Talking turkey

Last year I did an article on what the turkey is called in different languages – and why. This year we (specifically my splendid producer at The Week, Lauren Hansen, and I) made an audio version of it. So you get to hear me saying the words for ‘turkey’ in all those different languages. Give it a listen!

How the Thanksgiving turkey was named after the country Turkey


Normal, standard, regular, ordinary

Other writers on language have explored the word normalize and its history: Hua Hsu in The New Yorker, Nancy Friedman on her blog Fritinancy, Mark Peters in the Boston Globe, the lexicographers of Merriam-Webster on their blog… But the question no one has addressed so far is: Why can’t we use standardize or regularize in place of normalize? We could conceivably use make ordinary – but why doesn’t ordinary have a verb form, anyway?

So here’s my answer, in my latest article for The Week:

What does normalize even mean?



This is the twenty-first and final chapter of my month-long work of fiction, NOV.

“You don’t own that restaurant.”

Janet laughs. “Do you think I own everything? Just a few things.”

They’re walking back from dinner. The evening has gone well. They won’t run out of things to talk about, but he already feels comfortable when there’s silence. The goodness of fit unnerves him slightly. He has had little gapping, no involuntary anagramming. She has done no magic (that he has seen). It seems so… normal. Continue reading


This is the twentienth chapter of my month-long work of fiction, NOV.

When he wakes up he has a vague headache, no surprise. He’s not sure what time it is but it’s probably not too late in the day. He gets up, opens his door to go to the bathroom

and looks across and sees Janet sitting at the kitchen table, looking at him as he emerges.

Does she know where he went last night? Continue reading


This is the nineteenth chapter of my month-long work of fiction, NOV.

The room is pervasively red. He is lying, in his new white briefs, on a red b—spread ach bedspread how nice, spread fixed the ed gap. The walls are red, the furniture is red, one door, slightly ajar, is red. There is another door, closed, also red. There are just two interruptions in this sanguine colour scheme:

The walls are covered with posters. Some of them seem to be pages of an abstract modern score, some staves stretched like a sticky cat’s cradle, the notes trapped on them like flies, others like kaleidescope pieces and jumbles of letters. Some of them are posters for musical acts of bygone times: Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, Jim Morrison.

Next to him, sitting on the bed, in a kimono, is one. In the flesh. In the flesh tone. One is no longer black-and-white. The kimono is many colours; one’s face is a light tone with a faint sunset glow, but unmistakeably unpainted skin. Our protagonist may be only in his underpants, and one is in a kimono, but he feels that he is seeing one naked while he is still clothed. Continue reading


This is the eighteenth chapter of my month-long work of fiction, NOV.

He’s making supper for himself and Janet. He still hasn’t chosen a name for himself. He won’t know where he is until he chooses a name, but can he get back home if he does?

Can he get back home anyway? One was his way back. He made one disappear. Or just go somewhere else? One must just have gone somewhere else. One still has to be somewhere. The alternative is too unnerving to consider. The fact that he is not dispassionate tells him again that he isn’t dreaming.

But even if one is around, one may not be favourably disposed to helping him now.

He looks at Janet. Janet is leaning against the counter in faded jeans and a light cotton plaid button-up, watching him cook. Janet is favourably disposed. But not to helping him get home. Continue reading


This is the seventeenth chapter of my month-long work of fiction, NOV.

This sidewalk café, this black mass of circular latticework metal tables and matching chairs set out on fresh brickwork, is not deserted. People may for the most part be background noise, filler, and props in his life, but they are there, and he is happy for that. He is usually happiest when he has people to ignore.

Except when they can’t be ignored. Like that kid over there.

He and one are seated near a wall, coffee freshly served, but just a couple of tables away is a family with a small child and this kid is a demon screamer. Our man is sensitive to loud noises, but triply sensitive to screaming: it sets up an alarm in his body, an emergency state that is pulled three ways between wanting to fix the emergency, wanting to escape, and wanting to start screaming along. As he cannot do the first or third, he is stricken by a desire to do the second. But he can’t. He is nearly transfixed by the screaming, but his shaking hand holds the pitcher of — for his coffee.


He holds up the — towards the source of the s—ing and cancels out the blanks: sing.

“Lalala lalalalala lala lalalala” babbles the suddenly happy child. Continue reading