Wednesday, June 30, 2010
: an expression of comparison comprising a usually well-known quotation followed by a facetious sequel
Named after a Dickens character—Sam Weller of The Pickwick Papers—this word is a cultural subcategory of word play. The character and his father were fond of this type of textual irony, enough so that readers coined the term after him. The example Merriam-Webster offers (from the original text) is: "'We'll have to rehearse that,' said the undertaker as the coffin fell out of the car." It took me a minute to get this—re-hearse. Okay. Some others:
"It all comes back to me now," said the Captain as he spat into the wind.
"So I see," said the blind man as he picked up his hammer and saw.
In a course I took last fall, the professor passed out a xerox handout about "Tom Swifties," another form of ironic word play, and apparently considered a sub-genre of the WELLERISM. The "Tom Swifty" is named after a a series of books with the same name (minus the suffix -y). In order to spice up the verb "said" after dialogue, the author began adding modifiers that punily complimented the action in the dialogue. Some random examples from the world wide web:
"I dropped the toothpaste," declared Tom, crestfallen.
"I've joined the navy," Tom said fleetingly.
"I've swallowed some glass," Tom mumbled painfully.
Such wit. Unfortunately, I am not at all witty today, so I will be leaving off with this information, and pausing before reflection ensues.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
: discreetly cautious: as a : hesitant and vigilant about dangers and risks b : slow to grant, accept, or expend
This word began as a tribute to the bittersweet, once meaning both sorrowful and cherished. I think of nostalgia—grief at an absence of what once was, but also touched by having once been at all.
I can't quite figure how CHARY made the transition into hesitance. Is it the danger of the bittersweet
recollection? The ease at which one can be sucked into nostalgic remembrance? I'm struck by how much CHARY resembles WARY: arising from or characterized by caution. What is it about being sorrowful or cherished or both that inspires reluctance? There seems to be a huge hole in this etymology.
(12 hours go by)
With a little digging, I find that CHARY comes from the Middle English word "caru," which means care. I suppose care can move to sorrow, but it can also move to careful, as in cautious.
I return to the original email to discover this information is right there, it somehow took me all day to draw the line between care and careful.
Okay. I'm still on vacation. The wheels are moving a bit slower considering the EXTREME humidity in the northeast.
HOWEVER, I might add that bittersweet is not only a feeling but also a plant that bears small fruits that resemble cherries which sounds a whole lot like CHARY.
Monday, June 28, 2010
1 : a place of burial : tomb
2 : a receptacle for religious relics especially in an altar
One day in fourth grade my class was taking turns reading aloud from a novel. I was in the advanced reading class, and unlike many others I enjoyed reading aloud because I liked pretending I was eloquent. While reading that day, I mistakingly pronounced the word Chicago as CHIK-uh-go. The class snickered. My teacher said, "It's shi-KAK-goh," in a pitiful tone, as though I was too ignorant to have heard of the city. Of course
I had heard of Chicago, but I had never seen the word in print. I felt pretty awful for the rest of the day.
For some time I confused pronunciations of the words scarce and sparse, switching the pronunciation of the a's, an ahr versus an air. The most memorable incident was when I was hanging out with the older sister of a friend; I was 19, she was probably about 23—the cooler, older, more intelligent woman to my ignorant just-out-of-high-school teenager. We sat on a humid sidewalk outside a Dunkin Donuts by the mall. I plugged the word scarce into the conversation, pronouncing it skars, and she immediately called me out.
"Did you just say skars? Do you mean skairs?"
I tried to laugh it off, but I felt stupid and young.
I always thought the word SEPULCHRE was pronounced sep-UL-kruh. Wrong again. Although, this mistake was only the sounds in my head; I can't recall a time when I used this word out loud. But thank you, Merriam-Webster, for saving me the future embarrassment of mispronouncing a word I may use next time I'm having a heart-to-heart about burial tombs.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
: being, having, characterized by, or occurring in approximately 24-hour periods or cycles (as of biological activity or function)
The word CIRCADIAN is often followed by the word rhythms, suggesting a habitual repetition or pattern happening during regular 24-hour periods. So, for example, if I set aside an isolated chunk of 24 hours to combing the beach with a metal detector, it would not be CIRCADIAN, it would be absurd. However, if I combed the beach with a metal detector every day at 3 pm for a half hour one could refer to this activity as CIRCADIAN. And still, of course, absurd.
