Peggy Shinner (fiction ’94) has a new essay available on the LITHUB website.

What Does it Mean When We Call A Key a “Slave?”

Part of the business of tyranny is to bankrupt certain words of meaning so that they become, in the process, destitute. –Michael Chabon, adapted

Language and its expectations
teaches us
about the relationship
we would have had. –Solmaz Sharif


I am in possession of what is known, apparently, as a slave key. The more common, more polite, less charged, and more obfuscating term is valet key. It was handed over in the last in a series of transactions at the car dealership, where Ann and I traded in our old Subaru and bought a new one. This is a moment of ritual, a keenly American scene: the smiling representative of commerce and industry, both smug and deferential, and the giddy new owners, awash in our good fortune. The parties sit opposite, on either side of the desk, which feels like territory successfully traversed; we are in this together (sort of) but adversarial as well: each side out to milk the other for the best terms. The business manager offers up congratulations, not only for the car, gleaming in the lot, but also for the other, unspoken triumph: that with this purchase we have reconfirmed our place in the middle class.

Read the rest of the essay here:  What Does it Mean…

Peggy Shinner is the author of You Feel So Mortal, a collection of essays on the body (University of Chicago Press), which was long-listed for the 2015 PEN-Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. Currently, she is at work on a book about speech and silence.

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