Friday, December 31, 2010

That Sickness: a monologue

It is not until I learn to take care of myself that I will be of any use to anyone else. My husband and children do not understand that. it is always mommy this and honey that. I feel like I am a rag doll being stretched in five different directions. Eventually, I will unravel completely and there will be nothing left of me but a torn scrap of fabric. I am already frayed at the edges.

Look at all the gray hairs I have collected in the past ten years. The last thing in the world I wanted to be was a stay-at-home wife and mother. But, like Mom always said, life is what happens when you have other plans. Oh, ain't that the truth! Ain't that the godforsaken truth! And Heaven forbid I should get pregnant again. My husband is a very god-fearing man and insists upon the need to "be fruitful and multiply."

The next time I feel that sickness coming on, I will go to the witchwoman in the woods. She will save me from going though this whole ordeal again. She will make me a black brew to burn my insides and the baby itself will never form.

Friday, December 24, 2010

I Am an Evil Spirit

The houses we own, the apartments we rent, and all of the things we put in them are an attempt to control our environment. By doing so, we think we can also control our lives. Consider feng shui, for example. This way of decorating and building design was originally an attempt to confuse evil spirits.

Most houses designed with feng shui principles include a labyrinthine walkway leading up to the front door. These winding pathways grow so convoluted that they don't seem to go anywhere, until you get there, of course. They also use mirrors to distract the evil spirits and send them in the wrong direction.

We Westerners find the concept of feng shui interesting. It seems to tell us that we can fundamentally change our lives by rearranging our furniture and adding a few mirrors, candles, and plants to our décor. As usual, we bastardize the culture and try to make it our own, completely leaving out the context.

My very limited experience with feng shui proved disappointing. One of the first things I realized was that my ex's desk was located in the power position of our apartment. This is the spot diagonal from the front door. From this vantage point, you can see the evil spirits who have made it to your front door and stop them before they cause any real mayhem.

My ex's desk was arranged so that his back was to the corner, and he could look out into the living room. It was intimidating to walk into that apartment while he was sitting at his desk. He would be staring at you as soon as you stepped in the door.

I felt a little like an evil spirit, but maybe I am an evil spirit. I just haven't come into my own yet.

Banishing Evil Spirits


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010


Published in Straylight, UW-Parkside's literary mag, online series.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Woman in My Life

An irresistible powerhouse of technology, little Miss Black Berry, led me to my worst vices: porno, gambling, shopping, gaming. She gives me incentives to keep my eyes on her glowing screen. She keeps me awake until the wee hours of the morning. And I can look up all the pertinent information I think I need.

Black Berry. Blackberry. Even her name has begun to haunt me. And I respond to all her beeps and blaring, like she is a whining newborn suffering in a soggy diaper. I know she doesn't really need me, but I am obsessed with her. She makes me feel useful in this world of to-do-lists and telephone calls, e-mail and text messages, even up-to-the-minute news and weather alerts. Having her at my side makes me an important person.

And important things happen to important people. Just the other day, I bumped into Frank Baum, owner of my company. In the elevator of all places. Not very often you run into a man like that in the elevator. Its like he has his own teleporting machine to whisk him away to wherever it is he needs to be. And turns out, he has one of my apps!

But of course, he has one of those iPhones. Blackberries are so outdated. My Miss needs to be updated if I ever want to get promoted in this place. What is it that they say? He with the most toys wins. And it's true. Believe me, its true.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ninjas on a Half-Shel - Turtle power!

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle sneakiness of Shel Siverstein has found me once again. After Dr. Seuss, he was the second poet I ever read. And how I loved him!

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Nonsmoker's Response to the Smoking Ban

I sit alone with my drink as the faces at my table fade.
Smoke leaks in from outside, burning my lungs.
But the heat here makes my cheeks pink up
like new blooms out of season.
I step out into the gale and suck tar clouds.
I would rather lose minutes this way,
shorten my lifespan for friendship,
if only second-hand.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Open Mic at the Nook

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Writing under the influence

Under which altered states of mind is writing most productive, most creative? How can this be imperically measured in a scientific way? It is kind of subjective and therefore difficult to judge. And what constitutes an "altered state"? Here are some suggestions of mine:

- after drinking alcohol
- immediately upon waking
- while undergoing sleep deprivation
- writing alone
- writing in a crowded location
- just before going to sleep
- after meditating
- when distraught or emotional engaged
- after a cultural experience

This could be the beginning of a great adventure. If nothing else, a way to awaken the Muse and sing to her.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Rook: The Chariot of Chess

Often referred to as “castle” by the new players, the rook in chess is one of the two pieces whose name is not immediately obvious. It is easy to figure out what a queen, king, knight and bishop are, especially in terms of a medieval battle. But what about pawns and rooks? I start with the rook but it is the most elusive.

While it appears that the rook must be some sort of castle or fortress, the word actually originates from Persian chariots (or “rukhs”). These real-life warrior carts were designed to look like moving castles wrecking havoc on the battlefield.

Rooks owe their appearance to these Persian chariots, but they have also been named after actual towers. When the game of chess was brought to Italy, the Italians called them by the word “rocca,” meaning fortress.
I still like to call them castles, but that's mostly because I'm a newb.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dr. Love, who do you love?

Polyamorous is actually a much more recently coined term than you might think. Originating in the '90's the word is also a hybrid mix of Greek and Latin. Poly - meaning many or multiple partners or lovers and amore - meaning love. The definition of the word is definitely hard to pin down, though, and this is especially true because polyamorous relationships are confusing.

Perhaps one of the most straightforward of possible polyamorous configurations is the open marriage, wherein a husband and wife pursue secondary relationships outside of their marraige. At the opposite end of the spectrum is group marriage, which takes on the feeling of a commune.

In between these two extremes are a variety of shapes that polyamorists call "polygeometry." Some of these configurations are triads or quads, wherein three or four people are relationally involved with each other.  Although many polyamorists are bisexual, there are also heterosexual and homosexual variations. For example, one woman might date two men but those two men do not date each other. Or a gay man may have several consenting partners. Although threesomes and orgiastic type experiences may be including in polyamory, there are no hard and fast rules about how sexual relations are conducted.

Allow me to pause and say that I feel like my writing is excessively verbose and technical for the subject matter I am dealing with. I must be uncomfortable. Basically polyamory is just people who want to love more than one person. Is it really that complicated? Does it have to be?

I will admit that the idea of group marriage scares me a little. Talk about jealousy issues! But the idea of being intimate with more than one person? I suppose I'm open to that idea, but I don't know if it would work in my life. As my best friend would say - "Don't forget you're married!" And that, too, is true.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Don't Patronize Your Patrons

The other day, my husband and I were having a debate as to whether or not "patronize" could be used in a positive context. I argued that it could, but he believed it could only be used in phrases such as "don't patronize me."

 So, after much deliberation, the verdict is in. "Patronize" swings both ways. It can mean talking down to someone, or treating them in a haughty manner. But it can ALSO mean being a patron of something, supporting it with funds or regularly frequenting a place. For example, visitors to the library can be referred to as "patrons" and they often "patronize" the library.

Why one word can mean two drastically different things is beyond me. But, in this debate at least, I WIN!

Monday, June 14, 2010

To Tweet or Not to Tweet

Is it even a question? Everyone likes to "tweet" on Twitter, but the New York Times refuses to "tweet." Or at least, they refuse to use the word. I will admit, the word "tweet" is cute but I'm not really sure of its usage. I don't understand why it is "tweeting" and not "twittering" for example. But maybe it is just a linguistic preference of sorts, like "spat" as a past-tense version of "spit." (Instead of "spitted").

But the Times likes to be archaic and old fashioned in its language usage. The editors consider "tweet" or be slang or coloquial language apparantly, not suitable for their elitist readers. Instead, they use heavy, loaded down phrases, such as "posted on Twitter" or "wrote a message."

If we must be more verbose, what is the point? More concise language, using good word choices, makes reading easier for all of us. We don't need all that wordy jargon and extra syllables. Come on now, we don't even take the time to cook at home anymore, much less actually read the newspaper.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

F*ck the heck?

