All posts by Lucy Ferriss


-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…


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…


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…


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…


Scabby at the University

union rate[2]Unions are slowly making their way back into the news these days, perhaps because it’s a presidential election season, perhaps because graduate students are now considering their right to bargain collectively at several universities, primarily in the Ivy League. To mark this trend, a huge inflatable rat, nicknamed Scabby, has appeared at Long Island University, where stalled negotiations resulted in a lockout before faculty and administration agreed on a contract, and at Columbia University, whe…


Literary Judgment, Literary Luck

0179f6077adad6796a3eac8bfd6cb67aTwenty years ago this month, I was in New Orleans to receive an award for my writing. I’ve been thinking about that moment as we return to classes. Whatever subject you teach, you most likely find yourself in the position of judging the quality of students’ prose. Indeed, for most of us, the grades we award at the end of the term will depend largely on how well our students express themselves in writing.

Here’s how the award I received in 1996 came about. I had published a couple of books in t…


The Specter of the ‘Alt-Right’

Pepe TrumpI’m feeling a bit slimed as I type this post. Assuming you’ve come here in innocence, I hope you can finish the next few paragraphs without the slime’s smearing onto you.

It began, as many instances of sliming do, with curiosity, following Hillary Clinton’s August 25 speech denouncing Donald Trump’s ties to the so-called alt-right movement. Living as I do in a bubble, I had never heard the term alt-right before. In fact, my acquaintance with alt as a prefix was more or less limited to the Alt ke…


‘Shenanigans’ in Rio

pic44731_mdThis just in from my friend, the writer Ethelbert Miller:

We know too many are trapped inside the criminal-justice system. After all the dirt of crime we never seem to reach the rinse cycle. We are never able to stop or dry our tears from injustice. One word I never heard any black person incarcerated use was the word shenanigans. I think if we used this word to describe black behavior there would be a reduction in the number of black boys arrested. Think of the word shenanigans recently used by…


A Person Who

am-a-simple-person-who-hides-a-thousand-feelings-behind-the-happiest-dGxksS-quoteI heard Barbra Streisand the other day, being interviewed on the radio, describe herself as “a person who likes to live in the moment.” The phrasing made me think of my students, whom I’ll see in two short weeks. We always start our small classes with introductions, and I can no longer count the times I’ve heard, “I’m a person who. … ” To my ear, there’s little difference in basic meaning between I’m a person who likes and I like. Rhetorically, though, the emphasis is different. I decided to dig…


What Are We Drinking?

Kool-AidI ran across a Facebook thread recently lamenting the insensitivity of the ubiquitous phrase “drink the Kool-Aid.” The argument was that the phrase originated with the Jonestown massacre of November 18, 1978, when the cult leader Jim Jones called on (and in many cases forced) his followers to drink cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid, resulting in more than 900 deaths in a remote jungle outpost in Guyana. Given its tragic origins, many felt, we should not be using it to describe, say, the followers of Dona…