Category Archives: language

Ramblin 'z Rogerem

My friend Daniel discovered that that a person, for some unexplainable reason, had translated my March 22, 2009 post into Polish. It’s rather interesting, and fun. The AmeriNZ post Truth is the real victim is translated as Prawda jest prawdziwą ofiarą. Gordon’s post, partially about me, is Moja nagroda dla osiągnięcia Post # 1285. Johnny Bacardi, whose birthday was yesterday (oops) recently wrote Spójrz na moje prace, o wy, potężny i chichot. Część 37, which, of course means, Gaze upon my works, o ye mighty, and snicker. Part 37.
I told some of you that my 19-year-old niece was getting married and that I first learned about it by reading her Facebook page. Well, she isn’t getting married; she’s just in LOVE, and got too exuberant. Which just goes to show that you can’t believe everything on the Internet, even from someone’s Facebook page.
Some woman called our house looking for someone. No big deal – a wrong number. No big deal except it was 1:30 a.m. I wasn’t asleep, but my wife was, and the phone is in the bedroom. So I ran in there.
WOMAN: Is this the Toyota center.
ME: No, ma’m, it’s not. You’ve got…
WOMAN: I’m looking for Ted. You know him?
ME: No, there’s no Ted here. You’ve…
WOMAN: He’s a tall man.
ME: Lady, you’ve got the wrong number.
WOMAN: Ted’s not there right now? OK.
And she hung up.

It occurred to me that I have her phone number and sometime at 1:30 a.m., I could call…nah, I wouldn’t do that. I can THINK about it though, can’t I?
Weird thing happened a couple weeks ago with our front door lock. Our contractor was putting needed insulation in our attic. He locked the door, but apparently in such a way that when my wife and daughter got home from the grocery store, they couldn’t unlock the front door. The daughter was playing outside in the snow without gloves, against her mother’s wishes, and the wife was afraid that the child was going to get frostbite. Her cellphone had run down, so she just drove over to my office and called me from the lobby , about a half hour before I would have taken the bus home for the day. I went home, had to both squeeze the door handle and turn the lock simultaneously to get inside.

So I’m telling this story to a guy I knew, and he bristled. He wouldn’t want his wife just showing up at his place of work. But I knew that my wife is quite self-sufficient and if she thought she really needed my help, of course I’d give it to her. I thought the guy’s reaction was rather peculiar, actually, or else it spoke of the nature of his relationship with his wife.
Oh, and speaking of cell phones, which I sorta was, I got an e-mail message from my provider – let’s call it Virgin Mobile – with an e-mail on December 27 that I needed to “top up” my cell phones. OK, so I do, and I get confirmation on December 29. On January 2 and again on the 3rd, I get a message that I need to top up my cell phone. Apparently, they had topped up one but not the other, though the messages had indicated that I topped up neither. Don’t know why this peeved me so. I think it’s the happy, recorded speech on their phone lines, and a phone menu that simply did not address my particular problem. (Dial 8 for We Screwed up.)
As a business librarian, I often have the need to call the NYS Department of State, Division of Corporations. They’re a fine group of citizens. However, twice during the phone menu before I can reach a person, I get details about their impending move from 41 State Street to 99 Washington Avenue…in 2008. PLEASE change the menus of your phones.
I was watching JEOPARDY! at the end of 2009, and he wondered aloud whether the champion at the end of 2009, and continuing in 2010, would have his income taxed under each year. Well, unless they change their procedures, unless he stuck arounde like Ken Jennings, it would be for the latter year. When I was on, the show was taped in September 1998, the show aired in November 1998, but the check didn’t arrive until March 1999, so it was taxable for 1999. You’d think the host of the show for a quarter century would know that. Or maybe he was just making conversation.


Q is for Questionable Content

In the comments to a blogpost back in September, Andrew Bechard suggested that I write more about race. He had all sorts of good reasons and particular examples. Here’s the thing: I find conversations about race exhausting. It’s not that I think they aren’t important and necessary, or that I don’t engage in the topic occasionally. It’s merely that talking about race often becomes either incendiary (So-and-so is playing “the race card”, whatever that means) or trivialized (the purported “beer summit”) or dismissive (“Race is just a social construct, so if we just stop talking about race, racism will just go away.”)