Arnold Zwicky's commentary on obcenicons - the symbols used to represent swear words - is definetly worth reading. He discusses why certain symbols appear to be unsuitable to replace words (i.e. the period (.) or the comma (,) or even parentesis). These punctuation marks just don't seem to express the emotion required. Exclamation points and question marks definitely do the trick !?!?!

1337 - or LEET - refers to "elite" meaning that those who use the language are superior than those who do not. This way of typing - specifically used by computer geeks - uses symbols to represent letters and thus create an interesting way to communicate, ( similar to emoticons, but much more sophisticated.)

Also on the gauntlet of symbol-created art is ASCII art, which creates entire pictures with an array of symbols. Check it out sometime - c'est tres cool!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Spoken in sotto voce

In a short story I was reading recently, one of the characters spoke sotto voce. This was not a term I was familiar with, so I decided to do some digging.

Sotto voce is an Italian phrase that has been adopted, in its original form, into English conversation. Literally meaning "under the voice," the phrase is used to describe a conversation or utterance that is dramatically quiet, and usually private. In musical direction, it can mean a section of a composition played in hushed tones.
The phrase originated in 1737, but is still used (although rarely) in modern times. A specialty food shop in Seattle, WA takes the phrase as it's namesake. Sotto Voce sells a variety of infused olive oils The name is a poetic way of saying, the added flavor is there, but you can just barely taste it.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Leftovers, anyone?

If someone looks very ill, as in almost dead, you might call them "death warmed over." Apparently, the British call it "death warmed up."

A clever play on this phrase comes in the title of a book on funeral practices, entitled "Death Warmed Over: Funeral Food, Rituals, and Customs from Around the World" by Lisa Rogak.

I didn't find much in way of the origins of this phrase. Suppose it's one of those common sense things. But why would you warm death up, like leftovers?

Which reminds me of "momento mori," the Latin phrase meaning remember death. For it is only in facing our own mortality that we learn to appreciate life. Brief as it is.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The search for a genderless pronoun

I don't think I have written about this yet, but is definitely something that has irked me for quite a long time. The expectation that we use "he or she" when writing formal papers is not only cumbersome, but just plain exhausting. People don't talk that way, why should we write that way?

Some of my LGBT friends in college regularly used the term "ze" to represent "he or she," but what about his and hers, him and her? You can't just slap a "z" at the beginning of those words to make them gender neutral. Why can't we just use "it"? Because its "dehumanizing"?

Apparently, this debate has even reached the realms of Twitter. Like Internet junkies really care about grammar and proper usage.

But...surprise surprise! A New York Times article reveals that "they" (even used as a singular) once stood in for the gender neutral pronoun. That was before a WOMAN school teacher in the 1700's decided that "he" was more suitable because it was universally seen as singular.

I suppose it goes along with the whole "mankind" and "history" tradition. It does sound a little ridiculous even now that feminists talk about "womankind" and "herstory." Just give it a break, will you?

So the battle continues.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bust up the Block

If I had to guess where the term “blockbuster” came from, I would say it was the lines of people, stretching out for blocks, waiting to get the next hot movie or book. Picture fans camping outside of a store so they can be the first to get the newest edition of whatever.

However, the real origin of “blockbuster” is much more violent than a horde of parents fighting over the last Cabbage Patch doll or Tickle Me Elmo. In World War II, bombs that could level an entire city block were known as “blockbusters.”

Now anything that makes a “considerable impact” is considered a “blockbuster.”

Source: Webb Garrison’s Why You Say It

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Goobering (in the car and elsewhere)

“Don’t goober up my car,” said my husband, as I spread cream cheese on my bagel in the passenger seat.

“What?” I asked. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“I mean, don’t mess it up.”

I relayed the conversation to my mother-in-law when we reached her house. She laughed and remarked at Goober was a character on the Andy Griffith Show. All I remember about that show is some annoying and very repetitive whistling during the opening.

Todd, my husband, jumped in with the fact that Goobers are a candy, chocolate-covered peanuts to be exact.

But that still didn’t explain to me what the heck a “goober” really was and/or is. Turns out that “goober” has come to mean a silly goofball, a dimwit, someone with no common sense. By that definition, even I could at times be classified as a “goober.”

But this slang definition arose from the character of Goober Pyle in the Andy Griffith show. Goober served as Mayberry’s village idiot, acting in childish and foolish ways. In pop culture it has become synonymous with the word dork. (Which also has a double meaning, but we’ll save that for next time).

As for the chocolate covered peanuts? “Goober” is also a slang term for peanut, and was probably used as such long before the invention of the Goober Pyle character.

Now what about “hairy goomer?” Or is that “gomer”?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Cool beans (taste good!)

A phrase I use often is "cool beans." It definitely has some cheese factor, but it is just more descriptive than the over-used "cool." I also use other random phrases like "I come bearing gifts" and "hark, who goes there?" but we'll save those for another time. I'm pretty sure those two are quotes...from something.

According to a, "cool beans" originated in the pop culture vernacular sometime in the '70's. The exact origin, however, is unclear. Apparently one of the characters on Full House (very likely Stephanie) used the phrase ad nauseum. Given that I watched the show all the time during my formative childhood years, it is probable that is where I picked it up.

On a side note, cool beans (literal beans I'm talking about here) taste really good. I always eat baked beans straight from the can, and they actually taste funny to me if they've been heated up. I used to tell my mom that if I was ever homeless I would just eat Bush's baked beans all the time, because I wouldn't even need a microwave to warm them. Of course, I would need a can opener.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Office space is a verb

I love it when nouns become verbs in everyday usage. What I love even more is when pop culture words or phrases pop into everyday usage - as long as I know the reference. It's like having a little inside joke - that only people who know the reference can understand.

In high school it was "this one band camp..." Sadly, it wasn't until I was in college that I finally watched American Pie and got the story behind that one. And I was in band. And I played the flute. You see the dilemma. At least I never went to summer band camp.

At work the other day, one of the other managers asked if he could "Office Space the microwave." The only thing I could think was "when did Office Space become a verb?" He wanted to throw the microwave (which no longer works) from the roof. Sounded like fun to me! Of course, that could definitely leed to a lawsuit or two if you were to hit a customer.

All Apologies

I have been MIA for the past few weeks due to the fact that I have been moving, unpacking, and had an utter lack of Internet access. All I have to say is yay for WiFi and access at restaurants. This is now coming to you live from Panera Bread. Yummy panini.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Collecting lung boogers

Spitting, considered annoying by some and rude by others, is just plain fun. When you haven't got a kleenex handy, it is also a great way to expell excess mucus. The first person I ever knew to "hock a loogie" is my stepdad, who does so quite frequently. I used to think it was really gross until I learned how to do it.

Recently, I have employed my "hocking" abilities after going for a bike ride on a chilly day. After exercising, I always seem to have extra mucus build up, esp. in my throat. Spitting is a good way to alleviate some of this discomfort.

A site I visited ( suggests that spitting is more common among the following people:
1. Those experiencing chest congestion.
2. Heavy smokers (my stepdad used to fall into this category).
3. People who enjoy expelling mucus for visceral effect (which would be me).

Hocking a loogie can serve as a decent substitute for sneezing or coughing to relieve chest congestion. One of the reasons why spitting is considered rude is because sometimes people spit at each other as an insult. I, for one, have never spat at anything other than the ground, a napkin, a sink or a toilet. (Yes, it would seem that I spit fairly frequently).

As far as the phrase "hock a loogie" goes, it consists of two distinct parts. "Hock" is a sort of onomatopoeia describing the hacking sound of spitting. And according to one source, "loogie" is a shortened version of "lung booger" but I could not confirm that claim.

I will continue to imitate a preadolescent boy in my spitting and fascination with bodily functions and excretions. Until next time...keep your lungs clear and collect some loogies for me.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Mapping human culture

Named the most euphemistic phrase of 2007 by the American Dialect Society, “human terrain system” gives a cartography-sounding name to a military project. This endeavor brings anthropologists and sociologists into Army brigades to help troops understand the socio-cultural environments in which they are deployed.

Basically, all this mumbo jumbo means that scholarly book-types are now on the front lines telling soldiers how to interact with civilians. Sounds like internal conflict if you ask me. And the very term reminds me of topography maps, perhaps showing the largest concentrations of certain individuals and warning soldiers about the ramifications of their actions.

