Saturday, 22 April 2006

English Language Abuses

Oh, forget the normal, day-to-day English abuses. I'm more after the idiomatic/euphemistic way that we as a whole refer to sex, killing, and body parts. While I understand to a [very small] degree the need to denigrate sex and things sexual, I don't see why it is so prevalent.

I witnessed a phone conversation that was at partially staged for my benefit (not the call itself - that would fall under serendipity for the individual who received it), but the word choices involved. The receiver actually referred to the caller and some unknown third party as a "slit" - it did not take me too long to figure out just what the insult was. (I was later told that the receiver thought using the rather strong word "cunt" was too offensive. An interesting thought since any term of that nature seems quite highly offensive.) This is not unlike the time that Luis came home and casually asked me how I would feel about being called a "gash". EMT that I am the first thought that went through my head is, "why would you want to call me a lacerati-- oh. OOOOhhhhhhhh... Hey! Wait a second!" (Yes, sometimes I'm a little slow on the uptake...)

Luis, well, he used to get most of his tertiary English "skills" from Howard Stern. Since he no longer has any access to Howard (we never did get Sirius) I can't for the life of me imagine where he is getting this sort of euphemistic language from. However, the "slit" perpetrator is in law enforcement... and who knows foul language like cops, firemen and enlisted men?

Foul language hardly bothers me and I use it as well - I would not incorporate the word "cunt" into my everyday English for the severity that others assign to it. I really try to be cautious of that. I use "fuck" a little too liberally but that really is in most people's daily-use lexicon. My area of specialty is Shakespearian language or middle English insults and innuendo.

The English language was much more flowery then, so to speak, so the terminology tended to paint a picture rahter than assign unknown words to parts. A few choice phrases/words:

Plum
Charged chamber
Potent regiment
Billards
Withered pear
Thump
Dearest bodily part
Hang one's bugle in an invisible baldric
Velvet leaves
Bird's nest
Nest of spicery
Clack-dish
Horsemanship
Netherlands
Put a man in one's belly
Make the beast with two backs
Buried with her face upwards
Venus' glove
O
Country matters
Three-inch fool
lag end
Embalming encounter
mingle bloods
Holy-thistle
Box unseen
Shake a man's hack
Gate hole
Change the cod's head for the salmon's tail
potato-finger
Roger
Make defeat of virginity
Pillicock
nose-painting
stairwork
pluck a sweet
Peculiar river
chaste treasure
Scale serve
Den
pick the lock
carrot
Assault between the sheets
Constable
Momentary trick
low countries
Dart of love
Little finger
pizzle

Chuckle. Now, how many of those did you actually know? Go ahead. I know common use ones: beast with two backs, pizzle, dart of love, pick the lock, den, chaste treasure, pluck a sweet... those I know well. Some of the others are a bit more obscure. But don't kid yourself, in the 1500s everyone knew what you were referring to if you said, "I've been down a peculiar river today..."

Ah, the richness and fun that is the English language - or was. Now it is much too obvious and clearly derogatory. It has none of the fun and finesse that is so key to good lingual skills. And with me, English is not just a way of getting ideas across, it's an art form. I love words.

But it is a scary world that feels that we should practice Ebonics...

The Weather Blahs...

It's a rainy grey day outside. It is dark and dreary inside. I started cleaning up around the house, and have made the bed and straightened up most of the bedroom... but that is as far as I've gotten. I'm just not feeling very inspired to much of anything, really.

I'm much too susceptible to the weather... I find it is really hard to do things and move and be interested in much on dark, dreary days like this. Good thing I went into the City yesterday. I had a perfectly lovely day there. I met up with Harry almost the moment I stepped out of the PATH train station onto Christopher Street. The sun was bright and shining and there was a coolish breeze - gorgeous. We walked all over the Village area and then took the L and then 4th train to Central Park. We met up with Nick and walked through the Shakespeare's Garden portion of the park. We hung out on some benches there chatting and then finally headed out and then decided we were hungry and went to a delicious pizza place - oh, what a wonderful thing! It was Marengo pizza - chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, sauce and cheese. Yowza. We were there until 2030 chatting and just having a great time.

