All posts by Lucy Ferriss


Arrivederci! A Dopo!

2417_do-you-want-to-learn-italian-628x366I’ll be taking a work-intensive book leave from Lingua Franca beginning next week. Just before I return, I’ll be relaxing for a week in Tuscany, where we chose a villa based on the reviews. The negative reviews, that is, the ones that said, “Wi-Fi here is really terrible.” Yes.

I’m uncomfortable in countries where I don’t speak the language. My short-term experiences in Italy, which include two Italians playing a joke by helping me onto a train going south rather than north at 2:00 a.m., sug…


Cannibal Commas

commaThe writer Bich Minh Nguyen posted a question on Facebook the other day that drew a swell of discussion:

Grammar dilemma over here. According to grammar sites we’re supposed to write “Hi, Jane” rather than “Hi Jane” (because “Hi” is different from “Dear”). But this just doesn’t sit right with me. I dislike the two commas involved: “Hi, Jane,” looks cluttered compared to “Hi Jane.” I’m starting to feel a little anxious whenever I start an email. Will the person I’m writing disapprove of my (lack …


Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Words

imagesA colleague sent me a contest offering from the venerable American Scholar, magazine of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Titled “Lingua Americana,” it begins by setting out examples of “wonderfully expressive [English] words that defy translation,” including flaky, finagle, and hullaballoo. Remember those words; we’ll return to them.

The contest then proceeds to list untranslatable words that it considers “a bit of a mouthful,” like schadenfreude, or simply unacceptably non-English, like frisson, sim…


Lotsa Books ≠ Lotsa Muses

FOTG“Why Wasn’t It ‘Grapes of Glee’?” asked The New York Times last week, practically demanding my attention. The article was on a study using big-data techniques to document the correlation between the so-called economic-misery index and what the researchers called the literary-misery index. According to the report, published in Plos One, it takes about 11 years for words in the economic-misery index to surface in books. Authors absorb words from the culture slowly: “We do have a collective memor…


I’m Not Betting on It


I’m on a phrase hunt, and coming up more or less empty. Some time back, my colleague Ben Yagoda ran through the various ways in which people acknowledge thanks, and grumblings arose at several of them. But for most of these phrases, there’s some sort of explanation. You’re welcome suggests that the thanker is welcome to whatever favor was done. No worries or No problem suggest that the favor was no big deal and doesn’t require thanks. But what about You bet?

I hear the phrase more and more ofte…


Siri’s Sex Change

imagesI don’t have Siri, and so my experience of Apple’s virtual personal assistant is limited to eavesdropping on my friends’ iPhones. But it has struck me as fascinating that the voice for several years was a woman’s, at least in this country. Despite the impression that a female avatar would be “less knowledgeable,” than a male, according to the Stanford researcher Clifford Nass, Apple’s initial roll-out was given a female voice because female voices are preferred in the “helper or assistant ro…


Cold Comfort for Graphophobes

3657055_com_writersblockjckI’m writing under deadline, having promised this post to my editor this morning, and I will get it to her this morning, if you count “morning” as lasting until 1:00 p.m., which is when civilized people eat lunch, right?

It is the season to procrastinate. Our excuses are manifold—too many committee meetings, exams to grade, application files to review, holiday cards to mail, presents to purchase, students to reassure, recommendations to write. One can almost revel in it, if one has incurable gr…


Say, ‘What’?

iStock_000010401735XSmallPunctuating dialogue, for reasons I fail to understand completely, is one of the hardest things for my fiction-writing students to master. Autocorrect inserts a capital after any form of so-called terminal punctuation, so “Are you going out?” he asked becomes “Are you going out?” He asked. Certain that the verb accompanying the speaker’s name is the dialogue tag, many students write, She laughed, “That’s a funny joke.” Master classes on the rules, the craft, and the art of punctuating dialogue m…


Dear #Writer

letter_writi_24714_lgThe New York Times’s “Draft” column began about 18 months ago with an essay by the novelist Jhumpa Lahiri on the power of sentences. It’s been going strong since. Its contributions run the gamut, from well-known writers like Lahiri, Colm Tóibín, Philip Lopate, and the like to newbies who sometimes sound silly or self-indulgent but who occasionally, as in a recent contribution from Mason Currey, get a mind to thinking.

Currey’s topic was the letter. We’ve all wrung our hands to dishrags with …


A Whole Nother Juncture

A_Whole_Nother_Story-_SimonFor some reason, my ears were tuned to a whole nother frequency last week. That is, I heard the word nother everywhere I turned. Mostly it followed the word whole, though I’d swear someone said, “That’s an entire nother story” once, and someone else dismissed “a complete nother idea.” There’s even a children’s book series by someone suspiciously named Dr. Cuthbert Soup that includes A Whole Nother Story, Another Whole Nother Story, and No Other Story (Whole Nother Story).

I knew the word was re…