All posts by Lucy Ferriss


Don’t Sanctify Us

To many of us, it seemed John Kelly took a tangent in his recent speech defending the content of Donald Trump’s phone call to a Gold Star widow. After complaining about recent political debate, Kelly segued into nostalgia: “When I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred and looked upon with great honor.”

I’d like to take some space, here, to womansplain the shock waves these words sent through the feminist community. It’s not simply that Kelly works…


The National Anthem and Me


It’s been years, now, since I stood up when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played. Mine has not been a protest akin to the controversial kneeling that’s got right-wing pundits’ knickers in a twist. Colin Kaepernick and the hundreds who have followed his examples are using the occasion specifically to call attention to the ways in which police brutality against black men is evidence that our country is falling far short of its goals. Fair enough, in my view. My own actions have attracte…


The Language of Enslavement

Since reading the novelist Kaitlyn Greenidge’s recent New York Times essay on historical markers of African-American women’s history in New England, I’ve been mulling over her use of enslaved. There’s been a debate about the language of slavery — or slaving, as some writers prefer to call the institution — for several years. The changes that many have proposed, and that Greenidge embraces in her essay, put the emphasis on the humanity of people who were brought to this continent against their…


Dear Right-Handed People


Remember jacks? It’s one of those rare games that lasted a couple of generations. My mother played jacks as a girl, and so did I. I still would, if I could find anyone to play with me. And I’d play it the way I always have: left-handed.

Left-handedness has a long history of being vilified, including its being sufficient evidence to condemn a person of witchery. Even today, 150 years after the first theories emerged on brain lateralization, we use left-handed to describe actions that are clumsy,…


Doddering Dotards

quote-fly-dotard-fly-with-thy-wise-dreams-and-fables-of-the-sky-alexander-pope-61-22-89You know something’s amiss when American social media wax gleeful over a North Korean dictator’s chosen insult for the American president. Last week, Kim Jong-un’s choice of the word dotard to describe Donald Trump prompted a moment of confusion followed by a rush to the dictionary. Merriam-Webster’s Twitter feed had a field day.

Before we get to etymology, it’s worth observing some cultural background. On the one hand, Korean culture puts great emphasis on respect for one’s elders, for whom one…


The Case Against Flashback


I’ve been thinking, this week, about daydreaming and fiction.  A recent article in The Atlantic estimates that people may daydream through nearly half their waking hours. That seems like a lot to me, but I readily admit to my mind “wandering” during weddings, funerals, classical-music concerts, long drives, and the line at the DMV. The relationship between dreaming — the REM sort as well as the daydream — is one that writers have evoked many times, from John Gardner’s notion of fictio…


I Am Not Resilient


Following close on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, as Hurricane Irma leaves devastation in her wake that now awaits Hurricane Jose, more than a few of us are talking about the relationship of climate change and extreme weather events.

Oops. My bad. I meant to write, “More than a few of us are talking about the relationship of resilience and extreme weather events.” There. All fixed.

Or is it? As Slate’s Henry Grabar noted in March, resilience has become the term of choice in a political atmosphe…


Spelling, Agin

a863d50f236278b5_trump_poster_1024x1024Farhad Manjoo is of the mind that mockery of Donald Trump’s spelling mistakes exhibits elitism. It’s a vexed question that I’ve addressed once before in this forum. There’s no doubt that making fun of people for frequent spelling mistakes, not to mention numerous typos, can prove to be an unkind jab at a dyslexic person, or a crass implication that poor spelling equates to stupidity. It is also true that an exceptionally bright, well-read person can be a lousy speller, often because of one of …




The word totally has grown so overused that I was struck, last week, by the power of its near cousin, totality, describing the two or three minutes, along the arc of the much-heralded solar eclipse, when the sun was blanked out except for its flaming (and dangerous to look at) corona. At first I thought the media had invented the term. But no, it has been in the astronomy lexicon for 185 years to indicate “the moment or duration of total obscuration of the sun or moon during an eclipse.”

When t…


‘Alt’ Alternatives


What a world of difference lies between adopting your own moniker and having one thrust upon you. I had never heard the term alt-left before the president used it in his third iteration of comments on the horrific events in Charlottesville, Va. Figuring out what he meant wasn’t exactly rocket science: Just as the alt-right is not really some alternative to right-wing positions but rather an extreme, purist force on the right, so the alt-left would be considered an extreme and purist form of lef…