But Andrew did ask one specific question that I WILL (finally) answer, and without ever using the word in question. “I, for one, am very curious to hear your views on why you won’t use the ‘N word’ when I regularly overhear other black folks using it around Albany.”

OK, here’s the short answer: I don’t like the word, so I don’t use it.

Here’s the slightly longer answer: I think it is hugely a matter of age. People, both black and white, of my generation, born in the 1950s, or earlier, were taught quite clearly that it was not appropriate word for right-minded person to use, certainly to use casually in the manner to which Andrew refers. That’s why when Bill Cosby received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor recently, he requested no profanity or the casual use of the N-word; he didn’t like it. The NAACP held a funeral for the N-word at its annual conference in the summer of 2007. The use of the phrase by Bethlehem Police Chief Louis Corsi – the town of Bethlehem ins in Albany County, NY – got in him into understandable trouble.

For me, part of my antipathy towards the word comes from the circumstances in which I have been called the N-word. It was almost never face-to-face but rather by person or persons in a moving automobile or truck while I was walking or riding my bicycle. this includes more than a few times in Albany, though, to be fair, not in this century, to the best of my recollection.

Now there’s a whole school of thought that if one claims a word, it loses its power. That seems to be the philosophy, not only for some blacks, but women and gays as well. That’s fine for them, but it doesn’t mean that I’ll start using the words. I know people of Polish extraction who use a term considered a slur in talking about themselves, but I’ve never considered it an invitation for me to use it.

I recall quite distinctly that about 15 years ago, I was in my previous church, when one or two black kids were using the N-word in the church hallway. I said, “Don’t use that word here.” At which point, the (white) pastor came on the scene. One of the young men started to argue with me. And I said, in my best stern voice, “Don’t use that word in HERE,” and they relented. The pastor, who is about a decade older than I, was on the same page in this case.

There is a book out there by Professor Randall Kennedy, with the N-word as the title. The subtitle is The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word and that sounds about right. That book and its author, incidentally, were not without controversy.

That said, I would oppose the banning of a book such as Huckleberry Finn merely because it uses the N-word. (I’m really curious what Bill Cosby, who got the Twain award, thinks of this Twain book.) The Irish Repertory Theatre, an Off-Broadway troupe, is putting on an uncensored production of The Emperor Jones, a 1920 one-act play by Eugene O’Neill, with the N-word “flung around with alarming abandon”; I can see the value in doing the production as written.

I’ve also found any number of songs in my record collection that use the word. Thing is, it seemed to be making a point, rather than be a casual comment. Examples include:
Don’t Call Me N*****, Whitety – Sly and the Family
If There’s A hell Below, we’re all gonna Go – Curtis Mayfield
Woman Is the N***** of the World – John Lennon
Living For the City (album version) – Stevie Wonder

When I saw Elvis Costello sing Oliver’s Army last year, I swear he swallowed the N-word in favor of “one more white nah-gah”.

So, Andrew: I don’t use the N-word because…I just don’t.

Torture and other fun topics

I suppose it oughtn’t to be necessary to say, but I’m against torture. Dick Cheney’s been rebuked. Not so incidentally, I recognize his right to speak; I was just hoping that he wouldn’t exercise it right away. Most Vice-Presidents (Nixon in 1960, Gore in 2000) GO AWAY for a while.

Jaquandor, in touting someone else’s disgust with some conservative talk show host’s ramblings about waterboarding, was rather eviscerating of (yawn) Hannity who was likewise braying that he’d undergo waterboarding and “he’d do it for the troops”, I thought, “OK, you blowhard. But let’s do it right. Let’s have someone grab you off the street, throw you into a van, blindfold you, and drive you to someplace you have no idea. Then let’s have them strip off your clothes, deprive you of food for days, not say a word to you except to tell you to stand up or lie down; let’s have them randomly beat you. And then let’s have them waterboard you. No cameras to record your bravado. No knowledge that after ten seconds it’ll all be over. Let’s have them waterboard you, over and over and over again, until you scream for no more. Sounds about right to me.

