All posts by Lucy Ferriss

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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…

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Speaking Geek

Man-Woman-Geek-1920x1200I’ve always envied people born in small countries like Belgium who grow up learning several different languages. And while I remain stumped by languages written in any script other than the Latin alphabet, I still dream of unencumbered months when I can get started on basic Mandarin.

I am also a fiction writer, who believes that there are uses to which language can be put that are different in kind, not just in degree, from the uses of everyday communication; that language, for the poet, is oil …

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One Less Toilet

Foc'sle BathroomI spent Labor Day weekend at a grown-up camp for world-music singers in northern Vermont, a happy retreat to the only thing I ever liked about camp, which was all the group sings after dinner. The rude toilet stalls by the women’s cabins had the usual country warnings about flushing sanitary products, cautioning that doing so “will not only mean more work for the maintenance crew, but will also mean one less toilet for you to use until it is fixed.”

I had been mulling over my recent wrist-slappi…

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Solecizing Roget

MadLibsI’ve already confessed my love of Roget’s Thesaurus, so I am not simply going to pile on with the current wave of complaints about its popularity among students. This popularity, dubbed Rogeting by the British lecturer Chris Sadler, is apparently a side effect of rampant plagiarism and professors’ efforts to curb it by means of software like Turnitin.

The idea is simple, and familiar to me from the research essays we were assigned to write long ago, in seventh grade, on topics like “China” o…