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.