Juli Berwald on the Art of Growing a Backbone

The lovely and absorbing new book Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone, began when author Juli Berwald, a marine scientist turned technical writer, was factchecking an article about ocean acidification for National Geographic. She was asked to confirm a seemingly simple claim, made in a graphic, that jellyfish would be among […]

The Awl Died

The Awl died. Or will die, in a couple of weeks. It was/is a website with the usual internet attitude – an awl, dear children, is a sharp pointed instrument for punching holes — but not the usual internet manners.  My Twitter feed is full of writers who were young a few years ago, who […]


Last week Michelle wrote that, given the speed of change in the reality under the science, climatology needed some new words, and she proposed a beauty: “antevernal,” meaning “daffodils blooming in February.”  To back her word-making, she quoted a naturalist:  “If the language we use to speak of the natural world is not innovative and […]

Redux: Antevernals in the Anthropocene

When Robert Macfarlane recently chose “antevernals” as one of his words of the day, I remembered this post, which I wrote in February 2016. Now we need a word to describe our continent’s increasingly split-screen winters. How about twinter? Or splinter? And climate change isn’t the only phenomenon demanding new vocabulary: I sometimes hear others […]

Redux: Sassy Smocks and Moist Panties

  This post first ran on January 28, 2015. But I still love flicker, ripple, chuckle and clusterfuck the word (but not the thing).   Words are a writer’s currency, and we each have our favorites. The first word I remember falling in love with was onomatopoeia. It had a satisfying rhythm, plus there was the delight […]

Long Live Dictation

I am writing this post while walking around in Prospect Park. I shouldn’t really call it writing, because I’m actually speaking. I am walking in the park with a bluetooth headset on, and saying these words into the microphone, and hoping that my phone understands them. So far, so good. It is a cold day. […]