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What the world is reading

Anne Applebaum, in a gripping piece on the recent UK visit of Pope Benedict XVI, comments that the fuss over his visit turned out to be a blessing for Catholicism. The protests and public outrage that preceded the first papal state visit to Britain were so severe that there was even talk of cancellation of the trip. "A prominent left-wing pundit lumped the pope together with the Florida pastor who wanted to burn the Quran. Others called for protests - against pedophilic priests, against sexual discrimination, against religion itself. The phrase "aging theocrat" was bandied about quite a bit. " But as they say all publicity is good. Applebaum writes: "It is harder to imagine many other foreign religious leaders receiving so much air time, or having their views so expertly dissected. All in all, it was a huge success. But had he been treated politely from the start, I suspect the pope would have come and gone and left no trace. And thus did Benedict's visit to Britain turn into an advertisement for religious freedom - both the freedom to abhor religion and the freedom to practice it. Raucous discussion of Catholicism turned out to be good for Catholicism - and interesting for atheists, too. The true aging theocrats - in Saudi Arabia, in Iran - should take note. "

After spending 17 years with McGraw-Hill, Michael Johnson can't help but express bewilderment at the way English is now spoken in the US. He is stumped by how the times and traditions have changed. Earlier, children borrowed language from the adults and now the opposite is happening. "Is this country regressing?" he questions in his column, 'Debasement Is Not Just a Damp Room Under Your House'. "Visitors, foreign and American-born, are finding communication increasingly difficult as catchwords proliferate. Just how debased can the English language become and still be called English? I pondered this question as I attempted to function in the US after living an extended period in Europe. " He writes: "The last time I paid attention to the American vernacular, "awesome" (from "awe" : reverential fear or wonder) was a rather cute grownup word tossed around on the playground to describe fast rope-skipping and such. Now I see it is common currency among real estate agents, the military, doctors, NASCAR commentators, and even the ethereal voices of NPR. " The "neologisms" and "vulgarisms" that have crept into spoken English in the US, says Johnson, are best used and understood by Americans themselves. "What is a visitor to make of words like "diss" meaning to trash, "sick" meaning excellent, "rad" meaning even better and "wicked" (at least in New England) meaning best?" asks Johnson. Late-night television and the publishing industry - which regularly churns out family titles like 'The Big-Ass Book of Home Decor - are doing there bit to fan the trend. "Some proper households are on edge. My daughter gasped when her 12-year-old interjected a "WTF?" into dinnertable conversation. "Chill, mom, " he said. "It means 'Why the face?' Whatever. "

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