Sarah Elizabeth Wilson Huff, 1822–1911

Forty years ago I found this picture in a trunk full of estate detritus: clothing, photos, travel souvenirs, things that someone couldn’t quite bring themselves to put in the trash. This year, finally, I have gathered enough threads from the thin paper trail of a 19th century wife and mother to weave together the themes of her story.

Written in pencil on the back of the photo is her name, Sarah Elizabeth Wilson Huff. From the last name I knew she was on my paternal grandmother’s side. I thought perhaps she was my great-grandmother; in fact she’s my 2nd great-grandmother…

image: collius via imgur

Disclosure: I never had a paid membership; I was gifted one by Medium after a successful piece I published in 2018. “Successful” here means it earned me north of $300 and attracted thousands of readers and claps. I should also note that my successful story, after it drew a respectable amount of external traffic, was selected for “editorial polishing” and promotion at Medium.

While the subscription was active I did marginally more reading on Medium than I do now, but not much. I found the click-baity titles that Medium presented to me every day on my landing page more off-putting…

When Purging Melancholy Gave Way to Treating Depression

“Melancholy” by Edvard Munch — The Athenaeum: Public Domain,

“The passions of melancholy doe more strongly worke in the minde of man, then doe those which come of any pleasant and delectable cause.” –from A Method unto Mortification, 1608.

First, to answer the question posed in the title and to make it clear that this is a linguistic, not a medical analysis. The changeover in printed literature actually happened around 1970, when “treat depression” began to appear more often than “purge melancholy”:

Did you look systematically at example sentences throughout the dictionary in question, or just cherry-pick? I don't think your thesis would not stand up to peer review. You might find it instructive to read the commentary on your piece from members of the Dictionary Society of North America, some of whom have worked for Oxford Dictionaries and were editors and lexicographers on the dictionary you have targeted.

First, the bona fides: I left my last full-time salaried job in 1990, at the age of 36, with the goal of never having a boss other than myself again. That was 30 years ago. Today I am mostly retired. My home is a paid-off, comfortable condo in an urban-proximate zip code. I live on Social Security, a small pension from an earlier period of employment, and a small stream of monthly income from writing. My retirement savings approaches the mid six figures but I’m not touching any of it yet; I don’t need to.

Most importantly, I never in…

Photo: Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado. File photo from a 2018 commencement.

I met my students for the last time in person on Wednesday, March 18th. We were already nervous by then. Fresh rumors wafted through corridors and across campus walkways every day. The administration sent regular email blasts, each with new and graver information than the last. The day before this, the university had announced the cancellation of its spring commencement ceremony, an event that typically drew thousands to the campus. …

“an obscene and lascivious letter”

First, before I raise any hackles: this all happened long ago, and by the time you get to the end of this short account you will question whether the perp, Albert Ketchum, was an elder of the Mormon Church anywhere but in his own mind. I record it here as an instance of the early twists and turns of Mormonism as it headed West, and before it settled into the coherent institution that is the common perception of it today.

This article came to my attention while I was engaged in the venerable sport of family history research. You search…

mid-1930s; a publicity shot for the Gold Woman

On the 6th of September 1890 in the bayou country of Louisiana, probably in the family home, came a child Angeline, the seventh of ten children, and the fifth girl. Unusually for a girl so late in the birth order she was named for her mother, who went by Angie. Her father was Edward Huff, a comfortably well-off rice farmer and the deputy sheriff of Vermilion Parish. Little Angeline quickly became Angie Lou Huff, the name by which she was known for most of her early life.

Nearly 80 years later she died in the mountains of Colorado and is…

Detail from a photo by Serge Melki — Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, CC BY 2.0,

It happened when I was 13. I was not new to the game; already an old hand, in fact. I learned the basic technique from other boys in the mountain town where I grew up when I was six. We were at it all the time, singly, doubly, in small groups on the spur of the moment when the opportunity was there. They were huge fun.

But we moved away from that town and things were different now. I heard from a Catholic boy at school that it made the Virgin weep. We weren’t Catholic but Episcopalian. I was an…

Screenshot from the Quora Partner Program

First, to obviate objections: there’s still a lot of useful content on Quora, the product of sincere people asking questions and knowledgeable people answering them. But that content is getting harder to find, beneath the numbing froth of desultory questions and pointless answers that is the product of Quora’s latest attempt to find a worthy place in the online knowledge world: the Quora Partner Program.

Are you a Quora Partner? I’m not sure you would admit it if you are because it’s not a very lofty aspiration and what you do to earn a trickle (or perhaps a torrent) of…

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