Tuesday, August 31, 2010

dram


\DRAM\

noun

1 : a unit of avoirdupois weight equal to 1/16 ounce
2 : a unit of apothecaries' weight equal to 1/8 ounce
3 : a unit of liquid capacity equal to 1/8 fluid ounce
4 : a: a small portion of something to drink; b : a small amount

Whoa. Good morning, four definitions. Let's start with the obvious: avoirdupois—the system of weights in British and U.S. use for goods other than gems, precious metals, and drugs. Okay. So this contradicts the second definition which deals with apothecaries, hence drugs, though the amount increases twofold. Then there's liquid in general, and then there's an Alice in Wonderland portion of something to drink, and then simply "a small amount." Everything must get vaguer as we move along.

So. DRAM is intended to emphasize the smallness of an amount so obsolete it's barely relevant. This relationship hasn't a DRAM of potential. Your mother lacks even a DRAM of tact. I have less than a DRAM of dignity left. The figurative examples could go on forever.

When I think of DRAM amounts, in the literal sense, I think: poison. So, exactly how many DRAMS of poison will do the trick? After google-searching "toxic poison levels," the most interesting thing I happen upon is an article about Pennyroyal Toxicity. Pennyroyal is a plant in the mint genus, historically used as a cooking herb, a (yes) tea, a pesticide, and an abortifacient. Pennyroyal essential oil is highly toxic, even in low levels. According to an (other) article published in The Aroma Thymes [sic] in 1995, 25 ml of pennyroyal oil is lethal. If my math is correct, this figures to about 6 DRAMS. 2-3 DRAMS will likely destroy your unborn children, and far less than a DRAM occasionally appears in European mint confectionary for added flavor.

Yum!

Monday, August 30, 2010

flat-hat


\FLAT-hat\

verb

: to fly low in an airplane in a reckless manner : hedgehop

I want to recklessly abandon the literal source of this definition—flying a plane so low its belly skims the hats off pedestrians—and try to use FLAT-HAT in a way that doesn't involve aeronautics. For example: I'm thinking of the scene in What's Eating Gilbert Grape during which Mamma Grape actually leaves the house to bail Arnie out of jail. While driving down the dusty Endora road, Mamma's great weight depresses the passenger side of the old car causing the vehicle to FLAT-HAT the pavement. This film still amazes me—DiCaprio's humility, Depp's dry wit, Lewis' highly manipulated vacancy. I initially and reluctantly saw it in the theatre when I was thirteen; my friend dragged me there because she thought DiCaprio looked like a boy she liked. We laughed at Arnie the whole time, feet up on the seats, getting sneers from other moviegoers. Thirteen is really a difficult age—old enough to want something, young enough to destroy all possibility of getting it.

Skimming, brushing, grazing. I think also of the bottoms of feet FLAT-HATTING the sand as a swing slows down. I used to swing for hours as a child. During school recess (wouldn't you believe it, it's just my luck) I would run from the brick building to secure a seat—there were only eight or ten total, and swings were a hot commodity. I suppose it was a security issue. If you swung, you were busy at task, as opposed to wandering around aimlessly with nothing to occupy yourself, asking to be a target for insult. Swinging was safe. I would swing, too, when I returned home from school, on a rickety set* in my backyard. Listening to a tape on my walkman, I swung and sang out loud until the side ended. Then I slowed down, flipped the tape, and continued to swing. Sometimes I brought another tape in my jacket pocket so the session could go for a second round. Though I consistently did this, the only accompaniment I can recall is the soundtrack to Dick Tracy.

Stepping back further, skipping stones on Long Island Sound, FLAT-HATTING the polluted water with smooth pebbles, bare feet in the cold sand, wind tangling my long, straggly hair, dirt under my painted fingernails, wanting to be as good as my mother whose stones bounced four or five times toward the horizon.




*The set remains, though crippled. One leg has rotted off at the top, leaving a three-legged contraption with one rusty stump suspended in mid-air. Tetanus waiting to happen.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

quorum


\KWOR-um\

noun

1 : a select group
2: the number (as a majority) of officers or members of a body that when duly assembled is legally competent to transact business

I cannot lie and say that QUORUM immediately made me think of light bulb jokes; it did not. In fact, I read the definition this morning, worked a nine hour shift, and then came home and sat in front of my computer writing emails for forty minutes, the last ten during which I was devouring a delicious homemade quesadilla. Only after these steps did I make the correlation between this word and a genre of bad jokes. The whole premise behind the light bulb joke revolves around the question of QUORUM—how many Xs does it take to change a light bulb?

