All posts by Lucy Ferriss

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Post-Truth and Chaos

latitude-north-star-5-degrees-above-horizon_8d32bb0c6f9cb1e2I don’t know when prefixes stopped meaning what we think they mean, but it was a long time ago. I’m just wrapping up a course in recent American prose, for instance, where the term postmodernism keeps coming up. The students initially thought, quite logically, that postmodernism was a movement that came after modernism — even though, since they look around at a world they consider to be modern, they had a hard time wrapping their minds around its post- period’s being in the recent past. We wor…

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Not Normal

81e48716ddf4ca3d44ade161a8930d2dI’m a very recent convert to the idea of normal.

My allergy to the word has come from two separate strands. One is a trend I’ve noticed among students for at least 20 years, wherein they apply the word normal to forms they consider standard. My creative-writing students, for instance, decry John Barth’s as being “not normal” stories. My literature students ask if I want them to write a “normal” essay. I want to shake them by the shoulders and say, “There is no normal story! There is …

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Words of Solace, Words of Action

d510962f696c5b1a77bf1a42fcad5846Votes did not save us from the precipice last week. Yet, so often, language has buoyed us — given us wings, or perhaps simply currents of warm air, to carry us onto steadier ground. I have no such words of my own, but in the past 10 days I’ve been hearing some wise voices, from other dark times. Here are a few:

From W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939”:

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose building…

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Election Lexicon RIP

Dead WordsEvery election has its own lexicon, or sublexicon, a cohort of words and phrases that go beyond my opponent and interest groups. In 2008, we had financial meltdown, change, country first, aloof, that one, yes we can, and other tidbits that were mostly returned to the stacks once the dust had settled on the campaign. The same held true for lingo that has lingered only as historical slogans now removed from their context—Tippecanoe and Tyler too; rum, Romanism, and rebellion; morning again.

Today,…

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Girl Talk

mgid-uma-image-logotvMaybe it’s because I’m in the midst of teaching Mary Karr’s groundbreaking 1995 memoir, The Liars’ Club, but when I hear about studies that purport to determine the differences between how men and women speak, I want, in Karr’s inimitable lexicon, to earp.

Granted, these studies do not decree that biology is destiny. But they do claim to have sifted through thousands of language samples looking for language that is “aggressive” and language that is “tentative” and studying the parts of s…

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Bye-Bye, Cursive

24036fc0ea26e7d3657786ab89f4602bA colleague of mine assigns one paper each semester that must be handwritten. He doesn’t just require students to hand-write a draft; they must write the whole paper by hand, and after he corrects it by hand, they must rewrite a final copy of the whole thing. I’ve expressed astonishment that he’s able to read his students’ handwriting. “I’m used to it,” he says. “And everyone who takes my classes knows, now, about the handwriting assignment. They ask, ‘When are you going to ass…

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-Gated Out

bXeDS7HaBCOa1X3PmYWhuwWith all the political news jamming the airwaves, I hadn’t been paying much attention to Bridgegate. But it came up on the radio the other day, and I found myself musing both on the appropriateness of the term and the exhaustion of the suffix –gate.

The term seems amusingly appropriate since in essence, that’s what Governor Chris Christie’s minions accomplished on the infamous week in 2013 when they blocked two lanes going over the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan: They erected a “g…

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Trumpadocious Apologies

tumblr_inline_mta1erMmj51qc7mh1How can a statement that begins “I apologize” not be an apology? Many have referred to Donald Trump’s initial statement following the October 5 revelation of a taped conversation featuring lewd and objectifying language about women as a “nonapology.” Having received plenty of similar nonapologies from rebellious teenagers, I’d like to take a moment to explain.

The statement at hand is from Trump’s press release of October 7: “I apologize if anyone was offended.” The syntax is familiar to m…

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Pronoun Challenge in Ann Arbor

pronouns8I’ve learned to be suspicious whenever any change in language is described as inconvenient. It’s inconvenient, when you think about it, to have so many forms of the past tense in English. It’s inconvenient that we in America spell a number of words differently from the British. When the honorific Ms. was introduced in the 1960s, people complained that it was inconvenient to have to insert a new option into the list of choices on forms, or to wonder how a woman wanted to be addressed. So-called i…

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The Whaughts?

time-decade-from-hellI began advocating for the aughts 15 years ago. I was not alone — Google search finds the term used occasionally to describe the first decade of the 21st century as far back as January 2000 — but for many years it made people uncomfortable. When we were living through the 1980s, we could say things like “I can’t wait for the eighties to be over.” But in 2005, if you mentioned casually that you thought the aughts were becoming the decade of Iraq, people looked at you funny, not because th…