All posts by Lucy Ferriss

by

Mamma Mia!

us-afghanistan_8a340064-2074-11e7-beb7-f1cbdf0743d8Last week, the United States dropped its MOAB, or Massive Ordnance Air Blast, on a network of tunnels in Afghanistan, killing approximately 94 people who have been reported thus far as ISIS militants. Of course, Massive Ordnance Air Blast is not how the press has been referring to this largest nonnuclear device; it (or she) is referred to as the Mother of All Bombs — which may, in fact, have been the original moniker, with the more official-sounding term a back-formation from this Mom Bomb idea.

by

The New Clear Option

castle_romeo1_0I’ve heard it so many times my head hurts: the nuclear option. The Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, as we all know, invoked it last week in order to get a vote on Judge Neil Gorsuch, who has now been confirmed and sworn in as a new associate justice of the Supreme Court. And like many phrases you hear every 30 seconds or so if you’re listening to the news, it quickly becomes a word that you don’t think much about. Nuclear option: We know it can mean overriding, by a simple majority, the r…

by

The Empathy Effect

20151021_genre_fictionI am writing this blog post on the last day of National Reading Month, a featured period of time that may become quaint in the years ahead. For now, though, it has comprised several weeks of recommendations, read-ins, read-aloud marathons, and general hoopla around the joys and benefits of reading. And for several years now, the researchers David Kidd and Emanuele Castano have been tying reading to a specific outcome that many feel is woefully lacking in our political life: empathy. In particula…

by

The Total Tell

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel in WashingtonI have totally been thinking about this word.

No, that’s not true. I have been thinking about many other things: midterm grades, spring allergies, whether to freeze half the massive pot of chili I cooked last night, how proud I am of my March-blooming orchid. But in informal parlance, totally simply supplies emphasis. It’s not normal for a person to spend much time mulling over a single adverb; the space it’s taking up in my brain is surprisingly large. Hence, totally; or, were I under 35, like,…

by

Milking a Comma for All It’s Worth

cow and milkThe case of the dairy drivers has captured the world’s attention. From The New York Times to The New Yorker and Language Log, the $10-million award granted (some say) because of a missing comma makes news in which we all — well, maybe not Oakhurst Dairy, in Maine — can delight.

Readers of Lingua Franca may well know the facts already. The workers’ guideline at issue noted that overtime pay would not cover “the canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for s…

by

Thinking in Mayan

wicked-mayan-hieroglyphs-mexico-cityI am writing this in Mérida, Mexico, where my husband and I lucked out in avoiding the snowstorm that hit the Northeast this week. We are baking in the Yucatán sunshine and visiting nearby Mayan sites. Our second day here, in a city park, we bumped into a professor of Mayan studies at a nearby college who wanted to practice his English. Many of the edifices in Mérida were built from the five pyramids of the Mayan city that once occupied this site, and he pointed out to us a series of hierogly…

by

X-ing Out Excellence

in-pursuit-of-excellenceIn a former lifetime I served as director of publications for a small liberal-arts college whose ambitious president wanted to put it on the map. The word he asked me and others to promote in articles, in capital-campaign materials, in announcements of scholarship opportunities, and the like was excellence. I wondered at the time what was so special about claiming to be excellent. Were there liberal-arts colleges that claimed to be mediocre, or merely good? Perhaps, I thought, I was influenced b…

by

The Enemy of the People Is … (Envelope, Please)

Enemy-artLANDINGrev2Many of us were startled by the president’s recent labeling of the free press as “the enemy of the American people.” Many felt a line had been crossed. But which line, and what it had to do with this particular choice of words, hasn’t been crystal clear. I want to pick it apart here to understand which alarm bells may be ringing and why.

The phrase itself is most recently associated with Stalinist Russia, where, as Nikita Khrushchev put it in his 1956 speech denouncing the term, it “was specif…

by

My New Crush on the Dictionary

Trump_Bigly (1)I’m hooked. Merriam-Webster is the coolest thing on social media. In these dark times, where clickbait generally leads down a long tunnel into dystopia, the Twitter resurgence of a venerable dictionary is something to, well, tweet about.

First, there’s M-W’s political savvy. As NPR and other media organizations have observed, the nerdy group in Springfield, Mass., has been having a field day with the malapropisms of the current administration. Just last week, after the president spent part of hi…

by

What if the President Couldn’t Read?

2E131CE400000578-3303860-image-m-27_1446654140207A rumor has been circulating about our new president’s level of literacy. First suggested (I think) in a blog post for The Times of Israel, the notion that the president not only doesn’t like to read but cannot read above the fifth-grade level of his campaign rhetoric has made the rounds of Samantha Bee, the Daily Kos and other left-wing opinion makers. I am not here to spread that rumor, but to ask what it might mean for our understanding of both this unusual president’s character and the fut…