Apparently, a similar program existed in Vietnam, but the anthropologists were largely used to identify military targets. The current project places these sociologists directly into the brigades rather than keeping them at the higher levels of the military structure, and the Army argues that the program in Afghanistan and Iraq has different objectives than the one used in Vietnam.

After hearing “human terrain system” on an NPR program, I decided to do some of my own research. But only time will reveal how the U.S. Army uses this cultural information for good or ill.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Babies with preexisting conditions

If you are born with a defect, or with a serious illness, apparently you have a “preexisting condition” according to some insurance companies. I was born with a condition called Hershbrung’s Disease, which basically meant the nerve endings in my colon didn’t run all the way through. Nine months into my life, I underwent major surgery to correct this, and subsequently received a scar which left my bellybutton looking like a wild hurricane.

But having a funny-looking scar is nothing compared to the fact that babies everywhere, born like me with every chance in the world of dying within their first year of life, have been denied health coverage due to “preexisting conditions.”

It was bad enough that it took over a month and loads of paperwork to qualify me to join the Army when my health records reported I had been born “defected.” But at least I had health coverage! (The Army story is a tale for another time…)

According to a Huffington Post article, a family was denied coverage for their child born with congenital heart disease because the baby had a “preexisting condition.” While I should note that this is not the norm, it is definitely an extreme case of how this term has been abused, even in the recent past.

Thanks to new health care reform, patients will no longer be subjected to such ridiculous exceptions as “preexisting conditions” and “chronic conditions.” Thank God.

Monday, April 12, 2010

My monologue about dialogue

At a writing workshop held by the Kenosha Writer’s Guild, we discussed and practiced writing dialogue. I’ve always believed that “dialogue” only referred to the words the characters speak. In other words, anything in quotation marks.

However, to writers at least, dialogue includes so much more. For example, dialogue can include nonverbal communication, gestures, noises without words, movements, etc. etc.

At this workshop, I was hoping to learn how to incorporate descriptions of characters’ movements and appearance with their spoken words. Also, how to know when to use tags like “he said” and when to leave them out. But, like everything else, there isn’t really one tried and true formula for writing dialogue.

But to normal people, non-writers, what does “dialogue” mean?

Found in classical Greek and Indian literature, “dialogue” is the literary form used by Plato. As a narrative, philosophical and didactic device, it taught ideas through a sense of voice and communication. The more modern meaning of “dialogue” refers to a conversation between two or more people.

A “dialogue” can also be an exchange of ideas, such as political or religious views, intended to result in some type of agreement. Finally there is what is referred to as “musical dialogue” wherein two or more parts suggest a conversation.

And, of course, a “monologue” is a conversation you have with yourself, usually on stage as an actor in a play. Or typing on a word processing program…

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Everyone is handicapped

I remember reading an essay in AP English (yes, I’m that geeky) about a woman who preferred to be called a “cripple” than “handicapped.” This is a very strange choice, given the negative connotations of “cripple,” but she argued that it more accurately reflected her situation. After all, everyone is “handicapped” in some way or another.

Recently, they installed a handicap parking space in my apartment’s lot. My husband is convinced the woman is not really handicapped. My mother, who had a stroke two years ago, needs a cane and moves very slowly as she walks. This neighbor of ours can carry three grocery bags and cruise to her front door in seconds, barely tapping her cane on the sidewalk. I still think she must have good days and bad days, but this was a clear example of a good day.

“Handicap” may refer to a disability or various methods of leveling a sport or game. It may also refer to the handicap principle, an evolutionary theory, or self-handicapping, by which a person blames failure on anything other than his own inability.
At, you can report the improper use of handicap placards and handicapped parking. At the University of Wisconsin - Parkside campus, this is a huge issue because students are too lazy , or don’t give themselves enough time to walk across the lot.
On this site, they do warn against misjudging people’s handicaps. I believe this may be the case with my neighbor.
“Remember that we can not know somebody's personal situation. Many handicapped people are hassled over their lack of a visual disability by well meaning citizens.”

A story I have never read but have heard a lot about, Harrison Bergeron, takes handicapping to the extreme. Everyone in the tale is made “equal” by handicapping each individual’s strengths. If you run fast, they will slow you down with lead weights. If you’re smart, a buzzing in your head will make it impossible to concentrate. I’m glad we’re not equal, aren’t you? I’ll take whatever handicaps Deity gave me.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

This phone is now on pause

Today I was on hold for (count it!) an entire half-hour trying to set up an appointment with my doctor. Lately the support staff at his office have been missing in action, so it doesn’t really surprise me. At the twenty-five minute mark, I decided to use my cell phone to call the office (while I was still on hold on my home phone). That time it went straight to voicemail - probably because I was holding up the other line.
Left a nasty message and decided to blog about it. While I could have written this entire blog entry while I was on hold, I am not coordinated enough to hold the phone and type at the same time. I am also not tech savvy enough to figure out how to use the speakerphone.
Didn’t find too much about the origins of “on hold” but I did find some interesting stuff out on the Interwebs. For one, there is such a thing as “on hold advertising,” where instead of hearing the blah blah blah make-you-want-to-fall-asleep music, you get to listen to radio-type commercials instead. Fun times.
I also found a list of synonyms for “on hold,” some of them quite amusing. I can just imagine the alternate phrases the answering secretary might say when she puts someone on hold.
1. I need to defer our conversation for a moment.

2. This phone is now on pause.

3. Let’s just pigeonhole (shelve) this for now.

4. We will need to postpone your call until a later time.

5. Your calling time will be unavoidably protracted (prolonged).

6. Let’s take a short recess, before I answer any of your questions.

7. Please remain on the line.

8. I need to shelve this call.

9. Sit tight. I’ll be right back on the line.

10. I apologize but I must stymie (hinder) this conversation.

11. We will suspend this until later.

Now, I have heard that you can avoid telephone menus by pressing “0” as soon is it starts listing options. Usually this will get you to a real, live person. But is there a way to avoid being put on hold? If so, I haven’t found it yet.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Thundering Applause

With the first big storms of the year, I have been sitting in my house staring out the dark windows at lightening as the room shakes with thunder. Although I know it is caused by lightning, when I was younger we came up with lots of reasons for thunder. Among them were:
1. Two clouds are smashing into each other.

2. God is angry and is yelling at us.

3. The angels in Heaven are bowling. (This one was my favorite).

The story of Thor (the Norse god of Thunder) offers another explanation. According to the tale, the sound of thunder is when Thor bangs his hammer. I imagine this like a judge’s gavel but I’m sure that’s not the image it conjured with the Norse peoples.

The Swedish word “tordon,” from which “thunder” is derived literally means “Thor’s din,” as in the noise made by Thor’s hammer.

On a side note, apparently Thunder is a viable baby name now. I wouldn’t name my kid after a random noun like that, but it is supposed to mean “stormy-tempered.” I wouldn’t really want a stormy-tempered child, either.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

I'll have a twenty with no sneakers

Nowadays “small” doesn’t exist. At least not when it comes to drinks. The number of calories we consume in one value meal soda is astronomical. And this doesn’t even include our wake-me-up cappuccino. After my very pretentious use of a Starbucks last night as my writing venue, I started pondering the use of “tall” for small, “grande” for medium and “venti” for large. My first Starbucks coffee was an adventure, let me tell you.

The fact that Starbucks uses its own language for placing orders reminds me of a ‘90’s cartoon on Nickelodeon. In Doug, the Honkerburger used their own terms for everything on your sandwich,. For example “sneakers” were onions. Doug makes a major faux pas when he attempts to order a burger with normal language.

Now back to the coffee. Originally, Starbucks offered only two sizes: small and tall. These ones make sense, because “tall” connotes “large.” But following the trend where you can’t order a small drink, Starbucks took it one step further and chose Italian terms for their sizes. “Tall” is now the new “small” and “grande” (meaning “large”) is now the new “medium.” What about “venti“? In Italian it actually means “twenty,” as in “twenty ounces.” But it should be noted that Italy uses the metric system, so they wouldn’t be using ounces anyway.

