All posts by Lucy Ferriss

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Noping Out

keep-calm-and-nope“I love how that goat just nopes out of that situation.” And I love the ring of a newly hatched bit of slang that hasn’t even received its Urban Dictionary definition yet. Here, at its inception, nopes out doesn’t yet sound juvenile to me, or evasive, or overused, or imprecise; it hasn’t yet earned any of the pejoratives that purists may hurl its way if and when it becomes as widespread in the language as amazeballs or totes. Rather, it describes a quick series of actions that seem to have been …

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Passivity and Other Afflictions

call-to-actionLast week, I suggested that we got ourselves into trouble trying to distinguish between disinterest and uninterest because multiple meanings of the word interest put both prefixes at a disadvantage when it comes to drawing bright, clear lines of meaning. Now I’ll wade into muddier waters. Much ink has been spilt over the use or abuse of the passive voice in English. I’d like to propose two notions that, held in balance, might decrease our level of apoplexy:

  1. The term passive voice is a term of a…
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What’s Interesting About ‘Disinterested’

how-to-handle-a-disinterested-husbandHistory is so annoying.

Just when you gird your loins to pen an eloquent article about the fine distinctions of language, threading your way among the thickets of the prescriptivist debate to request that we all pause to acknowledge what might be lost when such distinctions collapse, history comes along and thumbs its snotty nose at you. I refer to the difference in meaning accorded the adjectives disinterested and uninterested, of which the noun forms are (or should be) disinterest and unintere…

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MooT Pursuits

MooTI have a soft spot for people who invent games, especially games with words. And by way of some random keystroke, I found myself on the mailing list of Jon Steeves, inventor of MooT, “the game of semantics, etymology, and grammar.” For almost two years now, I’ve received random emails with questions like In Greek it means “rules of the belly,” whereas in English it denotes “the art of eating and drinking well.” What word is it?*

red_wine_bottle_48679Finally, I caved and got a copy of the game. Two weekends ago, on a…

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Noms de Guerre

Q: What do great poems and wars have in common?

A: They don’t need fancy names.

George-W.-Bush-Mission-accomplishedShakespeare didn’t title his sonnets, and I’m fairly sure that no one fighting in the Wars of the Roses thought of them in flowery terms. (The name came along 400 years later.) Now, though, we can barely roll out the tanks before we need to come up with a marquee name, something to blaze across the sky in block capitals and declaim in a stentorian baritone. The latest, our push against the Islamic State in Iraq a…

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Truly, Madly, Deeply Avoiding Adverbs

LY-Adverbs1Pity the lowly adverb. Like the adenoids (I had mine removed, at age 4) or the appendix, it is regarded by rule-mongers as unnecessary, left over from a time when the body of language needed this now-useless organ to process niceties of language that we now handle by way of verbs. Or nouns. Or the effectively placed period.

Only two classes of people, it seems, stick up for the adverb: young adults and members of the bar. A proposal from a student almost never offers to read and scrutinize a par…

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Mentor, the Verb

Every year, as I fill out my institution’s Professional Activities Inventory, I’m vaguely aware that one of the categories soliciting a response—Mentoring of Colleagues—uses language far more ubiquitous now than when I firmentorst became anyone’s colleague. But it was not until I began a writing project this year that has brought me deep into the fields of business and finance that I started hearing mentor and mentee at every turn. I confess publicly here, and with no small amount of shame, that these…

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Grammar: The Movie

photo-mainIt’s got an all-star cast: Steven Pinker of Harvard, John McWhorter of Columbia, Geoffrey Nunberg of Berkeley, Noam Chomsky of MIT, Adele Goldberg of Princeton, Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty, Brad Hoover of Grammarly, Bryan Garner of A Dictionary of American Usage, and dozens of other marquee attractions, including (way down in the credits) yours truly. I’m talking about Grammar Revolution, a quirky feature-length documentary by David and Elizabeth O’Brien, which is intended—I think—to wake …

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Sounding Real by Speaking Fake

HT_arthur_chu_headshot_tk_140203_4x3t_384Arthur Chu is apparently best known as one of the top Jeopardy! winners of all time, but since I haven’t watched Jeopardy! since the last millennium, I have no opinion on his style of play or use of the Forrest Bounce. I came upon him, instead, in an essay on his current voice-over work. Born to Chinese immigrant parents in the 1980s, Chu grew up “translating” their “broken English” into perfectly formed phrases, with rounded Rs and articles in the right places, so they could be understood at cu…

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The Vortex of Authorial Avoidance

vortex_artWelcome to the vortex, the tourbillion, where we turn and turn in the widening gyre of authorial avoidance of whatever truly dire error we may have committed in the penning of our novel. Step right into the typeset proofs. There—feel that hot wind blowing at your neck? It’s urging you to seize on something—anything, so long as it is minute, fixable, of no importance to anyone save you and the managing editor, to obsess over until the deadline for returning the galleys. Let it draw you onwa…