I finally got to the car in Hoboken around 21:35 and then came home, a good fast trip with no traffic snags. I love trips like that. The day was perfect. I did, of course, do some shopping. I bought a Shakespeare sex mug, a beautiful fluoride ball, two more Chilean good luck pigs, a pair of lovely earrings, a couple of postcards and some tea from McNulty's - Irish Afternoon tea and Scottish Breakfast tea.

I got home shortly after 2200, stayed up watching the telly for a bit with Luis and finally went to bed around midnight. I could not keep my eyes open.

Today... well, not so active. I have a whole rest of the house to clean. Now that Luis is not napping on the couch in the sun room I can really clean up out there. And I really need to do this now, so that when he travels on Wednesday I will be able to come home to a truly clean house and enjoy it for the time he is away.

Luis will be in Chicago this coming week, probably from Wednesday afternoon to Saturday night or more likely Sunday midday. Just as well. I am riding Thursday night and next weekend is my normal Saturday rotation, something I enjoy. Although I am on tonight from 1800 to midnight... and my gut is telling me that something big is going to happen... I have had that before. Sometimes I'm right and we have a bad night out. Sometimes I'm wrong and absolutely nothing happens at all. But when I am right, I am really, really right. Hopefully I am wrong today.

Well, time to really push myself and do something. It is also time to go across the street and grab another bag of kitty litter and change the litter during the outlaw's nap. That will be happening in an hour or so. That way I can write letters this afternoon and relax...


Alright. Time to push. No more blogging or telly or playing with the kitties or sex or ANYTHING until I get off my butt and clean!

Saturday, 15 April 2006

Penn & Teller's Bullshit!

I love this show! Out of two full seasons and the two new episodes I have seen, I have only disagreed 0n their opinion on one show! That is pretty amazing. It's a difficult show in that there's an overabundance of foul language (something that I don't mind in general but find excessive here) but the content and the research into different topics and the arguing sides of that topic are well worth the consistent overuse of the word "fuck".

However, in re-watching the pilot, where they discuss people who communicate with the dead, Penn Gilette explains all the foul language - apparently that is a little too much even for them - but has to do with avioding litigation over slander or libel or both. Well... OK, then. I like the fact that even Penn finds all that colourful language to be too much, but that it is not there for shock value or anything of that nature.

Topics that they cover:

First Season:
  • Talking to the Dead
  • Alien Abductions
  • End of the World
  • Second Hand Smoke/Baby Bullshit
  • Sex, Sex, Sex
  • Feng Shui/Bottled Water
  • Creationism
  • Self-Helpless
  • ESP
  • Eat This! (Diets & Food)
  • Ouija Boards/Near Death Experiences
  • Environmental Hysteria

Season Two:

  • P.E.T.A.
  • Safety Hysteria
  • The Business of Love
  • War on Drugs
  • Death, Inc.
  • 12-Stepping
  • The Bible: Fact or Fiction
  • Exercise vs. Genetics
  • Hypnosis
  • Recycling
  • Profanity
  • Yoga, Tantric Sex, Etc.
  • Fountain of Youth

Season Three:

  • Family Values
  • Circumcision
  • Saving Wildlife
  • There's a lot more, but I don't have it on DVD yet...

Season Four

  • Boy Scouts
  • Prostitution
  • The Death Penalty (not yet seen)
  • Cryptozoology (not yet seen)

OK. I am totally on board with almost everything. We disagreed about circumcision. I prefer my penises (peni?) without a foreskin. Some women don't, although personally I don't know any that do. Penn certainly wasn't OK with it but then, this is not something that men will think about too deeply as it would be a distressing thought. However, most men I know prefer to be circumcized. None the less, it's OK to disagree.

But we do see entirely eye-to-eye on the other topics. I am not at all (even slightly) a believer in Creationism. How could the scientific mind ever wrap itself around that? Death, Inc. zeroes in on the racket that is the funeral home business, which prays unmercifully on the bereaved to soak every possible penny out of them. No one who knows me needs to ask whether I think the Bible is fact or fiction. No mystery there. And love is absolutely a chemical issue!