CIRCADIAN derives from the words "circa" (about) and "dies" (day). Circa is really a wonderful word. It allows its user to be vague while also still sounding intelligent and professional. Circa says: I don't really know the answer, it's probably around this time, about this figure, sort of like this—I'm not really sure.
Circa: making uncertainty sound trustworthy for two millennia.
An art history professor of mine consistently took points off exams if you neglected to include the "circa" next to an artwork's date. It seemed excessive at the time, but the circa is important. It suggests an estimate, an inability to pinpoint something, the effort exerted in trying to locate the means, and finally, a defeat.
Okay, so, sleeping in the darkness and waking with the light are biological CIRCADIAN activities. I'm sure the word can also apply to learned or cultural activities, such as: breakfast, rush hour traffic, prime-time television, etc.
Caffeine: totally CIRCADIAN.
This is a great word for the habitual, the obsessive-compulsive, the routine-loving individual. Every day is a pattern, a series of repetitive and comforting activities. Would utter CIRCADIA be the state of perfectly executed routines? A land where everything is always operating as usual—you never wake up to an empty carton of milk or a creak in your neck or a houseguest. Comfortably dull. While I adore my routines, a break from the CIRCADIAN is often welcomed, if not just absolutely needed. I sometimes have to remind myself not only that there are options but also that I should take advantage of them.
The CIRCADIAN is the reliable structure from which to break away. The sun will always rise and set. Take comfort in this home base, tether yourself to day and night, and then let go.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
: bravado or exaggerated boasting
A derivative of Gascony, a region in southwestern France, this word is born of a land whose citizens are known for their reputation as braggers, boasters, know-it-alls, etc—so arrogant that their geographical location is redefined as their reputation. I'm impressed with the potency of this redesignation. Regional stereotypes exist everywhere, but it's pretty awesome that GASCONADE made it out of the ranks of slang judgment and into the dictionary.
I know it means something when I say I'm from Connecticut. To most of the country it means I'm privileged and or rich, I spent my childhood Saturday afternoons swimming in the pool at the country club. To New Yorkers it means I'm country-folk. And to northern New Englanders it apparently means I'm an "asshole." According to various responses on YAHOO! Answers, people from Connecticut are: stuck up, tight, suburban, hard to warm up to, rich, snooty, boring, fake, snobby, plain, and "about nothing."
This doesn't mean much to me. I will confess to being snobby about certain things and I am most certainly hard to warm up to, but the rest is kind of funny. Sometimes I like to play up the stereotypes to mock what people think of me. I can pretend I'm rich—they don't need to know I grew up on welfare and foodstamps and ate holiday dinners donated by the town. Sure I was rich. I had a horse and an in-ground pool and a summer house in the Hamptons and a boat to get to the summer house and an account at Bloomingdales and a boyfriend who went to Yale and two parents who were married (to each other) and a Swarovski punch bowl and a pair of Chinos for every day of the week. Or rather, month. A closet full of Chinos.
This is no GASCONADE, I'm just being honest.
That above photo is totally the house where I grew up.
Friday, June 25, 2010
: rumor, gossip
This word literally defines the container that held a ship's freshwater supply in the early 1800s. Consequently, like the contemporary office water cooler, sailors would share gossip around the SCUTTLEBUTT, and the term eventually designated what the archaic water cooler's atmosphere instigated instead of the cooler itself.
What is it about a water cooler that inspires SCUTTLEBUTT, especially among a bunch of sailors and not just among bored nine-to-fivers in a depressing windowless breakroom? Better yet--*what did sailors gossip about? It seems to me that a better definition for this classification of ship-speak would be "talking shit."
Seriously, though, water coolers. I think it's really just the act of breaking from work that inspires the shit-talk, and the water cooler just happens to be the center piece. You have to have some reason to be around the kitchenette--just grabbing a drink of water, you think. The wax cup is a great detraction from the meaningless SCUTTLEBUTT in which you are about to participate. I find, particularly at my job, that the break room only fosters boredinary gossip: who called out because they were hungover, who wants to transfer to another store, etc. The really juicy stuff happens in places like the coat closet or in various food prep areas: who fucked the new cashier, who got busted for stealing a loofah, who showed up at the morning meeting on meth.