Light bulb jokes emerged in the early 60's, initially as an attack on Poles through derogatory stereotypes. The first light-bulb joke on formal record is:

How many Poles does it take to change a light bulb?
Three—one to hold the light bulb, and two to turn the ladder.

According to Judith B. Kerman's scholarly article on the topic, the jokes gradually became less derogatory and more self-reflexive; groups would make up light-hearted light bulb (no pun intended...) jokes about themselves, making fun of their imposed stereotypes and hence reassuming some control.

An Example (from Kerman's article):

How many Californians does it take to change a light bulb?
Five—one to change the bulb and four to share the experience.

If Californians are telling this joke to each other, over a joint—not derogatory.

Another Example (from me):

How many graduate writing students does it take to change a light bulb?
Is this a rhetorical question?



Saturday, August 28, 2010

veridical



\vuh-RID-ih-kul\

adjective

1 : truthful, veracious
2 : not illusory : genuine

I am feeling particularly prosaic this morning, so I'm going to leave you with my favorite paradox concerning the nature of VERIDICALITY. I get Sarah's logic, I believe she's correct, BUT what if the blue guy was lying when he initially exclaimed, "one of us always tells the truth, and one of us always lies." What if they are both liars. Would that change the logic? It almost doesn't even matter because we all know David Bowie and his glorious package are ultimately in control of Sarah's fate anyway.

In her defense, I'm impressed. If I were sixteen and faced with that riddle I would have probably cried or committed suicide—depending on the stakes.


Friday, August 27, 2010

regale


\rih-GAIL\

verb

1 : to entertain sumptuously : to feast with delicacies
2 : to give pleasure or amusement to

From the french verb régaler via the Middle French galer, to have a good time, comes the English REGALE, borrowed, with no intention for return, during the mid-seventeenth century. Adding the prefix re- somewhere along the line seems to suggest the festivities in question are in fact on the second go-round. Sex with an ex. A high school reunion. Rereading Dean Koontz. While the definition doesn't imply this idea, I'm going to go with it.

There's something particularly sad about trying to recreate a good time. This forced REGALING is an inevitable path to failure, or at best to a gross slight of expectation and a bittersweet realization that what once was awesome can never again be as awesome as it once was.

I experience this ALL THE TIME when I attempt to watch movies I adored in my childhood. Some films that fell short of their REGALING:

Mystic Pizza
Howard the Duck
She's Out of Control
Miracle Beach
Neverending Story II (part I is still phenomenal)
Mannequin

Some that are STILL as fantastic as I remembered:

Ghostbusters 1 AND 2 (always and forever)
One Crazy Summer
Sixteen Candles

Some I have yet to revisit—

Adventures in Babysitting
That Night
The Sandlot

—for extreme fear that they will disappoint. Some things are just better left alone.



Thursday, August 26, 2010

milquetoast


\MILK-tohst\

noun

: a timid, meek, or unassertive person

While this word comes directly from the surname of a rather timid comic strip character, Merriam-Webster warns me that the word "might remind you of 'milk toast,' a bland concoction of buttered toast served in a dish of warm milk."

Might remind us? Come now, Merriam.

Milk Toast is supposedly great for the ailing—soothing and easy to digest. Even so, the thought of soggy bread in tepid milk is mildly nauseating to me. I'll take a can of room-temp ginger ale and some saltines, thanks.

Various general internet sites inform me that Milk Toast is still considered a "comfort food" to many, although I'm not sure who is included in this "many." Comfort foods are commonly warm, use simple ingredients, are easily home-cooked, and reek of nostalgia. According to the folks at he University of Illinois Food and Brand Lab, comfort foods are defined as, "foods whose consumption evokes a psychologically comfortable and pleasurable state for a person." Choice of comfort food is influenced by gender, age, and ethnicity. Those factors aside, some widely observed comfort foods in America are: mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, hot chocolate, meat loaf, and various casseroles. A study conducted by ICR (International Communications Research) states that more than half of the surveyed prefer comfort foods during the winter. So, basically, anything one would want to eat after a day of playing in the snow as a child. My memories are conjuring up Swiss Miss and Chicken Flavor Ramen Noodles. Gross.