According to a few sources, you can still order a “short” coffee at Starbucks, and it will get you an 8 oz. glass. A “tall” will get you 12 oz. and a “grande” is 16. Surprisingly, in China you can order a “small,” “medium” and “large” at Starbucks. But this might be because the Chinese are so careful about making sure everyone knows what to do in every social situation. The uncommon sizes would just make everyone extremely uncomfortable. Unfortunately, Americans don’t consider the same courtesies.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

My net(note)book trumps the iMaxiPad

My new notebook is a netbook. Netbooks, teeny tiny computers with word processing and web surfing capabilities, are my new godsend. Weighing little more than a heavy five-subject wirebound notebook, this thing allows me to access my blogs and e-mail and Word documents from basically anywhere I have an Internet connection. And I won't break my shoulder trying to lug it around with me.

"Netbook" as a generic term was first used in 2007 with the inception of the ASUS Eee PC (I am typing on a newer version of this first netbook now). With the ability to produce a small, effective and cost efficient laptop, Asus focused on creating affordable netbooks for developing countries and sold 300,000 units in only 4 months.

In the U.S. netbooks have also been marketed as "companion devices" used as a second computer for work or school. Although I have just recently learned of their existence, apparently many of my husband's college classmates use netbooks rather than notebooks. I also witnessed a mom buying one for her gradeschool-aged daughter when we went to BestBuy.

On another note, my husband explained to me that an iPad is essentially an iTouch with a larger screen, and an iTouch is an iPhone that isn't a phone. If you ask me, they should just give them all the same name and call them iQuit, iQuit1.5 and iQuit2. (The 1.5 would be the iPhone). But my husband and his geeky friends prefer to call the iPad the iMaxiPad.

PC World compares netbooks and iPads

Monday, March 29, 2010

Making the death pledge

Will I sign my soul over to the Devil? Not exactly. But I may soon be signing away my livelihood with a mortgage. Considering that the word comes from the root “mort” (meaning death), I decided that this deserved some extra attention.

As a noun, the word “mortgage” has been around since 1390. Coming from Old French, the word literally means “death pledge.” It was called such because the deal (or loan) “dies” when the debt is repaid or when payment fails. The word was first used as a verb in 1467.

Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634) theorized that the “death” part of the word referred to a certain level of doubtfulness regarding whether or not the debt would be repaid. Also, if the debt could not be paid, the property would be seized by the creditor (causing the land to be “dead” to the one owing money).

Of course, others would joke (with all due sarcasm) that a mortgage is a “death pledge” because you will pay it until you die, or you’ll never be able to pay off the debt. Likewise, if you die before repaying the debt – the bank will own your home. How morbid.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Am I a hipster?

After hearing one of my friends talk extensively about hipsters, without ever really being able to define them, I sought out definitions of my own. And it seems like I know a lot of hipsters. But then the fear arose. Am I a hipster? I do share some of the qualities…some of the characteristics. So I took inventory.

1. Wears thrift store clothes. Yes.
2. Listens to alternative rock. Yes.
3. Listens to indie rock. Sometimes.
4. Listens to alternative hip-hop. Sometimes.
5. Watches independent films. Yes
6. Has shaggy, metrosexual hair. Kind of.
7. Drinks local or home-brewed beer. No.
8. Smokes cheap cigarettes. No.
9. Has a liberal arts degree. Yes.
10. Hangs out in coffee houses. Yes.
11. Excessively drops names. No.
12. Eats organic, locally grown, vegetarian or vegan food. Sometimes.
13. Listens to public radio. Yes.
14. Rides a fixed-gear bicycle. No.
15. Does not want to be called a hipster. Yes.

So the verdict? I score a 9/15 on the hipster scale, (with sometimes and maybes counted as a half point) which is slightly more hipster than the average person. What’s your score?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Why people hate on hipsters

Do you know any hipsters? It seems that a “hipster” is kind of like “goth” in the fact that they are so alternative that their alternative lifestyle has now become mainstream. If that makes any sense. As Julia Plevin of the Huffington Post would say,
“the whole point of hipsters is that they avoid labels and being labeled. However, they all dress the same and act the same and conform in their non-conformity.”
So what makes someone a hipster? One of the trademarks is apparently that they are offended at being called “hipster.” A positive source stated that they “value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics” and have “an appreciation of art and indie rock, creativity, intelligence and witty banter.” So why is there so much antagonism against hipsters?

Part of it is that many hipsters are the young, white upper and middle class who, in their desire to reject consumerism and the mainstream, have instead misappropriated a variety of retro styles without acknowledging the origins of those styles or ways of living. They put on a sort of pretense that they are above all others because they “just don’t care.” The irony is that they care too much about their “iconic, carefully created sloppy vintage look.” Critics of hipsters consider them smug and full of contradictions.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

That sucks cow butt!

So for Lent one year (me: former Catholic), I decided to give up swearing. But what wound up happening was that I invented my own swear words and phrases. No one else knew what the heck I was talking about, but that just made it more fun. I still use some of them, my favorite being “that sucks cow butt.” A close second would probably be “fudge bucket.”

There is actually an origin story for “that sucks cow butt.” When I was in middle school, they brought in a public speaker to talk to us about smoking. The most memorable thing about the whole speech was when the guy compared smoking to sucking a cow’s butt. I just couldn’t get that image out of my head. So when I gave up swearing, things didn’t just “suck” they “sucked cow butt.”

Friday, March 19, 2010

What's up? Besides the sky, I mean.

This often-rhetorical question has replaced the once-standard “hello” or “hi” in everyday speech. But where did it come from, and why does everyone want to know what is “up”?

One possible origin derives from the use of the word “up” in the 1930’s. During the ‘30’s “up” was slang for what a person was occupied with or busy with. Asking “what’s up?” would be like asking what another has his attention on. It could also be derived from “what’s the update?” but that seems less likely.

Another proposed theory claims that it originated in the late 20th century when “people were astounded with the sky.” In which case, many people reply “nothing,” or if they’re smart alecks, “the sky.”

One of the first pop-culture references to “what’s up?” is Bugs Bunny’s infamous first words, “What’s up, Doc?” in 1940. Tex Avery, one of the creators of Looney Tunes, explains:
“That opening line of ‘Eh, what’s up, Doc’ floored them. They expected the rabbit to scream, or make anything but a casual remark. For here’s a guy pointing a gun in his face! It got such a laugh that we said, ‘Boy, we’ll do this every chance we get.’”
Other uses of “What’s up?” include a song by 4 Non Blondes in the ‘90’s (which, ironically, does not include the phrase itself), and dialogue in a Budweiser commercial aired during the 2008 Super Bowl.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ingredients: piss and vinegar

The earliest citation of “piss and vinegar” comes from John Steinbeck’s 1938 Grapes of Wrath. However, similar phrases such as “full of piss and wind” (1922), “full of pep and vinegar” (1927) and even “piss vinegar” (1602, meaning to be miserly) have been around a lot longer.

In the 1920’s, the word “vinegar” was used to mean vitality and energy. It is likely that the phrase “piss and vinegar” originated during this time, perhaps on college campuses, given that “vinegar” was well-used college slang.

Another variation of “piss and vinegar” is “pith and vinegar,” supposedly a more polite version. But some would argue that the variation
“robs it of the imagery of acrid, energetically boiling fluids and conjures up instead a sodden, vinegar-soaked mass of pith.”
This brings me to the definition of “piss and vinegar,” which you may know already. The phrase is an idiom meaning full of energy and enthusiasm. Other than being the title of several songs, Piss & Vinegar is also a line of men’s underwear. Catchy.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Becoming an ecstatic (adj.) ecstatic (n.)

Ecstasy is a state of being, a form of consciousness, that is extremely hard to define. Primarily viewed in positive terms, it is described as a heightened state of awareness, a pleasant or rapturous experience, an otherworldly mental or physical state. On the flip side, some might see an experience of ecstasy as a psychotic episode.

The word “ecstasy” derives from the Ancient Greek “exstasis,” meaning to be or stand outside oneself or to experience a removal to elsewhere. In philosophy, it seems that the consciousness of a person is expanded through ecstasy, that the experience allows him to move beyond his own personal ego into a collective consciousness or greater connection with his surroundings.

