Body Language

When we form our thoughts into speech, some of it leaks through our hands. Gestures are thoughts, ideas, speech acts made tangible in the air. They can even, for a moment, outlive the speaker.

What hand motions can teach us about language, ethnicity and assimilation.

Native Tongues

The making of the “five-thousand-page, five-volume book, known formally as the Dictionary of American Regional English and colloquially just as DARE”:

What joking names do you have for an alarm clock? For a toothpick? For a container for kitchen scraps? Or an indoor toilet? Or women’s underwear? When a woman divides her hair into three strands and twists them together, you say she is_____her hair? What words do you have to describe people’s legs if they’re noticeably bent, or uneven, or not right? What do you call the mark on the skin where somebody has sucked it hard and brought blood to the surface?

Stories to Live With

Coping with a brother’s suicide.

We tell stories about the dead in order that they may live, if not in body then at least in mind—the minds of those left behind. Although the dead couldn’t care less about these stories—all available evidence suggests the dead don’t care about much—it seems that if we tell them often enough, and listen carefully to the stories of others, our knowledge of the dead can deepen and grow. If we persist in this process, digging and sifting, we had better be prepared for hard truths; like rocks beneath the surface of a plowed field, they show themselves eventually.

Trust Issues

Hartwick College didn’t really mean to annihilate the U.S. economy. A small liberal-arts school in the Catskills, Hartwick is the kind of sleepy institution that local worthies were in the habit of founding back in the 1790s; it counts a former ambassador to Belize among its more prominent alumni, and placidly reclines in its berth as the number-174-ranked liberal-arts college in the country. But along with charming buildings and a spring-fed lake, the college once possessed a rather more unusual feature: a slumbering giant of compound interest.

Balanced Diets

On the history and study of pica:

Indeed, we have long defined ourselves and others by what we do and do not eat, from kashrut dietary restrictions described in Leviticus to the naming of Comanche bands (Kotsoteka—buffalo eaters, Penateka—honey eaters, Tekapwai—no meat) to insults—French frogs, English limeys, German krauts. But poya seemed to beg a different question: what was one to make of people who ate food that wasn’t food at all?