My point (that I am hardly stating with clarity--I'm on vacation) is that a word like SCUTTLEBUTT proves gossip is totally natural. If a bunch of sailors were talking shit 200 years ago around a spigot of fresh water, than I feel okay about hiding in the walk-in fridge to find out who cheated on their girlfriend with the weird girl who is 25 but actually looks 14 and has the voice of a seventy-year-old smoker.
*Confession: I'm writing this on my mother's PC and I can't figure out how to make the coveted long dash.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
1chiefly British : to displace, remove, or evict from a position — usually used with out
2 chiefly British : to obtain or draw out by effort — usually used with out
Is it me or does WINKLE sound a lot like this past Tuesday's ABDICATE: to cast off; discard. Come on now. I've been awake for thirty-three hours—red eye to JFK International, shuttle to Grand Central Terminal, commuter rail to the burbs, drive into the country, a nectarine in a lawn chair and I think—OOH! The word-of-the-day! I fumble with my friend Liz's technology, attempting to type my email address into some touch-screen device, and this is what I find: WINKLE.
Okay, the words are slightly different, I realize this. I'm just jet-lagged and bitter. Let's talk about WINKLE...
...and how WINKLE also resembles June 5th'S FERRET: to drive out of a hiding place.
Perhaps there is something about the month, perhaps that's where the secret behind the word-of-the-day's supposed randomness shields itself. Maybe Merriam-Webster is dropping clues for me, provoking me to WINKLE its codes from their indecipherable states.
I should look into this further.
On another sleuth-like note, while Liz and I reclined in lawn chairs, a man drove by her house, rolled down his car window, and took a photograph before speeding off.
M-W, I'm onto you.
Also: Ron Van Winkle (see above)
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
1 a : the wife of a castellan : the mistress of a château b : the mistress of a household or of a large establishment
2 : a clasp or hook for a watch, purse, or bunch of keys
Sometime over the course of the last two years I became known as the "key master" of my household. This began because my roommate Bobbie Sue pointed out I always take the initiative to unlock the door when we return from an outing. I suppose this is true—I do usually remove my keys when I approach the front steps, prepared, ready to unlock. No hesitation. This could be residual paranoia—a reaction to being told a woman should always have her keys ready when approaching her car at night. If you stand by your vehicle searching through a messy purse for your keys, squinting under the light of a dim street lamp, you are as good as dead.
I keep my keys in an easily accessible location—my back right pocket, linked to an anterior belt loop, within comfortable reach of my dominant hand. I guess this designates both myself and the belt loop as CHATELAINE. I have worn my keys this way for about fifteen years, probably since I had any reason to unlock a door. There is something safe about this placement. I like feeling the keys against my body, a constant reminder they are still present. On the rare occasion when I wear a skirt, I find myself panicking in the absence of that weight, reaching for my right ass cheek, feeling only the soft fabric of the skirt, and then remembering the keys are in a bag. This cycle repeats itself over and over. It's just easier to not wear skirts.
I guess the contemporary version of a CHATELAINE would be a janitor, although this doesn't sound nearly as romantic. Since people don't generally live in palaces anymore, there's not much of a job market for "chateau mistress."
I have a headache. I'm stopping here to go pack for a trip.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
1 : to cast off : discard
2 : to relinquish (as sovereign power) formally
3 : to renounce a throne, high office, dignity, or function
Today I want to talk about Facebook. Some months ago I quit Facebook because the experience began to feel like attending my own funeral—a hearty selection from everyone I have known, a series of pasts in my present. I didn't like the idea of mixing everyone and everything together. I like to compartmentalize. I like to shut doors. I like to move on. There seemed to be something incredibly unnatural about reconnecting with people from my past. Let sleeping dogs lie, I suppose.
A couple months ago I was doing some research for an article I was writing, and I found that one of my sources could only be reached through Facebook. A dilemma. In order to contact this person, I needed a Facebook account. I actually considered going through a friend, but how childish would it have been to begin a message having to explain I'm using a friend's account because I don't have my own account because I find it to be antagonistic to the natural progression of the social psyche. So, I started a new account under the name "Copper Archives," after my ancient email address only used with old friends and family, simply for the purpose of being able to contact those otherwise unreachable. Four or five welcomed friends discovered me, and I begged them to keep my secret. I logged in once about every two weeks, and logged right back out. Never posted anything on a wall or, forbid, plastered a picture of my face on the home page.