Ecstasy can be achieved in a number of ways:
1. religious practice
2. creative activities
3. meditation
4. listening to music
5. dancing
6. breathing exercises
7. physical exercise
8. sexual experiences
9. use of psychotropic drugs

Part of the reason why “ecstasy” is so hard to define is that different people experience it in different ways. Some see it as an extraordinary mental state, or as a way of connecting with the Divine. Others experience it as an intense emotional or physical connection to another human being. Still others experience ecstasy as an epiphany or intense emotional rapture with no particular focus.

I would like to say that I have experienced ecstasy, but that depends upon how you define it. I have had the experience of being outside of myself, looking inward (as some philosophers would say – examining my belly button lint). I have also felt an outward connection to others, where I feel as though my own identity and consciousness have been superseded and I have become part of the whole…a small piece of the great Oversoul.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Snogging a piece of "verbal candy"

For a proper dose of British humor, tune in to Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, now available on DVD. No, this is not a sales pitch. I swear. Happened to notice this at Blockbuster, where my husband works, and thought maybe I might just rent it.

But what, you may ask, is “snogging”? Sounds a little disgusting, doesn’t it? It also sounds strangely familiar. Up for a little slogging, anyone? Care to wade with me through the swamp?

Exact definitions vary, but the primary meaning of “snogging” is kissing. But be forewarned: it is a very passionate kissing. “Making out” would probably be the American equivalent. And as we all know, “making out” may come as a package deal with other things like “copping a feel.”

Called “verbal candy” by one Urbandictionary contributor, the word “snogging” originated in the 1950’s or 1960’s and is said to be related to “snug” (meaning to “lie close”).

You can find “snogging” in a variety of places, including the aforementioned movie, the book upon which it was based (entitled Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging), the Austin Powers series, and even Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

On a side note: Why was “Full-Frontal” changed to “Perfect” for the movie adaptation? Perhaps “full-frontal” implies “full-frontal nudity.” Hmmm…. I suppose I’ll need to read the book, watch the movie, and compare notes.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Doing cartwheels

Could mean you’re in gymnastics. Or that you’re on amphetamines. Or you have a strange affinity for carts…or coins.

As a noun, the word “cartwheel” (originating in the 14th century) referred to the wheel of a cart. (Real hard to figure that one out). In 1864, it took on its acrobatic definition, describing a person who flips end-over-end like the wheel of a cart. It took a few decades, but it was later used as a verb (meaning to perform a cartwheel) in 1920.

In slang, both silver dollar coins and amphetamine tablets are also referred to as “cartwheels”.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A little bit of tits

So, I was disappointed that I found a lot of tits on the Internet. I know, for most people this wouldn’t be a problem. But I wasn’t finding what I wanted to find: information about the word “tits.”

As many people know, the word “tit” is an alternative word for “teat” or “nipple.” It can also be used to refer to the entire breast. Some say they are women’s power over men, giving them both social and economic gain in certain situations.

Maybe because I fall into the “tiny titty” category, I find this hard to believe. But I suppose that yes, many men (and quite a few women) take joy in the existence of tits.

That said, the word “tit” can also refer to a variety of birds, from the Tit-babbler to the Bearded Tit. And that makes me laugh.

Friday, March 5, 2010

“Yipee-ki-yay, Motherfucker!”

If you’re a fan, of the Die Hard movies, I shouldn’t have to explain this one to you. But for the unenlightened, “yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” is what the Bruce Willis’ character says when he does something really cool like killing his nemesis in a violent way or blowing something up. The word “motherfucker” is also a regular feature in the movie Pulp Fiction, which is another totally awesome senseless action movie.

There is some debate about the origins of the word “motherfucker” and how it is used. One theory states that it was used as early as the 1300’s to refer to someone who has sexual intercourse with his own mother, like Oedipus.

A more likely origin comes from World War II, when American soldiers traded food, money and valuables for sex with poor German and French homemakers whose husbands were either at war, in prison, or dead. Calling another soldier a “motherfucker” meant that the soldier either 1. took advantage of poor people with no options or 2. was unable to seduce a woman who was not desperate.

Over the years, the word has become a general insult, with no real reference to incest or sexual intercourse. It is often used as a term of derision or to indicate intensity (used in the same way as the word “fuck”).

Many people have used the word “motherfucker” to label themselves or the things they associate with. A few examples include:
1. Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers, an anarchist affinity group based in New York City, founded in 1966.
2. A variety of alcoholic drinks, including this one: Adios Motherfucker.
3. Librarians Who Say Motherfucker, a LiveJournal group for library workers who express frustration about their jobs.
If you want to jump on the bandwagon, buy your very own “Bad Motherfucker” wallet (like the one in Pulp Fiction), here.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Mick Jagger is a c*cksucker (NSFW)

Used to refer to someone who performs fellatio, the term “cocksucker” can also label a very annoying or objectionable person. Why the apparent contradiction? The underlying hint at homosexuality explains why the term is usually used to describe males rather than females. In other words, the negative connotation of the word implies that homosexuality is undesirable.

On the other hand, it appears that the word is more often used as an insult without any thought to sexuality at all. A definition at Urbandictionary calls it the
“general all-purpose all-American insult used to describe anyone except the person who actually sucks your cock.”
As a side note, the Rolling Stones recorded the song “Cocksucker Blues” in 1970 as an affront to Decca Records. According to their contract, the Stones had to produce a final single for Decca, but they chose to write a song so inappropriate that Decca refused to release it. Promotional singles of the song were still pressed in the U.S. against Decca’s wishes.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Cuss-Free Week?

Didn't they get the news? It's the week to celebrate cuss words, not prevent them from roaming free!

California's government should be spending their time worrying about more important matters than regulating people's language.

The "C-Word"

“What is the difference between a circus and a strip club? The circus has a bunch of cunning stunts.” This spoonerism creates a word play just like the bumper sticker “Buck Fush.” Although, I have to admit this one is cleverer because “fush” isn’t even a word.

But what, exactly, does the “c-word” mean? Here are a few theories:
1. A reference to female genitalia
2. Unpleasant or stupid person
3. A disparaging term for a woman
4. A despicable man
5. A term of endearment

When used with a positive qualifier (such as “good”) it can take on a positive connotation in New Zealand or Australia.

Feminists reclaim the word

As an abusive term, the “c-word” implies that a woman’s primary usefulness is as a sexual object. Many feminists have tried to reclaim the word the same way the LGBT community has reclaimed “queer.”

Inga Muscio’s book Cunt: A Declaration of Independence claims that
“only by reconnecting with a love for their genitalia can women achieve personal and political power.”
Literary references

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales uses the word as a non-offensive term, closely associated with “quaint.”

Shakespeare used wordplay to suggest the then-offensive word with the phrase “country matters” in Hamlet.

A few CANOEs

A "cuntline" is the space between casks stored side by side on a ship, and a "cunt splice" refers to a type of rigging.

Okay, I will finally type it out. Cunt.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fornicating Under Consent of the King

Although acronymic origins for words are rare, many people insist that the word “fuck” was derived from one of two acronyms: Fornication Under Consent of the King or For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.

The story behind the first is that married couples were required to obtain the king’s permission to engage in intercourse. Beyond the fact that this never happened, the original definition of “fornication” betrays this theory. Traditionally, “fornication” did not refer to sex within the context of marriage.

As far as the other acronym is concerned, it is unlikely that prisoners would be labeled as such, if for nothing else the fact that the word “for” was not usually used to mark crimes in the 18th and 19th centuries. For example, a wrongdoer in the stocks might be sentenced to wear a sign that says “stealing,” not “for stealing.”

The “f-word,” which is very versatile, is usually used in relation to sex, as an insult, or to express distress, frustration, pain, and almost any other emotion you can think of. It is also a word that lies at the heart of the Free Speech debate, so it tends to polarize public opinion.

The actual origins of the word are much less exciting than the false acronyms. With its earliest usage in 1503, the word “fuck” comes from the Dutch “fokken” (to breed, as in cattle), from Swedish dialect “fokka” (to copulate) or “focca” (to strike, push), and Norwegian dialect “fukka” (to copulate).