I think it's fair to say my comfort food now is oatmeal, although it's not at all nostalgic (I didn't start eating oatmeal until I was in my mid-twenties). It is, however, warm, simple, and easily home-cooked. What's also comforting to me about oatmeal is routine. Anything I make almost every morning will become comforting to me. Oatmeal is also frugal, and I take a whole lot of comfort in getting a good deal.

But, back to Milk Toast. The character MILQUETOAST was obviously named after the bowl of soggy bread—bland, soft, easy to digest, akin to the frail and weak-stomached. Once an old coworker and I were bored and began to label each of our colleagues as an appropriate food. He designated me as a plum. I liked this, I thought a plum was appropriate for me, and I'm not sure why. Asian plums seem to have more cultural symbolism than the western varieties. In China, plum blossoms bloom in winter and are hence understood as a symbol of resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity. In Japan, plums function as a protective charm against evil and, if eaten pickled for breakfast, are said to stave off misfortune. I don't think this relates at all to whatever kind of person I think I am. I suppose I just thought the plum was an ideal fruit—a little sweet, a little sour, and fairly under-appreciated.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

carceral


\KAHR-suh-rul\

adjective

: of, relating to, or suggesting a jail or prison

In film school we talked a lot about incriminating light, specifically during discussions of film noir—the genre that pioneered the gratuitous use of high and low key contrast lighting. I'm thinking most notably of the CARCERAL "light through the blinds casting striped shadows on a subject" technique, reminiscent of the shadows cast by a wall of iron bars. The interpretation? Guilty.

Black and white stripes are often considered a symbol of incarceration. American inmates sported the look (horizontal stripes) until 1904 when the uniform was deemed a civil iniquity ("a badge of shame"). Hitler revived the look in the forties as the uniform (vertical stripes) made its way to prisoners in Nazi camps. The uniform's CARCERAL roots are muddled in contemporary fashion, however, as the pattern is now commonly associated with referees, waitresses at suburban sports bars, and teenage girls who shop at Hot Topic.

The earliest implementation of the prison striped uniform (at least, that I can locate within the limitations of the electric info-box) traces back to New York's Auburn State Prison, which opened its doors in 1819. Auburn was the predecessor of the more infamous Sing Sing, which apparently set all the trends in prison stereotypes, including the striped uniform. Why they chose stripes in the first place, I am unclear. I'm guessing because of their conspicuous nature (which explains why modern prison uniforms are BRIGHT ORANGE).

I've always enjoyed the black and white stripe, although I'm not sure what started my inclination toward this pattern. It may have had something to do with Halloween—my favorite holiday as a child (and an adult), and the stripes are easily associated with those festivities. If that wasn't it, Michael Keaton's portrayal of Beetlejuice sealed the deal. I have been known to gravitate toward b&w striped items of clothing and accessories (although I now steer clear of tights and such, lest I be grouped in with the Hot Topic crowd).

Recently I went to an ultra-modern-frozen-yogurt-buffet-style-den-of-sweet-insanity called Swirl. There were about 3,742 options, and I settled on vanilla with chocolate chips, chocolate sprinkles and whipped cream. I was with a therapist friend, so of course we began to psychoanalyze our choices. I laughed while observing my bowl of sugary goodness was entirely black and white. Perhaps I can attribute my affinity toward this non-color combo as a manifestation of my tendency to simplify everything into clear terms, or, at least, my undying attempts to do so.

The CARCERAL use of stripes may actually be more just than something like BRIGHT ORANGE. Orange can suggest warning, danger, caution (I'm thinking construction zone here). Black and white, on the other hand, is just honest; it says: there's a good and a bad side here, which also means there's a choice.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

jeremiad


\jair-uh-MYE-ud\

noun

: a prolonged lamentation or complaint; also : a cautionary or angry harangue

This word follows Jeremiah, a Jewish prophet with a diatribe and a handful of criticisms; his book in the Old Testament is a series of lamentations weighing on one with an unpopular message—memoirs of a bearer of bad news, so to speak.