This morning I read a interview on Salon.com with David Kirkpatrick, author of "The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That is Connecting the World," which details Facebook's beginnings and development as an international cultural phenomenon. I was immediately attracted to the subject matter—I find myself to be perversely interested in articles about Facebook because of our (mine and Facebook's) rather tumultuous relationship.
At one point in the interview, writer Emma Silvers asks Kirkpatrick if he thinks Facebook is a force of good. Here is his answer:
On balance, I have to say my view of Facebook is as a positive force in modern life. I think it's a new form of communication, of exchanging information, and that leads to good stuff. It certainly has allowed people to organize politically more efficiently, and I think over time Facebook and other similar tools will change the nature of politics and democracy.
Monday, June 21, 2010
1 : to cause to waste away by or as if by excessive fasting
2 : to cause to become soft or separated into constituent elements by or as if by steeping in fluid; broadly : steep, soak
3 : to soften and wear away especially as a result of being wetted or steeped
I'm fascinated by this juxtaposition of definitions—a word that was once associated with the wasting away of flesh by way of fasting, now more closely linked with soaking berries in wine to both soften the fruit and concoct a sweet syrup. I'd hate to imagine the lovechild—soaking a human in wine to make sweet human syrup...?
In a less incredibly gross way, I think of wrinkly fingers from a bath. Is this a sort of MACERATION? I find out wrinkly (or pruney) fingers are technically a result of vasoconstriction: the narrowing of the blood vessels resulting from contraction of the muscular wall of the vessels, particularly the large arteries, small arterioles, and veins. Okay. Fair enough.
I see soggy disintegrating newspapers in the gutter, MACERATED from a rainstorm. Industrial porridge.
Or that weird green floral foam. When I was a child I used to press my fingers into it while standing in the fake flower aisle of the craft store, wishing I had enough unobserved time to press and press until the foam entirely disappeared. Somehow this foam is meant to hold water. I still don't understand how it doesn't melt like a sugar cube in a cup of tea.
[The opposite, the UNMACERATED: those little plastic gel caps that grow into dinosaurs or zoo animals when deposited in a bowl of warm water. To be specific, Magic Grow Capsules. Who WHO thought of this? This toy blew my childhood mind. I would watch the expanding dinosaur with the patience of a mosaicist. Glorious, the watched pot that boils, the ability to make something grow before my eyes, the concept of Just Add Water.]
A bowl of cereal abandoned haphazardly to answer a phone call—neglected, soggy, useless. Flushed down a toilet because, really, where else are you going to dispose of it.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
: a close friend : buddy
COMPADRE is one of those words Americans have culturally appropriated to make themselves sound more casually ethnic. When someone says something like: No big deal, COMPADRE, it usually means, I'm just pretending to sound Mexican and totally laid back. I mean, this is okay; I don't really consider this appropriation offensive or degrading. It's actually kind of flattering in a way—Americans being envious of the the sort of cultural bonds that get lost in translation.
This idea also appears in Italian-speak in the form of paesan. Paesan has a similar ring of brotherly love—the sense that two paesans come from a similar place/culture/background. When I began to get interested in my Italian heritage, I started to feel this bond between myself and other Italians, as though we need to stick together because we share something that cannot be shared with someone who is say, anything but Italian. To be truthful, I often don't feel like I have much in common with many Italian-Americans, save for olive skin and dynamic facial profiles. Or at least, not much more than I have in common with anyone else, really. But I still sort of feel that bond, that indefinable paesan connection somehow linking us.
Since I moved to the west coast, I notice the paesan bond with east-coasters in a more general and less Italian sense. When I meet someone who is also from the northeast, I feel an immediate connection, the comfort of familiarity in a strange land. I have built friendships out here based solely on a shared geographical birthplace—people I may never have looked at when I lived in the northeast, now COMPADRES because we have both endured and escaped the same place.
Immigrants within our own country, I suppose.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
1 : promising success : favorable
2 : fortunate, prosperous
2 : fortunate, prosperous
This word comes from the Latin auspex which literally translates to "bird seer." In Ancient Rome, these were often priests who studied birds' flight and feeding patterns, and then based prophecies on said observations.
