The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘words’


September 21, 2015 | by

Photo: Darwin Bell


Life is an onion—you peel it year by year and sometimes cry. ―Carl Sandburg

Here’s a practical writing tip: if you’re stuck, write “Once upon a time.” Go on, try it—I think you’ll find that even the action is soothing. It’s not just that now you have something on the page, although you do. The words themselves are calming. 

Where did I encounter this piece of advice? I don’t want to rob anyone of credit, but misattribution would be bad, too. I think it was in the cookbook The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper, but I can’t swear to it. Anyway, in this book, one of the authors relates a time-honored tip passed down from her grandmother: if you don’t know what to make for dinner, just cut up an onion and put it on to cook. The action, the aroma, the fact that an onion is the basis for so many dishes—these factors will conspire to prompt a plan. And if nothing else, you’ll enjoy the savory smell of industry. Read More »


September 14, 2015 | by

If you know a lot of the words in this thing, you’re probably at least sixty years old.

I’m a little too old, I think, to know how to really waste time on the Internet. I do it, of course, but I don’t think I do it properly: I tend to stay in my rut, visiting the same couple of sites every time, answering the same set of questions. Has there been a world crisis? Is there a vintage oatmeal wrap coat on eBay? Has some foolish tourist made the mistake of asking where to eat in Little Italy on that Manhattan foodie restaurant board? After that, I just sort of sit there, staring blankly. 

So, like many old people, I am susceptible to the carnivalesque lures of online blandishments—clickbait, I mean. Why yes, I do want to know what Jane Austen character I am! I had no idea these former child stars were married? I’ll be the judge of that, sir! And when a link to some quiz site, styled of course in Comic Sans, asked if they could guess my age by my vocabulary, well, I thought I’d take them up on it. Read More »

Do Not Drop These Books, and Other News

September 14, 2015 | by

Books of laminate glass by Ramon Todo. Image via This Is Colossal

  • In which Justin Taylor dissects a paragraph of Sam Lipsyte’s story “This Appointment Occurs in the Past,” in the name of pedagogy: “The only higher-order claims I wish to make today are, attention to language at the molecular level is valuable in itself; second, that anyone can learn it, in or out of the classroom; and third, that once it becomes assimilated as instinct it will enhance your writing as much as your reading, irrespective of whether you ever choose to write or read this way again.”
  • Witness the rise of the smarmonym, a living reflection of our passive-aggressive use of language. What is it? Any word that we’ve “ironized and de-meaninged and re-meaninged”: “Pal, which often connotes enemy … And tolerance—which, when selected as a noun, often suggests its own absence. And classy. And sincerely, whose presence in a sentence is often evidence of, you know, total insincerity. Honestly, for the same reason. Respectfully, too. And, of course, literally 
  • Today in interdisciplinary skirmishes: Simon Critchley remembers his teacher Frank Cioffi, whose philosophy had scientism in its crosshairs. “His concern was with the relation between the causal explanations offered by science and the kinds of humanistic description we find, say, in the novels of Dickens or Dostoevsky, or in the sociological writings of Erving Goffman and David Riesman. His quest was to try and clarify the occasions when a scientific explanation was appropriate and when it was not, and we need instead a humanistic remark. His conviction was that our confusions about science and the humanities had wide-ranging and malign societal consequences.”
  • Paper is obsolete. Paper is wasteful and silly. And pages! Pages are ridiculous. The future of books is glass. Say it with me: the future belongs to glass.
  • Garth Greenwell read Michael Nava’s The Little Death, a mystery novel with a gay Latino hero from an immigrant family in California’s Central Valley: “Henry Rios is a defense attorney whose hardboiled bona fides—world-weariness, wit, a penchant for erotic entanglement—are accompanied by a hyper-attentiveness to class and a commitment to the poor. In a genre that had used queer people primarily as figures of ridicule and contempt, the Rios books offer a vista on gay lives extending from the closet-lined corridors of power to cruising parks and leather bars.”
  • The Paris Review Parisians didn’t fare too well this summer in New York Media Softball League. But you know who did? The High Times. They beat us. They beat pretty much everyone. “The Bonghitters remain an industry powerhouse. They’re the defending league champions … and they’ve been blazing through opponents since forming in 1991 … For the Bonghitters, the first key to winning is showing up.” The second key is getting stoned.

The Age of Udge

September 2, 2015 | by

Learning a word from John Ashbery.