I was more inclined toward behaving like a JEREMIAD at a younger age, say ten or fifteen years ago, when I believed the world was corrupt and thought there was something to fight against. Now I know the world is corrupt and believe there is nothing to fight against. At least, not in the same sense. I do my (miniscule) part in the fight—reuse my shopping bags, avoid shopping at Walmart, vote. But I have long since given up a life of fighting the man.

This is for several reasons:

1) I don't care—
Well, it's not that I don't care, of course I care, I just don't care enough. Or perhaps the right cause has not yet fallen into my lap.

2) I've gotten old—
In the sense that I've lost that youthful spunk inherent to those who want to battle the system.

3) My time is better spent in other ways—
It's just selfish and true.

4) The infamous excuse: I am only one person
This is a true statement. If there were a revolution I might join, but I'm sure as hell not going to start it. At least not on such a scale.

It requires great effort to rock a boat—my only hope is to reach my arm over the ship's railing, tap my finger to the water's surface, and start a ripple.


Monday, August 23, 2010

squinny


\SKWIN-ee\

verb

: to look or peer with eyes partly closed : squint

So. Merriam went and changed their email format again. There's now a softer look—a whole mess of negative white space, the fonts in a tone of pale concrete, no loud banner capping my message, no blue box suggesting I check out sudoku. Taking it down a notch. A focus on the language, an older audience, a quieter look, a cardigan sweater on the back of a rocking chair. I get it.

Shakespeare used both the verbs SQUINNY and SQUINT in King Lear; somehow the latter stuck. SQUINNY just makes me think of whinny. As in, a horse.

I could see SQUINNY as a more effective adjective than verb:

That guy over there is a bit SQUINNY.

My suggestion here (in this painfully vague example) is shifty-eyed or peculiar; a judgment based on something happening with one's eyes—a strange look, a furrow of the brow, one eye wandering in another direction sort of thing.

SQUINNY: not to be trusted based on the quality of eye contact. This makes more sense to me. Now that SQUINNY resides in the shadow of squint, it must take on a meaning of its own for survival. For longevity's sake.

*Vernacular - Battling the Natural Selection of the English Language Since...This Past January*



Sunday, August 22, 2010

minuscule


\MIN-uh-skyool\

adjective

1 : written in or in the size or style of lowercase letters 2 : very small


this word is derived from the Latin minisculus, meaning "rather small." in this context, i feel the "rather" suggests that the object is smaller than expected, or smaller than its peers. for example, a bread crumb wouldn't necessarily be described as MINISCULE. on the other hand, one of those dinky loaves of cocktail rye bearing slices only large enough to boast a dollop of cream cheese and a bread and butter pickle would be a better candidate for such a description. while larger than a crumb, it resembles a loaf of bread, only, "rather small."

seriously. who buys those? what for? finger sandwiches? i'm lost on this party tradition.









Saturday, August 21, 2010

grimalkin


\grih-MAWL-kin\

noun

: a domestic cat; especially : an old female cat

It was prophesied of me many years ago by a close friend that I would grow up to be the single old spinster, most likely an "aunt," living alone in a large house, usually found reading or painting on a creaky front porch. At the time of this prediction I was fifteen and slightly alarmed at the thought—worried the concept of a "boyfriend" was forever out of my reach. Now that another fifteen years have passed, and with that a handful of boyfriends, the creaky front porch appears more and more appealing. As I push toward thirty, I find myself growing tired of city life and dream of living in a trailer on the Oregon coast (not an old house—I have to dream within my means—but I could probably finagle some sort of creaky porch). Most importantly: alone.

While it seems appropriate for this future to involve a GRIMALKIN, I somehow never really pictured so. I could easily sketch an old cat into this fantasy, but I guess I've never had the kind of bond with animals that most people I know seem to inherently possess. I fear this makes me more of a cold-hearted person, one who will inevitably end up in that house alone (despite my fondness of this dream, part of me still wants to be stolen away into a shared fantasy). Perhaps a GRIMALKIN would be good for my old self, to teach me how to care a little more than I do, to nuke my dry, crumbling heart.

