (67 and 54, not exactly in the usual range of the NYT's adorable couples of significance); the complex previous life histories of the two men (not unlike my own); and the character of the ceremony (drawing on "Quaker and Jewish traditions"; elsewhere on that page there's a couple who had two ceremonies, one Roman Catholic and one Hindu, on the same day).

In a long-ago life as a newspaper reporter, I spent a certain amount of time on the social desk of my paper (I was a "floater", moved from position to position as people took vacations or moved on to other jobs; see Calvin Trillin's novel Floater). One of my tasks was doing weddings. After a few weeks, I created a template for wedding stories — everyone knew the drill, but nobody had laid it out — which served social-desk reporters for several years.

There's the bare-bones story — who are these people, and (most important) who are their families? where was the ceremony held? who officiated? and so on — and then there's the full set-piece, in which the most important details in those days were the specifiers of the bridal gown and the minute details of the flowers involved. (I had to become familiar with elaborate specialized vocabularies for each of these, which I have, perhaps fortunately, largely forgotten — though peau de soie sticks with me still.)

Beyond the bare-bones story, the NYT coverage of weddings now gives, sometimes, heart-warming stories about how the couple got together. These are feature-story "awww" pieces, and I have to admit I'm a sucker for them. Flier-Trueblood, no doubt in recognition of their age, professional status, and overall gravitas, got the bare-bones treatment, without the met-cute tale and the touching details about their courtship. (In contrast, Ellen Fein — one of The Rules (1995) girls — and Lance Houpt, who were married on 27 July, get a long feature story, p. 13, that is entirely about these things. You can see why: as the writer, Lois Smith Brady, summarizes, The Rules "is based on the premise that men are hunters by nature and prefer women who are beguiling, elusive, leggy and hard to get." And Fein stuck by her principles.)

[added 13 August: Ben Zimmer notes that in the very same issue there is an announcement of yet another linguist getting married: Anne Harper Charity, an assistant professor of English and linguistics at William and Mary (master's degree in linguistics from Harvard, doctorate in linguistics from Penn), married on Saturday to James Christopher Hudley.]

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