A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan continues. If he had lived Marshall would have been 100 on July 21, 2011. Join me in the countdown to his centennial, and an exploration of more of his observations on the way media work in the electric age in which we live.


That rock and roll music!

Marshall McLuhan (December 19, 1973, age 62).  Impossible!

Impossible, that is, in any other language than English.  As I wrote to Mr. Ronni Fiedler, the editor of Harper’s Magazine, in a letter which for some reason he chose not to publish, “For many reasons, which need not be cited here, both jazz and rock are forms of music which have made English a world language, since these forms cannot be sung except in English.”

Me (April, 2011, age 58).  Hail the conquering hero comes!

This was an idea McLuhan also tried out on his fellow guests and the audience – not to mention the host – of the Dick Cavett Show in December 1970 with baffling effect.  Truman Capote utterly rejected the notion.  But then McLuhan was never very interested debating ideas and he soon moved on to another subject.  If you’re still in doubt, perhaps Elvis will help you make up your mind:


Cordially, Marshall and Me


Marshall McLuhan, Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 484.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, April 16th, 2011
Permalink 1970s and 80s, Culture No Comments

The name unmaketh the man or woman.

Marshall McLuhan (1970, age 59).  Nixon for example.    

Boswell said it rightly, “There is something in names that we cannot help feeling.”  Would Nixon have lost to Kennedy if he hadn’t been saddled with his rejection-inviting name.  Is there anything sexy about someone wearing a miniskirt named Twiggy?


Me (March, 2011, age 58).  Is he serious?

Apparently.  This is an idea that keeps popping up in McLuhan’s writing.  A rose by any other name he is saying would not smell as sweet.  But if you don’t like the idea, don’t worry about it.  He’s got others.  Too bad about that Twiggy, though.  If not for that name she really could have been something:



 Cordially, Marshall and Me



Marshall McLuhan, Culture Is Our Business, 1970, p. 276 and 304.


Michael Hinton Thursday, March 24th, 2011
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Technology No Comments

The perfection of slang

Marshall McLuhan (1970, age 59).  Kids get it right every time.    

“Correct English is hot.  Slang is cool.  No child ever made a verbal mistake in slang.  He’s too involved to get it wrong.”

Me (March, 2011, age 58).  Unpersuaded?

Slang is more complicated than you might think.  In fact judging by this clip, the wonder is slang can be spoken at all.


Cordially, Marshall and Me



Marshall McLuhan, Culture Is Our Business, 1970, p. 86.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, March 3rd, 2011
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Culture No Comments

Three words a day.

Marshall McLuhan (September, 1930, age 19).  Dear Diary:

Today my habit of memorizing the meaning of three new words a day has paid off handsomely.  Professor Allison, who was lecturing today on Milton, started his lecture with a question.  “What is the meaning of “imprimatur”?  No one else but me could answer.

Me (December, 2010, age 58).  Words, words, words!

The habit of looking up words in the dictionary (the O.E.D. naturally) was one of the few McLuhan picked up from his father.  It was a habit he maintained for most of his life.  McLuhan’s biographer, Philip Marchand writes, that much later in his life McLuhan once remarked “that a single English word was more interesting than the entire NASA space program.”

Two of the words the young McLuhan committed to memory were “scaturient” and “sesquipedalian.”  Whether he ever found a time to use them seems unlikely.  “I say, Marshall, do you see those two streams, the one gushing forth one-and-a-half times more than the other?”  “Yes, their scaturient and sesquipedalian character certainly caught my eye.”  But that was not the point.  Words themselves fascinated him.  More than the launching of a rocket.  To understand this is to understand McLuhan.

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger, 1989, pp. 14and 19.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, December 14th, 2010
Permalink 1930s and 40s, Communication, Education No Comments

What’s the good word?

Marshall McLuhan (1973, age 61-62).  “Dad, you’re in the dictionary!”

“Of course I’m in the dictionary, Eric, I’m looking up a word.  Here it is, ‘corniche’ from the French – ‘a road along the edge of a cliff.’  Exactly where we are today, literally and metaphorically, don’t you think?

“No Dad, I don’t mean you’re using the dictionary, I mean you’re actually in it.  There are now words based on you.  ‘McLuhanism,’ McLuhanize,’ ‘McLuhanite,’ and get this ‘McLuhanesque.’

“Well that’s vurry satisfying.  Northrop Frye isn’t in the dictionary is he?  But hold on, which dictionary?  the Oxford?”

“No, The Barnhart Dictionary of New English Since 1963, first edition, 1973.”

“What a shame.  I’d have preferred the Oxford.  After all, it is the Dictionary.”

Me (August, 2010, age 58).  McLuhan would have been pleased

McLuhan did make it into the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, which was published in 1989.  Unfortunately he did not live to see it.  However, it is safe to say that he would undoubtedly have taken great pride in this mark of the power of his influence on what he considered to be the most powerful of all mediums, our language.

Cordially, Marshall and Me



The Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, 1989.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, August 12th, 2010
Permalink 1970s and 80s, Communication, Culture, Vol. 1 No Comments