Steven Anderson’s 2005 documentary “Fuck” explores the word’s origins and why it offends. But watch out: they use the “f-word” a whopping 824 times in this film. With the exclusion of pornographic films, the next runner up is “Nil by Mouth” (1997) with a mere 470 uses.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pissing the night away

One-hit wonder Chumbawamba made “pissing the night away” popular with their song “I get knocked down” in 1997. A rallying cry for good drunks everywhere, the song used the word “pissing” with a dual meaning. They referred to the act of urination (caused by drinking too much) and the more British definition of “piss” (meaning an alcoholic beverage of poor quality).

The word “piss” is still considered offensive by some, but not many of the population. Along with these two meanings, it can also refer to urine itself or the act of discharging some substance (such as blood) in the urine.

Originating in the 14th Century, the word is derived from the Middle English "pissen" from Anglo-French "pisser", from Vulgar Latin "pissiare".

Monday, February 22, 2010

It Hits the Fan (not safe for work...or small children)

The first of the seven dirty words really hits the fan. Used in a single South Park episode an astounding 162 times, the word “shit” has multiple uses and meanings.

The history of the word begins in Old English with scite (dung), scitte (diarrhea) and scitan (to defecate). It then transformed into the Middle English schitte, schyt, and shiten. A false etymology claims that the word originated as an acronym for Ship High in Transit, meaning that manure must be stored high above the water line when transported by ship. (That’s bullshit!)

The word “shit” is used in many ways:
1. As a vague noun: Clean up your shit.
2. To express surprise: Holy shit!
3. To warn of trouble: You are in deep shit, mister!
4. To show displeasure: This burger tastes like shit.
5. To establish dominance: Eat shit and die, motherfucker!
6. As a shortened version of bullshit: No shit!
7. To create emphasis: I was so shit-scared.
8. To refer to drug/alcohol usage: He got shitfaced.
9. As a verb: He shit.

On television, this word now makes a regular appearance on cable stations. You can also hear it on satellite radio. These two arenas of entertainment are not regulated by the FCC.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Seven Dirty Words

Comedian George Carlin drew up a list of the “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” in 1972, and was subsequently arrested for disturbing the peace when he performed the bit at Summerfest in Milwaukee, WI. According to FCC guidelines, the words he spoke were primarily used “to describe or depict sexual and excretory activities and organs.” Apparently, these things make us uncomfortable.

But this was a long time ago, wasn’t it? In the grand scheme of things, not really. Standards have changed and what is considered “indecent” has definitely shifted, but there are still many words which invoke such strong connotations that they cannot be used in public. At least not if you want to be considered an upstanding citizen.

The words on Carlin’s list were as follows:
1. Shit
2. Piss
3. Fuck
4. Cunt
5. Cocksucker
6. Motherfucker
7. Tits

In later performances, he added the words “fart”, “turd” and “twat”.

I will examine each of these words – both their meanings and common usages – for your seedier side to enjoy. And perhaps to shock my mother, also, but that’s beside the point.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Super Cali Fragil Istic Expi Ali Do Cious!

Introduced to most of us by Mary Poppins, this nonsensical word is absolutely irresistible: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

I remember in grade school, we could make our own spelling list if we aced the early spelling test given at the beginning of the week. I would find the most bizarre words to put on my list to be tested on at the end of the week. One week, I choose “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and my classmates thought I was crazy.

I find it surprising that my beloved Mary Poppins (and her creators of course) were not the founders of the word. In fact, the word was never even used in the books upon which the Mary Poppins film is based. After the release of the movie, there was also a lawsuit filed by Barney Young and Gloria Parker, who had written a song in 1949 entitled "Supercalafajaistickespeealadojus" and had shared the song with Disney in 1951.

They lost the case, though, because documents were produced indicating that several variants of the word had been used prior to 1949. I couldn’t find any details about these examples, however. Interesting note: the judge in this case refused to keep writing out and saying the word “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” because it was so obnoxiously long. He repeatedly referred to it as “the word.”

What does the word mean? Well, Mary Poppins suggests that it is a word to say when you have nothing to say, a word that will also make you sound smart. Richard and Robert Sherman, who wrote the Disney song define it as follows: “super” (above), “cali” (beauty), “fragilistic” (delicate), “expiali” (to atone), and “docious” (educable). Over all, it would mean “atoning for educability through delicate beauty,” which is basically nonsensical anyway.

The rather satirical writers of Maxim magazine would have you believe that it is a phrase coined by Scottish miners who wanted to ask prostitutes for “the works.” This usage is undoubtedly false, but it does make for an interesting interpretation for some of the lyrics in the Disney song. For example:
“But better use it carefully
Or it may change your life
One night I said it to me girl
And now me girl's my wife!”

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Flying by the seat of your pants is cheaper

In the 1930’s, pilots flew with few instruments, relying primarily on their own judgment. The phrase “flying by the seat of your pants” was coined during this time, and used in a news article about the Douglas Corrigan’s 1938 flight from the U.S. to Ireland. The same article referenced the phrase “flying by the seat of his trousers,” which implies a British origin.

Although the origins of this phrase correspond from source to source, different meanings are given. Here’s a sampling:

Decide a course of action as you go along, using your own initiative and perceptions rather than a pre-determined plan or mechanical aids.”

Act according to one’s own desires or beliefs without regard for standards for social behavior, logical sensibility, or the approval of others.”

“To do something difficult without the necessary experience or ability.”

There’s also a fun variation on the phrase. “Panster” is a word used by one blogger to describe the way she writes her novels: “I am a panster – as in I don’t outline, I don’t have much of a clue what’s going to happen, and I write by the seat of my pants.”

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Don't tip the CANOE

A new acronym has popped up, at least in the Web world. CANOE, standing for Conspiracy to Attribute Nautical Origins to Everything, appeared to me while I was searching the etymology and origins of “cat got your tongue”. Whereas at least two of the word origin posts I have posted were nautical-related, maybe there is a conspiracy.

It showed up on both and Creepy CANOE…

Why the cat wants your tongue

Because cats are carnivores. But seriously, now, where did the phrase “cat got your tongue” come from? There are many theories, but no real answers.

It might be a phrase that was used by parents questioning their children when they refused to speak. In some cases, the child was shy; in other cases he was refusing to answer to avoid punishment for something.

The “cat” part of the phrase may be referring to the way cats drag in (look what the cat drug in!) small rodents and animals. The human tongue is roughly the same size as some of these lovely little tidbits.

Another theory is that it refers to a cat o’ nine tails. If the captain of a ship told something to one of the shipmates in secrecy, he would be threatened with a good whipping if he spoke about it. Hence, the other shipmates would ask him, “has the cat got your tongue?”

One source reports that the phrase originates from the Middle East, where a liar’s tongue would be cut out and fed to the king’s cats. Or better yet, that it came from the Middle Ages when a witch’s cat would “control” your tongue so you could not speak and bear witness against her witchcraft.

Friday, January 22, 2010

What's the deal with plurals?

So I was looking for a youtube video of this joke I heard once about plurals in the Engligh language - I remember something specifically about moosen, meese, and boxen. Instead, I give you two videos I found, the first being a documentary type and totally serious, the other for pure fun.

Scrumptious: Good enough to scrump?

This is another one with a “standard” definition and “slang” definition. When I searched for origins it came up as “unknown,” which doesn’t do me any good. So, here are the two definitions at least.
1. Splendid, delectable (as in food)
2. Something that is good enough
to eat or indulge in

(could be a thing or a person)

Interesting note: also includes a word that means the opposite of “scrumptious,” but I’m not sure if it will catch on. “Scrumptless” leftovers, anyone?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A George Foreman by any other name...

One of the fallacies of semantics states that you can gain power over something by naming it. This is especially “true” when it comes to naming pets and children. With everything else, we must use the conventional labeling for things (unless we want to be seen as crazy). But for our pets and children, we choose what to call them.

Some unfortunate souls are stuck with a moniker that they just can’t shake. My husband, for example, has the same name as his father. After his parents’ divorce and years of estrangement from his father, it is the last name he wants to have. But what about all those poor “celebrity” children?

I was hoping it was just a rumor, but the fact is that George Foreman named all five of his sons George, and one of his daughters Georgette. You might find that many George’s in a family tree, but usually not all in the same household. Of course, they all have nicknames, but that’s beside the point.