Meanwhile Greg talks about Charles Krauthammer, moral relativism and torture, which you should just go read.

But there was a concept in Greg’s piece that reminded me of a somewhat different situation. In October 1972, I had to go in front of my draft board in Binghamton to maintain my position that I was a conscious objector, which I had declared when I had registered for the draft about a year and a half earlier, and which I had to deal with because my draft number was so low – 2. One of the questions was what I would do if someone attacked my mother. I said I would defend her and protect her. Then, I was asked, would not going to fight a Hitler be a protecting my mother against attack? My response was that it is one think to respond to an immediate threat of an attack against my mother; it was far different to intentionally put myself in a position to to fight and kill people. Perhaps this is moral relativism too, but regardless, I was granted a c.o.; then because the draft law was winding down, I wasn’t drafted anyway, even for alternative service.

Here’s another blogpost that had an impact on me this week, by Thom Wade: I hate that rape is an acceptable metaphor for minor things. Among the examples, “Stop Raping My Childhood, George Lucas.” Thom links to other banal rants as well. It is SO obviously wrongheaded that Thom should not have had to comment.

Finally, a personal, somewhat painful recollection by SamuraiFrog about family and friends and rage and therapy. “Everyone tells you to just get over it and move on, stop living in the past. But living in the past isn’t the problem.” I related to it more than I can say; OK, more than I am willing to say.



Here’s something that’s true; I can be a bit of a movie snob. I tend to go to movies that I expect to be good. Oscar-nominated films, films acclaimed at a film festival, and so on. Every once in a while – a GREAT while, given the more limited opportunities – I’ll go to see more popular fare.

Carol’s and my first night in Saratoga last week, we went to the Wilton Mall. I’d never been to the Wilton Mall before; it was mallish. Mallesque? One of the presents we got from one of my brothers-in-law for Christmas was a packet of tickets to any Regal Theater. This turned out to be our first opportunity to use them.

We had gotten there about 20 minutes before the film was scheduled to start, and bought popcorn. This was far inferior to the great popcorn I’m used to from the Spectrum Theatre in Albany. We were “entertained” by a package of “behind the scenes” pieces – one was for “Angels and Demons” the sequel to The da Vinci Code and again starring Tom Hanks. The segment was peppered with commercials: food commercials, car commercials, commercials for the U.S. Army.

Then it was the appointed moment. Time for…previews, the standard fare.

O.K., FINALLY, the actual movie. We’d heard some decent comments about the new evidently raunchy comedy I Love You, Man. It stars Paul Rudd, who we liked from The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, as a man named Peter, a real estate guy who early on becomes engaged to his girlfriend Zooey (Rashida Jones from Parks and Recreation, and The Office). The problem is that he doesn’t have any male friends, a real issue for Zooey’s friends.

Paul gets advice from his gay brother (Andy Samburg from Saturday Night Live) on how to meet straight men. But it is on his own that he meets Sydney (Jason Segel), a usually honest fellow – sometimes too much so, and they hit it off over a shared passion.

A movie like I Love You, Man can either work or not, depending on the writing and acting. I’m disinclined to over analyze it, except that it was less coarse than the last two Rudd movies I saw.

The verdict: while it has its flaws, including supporting characters that arrive but seem to get lost along the way and a joke or two that go on too long, I laughed, quite a bit actually. Ultimately, that’s all I really want in a comedy. My favorite joke, not a big ha-ha, but a knowing one took about an hour to set up. It’s a rather simple premise, but it worked for my wife and me, mostly because of the performances of Rudd and Segel.
Not used in the movie, thank goodness, was the term bromance, though the commentator here used it to describe this movie. I happen to dislike the term intensely, though I can’t explain exactly why. Maybe because it seems want to have it both ways: a teasing, somewhat homophobic way to show show how non-homophobic straight guys can be.

H is for Heart

I was musing – as I wont to do – about the different definitions of the word heart.

There’s the muscle that beats every second or so, which helps circulate the blood, the one that’s subject to attack.

