The funny things that legislative language can do

It’s been quite some time since I last posted about legislative language. I hope you’ve found other sources for your daily humor fill.

Today I want to talk about corporate personhood. You know, like in Citizens United. When something that isn’t a living being with a single set of DNA is included in a legislative definition of “person.” Set aside whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing or whether those “persons” have Constitutional rights and liberties. We’re talking grammar* here.

People die. (Sorry for the bad news.) They might die of illness or natural causes or be shot or stabbed or decapitated by a sword-wielding suspect but when all is said and done, they’ve died. Which is why it’s funny to read this: “if a court finds that the person no longer exists” (my emphasis, in case you needed a hint to my not very humorous sense of humor).


*Not actually grammar. Please forgive the linguistic imprecision.

Notable DC figures: Nannie Helen Burroughs

Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue Northeast was named in 1976 after over 5000 petitioners requested the change from Dean Avenue.[1] Why did she deserve this honor? Because she dedicated her life’s work to the education of African American girls and women.[2] Born in 1883, or maybe 1879 [3], she was the daughter of slaves. She came to DC as a child, attended the M Street School, and when she applied to teach, she was turned down due to her race. Instead she started her own school, which is located just off the road now named for her.[4]  She emphasized hard work and entrepreneurship so that the girls (the school then was all girls) would become self-sufficient adults. She was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree, and sometime among all her other accomplishments, she wrote a book, What Do You Think? [5]

What do you t hink



[1] By Vernon C ThompsonWashington Post,Staff Writer. (1976, Jul 08). Honoring a ‘total person’: Nannie helen burroughs. The Washington Post (1974-Current File) Retrieved from

[2] Milloy, C. (1996, Jun 12). Unforgettable for all they gave the city. The Washington Post (1974-Current File) Retrieved from

[3] Little journeys in history. (1933, Jun 24). Afro-American (1893-1988) Retrieved from

[4] Milloy, C. (1992, May 24). Lessons from an extraordinary teacher. The Washington Post (1974-Current File) Retrieved from

[5] Redding, J. (1950, Jul 01). Book review. Afro-American (1893-1988) Retrieved from

Notable DC figures: Francis Gregory

The Francis A. Gregory branch of the DC Public Library is located in Fort Davis. The “A,” if you’re curious, stands for “Anderson.” The library was named for Francis Gregory, who lived in Fort Davis, in 1986, by D.C. Law 6-150. It was an appropriate designation, as Francis Gregory was a president of the Board of Library Trustees–the first black president, to be accurate. As D.C. Law 6-150 elaborates, Gregory was involved beyond the Library Board, serving as an education consultant to President Kennedy and as State Director of Vocational Education, among other positions.

Francis Gregory belonged to a distinguished family of DC educators and married into another prominent DC family, the Drews. His wife was a sister of Charles Drew. Gregory earned a degree in electrical engineering from MIT, but due to segregation he was not able to use his degree as an engineer [1]. Nevertheless, his background must have contributed to his success in the realm of vocational and technical education. (An interesting side note: his son flew on three shuttle missions and became acting chief of NASA [ibid].)

[1] Gugliotta, G. (2005, Mar 09). Backed by history, looking forward; acting NASA chief seized opportunities, seeks more for others. The Washington Post Retrieved from

On multiculturalism in reference services

For the class I’m taking in “Information Sources and Services,” I was assigned to review a “multicultural reference resource.” We had previously spoken (briefly) about acknowledging and accommodating cultural differences in providing services in information contexts, but it seemed that the point of this assignment was to focus on evaluating an information source. And by the way, it should be about or not geared towards white, straight, cis-, male, Christian adults.

I took this opportunity to review a unique-sounding American Sign Language resource, The American Sign Language Handshape Dictionary. I learned of this resource from our course textbook and wanted to see if it would be better than a standard ASL dictionary when it comes to easily confused signs. It is…sort of. But that’s not my purpose in sharing this post.

My school’s library has the DVD that accompanies the ASL Handshape Dictionary. Or, it has it in its catalog, but it is missing. And would be on reserve with a 1-day checkout period. In other words, not useful to me. The library at Gallaudet, however, has it in general circulation.

I know a few signs. But I certainly can’t sign in “complete sentences” (so to speak) and I get nervous about doing new things, so I was very anxious before going. So anxious that I used the library’s chat reference to see if there was anything I should know before arriving (ID requirements or similar). Or what to do if I needed actual assistance from a real live person. I went to the library, found the book, went to the circulation desk where I shoved the book and my school ID at the student assistant with my patented deer-in-headlights look (perfected during 10 months in Israel), got it checked out, and then confidently signed thank you.

I was much more nervous than I needed to be. I would be much more confident if I were to go back.

And this experience was, I think, vital to my preparation to be a responsive and responsible librarian in a world where not everyone speaks English and not everyone feels at home in the library. This was minor. Five minutes as a language minority where in every other respect I had everything going for me. But it did give me the experience of being culturally “other” so that I can better be empathetic when I’m the librarian in a setting where not everyone is just like me. This is what the assignment should have been about.