essays and articles

At Identity Theory



In the game of Balderdash (which is just Mattel’s rendering of the old parlor game called “Dictionary”) there is a single word printed on the front of each card. Something you will have never seen. Perhaps schenkfelder, or allocochick, or sialogogue. Words so obscure that no one at the table will have encountered them – not even my father, who, having done the Times crossword puzzle every day of the week, long before I entered the world, seemed to me a repository of lexical bits and bobs. But Balderdash words are the white elephants, the curios and forgotten imports that lurk in the vast storehouse of the English language.


At The Paris Review


“How to Keep a Journal: A History of the Discipline, and of Myself”

“VOLUME I has a high word-count but a low rate of introspection. It sometimes reads as if it was written for some sort of psychic parole officer.”


At The Smart Set


“The Aging Face”

“In the plastic surgeon’s taxonomy of facial wrinkles, mimetic wrinkles are those that, as da Vinci and Rembrandt intuited, are essentially caused by repetition. They are what emotion leaves behind.”


At Harper’s



“Ahmet Öztürk is a small and wiry man in his early fifties. His family has farmed their bostan in Yedikule for three generations.”

*See also “A Turkish Cherry Garden,” for the story of how Chekhov’s 1904 Russian play was adapted last summer for an historic Turkish market garden threatened with destruction.


At Slate


“The Stimulating History of Coffee: Why You Hear This Word Around the World”

“It’s always recognizable: the two reliable syllables, the seesaw of vowel sounds punctuated by velar stops and fricatives. Why is that?”

“On: The Fall and Rise of a Preposition”

“That is, on seemed to appear as a kind of universal stand-in, the preposition most likely to be pressed into service when uncertainty arose.”

“Here’s Looking at Yous, You Guys, and Y’all. The Second Person Plural Won’t Be Ignored!”

“It appears that, when speaking, we feel the absence of a distinctly plural form of you and reach for it like a gesture or a confirmation.”

“Are You a Double Is-er?”

“…when a particularly prescriptivist friend called me out on my own double-is-ing, I wondered if it might serve a purpose. As it turns out, linguists have been making the case for double-is for decades.”


At 3 Quarks Daily


“Islands for Introverts”

“The confines of a self-sized space are as soothing to me, and as necessary, as Robinson Crusoe’s sheltering cave is to him.”

“What We Talk About When We Talk About the Weather”

“But still it seemed to me that passing talk of sunlight and snowfall and heat and humidity was different from other small talk. Or, at least, I needed to believe it.”

“In Defense of Epigraphs”

 “Who wouldn’t love a well-deployed epigraph? The way they open up wormholes between one time and text and another? The way they make the universe seem connected and meaningful and filled with some kind of transcendental genius?”

“Safety in Objects”

“What impossible relief, that. To find that all is not lost – that, in fact, all has been neatly contained and preserved in a small object not a bit subject to the vicissitudes of one’s own moods and mental lapses.”

“Personals Narrative”

“This, I think, is one of the more interesting aspects of the online dating profile. Not only does it offer up a self-narrative so obviously motivated by desire, but it aims to ring the cherries of would-be readers who will actually want to project themselves into its narrative.”

“The Brigadoon of the Conversation”

“Off the very cuff of conversation, they have concocted a moment’s alternate reality, which relies on a shared understanding outside the bounds of workaday communication.”

“We Like to Watch: Friendship on TV”

“These are cartoonish depictions of friendship, for sure. But I think these prime time dramatizations actually tell us quite a bit.

“Language, On and Off Holiday”

“…how difficult it is to actually learn much at all about words and their attendant conventions once you’ve removed them from the everyday speech and printed page that is their office – once you’re fanning an isolated word with the palm frond of philosophical analysis.”

“The Geeks and the Antiheroes”

” There is a decoder ring of a standardized test that, applied in the thirteenth year, reveals whether you’ve been marked.”