Parents should wield the power to name wisely.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tool teaches you how to make cookies

The band Tool released a song in 1996 entitled Die Eier Von Satan (The Balls of Satan) in which the German lyrics are a recipe for hash cookies. Because the song is German and includes a man shouting to a cheering crowd, we immediately associate it with Hitler and the Nazis. Of course, Americans associate almost anything German with Hitler and the Nazis.

The phrase which is repeated within the song is "Und kine Eier,” meaning “and no eggs.” If you take it one step further, though, you can see the “eggs” as Jews, and Hitler’s recipe for society would include no Jews. But I think that might be taking it a little too far.

Either way, I think this song sounds cool, even if the lyrics are just a recipe. At least it’s better than the Fast Food Song.

Obsessing Over Foreign Lyrics

Americans absolutely obsess over songs in foreign languages. Maybe it’s because we don’t understand just how dumb the lyrics really are. A few years ago, this annoying song called the Fast Food Song by the Fast Food Rockers) hit dance floors and impregnated our brains with nonsense. In German, it did sound kind of cool, and even had a few words we could understand. In English, it sucks. Period.

You might remember the refrain: McDonald’s McDonald’s Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut! Repeated over and over to brain-numbing infinity. And there were these awesome dance moves to the song, too. Reminds me of the YMCA and Macarena, but (dare I say it?) even more pathetic.

I would like to say that the lyrics are making fun of Americans and our overweight nation of fast-food eaters, but that isn’t the case. The song is really only about being hungry and eating fast food, maybe with a sexual subtext.

Another depressing note, it seems that witty lyrics are far from a prerequisite for top hits, either. Check out this poll of songs with the worst lyrics to kill some more brain cells. Its okay, you don’t really need those cells anyway.

Can you borrow me a brain?

The grammar police are here to arrest you. Your offense? Using “borrow,” “lend” and “loan” interchangeably. describes this as a “common misconception in some areas of the United States,” but I believe it to be a more widespread phenomenon. You have been sentenced to community service – ensuring that you and those around you understand the proper usage of these words.

“Borrow” means to take something from someone with their permission, with intent to return it. “Lend” means to give something to someone who will return it. In America, the word “loan” is used as a synonym for lend but not in the figurative sense.

Example: The yellow walls lend the kitchen warmth.
NOT The yellow walls loan the kitchen warmth.

If you are still struggling with this, try substituting “take” for “borrow” and “give” for “lend” or “loan.” You will soon learn the error of your ways.

Example: Give me a pen. OR Loan me a pen. OR Lend me a pen.
NOT Take me a pen. OR Borrow me a pen.

Class dismissed. To test your skills, try taking this quiz.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Recalling the McNeil Recall of '82

Because of the moldy odor of certain pills, McNeil has recalled a slew of products. These include certain lot numbers of Tylenol, Tylenol Arthritis, Motrin, Rolaids and some children’s products. They contain a chemical called tribromoanisole (TBA), which is created through the breakdown of a compound used to treat the wood pallets these products are shipped on.

In 1982, another recall occurred, but this one was much more deadly. Before tamper-evident seals were introduced, a covert cyanide creep slipped some potent pills into bottles of pain reliever. Do you recall this recall? It was before I was born, but I can imagine the terror that Tylenol must have caused.

Despite what some may say, this is not now the case. Although you can get sick from TBA, it is no more severe than nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, or diarrhea. And we almost expect to get those this time of year…just not from our medicines.

Although recalls seem to be plaguing us en masse lately, ranging from spinach to weight loss pills, the word “recall” has been around since 1582. Meaning “to bring back by calling upon” it was used primarily as a verb. Its more modern noun version is not so modern either – it was introduced in 1611.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Jury Rig and Jerry Built announce the birth of their son, Jerry Rig

Jerry Rig was born in 1959. His father, Jury Rig and his mother, Jerry Built came together in a rather unusual way.

Jury Rig, born in 1788, spawned from the sea. His name might be a shortened version of Injury Rig . He quickly builds temporary sails from available supplies when the main sail on a ship takes damage. He also constructs a variety of ingenious things.

Jerry Built, born in 1909, is a very slight woman, unsubstantial and cheap. She does not necessarily build quickly, as her lover and son, but she builds very sloppily.

Unlike his father Jury, Jerry is crude and improvises at the last minute. He builds more permanent structures than his father, but is less qualified at his work. Jerry gets many of his negative qualities from his mother.

Note: The proper spellings of these phrases are jerry-rig, jury-rig, and jerry-built. I used capitalized versions to create the semblance of names.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Words on Demand

I have recieved a request! One of my friends wants to know about the origins of the phrases "jury rig" and "jerry rig." I will write about this tonight after work.

Does anyone else have any requests?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Adam and Eve like to Scrump

Two possible meanings of the word “scrump:”
1. Screwing and humping
2. Stealing apples

I first heard this word from a coworker who said she wanted to get a tattoo on her hip that said “scrump me.” She then explained the first possible definition. Then I read it in a book referring to Adam and Eve and their “scrumping” escapade. The book (The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins) then explains the word to mean stealing apples. My brain nearly exploded.

Turns out that “scrump” is one of those weird British words. According to MSN Encarta, it means stealing fruit, particularly apples, from an orchard. But, the ever-reliable provided the definition my coworker mentioned.

The only explanation I can come up with is that Adam and Eve, after scrumping, realized they were naked and decided to scrump. It’s a very versatile word.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

There are atheists in foxholes!

And that is a fact. Yet, the myth persists that “there are no atheists in foxholes.” This statement implies that during times of extreme fear or stress, particularly in wartime, all people (without exception) will believe in or hope for a higher power.

The origin of this phrase isn’t clear cut, but there are many possibilities. Some sources credit Lieutenant-Colonel William J. Clear or Lieutenant-Colonel William Casey. Most often, though, the journalist Ernie Pyle is cited. In 1942, the line was used in the film “Wake Island.” The phrase “there are no atheists in foxholes” was used at least as early as World War I.

Logically, any statement using absolute terms (such as “always” or “never” or in this case “no”) can easily be proved false. If you find even one atheist in a foxhole, the statement is false. A funny thing about this statement is that it doesn’t even specify a when or where, so if there are any atheists in any foxholes at any time in any place, the statement is false. In other words, there are atheists in foxholes.

To use a more statistical method, however, I can note that the religious conviction of current US military personnel tends to be less than that of the general population. And we can’t deny that there are a definite percentage of atheists within the general population itself. In fact, the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers has adopted the catchphrase “Atheists in Foxholes” to point out that the original statement is far from a statistical fact.

Why, then, does it persist as a cliché phrase used by religious and even media representatives? Perhaps it is because many theists believe atheists are in denial. That they actually do believe in a higher power but refuse to acknowledge the deity. From an atheists’ point of view, that logic doesn’t make sense because how can you deny something that doesn’t exist in the first place?

Quick joke (from Digital Bits Skeptic) to lighten things up a little:
While in your foxhole, did you ever have a moment when you decided that God exists?
a) Yes.
b) No.
c) I was too busy trying not to get decapitated to think about it.

In many institutions, as well as the military, the religious questionnaire only allows atheist respondents to declare their religious affiliation as “other” or “no religious preference.” More recently, other options have been made available, including “atheist” and “agnostic,” but in many cases the choices remain limited.

So there might even be more atheists in foxholes than we know about.

Related Links
Science Blogs
Digital Bits Skeptic
Free Thought Forum
Believer's Journey

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Cotton swabs, tissues and shortening - Part III

As promised, I looked into the origins of Crisco also. Lately, I’ve become completely obsessed with eponyms (can’t you tell by the last four posts?) but I pledge to post about something entirely different soon. But I did want to know about Crisco…

The name Crisco is actually a sort of acronym for what it contains, which is CRYStallized Cottonseed Oil. Other names that the substance went by include Krispo, and Cryst. The latter was abandoned because of connotations related to Jesus Christ (you can’t really spread Him on your food, now can you?)

Crisco is unique from other forms of cooking fats (such as butter, oil, or lard) because it is oil that has been reformulated through a process called hydrogenation to create a shortening that remains solid at room temperature. The original purpose of Crisco shortening was to be used for candle making as a cheap substitute for more expensive animal fats.