Latest one I saw was Prostitution. I am a 100% proponent of prostitution being legalised. I am convinced that legalising it would allow the prostitutes to be a lot safer from violent or abusive johns and pimps; disease; drugs; and getting ripped off. I also do not feel that it is appropriate for the government to step in and tell me that I cannot do this out of what...? Some kind of misguided morality? Giving into a prudish and stupid public? Where does the government get off telling me that something I can give away is something I cannot charge for? Let's think about that...

So I can be a total "hussy" and sleep around indiscriminately and give myself away to every man and/or woman around, have group sessions, engage in all sorts of sordid, odd, aberrant or outright deviant sexual behaviour possible, do S&M, be a dominatrix, be into leather, bondage, scat (not ever), phone sex, screwing in public, sleeping with the old and the young, using animals as part of my act (again, yuck, but people apparently do stuff like that) and all sorts of other diversive things, but I cannot charge for it and it's OK...

Oh, but wait! It is also illegal to sleep with anyone other than your spouse if you are married. Again, over-governing? You had better believe it! Only in the United States could laws that stupid be passed! I love this country but some of the things we go out of our way to do are inexplicably stupid.

If you go to Nevada, home to the Bunny Ranch and other houses of ill repute, you pays your moneys and you gets your sex - or whatever you were hoping for - legally, cleanly, without having to find a seedy hotel or trying to sneak it in your vehicle. I am totally on board with that! No one should have to go through all sorts of weird contortions to get laid (unless you are into kinky positions!). While the super-attractive can seduce all the people they want and get all kinds of action with little to no trouble, the not-so-good-looking are relegated to masturbation - or sneaking around using women who are supporting a drug habit and possibly rife with disease to get a little action. I find that much more objectionable.

And lastly there is the argument that this personifies women as objects. Well, to some degree we are - men are wired completely differently from women when it comes to sexuality. I don't see any issue with being an object of lust or desire to Luis. No more than he should mind me seeing him in that fashion as well. Sex is very different for men, though. They are visual creatures, where women are tuned into a little of everything - smell, sound, sight, the ruse of romance...

Well, I'm all for legalising prostitution!

Anyway, go Penn & Teller! I hope they can change some small part of how people see things.

Unanswered Questions: Things to Ponder

The questions where in a humourous e-mail that was sent to me (or printed out for me) by my parents. I took it one step farther and decided to answer them, as some, while funny, need that answer. Or I just felt like cogitating out loud about it... take your pick!
Q: How important does a person have to be before s/he is considered assassinated instead of just murdered?

A: Good question, although I believe that the English language (if used properly) answers this question. Murder can be anything from “oops, look what happened” (manslaughter, by legal definition) to “I planned this for 20 years” (pre-meditated murder), where as assassination is someone else either killing one for a specific purpose (usually political gain) or hiring one to kill someone else for a specific purpose. I didn’t look in a dictionary for this… it’s just proper understanding of words. This is why people get into arguments for no really good reason – gross misunderstanding or misuse of words.

Q: If money doesn’t grow on trees, why do banks have branches?

A: More word-bending. Money certainly doesn’t grow on trees, and yet it seems as though someone is always dangling a branch full of it (take that anyway you like…) for one to pluck. This is in the form of loans, promissory notes, quick-fix schemes, money laundering, pyramid schemes, take your pick. So maybe there is something to be said for the whole “tree/money” metaphor…

Q: Since most bread is square, why is sandwich meat round?

A: I’m guessing that shape is up to the company manufacturing the different items. This is an interesting and humourous question, but really not something that occupies my mind… too often, anyway.

Q: Once you’re in heaven, are you stuck wearing the clothes you were buried in for eternity?

A: Worse yet, will you arrive a bit charcoaled if you were cremated? I don’t pretend to know the answer to this – especially since this would require a HUGE philosophical debate over the existence of heaven, nirvana, Valhalla… take your pick. But I will tell you it would really suck to be a man and buried in a suit on the top only if the above question is the case… (I don't think the entire body is clothed when they are viewed and then buried - I think only the upper half is clothed. I may be wrong, but when you think about it, why bother?)

Q: Why does a round pizza come in a square box?

A: More poor planning…

Q: How come we choose from two people for President and fifty for Miss America?

