A perception exists that careless millennials and social-media aficionados have laid siege to the English language and that modern dictionaries have failed to hold the line. "We'll put up with the shitty adolescent vernacular (or avoid Twitter and modern television shows)," one critic recently ranted beneath an article on the definition of literally on Merriam-Webster's Words at Play blog. "[But] do we really need [this] crap clogging up the dictionary?"
Put another way, in the internet age, is it the job of the lexicographer, who writes, edits, or otherwise tends to dictionaries, to protect the English language, or document it as it evolves?
The dinner party is popping. You're enjoying the wine, music and sparkling conversation—when suddenly the soiree is invaded by an unexpected guest. Your host has just unveiled a show-stopping block of blue cheese, which is now pumping out an almost tangible odor thanks to the bacterial hordes going to town on the crumbling hunk.
The question is: Are you thinking “ooh, time to eat” or “ew, smelly feet”?
Neuroscientists, it turns out, are fascinated by this pungent scenario. They want to know why we react they way we do to stinky cheeses—with revulsion or desire—because uncovering the roots of this love/hate relationship could reveal the neural basis of disgust. Today these pioneers of the revolting are using brain-scanning to take a detailed look at what these polarizing foods actually do to our brains.
In food, as in life, we prize what is young and unsullied by time: tiny wild blueberries that drop off the bush with the slightest tug; a sea urchin pried from a rock and gulped down on the beach; an egg still warm from the nest. We clamor for restaurants where the vegetables on the plate arrive in the kitchen caked in dirt, uprooted from a farm within 100 miles or, better yet, the chef’s backyard. The less interference the better. When ripeness is so exalted, cooking is corruption.
But sometimes an ingredient can be too young, callow — as yet uncommitted in flavor. Age brings depth and contours. It pushes past the obvious. If fresh food affirms the splendor of the natural world, aged food speaks to human ingenuity. What is more human than refusing to accept things as they are, than believing we can make them better?
If you have something to say to me about audiobooks, say it to my face. Kind of like you just did, but more animated.
That way, I’ll know you’re speaking to me and I can take my headphones out. Otherwise, I’d be too busy consuming literature through my ear canals to hear you talking smack.
How do we write about language’s insufficiency? More so, how does the world exist in excess of language’s depiction of it? This is something Joanna Walsh wants to ask in her latest collection of short stories, Worlds from the Word’s End (And Other Stories, 2017). On their surface, Walsh’s stories explore elements of dystopia that inhere in daily life. But as she immerses her reader into her various puns, paradoxes, and absurdities, Walsh also shows how words, books, and language texture an individual’s experience of the world. These stories, which often resemble prose poems, follow unnamed narrators who introduce readers to uncanny settings, as they pepper these strange situations with brilliant moments of empathy and insight that invite readers closer. Through short conversations between narrator and reader, Walsh explores how language makes a world of its own.
“Her Body and Other Parties,” by Carmen Maria Machado, is a love letter to an obstinate genre that won’t be gentrified. It’s a wild thing, this book, covered in sequins and scales, blazing with the influence of fabulists from Angela Carter to Kelly Link and Helen Oyeyemi, and borrowing from science fiction, queer theory and horror.