With the advent of readily-available electricity, the candle business wasn’t making the profits Proctor & Gamble had intended, and Crisco needed a new customer. Because of the fat content of the product, and its resemblance to lard, they decided to market it as an ingredient used in cooking. Offering free cookbooks with recipes using Crisco sped the change along.

Now owned by Smuckers, Crisco is widely used in recipes and is still hailed as the first shortening product made entirely of vegetable oil. But, like many products on the market, it has also been found useful in other situations, as well. For example, it can be used for seasoning cast iron cookware and as a moisturizer for afro-textured hair. Crisco has also been used by historical battle re-enactors, who lubricate musket balls to reduce the effects of black powder residue.

Related Links
Mother Linda's

Monday, January 4, 2010

An Incomplete List of Eponyms

An eponym is proper noun that is used to refer to generic items. My recent blogs about Q-tips and Kleenex are prime examples of this.

In my opinion, the fact that we use a brand name as a generic term says a lot about the brand. It means it is ubiquitous, it is everywhere, it has clogged our brains to the point that we can’t even think about what the generic term is anymore!

For some companies, though, this is upsetting because it becomes more and more difficult to defend their trademark of the brand name. An interesting article on this can be found at the Vitamin IMC blog (which is written by students in the integrated marketing communications program at Northwestern).

Below are several examples of brand names and their generic counterparts. You can also test your knowledge of several eponyms by taking a brief quiz at

The Semi-Official List of Eponyms
• Chapstick (lip balm)
• Xerox (copy machine)
• Band-Aid (adhesive bandage)
• Fridge or Fridgedaire
• Hoover (vacuum)
• Levis (jeans)
• Rollerblades
• Escalator (power-driven stair system)
• Coke (cola)
• Tampax (tampon)
• Kotex (tampon)
• Trojan (condom)
• Binki (pacifier)
• Post-its (self-stick removable reminder note)
• Jell-o (gelatin)
• Visine (eye drops)
• Frisbee (toy flying saucer)
• Google (to perform a web-based search)
• Kool-Aid (instant lemonade, soft drink mix)
• Scotch tape (cellophane adhesive tape)
• Popsicle (colored ice candy on a stick)
• White-out (typographical correction fluid)
• Styrofoam (extruded polystyrene foam)
• Velcro (hook and loop fastener)
• Thermos (thermal insulated flask)
• Hi-lighter (pen-style highlighting marker)
• Listerine (antiseptic mouth wash)
• Saran wrap (plastic food storage wrap)
• Jeep (compact sport-utility station wagon)
• Vicks (nasal decongestant cream)
• Webster’s (pocket or desk reference dictionary)
• Alka-Seltzer (effervescent antacid)
• Spam (smoked pork and ham loaf)
• Bisquick (instant pancake mix)
• Cheerios (toasted oats)
• Rice Crispies (toasted rice cereal)
• Twizzlers (strawberry-flavored licorice)
• Lycra (nylon spandex)
• Cool-whip (whipped cream topping)
• Pepsi (soda pop)
• Tylenol (acetaminophen tablets)
• Halls (cough drops)
• Lego (plastic building blocks)
• Rolodex (rotary card file)
• Vaseline (petroleum jelly)
• Muzak (elevator music)
• Pop Tart (toaster pastry)
• Walkman (handheld radio cassette player)
• Aspirin
• Yo-yo
• Zipper
• AstroTurf (fake grass)
• Breathalyzer (device to test level of drunkenness)
• Brillo Pads (cleaning pads)
• Hula-Hoop
• Jacuzzi (whirlpool hot tub)
• Jockey Shorts (underpants)
• Magic Marker (semi-permanent marker)
• Ping-Pong (table tennis)
• Play-doh (modeling clay)
• Slim Jim (packaged beef stick)
• Super Glue (adhesive glue)

Related Links
Vitamin IMC blog
Database of American Proprietary Eponyms
The Straight Dope

Cotton swabs, tissues and shortening - Part II

Kleenex is synonymous with tissues, to the point that if someone asks me for tissue, my first response is to ask if they want tissue paper. In my vocabulary, the word “tissues,” as in “facial tissues,” simply does not exist.

And, I will admit to being a brand-name buyer when it comes to these “tissues” as well. Puffs just don’t do the trick and generics don’t either. So where did the name Kleenex come from? It makes your face “clean” but is there more to it than that?

Apparently not. Of all the sites I visited, only one offered an etymology (origin) of the word “Kleenex.” The word itself is an
arbitrary alteration of ‘clean’ and the brand-name suffix ‘-ex.’”
. Kleenex is also a trademark that has been used by Kimberly-Clark since June 12, 1924

But all is not lost. I did find some interesting factoids along the way. The origin of Kleenex facial tissues, if not the word “Kleenex” is interesting enough on its own. The U.S. manufacturer Kimberly-Clark invented creped wadding called Cellucotton, which was used in the filters of gas masks in World War I. After the war, the wadding was redesigned and remarketed as Kleenex.

Kleenex facial tissues were also originally marketed for the removal of cold cream or makeup remover. By the 1930’s, however, it became widely used as a sort of disposable handkerchief and the company’s advertising changed. Their campaign advised: “Don’t Keep a Cold in Your Pocket.”

Coming soon...Crisco!

Related Links
Marketing Magazine
Online Etymology Dictionary

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Cotton swabs, tissue and shortening - Part I

There are many products called only by their brand name, even if we’re buying generic. This includes Q-tips, Kleenex, and Crisco, among others. Is it the ubiquitous nature of the brand and its advertising or something yet more sinister at work here?


The name “Q-tips” came from the inventor of cotton swabs, Leo Gerstenzang. Few people know, however, that the original name of the product was Baby Gays. In 1926, Gerstenzang changed the name to Q-Tips Baby Gays to make it more marketable.

Eventually, the “Baby Gays” portion of the name was dropped to promote the idea that cotton swabs are for the whole family, not just babies. Maybe it’s a good thing they dropped that part of the name, too. Just imagine if we called all cotton swabs “Baby Gays!”

But what does the “Q” stand for? According to many sources, the Q in “Q-tips” stands for quality. The company later took advantage of this (for a very limited time) with the marketing of a kit of baby-care products called “Q-things.” These included “Q-Talc,” “Q-Soap,” “Q-Oil,” “Q-Cream,” and “Q-tips.”

A 1953 lawsuit filed by the Q-tips company against Johnson & Johnson argued that J&J’s use of the term “Johnson’s Cotton Tips” violated the Q-tips trademark. Although no money was awarded to Q-tips for this suit, it was deemed that Q-tip is a trademarked term and cannot be used in any shape or form in the name or packaging of a product developed by another company.

The report from this case states that
“there is no doubt that “Q-tips” is a proper trademark unless it [serves] as either a generic name for the goods or a designation descriptive of them.”
Although the general public uses “Q-tips” as a generic term for cotton swabs, the term itself is unique enough to maintain its “trademark” status.

Next time, I will go more into tissues and shortening. For the sake of shortness, of course, I end here.

Related Links
Pitara Kids Network

Friday, January 1, 2010

What is Middlesex?

To me, Middlesex is the title of a book written by Jeffrey Eugenides, but I wanted to know where the word itself came from. In the book, Middlesex is the name of a Detroit suburb where the family of the main character (Cal Stephanides) lives.

It is also used in reference to Cal’s sexuality and gender. Born as a genetic male who appeared female, Cal is raised as Callie. When Cal/Callie reaches puberty, however, it becomes clear that she isn’t like other girls her age and decides to live as a male. The term “Middlesex” in this book is best used to describe someone who lives “betwixt and between”.

After doing a little research, I found that Middlesex was also the name of a historic county of England. Southern England was divided into four Saxon tribes: Wessex (West Saxons), Sussex (South Saxons), Essex (East Saxons) and Middlesex (the central Saxons). Of course, the British had no intention of implying the “sex” suffix of the word as anything sexual.

Eugenides play on the word is entertaining and works well for his book. I wonder if there are others who have used the word “Middlesex” in this way and whether or not this was before or after Eugenides’ use. I wasn’t able to find much, but if you have any input, feel free to post it here.

Related Links