A: I actually have to agree with this. The pickings for President are quite paltry – let’s face it, who would vote for George W. Bush if someone with half of a brain, some lingual skill, and an opinion had run against him? Unfortunately, while I can’t help but think that the last candidate (whose name escapes me, as I have so little caring for politicians – oh, wait, yes, Kerry!) would have been better, he wasn’t able to unwedge the fence from his butt. Not my top choice, either… But look what we have running the country now. The moron of the Western world.

On the other hand, you have one representative for each state in a contest that is cut-throat, petty and stressing all the wrong values. Miss America is probably one of the most vacuous roles in the world, and it is run by yet more stiff, religiously zealous bigoted people. Just what we need… like the Boy Scouts. Any time stiff bigoted people run things, it cannot bode well for society. But I wouldn’t vote for any of these women to run the country, either… not to say that they are not better qualified. (Again, I refer you to the present incumbent…)

Q: When your photo is taken for your driver’s license, why do they tell you to smile? If you are stopped by the police and asked for your license, are you going to be smiling?

A: In my case, the answer is yes. I smile at everyone. I can’t help it. And especially the poor guy (or woman) pulling me over – this person has no idea what sort of person I am. A smile is friendly, shows good intent and is often disarming. Not that it elicits a smile from the officer, though. They must have very specific training that instructs them to never smile. Even the Connecticut officer who pulled me over did not crack even the slightest smile after I thanked him all over the place for giving me a $37 ticket for my seat belt not being worn instead of the $320 ticket I so richly deserved for zipping along at 84mph on (ironically) Route 84.

My problem is when the DMV representative instructs me to smile three hours and $24.00 later to get my bloody license!

Q: Can a hearse carrying a corpse drive in the carpool lane?

A: Clearly someone has entirely too much time on his or her hands to think of this. Then again, it is one of the better things about humanity to see these little gems, little pearls of… witticism! So… the real answer is that I highly doubt a dead body counts as a passenger in that sense. I suppose if you prop it up in the front seat, you might manage it… but yuck. I have heard of people putting mannequins in the car to appear as a passenger to allow the owner to use the HOV lanes. Amazing what people will do to get away with something…

Q: If corn oil is made from corn, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, then what is baby oil made from?
Let’s not even go there…

Tuesday, 11 April 2006

This Week's Theme: Death & Taxes

Monday, 10 April 2006

Ben Franklin once said, "In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes." And the same goes for this week's words: nothing is certain but death and taxes, or at least a discussion of them. Don't worry, nobody dies and no one has to pay a tax to learn these words. Each of the words this week has something to do with either death or taxes.

Over the ages, the world's rulers have imposed all imaginable kinds of taxes on the populace. Taxes were once based on the number of hearths in a house (fumage), and there have been taxes to pay off raiding Danes (Danegeld). In late seventeenth century, William III of UK imposed a window tax, levied on each window in a house. Three hundred years later, William III of US imposed a Windows tax, levied on each personal computer manufactured, whether it had Windows or not, but I digress.

Death too comes in unexpected places. When we buy a house and sign a mortgage, let's keep in mind that the word derives from Old French mort (death) + gage (pledge). In the US, April 15 is the deadline for filing tax returns for the previous year. At one time the consequences of failure to pay taxes were severe but thankfully, today, the "dead"line is only metaphorical.

This week in AWAD we'll look at more words related to those two things few of us want to encounter.

publican
(PUB-li-kuhn)

noun
1. A tax collector.
2. An owner or manager of a pub or hotel.

[From Latin publicanus, from publicum (public revenue), from publicus (public), from populus (people).] In ancient Rome, the state farmed out the collection of taxes. The right to collect tax was auctioned off to the highest bidder. Tax collection agents, known as publicans, employed lower-level collectors who made best use of their license. For their severe extraction of taxes, publicans were widely despised. Now, if a publican is a tax collector, what is a republican?

Tuesday, 11 April 2006
thanatopsis
(than-uh-TOP-sis)

noun
A reflection upon death.