I've been thinking lately about the symbolism of the hummingbird. My friend Julie and I sat at a coffee shop a couple months ago while she told me about her boss's obsession with a hummingbird that built a nest in a tree outside the shop where they work (I swore I touched upon this anecdote in a previous blog, but I am unable to locate it; forgive any redundancy). Julie's boss fell swoon to the creature and began a blog of her own containing updates about the bird. As customers and neighbors began to follow the blog, the nest attracted more and more visitors every day, locals and passersby stopping to fawn over the nest.
I don't get what the big deal is, Julie said, it's just a fucking bird. I mean, if it were a bear I would understand. If there were a bear roaming around fucking Fremont Street I would get it. But it's a bird.
To be honest, I didn't get it either. I attribute our indifference to a few things: an absence in the appreciation of the whole "nature in the city" thing (perhaps because Julie and I grew up around so much nature—I also don't get excited about squirrels), an ignorance about the significance of the hummingbird, or, most likely, our general cynicism. I feel the same way about babies. When someone brings a baby into a room, all women within a 20 foot radius flock toward the creature like cat hair to a black wool pea coat. I just don't get it. And I just don't get the hummingbird.
Weeks later I sat on my front porch with my old boyfriend. We talked about nothing, the kind of conversation meant to mask the fact that two people have completely lost touch. At one point while I was speaking, his eyes moved past mine to a point beyond where we sat. He pointed:
Look—hummingbird, he said.
I turned around and there it was, bustling around in some tree in my front yard, which I consequently cannot identify because, like birds, I also know nothing about trees.
Oh, cool, I said. I don't know why. He seemed to be in awe by the bird, surely distracted from whatever mundane topic I was trying to address. As though there weren't already a vast divide between us, the bird compounded this separation on a grand scale. This moment started the thought, the wondering about the hummingbird and what it is I don't see.
Yesterday I bought a card in apology for my mother because we got into an argument (argument meaning I said some cold things, as I often do, and she took some things too personally, as she often does). The card was made by Papyrus, a company that uses nice quality paper and charges nice quality prices and whose symbol is none other than the hummingbird. As I unwrapped the card from its plastic protective sheath, a small piece of paper fluttered out. The insert described Papyrus' commitment to environmental sustainability and also described the significance of their symbol:
Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy and celebration. The hummingbird's delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life's sweetest creation.
While this is a stretch (especially the parts about personal connections and laughter—I'm not seeing the link here) I want this idea to resonate. I think the essence is revealed in the first line: hummingbirds float free of time. I think the awe lies in the hummingbird's movement, and perhaps in our desire yet inability to follow that movement. I think the hummingbird is not as AUSPICIOUS as it is perhaps bittersweet, reminding its witness of life's rapid pace, of things too fleeting to grasp, of beauty that slips through one's fingers.
There's more to this, I'm sure, I'm just piecing it together.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Thursday, June 17, 2010
1 : roughness
2 : harshness of manner or of temper
I've taken to calling those who generally speak with ASPERITY abrasive. (This last/first sentence sounds incredibly awkward to me, but I'm to tired/frustrated to attempt to rephrase.) If ASPERITY had a proper adjective form (ASPERITIOUS? ASPERTIOUS? ASPERCIOUS?) I might consider using that, although I love the way abrasive sounds. It's almost a case of onomatopoeia—but rather in tactility than sound—as though you can feel the roughness every time the word is spoken.
The tone of ASPERITY does not strike me as rough as much as it does harsh. ASPERITY is the verbal slap in the face, the coldness of indifference. Abrasive, on the other hand, describes one who rubs you the wrong way, whose temperament feels like steel wool scraping against your ego.
Let's think of an example. The other day an old boyfriend called, returning a rather spontaneous call I had made a couple weeks ago. I had rambled something to his voicemail about "wanting to say hi." I was hoping he wouldn't call back, but alas. He's still in a state of resenting me (to be fair, I'm still in the pathetic state of desiring his approval). When he called, his conversational tone was as cold as a steel railing in a snowstorm. At the end of our ten or so minute conversation, I thanked him for calling:
It was really good to hear from you, I said.
Yeah, well, just returning your call. (ASPERITY)
The tone would have been more abrasive had he said something like:
Yeah, well, you might hear from me more often if I gave a fuck about you.
But, I mean, that's really just one example of many potential examples.