Then there’s the romantic notion of love as represented by a symbol. Related, there’s the center of one’s feelings and emotion, such as a heartwarming tale. One fears that heart breaking.

There’s the middle, the core: the heart of the city, the heart of the matter, the heartland. Above is Into the Heart of the Crab Nebula. Here’s a blogpost meditation called Heart of the Matter.

There’s courage and resolve, to hearten. Sometimes they give the Purple Heart to stouthearted people like that.

Many heart words are combinations of these and other meanings. Heartthrob, for instance is the literal pulsing of the muscle, or an infatuation.

Here’s one of my favorite heart songs, from Damn Yankees.

A whole bunch of idioms which you could learn by heart.

As I think back on the hearts games I played this weekend – really – perhaps it’s time for the obvious conclusion, the Wilson sisters:


A is for Alphabet

My wife went to Ukraine in the summer of 2002 – the preparation for which was complicated by a bat in our home. A couple years later, a friend of hers made the same teaching trip and gave our newborn daughter an alphabet book from there. The title appears to be AbETKA – it’s the B-looking letter that’s the second, rather than the third letter of the Cyrillic alphabet.

This alphabet was not entirely foreign to me. I grew up in a city called Binghamton, NY, an upstate New York locale with a number of eastern Europeans. The Russians and the Ukrainian churches, primarily Eastern Orthodox in faith, sometimes used both Cyrillic and Latin/Roman.

As for the latter, it has some variety among the many languages in which it appears, such as accented letters (á, è, î), extra letters, and ligatures (two or three letters joined together – æ, e.g). this page has links how to type special letters in Windows, MAC, and HTML,m plus much more.

A recent Final JEOPARDY!: 2009-01-09 ALPHABETS: In the phonetic alphabet used by the U.S. military, it’s the only letter that has the same name as a warrior people.

Ending up with the Jack Kirby alphabet and a couple of Sesame Street pieces:



JEOPARDY! – What is Zulu?


I’ve inadverently borrowed from Eddie in that most of the posts this week were ones I had started, even finished, some time ago in Blogger but for some reason never posted. Those of you using Blogger to write posts can understand this: Blogger date-stamps the written entry, and unless you change it, it’ll stay there with that date from a couple months ago.

So I went through my unpublished entries for the past few months and decided to post them this week, including thaty one on autism that I thought I had published. Why is that, you may ask? Because I was away on a trip to Williamsburg, VA. More about that anon.

Anyway, thanks to the masked blogger who posted for me these past four days.
The Annual Mensa Invitational was a couple months ago, for all of you wordies. I really do love this stuff:

Here is the Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational which once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are the winners:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. Ignoranus : A person who’s both stupid and an a**hole.

3. Intaxication : Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation : Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone ( n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

6. Foreploy : Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

7. Giraffiti : Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

8. Sarchasm : The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the Person who doesn’t get it.

9. Inoculatte : To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. Osteopornosis : A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

11. Karmageddon : It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really
bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.

12. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

13. Glibido : All talk and no action.

14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

16. Beelzebug (n.) : Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

17. Caterpallor ( n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.

The Washington Post has also published the winning submissions to its
yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for
common words. And the winners are:

1. Coffee , n. The person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted , adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.

3. Abdicate , v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. Esplanade , v. To attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly , adj. Impotent.

6. Negligent , adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.

7. Lymph , v. To walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle , n. Olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. Flatulence , n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash , n. A rapidly receding hairline.

11. Testicle , n. A humorous question on an exam.

12. Rectitude , n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. Pokemon , n. A Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster , n. A person who sprinkles his conversation with yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism , n. The belief that,after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16. Circumvent , n. An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.


The Lydster, Part 47: "Hey, Guys!"

One of the things we’ve learned as parents is that there are lots of tricks of the trade, but that sometimes, they don’t work.

For instance, some kind parents suggested that, in order to save precious time in the morning, we pick out Lydia’s clothes the night before. That only works when she doesn’t change her mind in the morning. But thanks anyway.