From Edward Burtynsky’s Oil, 2012, color photograph.

It started, as things sometimes do, with an Ashbery poem: “Staffage,” from his book A Wave.

The poem is more than thirty years old now, and it’s remarkable how well it captures the generation then just being born: “I am one of a new breed / Of inquisitive pest” (the poem makes clear-ish that this is a pest from the perspective of the older speaker, not in the eyes of the poet himself) “in love with the idea / Of our integrity, programming us over dark seas / Into small offices, where we sit and compete / With you, on your own time.”

It’s a kind of prophecy Ashbery can still pull off, for instance with the artisanal children of today in a poem from 2015’s Breezeway called “Seven-Year-Old Auroch Likes This”: “Will research tell us tomorrow / of normal morals? Take a Brooklyn family / in fracture mode, vivid, / energizing, throbs to the earlobes … Exeunt the Kardashians.” I predict this poem will make perfect sense in thirty years. Read More »

Paperbacks for the Patriarchy, and Other News

September 1, 2015 | by

The perfect way to kick off your fall?

  • Whatever you’re reading these days, it’s probably not as popular as Amish romance novels, which owe their meteoric rise, perhaps, to an old-fashioned yen for the patriarchy: “There’s no mistaking the potent commercial lure of the ‘bonnet books’—so called because of the young Amish women plastered on their covers. In less than a decade, bonnet titles have overtaken bestseller lists, Christian and non-Christian alike … these novels seldom offer fare any more lurid than a much-regretted kiss. Sex is always offstage, and mere carnal longing is usually mastered by the more powerful desire to do God’s will … their treatment of spiritual questions is itself oddly lustful, given their penchant for containing spiritual inquiry and experience within the strict bounds of faintly illicit-sounding modes of sectarianism and separatism.”
  • Bromance, mandels, mansplain, man-icure, man-purse, bro-hug, manscape, man-date: whither the explosion of Neologisms for Men™? We could laud these new words as evidence of a long overdue recovery: “A popular online collection of old photos shows how much American men used to casually touch each other: Victorian gentlemen posing with hands clasped; grizzled cowboys sitting with arms entwined, and a striking amount of lap-sitting. But such pictures from the middle of the twentieth century and later are rare.  The culprit is homophobia … It turns out that straight men’s need for intense, intimate relationships with each other never went anywhere, as evidenced by the ebullient burst of words celebrating it.”
  • Why, when we read, do some of us hear a voice in our head while others proceed in total quiet? And why, for that matter, did we ever begin reading in silence to ourselves, rather than aloud, to friends? “Silent reading had become the norm for educated readers by the fifteenth century but even four hundred years later, La Cagnotte, Eugène Marin Labiche’s 1864 comedy, mocks a farmer for reading a private letter aloud; the bumpkin retorts that he can’t understand what he reads unless he hears it … Recent neurological research questions whether silent reading actually is silent. Evidence grows that the brain interprets ‘silent’ reading as an auditory phenomenon.”
  • More art from Aidan Koch, whose portfolio lit up our Summer issue: her work will be on view next month at And Now, in Dallas.
  • Bored? Hang out with H. P. Lovecraft fans at the Cthulhu Prayer Breakfast, why don’t you. And have a croissant while you’re at it. “In time, we were tapped to hit the buffet line, which snaked down the hotel’s corridor. ‘An ouroboros!’ exclaimed my neighbor, as we shuffled towards bacon and croissants. A sliver of fruit fell to the carpet. ‘The cantaloupe of Thoth!’ someone cried.”

What Happened to O?

August 27, 2015 | by

The death of an exclamation.

William Blake had me thinking about death.

I was lying on my couch, Norton Anthology in my lap, when I stumbled on Blake’s poem “The Sick Rose.” I’d read the poem before, and I remembered its famous opening lament: “O Rose, thou art sick!”

What follows is a compact poem built of stark imagery. An invisible, amorous worm is flying through a storm at night. It descends on a rose. A death is at hand. And the perpetrator of the rose’s death, Blake warns, is none other than the worm’s secret love.

I reread the poem, parsing its lines for meaning. Then I read it once again. The night was late, and I felt drowsy. As sleep approached, an inchoate thought began to surface.

I sat up. O Rose, I thought. O Muse. O death.

I stood from the couch and found a pen. I tore off a piece of scratch paper, and on it I wrote myself a note: “What killed O?” Read More »