[From Greek thanatos (death) + -opsis (appearance, view).] Thanatos is the Greek personification of death; thanatophobia is an abnormal fear of death. Thanatopsis is the title of an acclaimed poem by poet and journalist William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878): http://bartleby.com/102/16.html

Wednesday, 12 April 2006
impost
(IM-post)

noun
1. A tax or a similar mandatory payment.
2. The weight a horse must carry in a handicap race.
3. The top part of a pillar of a wall, usually projecting in the form of an ornamental molding, on which an arch rests.

[From Latin imponere (to impose), from ponere (to place).]

Thursday, 13 April 2006
anabiosis
(an-uh-bi-O-sis)

noun
A return to life after death or apparent death.

[From Greek anabiosis (coming back to life), from anabioun (to return to life), from ana- (back) + bio- (life).]

Many animals and plants can survive periods of extreme drought or cold. They reach a state of suspended animation and can come back to life even after being dormant for years. One such plant is the Rose of Jericho, also known as Anastatica or Resurrection plant. In dry conditions, its stems curl into a ball. When blown by the wind, it spreads its seeds along the way. When moistened, it turns into a green plant again, even after years of dryness. The curled ball is sold as a curiosity item. Cryonics is the process of deep-freezing a body for preservation in the hope that it might be possible to revive it in future. An organization named Alcor carries out the preservation of whole bodies or just heads for humans and their pet animals. -Anu Garg

Friday, 14 April 2006
capitation
(kap-i-TAY-shuhn)

noun
1. A counting of heads.
2. A uniform tax assessed by the head; a poll tax.
3. A fee extracted from each student.

[From Late Latin capitation- (poll tax), from caput (head). Ultimately from Indo-European root kaput- (head), also the origin of head, captain, chef, chapter, cadet, cattle, chattel, achieve, biceps, and mischief (but not of kaput).]

Sunday, 9 April 2006

I'd Make a Great Grim Reaper

It's true. I've watched every episode of Dead Like Me and I know that this is a job I'd be cut out to do.


Very few people love what they do. I happen to be very lucky in that I love my job - and not just for the place I work for currently (which has way more positives than negatives), but in general. From the start when I fell into the HR department at PNY Technologies, I knew that this was what I was meant to do. Sure, there was a lot of learning and trial and error but it was all worth it. I hold a great position now. And the thing of it is that I earned it. I worked very hard to get to where I am. For someone with zero college, this is a huge accomplishment.


But let's look at the job of the Grim Reaper. Or in this case, reapers. In Dead Like Me, the main character, George, is someone I identify with a lot. I'm not 18 and wasn't killed at that age, but her general manner and a lot of the different things like being a joiner and hiding to really hide and all that, well, that is me all over.

There are several things that I identify strongly with.


Not seeing the forest for the trees. If you want someone who sees the big picture, I'm not it. I immerse myself in the little nit-picky details and can focus on them and pick them apart and that is my absolute strength. If you want to me to step back and see overall things, or project more than a month (well, ideally a week) into the future, I'm not your person. There are two kinds of people: those like me, who only see trees, and those like Vana, a colleague, who only sees the forest.


Not being a joiner. Fortuitously, my parents were never ones to force the issue - they did not step in and sign me up for things or list me with an after-school activity or group, unless I asked to do it. Say what you will: some people are joiners and some aren't. Making your kid a joiner is not the right thing to do. I hate that people sign up their kids for piano lessons, soccer practice, dance lessons, take your pick, when the kid clearly does not want to go. I'm OK with the fact that my parents did not force me to partake. I did join one or two things, but only on my own terms. I took an art class; I did work as a stage hand on "Pippin" in high school; I took Astronomy (and got to see Halley's Comet through the big telescope at Garrett Mountain in Paterson). So I did do some things. Every where that I have worked I have avoided going to bars with my coworkers (always a good choice being in HR but even prior to that I never went for that). I'm not a joiner that way and no one seems to be too hung up on that.

Hiding. I never played Hide & Go Seek with the idea that I would be discovered. I really wanted to be invisible and not be found. That is just the way I am.