But it’s not just the suggestions that are at issue; it’s how they are presented. For example, Lydia needed to take an oral medicine that she did not like for an infection.
Good way to give advice: Have you tried putting it in yogurt or ice cream?
Bad way to give advice: Why don’t you just put it in yogurt or ice cream?
The second way is bad because it suggests, more in the accompanying tone than in the content, that hadn’t even thought of it, and that we’re totally incompetent parental rubes. (I may be, but I certainly don’t need you to TELL me so.)

As a matter of fact, we HAVE tried to put the medicine in food. She can taste it. (As can I.) But she STILL has to take the antibiotic.

This means, unfortunately, me holding her while her mother administers the medicine. Even before a single drop touches her lips, she struggles and says, “Hey, guys! Hey, gu-u-u-ys!” This is NOT how she usually refers to us. We find it very funny phraseology and have to stifle laughing as we give her the unwanted liquid. She pouts for about two minutes, then seems to forget all about it as she seeks out hugs. Very interesting, this parental trip.


The Lydster, Part 40: She Don't Need No Education

This may be obvious to those of you who have had children, or who have worked with kids, but that wasn’t me. Even with five nieces, I didn’t see them nearly every day, so I’d failed to pick up the subtleties in their changing language skills.
For instance, in the last few months, Lydia has picked up the notion of the past tense. My wife, the English teacher, explained to me that, just by listening, they pick up the general rules, in this case, the -ed suffix. Then later, they, at least native speakers with people around them who give them examples of standard English, will pick up on the nuances in the language. So, I needn’t necessarily correct Lydia when she says throwed when she means threw, except to reply with the proper form. And I’ve noticed that this is working with growed and grew already. An interesting scientific laboratory in the home.
Meanwhile, she’s doing her numbers, though she seems to skip 14, for some reason. And she prints her name. The L she’s got down pat. The Y looks like an I with a little arrow quiver on the top. The D resembles a paramecium. The I is good. The A is fine, too, but then she augments it with little dots; maybe it’s an artistic statement.
As they say, Reading Is Fundamental. And we do read to her a lot. They are often the same stories, so that memorization often takes place. My favorite book to share with her is Madeline:
“In an old yellow house in old Paree”
“Paris!”, I’m corrected.
And later, I read “again” to rhyme with “rain”, and I’m corrected, well, again. One of these days, I’ll get it right. Or maybe not.

I Talk Well English

Here’s something that I’ve long found peculiar: people saying to me, to my face, “You don’t sound black.” I know this is going on even when they don’t actually voice it. I’ve talked to folks on the phone, usually for work, and then they meet me and they have that “You’re not at ALL what I expected you to look like” look on their faces. It’s quite entertaining, actually. And I get it from black people as well as with white people, except it’s tinged with, “Oh, you’re a BROTHER” vibe; I’m, to their surprise, part of the fraternity.

First time someone said I didn’t “sound black”, I was deeply offended. OK, first several times. Then I started intellectualizing:
PERSON: You don’t sound black.
ME: Oh, but since I AM black, and this is how I sound, I must sound black.
That always confused them.

Now, I just don’t care. The joy of being of a certain age is that stuff which used to hurt now are just funny. Anyway, I blame my father, who was no friend of what later became known as Ebonics. I talk as I talk, and, in the words of Walter Cronkite, “That’s the way it is.”

Your Linguistic Profile::
55% General American English
35% Yankee
5% Upper Midwestern
0% Dixie
0% Midwestern

Here’s one of those statistical errors that madden. In reporting on the possible Rudy Guiliani campaign for President this weekend, ABC News’ Geoff Morrell noted that Guiliani was in a “virtual dead heat” with Hillary Clinton (Clinton led 49-47), but that he “beats” Barack Obama, 47-45. Since the margin of error of the survey was plus or minus three points, that race is in a statistical dead heat as well.
“She tried to warn us: With the publication of Shrub in early 2000, syndicated columnist Molly Ivins detailed George W. Bush’s privileged rise and disastrous reign as governor of Texas in the mid- to late ‘90s.” That’s a great line from the Amazon review of Ms. Ivins‘ follow-up book, Bushwhacked. Unfortunately, Molly Ivins died yesterday of breast cancer at the age of 62.