Essays Two by Lydia Davis | Star Tribune

Lydia Davis has thrice distinguished herself in the world of American letters. First, as a fiction writer (seven collections and one novel), then as a translator (Proust’s Swann’s Way, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, et al), and third, with the publication of Essays One in 2019 and now Essays Two, as an essayist. Continue reading…

17-grammar-guides-lede.w700.h467Against Style Guides…Sort Of | Vulture

The notion of being taught language has always been oxymoronic because language is in a constant state of flux, a restless, malleable, impatient entity that, like the idea of now, can never be fixed in place. Take, for instance, the journey of the semicolon as chronicled in the delightful, enlightening new book by Cecelia Watson, Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark. The twisty history of the hybrid divider perfectly embodies the transience of language, the ways it can be shaped by cultural shifts that have nothing to do with correctness or clarity. Invented by the Italian humanist and font pioneer Aldus Manutius in the late-15th century, the semicolon was originally “meant to signify a pause of a length somewhere between that of the comma and that of the colon” (hence its design). Continue reading…

clichés-definitionClichés Are Dangerous | Read It Forward

There is more danger in certain clichés than the risk of confusion, or the laziness of pat phrases—some of them perpetuate really lousy ideas that, if you stop to think about their implications for a few minutes, don’t hold up to scrutiny at all, and seem in fact to be effective only because they’re clichés, so common that people forget to question the inherent philosophies underneath them. Here are a few dangerous clichés that I hope we stop using—or at least cease employing them so reductively. Continue reading…

8618636763_309f95c7fd_o-1-Terms of Concealment: Junot Díaz and the Language of Masculinity | Devise Literary

What’s interesting about these terms isn’t what they mean so much as how they’re employed: Díaz always uses them when discussing relationships, both sexual and emotional. His Spanish, then (which is never translated for non-Spanish speakers), not only adds to the authenticity of the narrator, but also functions, for the English-speaking reader, as a distancing device between Yunior and his actions, his seeming lack of moral compass. This usage both emphasizes the words and obfuscates their meaning. And finally, because Spanish is Yunior’s native language, his method of obscuring his inner self employs the words of his earliest—and one might argue, most fundamental—form of expression. Continue reading…

shutterstock_324004145-900x675The Love of Language, the Language of Love |
Read It Forward

Those instances—when acquiring a second (or third or fourth, &c) language relates to something deeper and more essential to the learner than practicality or general interest—and Lahiri’s personal and passionate account of her own instance lead me to a person in my own life for whom the acquisition of a specific language was less about achievement and more about the realization of an ingrained part of her identity. To explain: I fell in love for the first time when I was 20. Her name was Jackie, and holy shit did I adore her. We’d known each other since high school, but now as college students there was that air of adulthood that rather than responsibility and compromise suggested freedom and autonomy. She was smart and ambitious, and so was I, and together there seemed to be no end to what we could accomplish, both separately and individually. Jackie wasn’t a writer (though she was more than capable at it), but she read like one, tackling the kind of novels hardly considered pleasure reading. And most importantly was her preternatural passion for language. In her case, English, yes, but especially Spanish. (Continue reading…)

1567925480.01.LZZZZZZZWard Farnsworth Doesn’t Fuck Around | The Millions

Now, six years on, Ward Farnsworth has produced a sequel (a term associated more with Hollywood franchises than with manuals on literary technique). Farnsworth’s Classical English Metaphor duplicates its predecessor in approach and structure and voice and directness, and for all intents and purposes is just as fun and accessible, too. But Farnsworth’s latest subject, the metaphor, makes his follow-up better and more insightful than the first one, but also, in some ways, less useful, a fact that has less to do with Farnsworth’s skill and more to do with the metaphor’s nuanced utility. It is not that Farnsworth doesn’t do an excellent job illuminating the various ways we use language to compare things — sometimes the only means of apt description — or that his examples are less instructive or applicable. Rather, it is that the metaphor is simply employed far less often than the enormous toolbox of rhetoric, and, when it is used, its power stems less from its structure and more from the lucidity and the inventiveness and the clarity of the comparison. Metaphors have a quality of “wrongness,” as Walker Percy put it in 1975’s The Message in the Bottle (a book way too recent to have assumed Farnsworth has read it), and “that its beauty often seems proportionate to its wrongness or outlandishness.”