Family affairs. I am not a family-oriented person. I love my parents and Luis and I have a very close relationship with them. My secondary family is OK and I like seeing them once a year. I do like my cousin Reneé more than that and I like Luis' sister Anna much more. And they both made excellent choices in men. Reneé married Alex Bradley and he is a really wonderful person. Anna is still with Kirk and I hope she never lets him go. The rest of my family is OK with the marked exception of my father-outlaw, who just makes me crazy on a consistent level. I don't feel that visiting family is ever classified as "vacation" but an extra stressor. I do not feel obligated to say yes to every ridiculous invite that comes down the pike. (I am fortunate in the fact that my family is very small and so this comes up very infrequently. But I know people whose dance cards are always full because of "family obligations". If I feel obligated to go and don't want to, guess what. I don't go. I hate the idea of being obligated to go - it is a nice way of saying I am so not interested in being there! So... I don't!


Weddings. OK, what is it about weddings that make women turn into raving lunatics and men heave a sigh? I'm with most men - "oh, ye gods, not another one of these!" And then there is Luis. He signs up to go to EVERY wedding he gets an invitation to from coworkers! Oh, stop! If they want to go through all that, send them a card and be done with it! I only want to go to really close friends' weddings and that is it. By the same token, I would only invite the closest of friends to my nuptials - not every acquaintance and coworker. I can only think of one person at my current place of employment that I would invite.

Work joining. I'm not a joiner in any aspect of life, why should work be any different? I won't be joining the work soft ball league or bowling team or anything like that!

Team sports. I never liked team sports and seeing what joiner I am, is this any surprise?


As for being a reaper, I would be good at this because people dying doesn't bother me. I have in fact discovered that it is dealing with survivors at the scene that bothers me and makes me emotional. But dead people are just a fact of life. Maybe that sounds cold. I have walked enough people to the grave to know that this is some thing that does not bother me. Old or young (and young is not as easy but it is still easier than the survivors), sometimes it is just their time to go. So reaping the souls of those about to die would be an acceptable thing.

And I can deal with being "invisible" and sort of fading into the background and not being obvious. I am someone who does that at large-scale events, events where I know very few people and high-end events. I am never comfortable dressing up, being presentable and having to follow acceptable social norms for the upper crust. I never know what fork to use, how to put my napkin and which side is my bread plate versus my partner's. These sort of social graces are lost on me and I find them a waste of time. Take me as I am or don't. It is that simple.

The hours might be a little weird. And it's not the kind of thing that makes one's résumé look normal (it will make it stand out, but not in a good way...). But it would be interesting! Never a dull moment. Then again...

...I have that now! And I get paid well for it. Not a bad deal at all...

Wednesday, 5 April 2006

This Week's Theme: Terms Imported from Other Languages.

Monday, 3 April 2006

Guest Wordsmith Philip Gooden writes:

Language gives a snub to borders in a way that is denied to any other human invention. There are no controls or checks to prevent words from crossing boundaries, there are no duties to be paid when phrases migrate from one culture to another. In the basic and simplest sense of the phrase, language is a free market. Among world languages, English has some claim to providing the freest market of them all, not only because it is compounded from a variety of sources but also because it has made itself open to linguistic influences from around the globe. It is interesting to see how the different languages have come to be deployed in different fields.

French is traditionally the language of diplomacy, of détente and démarche, but it is just as traditionally the language of sex and romance (billet doux; cinque à sept, describing the time late in the day when lovers traditionally meet). Latin, functional and precise, provides us with many of the abbreviations we still use (e.g., i.e., etc.) as well as a number of legal terms. From Spanish come a handful of "masculine" terms like macho and cojones. At times it is difficult to avoid the feeling that an entire culture may be contained within an expression that remains tantalisingly elusive even when translated. One thinks of the sombre northern European quality of the German Weltschmerz or the way an entire (Mediterranean) quality of life seems to be embodied in the Italian dolce far niente (literally, sweet doing nothing).

apparatchik
(uh-pah-RAH-chik) noun

Member of the (Soviet) bureaucracy; now extended to apply to any inflexible organisation man, particularly in a political party.

[From Russian apparat (apparatus, the government machine or structure) + chik (agent).]

