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