I don't know; it's up for debate, I suppose. Right now I have to concentrate on that trailer. The cat would be the final touch, that little streak of orange that somehow brings the whole picture together.

Friday, August 20, 2010

jovial


\JOH-vee-ul\

adjective

1 capitalized : of or relating to Jove
2 : markedly good-humored especially as evidenced by jollity and conviviality

The Jove in the first definition refers to (forgive any obviousness; I had to remind myself what this meant) the planet Jupiter, named after Roman god Jove, god of the sky and thunder. In Rome, you were thought to share traits with the god whose planet was rising at the time of your birth, i.e., born under Jupiter, you would be JOVIAL.

I just spent twenty minutes trying to locate the planet rising at the time of my birth. I discovered the moon was in its first quarter, I was born in the Chinese year of the monkey, my date of conception was approximately Christmas of 1979 (way to go Dirty Joe and Dizzy Jane), my "life path" number is 7, as of today I am 10,930 days old, and Jean Piaget died when my mother was in labor. But I could not find what planet was rising.

Jean Piaget is best known for his theories on genetic epistemology and child psychology, although he began his studies in the field of mollusks.

I pause to realize the "planet rising" may have something to do with astrological signs. If that is the case, the "ruling planet" for Virgo is Mercury—winged messenger of god known for adaptability and resourcefulness, restlessness, and communication and wisdom associated with the mind.

If not, it looks like I'll have to obtain a 1980 almanac to figure this out. I can't BELIEVE this information is unobtainable on the internet. I'm aghast.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

embellish


\im-BELL-ish\

verb

1 : to make beautiful with ornamentation :decorate
2 : to heighten the attractiveness of by adding decorative or fanciful details : enhance

I'm reminded of my stint working at A.C. Moore (arts, crafts, and more...with the extra "o" for...prestige?) in 1998. This was a store filled at least 84%* with useless junk: fake flowers, styrofoam balls, wooden letters, decorative stamps, pipe cleaners, tinsel, puff paint, scrapbooking supplies, miniature (doll) housewares, plastic beads, and magnetic notepads made in Korea. Actually, I'm sure everything in that store was made in Korea or Taiwan. This was a store that made its fortune off the craft movement that boomed in the late eighties—bored and restless housewives in need of a hobby, too impatient to knit or sew or paint, who want simply to stick one cheap plastic thing to another with the help of a glue gun.

Okay, to be fair, I'm all in favor of making anything. The act of "making" or exercising the creative muscle is surely better than parking in front of a television, but places like A.C. Moore really sell people short. It's like selling someone an Abflex and a bottle of diet pills instead of encouraging her to eat healthy and exercise. A.C. Moore is basically saying, "I know you're stupid, so I'm going to sell you some overpriced plastic junk along with a book explaining how to EMBELLISH a lamp shade with said junk while simultaneously making you believe you are 'creative' and should come back to our store to further invest in your new artistic lifestyle."

I worked there for six months, pressing buttons on a register and serving miserable, overweight, suburbanites. I quit the day my boss called me "Carly" three times; when I finally said, "My name's not Carly," he responded, "Well, whatever your name is, come over here and help me move this display." It was a spinny rack showcasing fake award ribbons. And I was done.



*The other 16% was yarn and a "fine arts" section with some paint and canvases.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

insouciance



\in-SOO-see-unss\

noun

: lighthearted unconcern : nonchalance

Observe the very thin line between indifference, apathy, (the recent) stolidness and nonchalance, coolness, INSOUCIANCE. The key concept in this gap is "lightheartedness"—the vast canyon between not caring and not having a care in the world. There is something inherently romantic in the latter three traits, as though everything just rolls off one's back.

The word INSOUCIANCE creates some discrepancies, though. In the thesaurus, INSOUCIANCE is paired with aloofness, disregard, emotionlessness, lethargy. On the other hand, the adjective form INSOUCIANT turns up carefree, happy-go-lucky, lighthearted, and nonchalant. Interesting. I want to pretend this means something, but it probably does not.

INSOUCIANCE comes from the french verb soucier, to trouble or disturb. So: not bothered. Couldn't care less.

I suppose INSOUCIANCE or nonchalance then implies a carefree indifference, while apathy implies a jaded indifference.

I think I will now put this to bed.