Like other terms deriving from the USSR such as nomenklatura (list of important positions to be filled by people from the party), apparatchik is always used pejoratively. It suggests a bureaucrat who willingly follows and implements the party line, either in a spirit of blind obedience or one of cynical ambition. As an insult for a person sitting in an office, it's stronger and more exotic than "suit" or "jobs worth".

(Philip Gooden is a writer and editor, who produces historical whodunnits and writes reference books on the English language. He is the author of "Who's Whose?", "Faux Pas?" and the forthcoming "Name Dropping?". He lives in Bath, England.)

Tuesday, 4 April 2006
au contraire
(oh kon-TRAIR) noun

On the contrary.

[From French au contraire (on the contrary).]

On the face of it, there seems no reason to prefer au contraire to "on the contrary". The meaning is obvious whether it's expressed in French or English. True, the French version is two words rather than three but the saving is minimal and beside the point. The value of au contraire, therefore, lies with the slightly camp context in which it's usually found. An earnest argument demands "on the contrary", but an opposing point of view, not meant too seriously and delivered with a flap of the wrist or a raised eyebrow, justifies au contraire.

Wednesday, 5 April 2006
feng shui
(fung SHWAY) noun

Describing the network of intangible influences, positive and negative, that some believe to operate in a place, knowledge of which is necessary in discovering the most propitious site for putting up a building, staging an event, etc.

[From Chinese feng (wind) and shui (water).]

Like ying and yang, feng shui is a new western import of an old philosophical or mythological idea from the other side of the world. In the east, feng shui may be used in siting graves, but in the west it seems to operate mostly at the home-improvement level. A pretentious term perhaps, but that's part of its marketing appeal.

Thursday, 6 April 2006
gestalt
(gesh-TALT) noun
Shape or pattern; most often used in psychology to describe a theory or approach which aims to see something as a whole rather than breaking it into separate parts
[From German gestalt (form, shape).]
Like a number of terms which are derived from psychology, gestalt has wandered away from its specialist or technical context even if it has not entered mainstream use in the way that "paranoid" or "schizophrenic" have (perhaps because it relates more to a method of approach or treatment than to a high-profile condition). With that said however, anybody employing gestalt in a non-specialist field should ask whether the word does anything that couldn't be achieved by a simpler term. In the Guardian example below, it might be argued that gestalt suggests the emotional and intellectual switch required to think differently -- in this case, that milk might be bad for you. But the sentence wouldn't really be affected if the word were left out altogether and it's difficult to avoid the impression that the writer has thrown it in to sex up the subject of milk.
Friday, 7 April
papabile
(pa-PA-bi-lay), also papable adjective
Eligible or suitable to become a pope; fitted for high office.
[From Italian papabile (worthy to be pope), from papa (pope) + -bile, equivalent to -ble (able).]
Papabile can be used literally about those cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church who are regarded as suitable candidates for thepapacy. By extension, the term can be applied to anybody aspiring to some exalted position, usually in government. It suggests not just that they are senior and capable enough but also that they have some aura of leadership. However, away from a Catholic context, the term seems a bit forced.
-Guest Wordsmith Philip Gooden

Saturday, 1 April 2006

Not Again!

What?! Is it that time again?! Oh, no...

Oh, yes... the clocks will move forward once again. Everyone at work is griping about this because they will lose one hour of sleep. I suppose so, but honestly, I have loved riding on the night the clocks changed (it was an eleven hour shift instead of a twelve hour shift); and then there is the fact that this is a Saturday night that this happens on... not a work night. So I won't lose anything. I will still sleep eight hours (roughly).

Time is time and you cannot lose it. More importantly, you cannot regain lost time. Going to bed at 2000 on Friday night and sleeping until noon on Saturday morning after managing only four hours a night Tuesday through Thursday will not actually make you "catch up" on sleep. You cannot regain what you have lost. Time and sleep do not work that way. Well, when Daylight Saving Time begins, there is no loss (especially if you go to bed a little earlier), but there is that crucial shift in daylight. I am plunged into total darkness in the morning hours after having been driving in twilight/daylight for some time.

Conversely, that "extra" hour in the evening is a little off-putting. Suddenly it is not so easy to go to bed because suddenly there is daylight where there was none. Uhhhh.... someone turn out the lights, please!

Why is it so easy for every one else but not for me?