You all do know the band They Might Be Giants (TMBG), don’t you? But you might not know my personal connection with them.
The connection is that John Flansburgh and John Linnell, founders of TMBG from Lincoln, MA, were students of mine at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, way back in the previous century. It was clear at the time that they would make a name for themselves! For many years I lost touch with their albums—and then they suddenly appeared in the new biweekly linguistics podcast, Spectacular Vernacular! I always try to check out new linguistics podcasts, and this one immediately called for my attention, since the hosts are Ben Zimmer and Nicole Holladay, both of whom were already favorites of mine.
I’ll write more about the podcasts after another couple of episodes. At this point, Spectacular Vernacular has just released its second episode, but it was the first one that featured John Linnell of TMBG. “Why? What’s the linguistics connection” you may ask.
Well, it’s all because of COVID, of course.
COVID? What does that have to do with it?
The answer is that Linnell’s pandemic project consisted of learning Latin, so he decided to write songs in Latin, as one does. In his words, writing about one of them:
[It] is sort of specifically a pandemic vibe, that song. It’s kind of about being paranoid about what’s outside your front door. Yeah, it was written in that during that period last spring, a year ago, when everything in New York was like, utterly terrifying and there was just this sense of catastrophic situation. And so, yeah, obviously that that informed that particular one. You know, I tried to mix it up. The other songs are not as not as topical. I guess so. Yeah, I was trying to trying to write kind of trying to write a range of songs and very much just experimenting. I didn’t I didn’t really have a plan when I started out.
,You don’t have to be from Lincoln, or a linguist, or a Lincoln-Sudbury alum, or a former Latin teacher, to enjoy the songs. They are collected in the aptly titled Roman Songs. The Latin is, IMHO, impeccable, but that probably doesn’t matter to you. Go listen to the songs using any of the links on that page. And have fun!