All posts by Lucy Ferriss

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The Campus Culture Industry

PrimantiBros_SkylarYuenI’m sure I’m not the only Lingua Franca reader who received a communication just before the start of the spring term thanking the committee who had worked hard over break on the institutional goal of Strengthening Campus Culture. Those of us whose campus cultures were weak will see them shored up; those whose campus cultures were already strong will see them buttressed for the future.

Only I’m not certain what a campus culture is, exactly. I know: It’s marketing-speak. But we’re talking abou…

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To Be or Not to Be Charlie

crowd-holding-je-suis-charlie-sign_450
In English, it forms possibly the shortest subject-verb-predicate sentence: I am X. But we cannot seem to agree on what it means. In my lifetime, the first phrase that rings out is John F. Kennedy’s, on the steps of the Rathaus Schöneberg: Ich bin ein Berliner! The second, echoing now from Paris across the Western hemisphere, is Je suis Charlie Hebdo. These are both rhetorical flourishes, obviously. But they also both nag at our sense of what it means to declare ourselves something—as opposed…

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Is That a Real Novel or Did You Just Make It Up Yourself?

ItBNnDhR3tjwAMx0vEwj“Is your novel fiction, or did any of it really happen?”

I’ve started doing readings of my new novel, A Sister to Honor, and sure enough, the question came from one of the attentive listeners waiting in line to buy a signed copy.  I can’t blame her for her confusion. I’d like to blame Truman Capote, who came up with the term nonfiction novel to describe his new-journalism book In Cold Blood:

It seemed to me that journalism, reportage, could be forced to yield a serious new art form: the “nonfict…

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Otiose Manspreading

tumblr_nfok5eFkXV1sqv9too1_1280New York’s MTA is about to mount a campaign against it. They’re debating the issue in Chicago. Even in polite Toronto, the issue—and the term—have, uh, spread widely. Manspreading first appeared, as far as I can tell, just three short months ago, on October 6, 2014, but it already garners 665,000 results on Google.

It’s a word that was begging to be coined. Manspreading refers, of course, to certain men’s habit of spreading their thighs in a wide V from the pelvis outward, often taking up two …

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The Snowden Emails

edward-snowden-e1392785377635I’m holding Ed Snowden up as an example. Not of a patriot, or a whistle-blower, or a scoundrel, or traitor. But as an example of what I’ve been telling students and fellow teachers for years: that if you have something to express in your writing, you believe it wholeheartedly, and it carries the urgency of original thought, it will come out by way of elegant syntax and more or less error-free construction. We can yammer on about dangling modifiers and passive voice and incongruity and topic …

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Why I Don’t Use Track Changes on Students’ Papers

icon256They arrive now, in a flood, the end-of term papers. For the most part, they are beyond revision at this point, and the task ahead consists mostly of assessment. Still, I find myself clinging to my Luddite position of accepting papers only in hard copy, regardless of the risk of germ transmission by paper, regardless of deforestation, regardless of the printing costs or the various excuses the demand engenders. The main reason for my old-fashioned insistence is that I still find some students he…

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Super!

blurb_mparty6_mario_20080911One of the many casualties of spell checkers is students’ ability to describe their family rituals. Too frequently, recently, they seem to be having super in the dinning room. And from their emails, I infer that the typographical slip comes from the superfluity of the word super, which pops up everywhere, mostly as an adverb: super happy, super hungry, super fantastic. I noticed it particularly when I learned of the passing of a friend’s mother from a mutual friend who wrote to say that he was s…

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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…