Thursday, January 31, 2008

#689 Universal Unconnectivity

Private enterprise to the rescue again. Read an interesting article the other day. And it seems that all the constitutional rights activists that were worried about illegal wiretapping can rest easy. Turns out the feds are their own worst enemy.
Am I surprised?
After a couple of lawsuits, some dithering, posturing, and ultimately caving in by congress when the Bush administration waggled the fear of terrorist bugaboo, the possibly illegal wiretapping seemed as if it could go on pretty much unrestricted forever.
Then the telephone companies got into the act. And started cutting off Uncle Sam’s ear. Or he cut off his own, possibly to spite his face or something.
The Washington Post reports that telecommunications companies are shutting down FBI wiretaps of suspects because of the FBI’s chronic (italics mine) failure to pay its phone bills on time. This was found by a Justice Department audit. Apparently, one field office owes about 66,000 smackers.
This is bad on so many levels.
First, how’s it gonna look to the kids? Efram Zimbalist Junior must be turning over in his grave. The FBI not pay its bills?
G-Men at war with repo-men?
All that’s good and right and trustworthy welching on a debt? I’m sorry. My image of the nation’s top law enforcement agency just doesn’t ring as true.
Second, are they not paying because they don’t have the budget? One of those unfunded mandate deals? Told by Homeland Security to catch the terrorists and then not given the wherewithal to do so?
What happened to all the cost savings from consolidation we heard about around Patriot Act time? What happened to the new efficiencies supposed to be part of the deal to make sure a terrorist attack couldn’t happen again?
Oh, that’s right. The money’s being used to intercept golf clubs and fingernail clippers at the airport.
Nothing guaranteed to drive fear into the hearts of flight attendants more than the threat of immediate damage to their French manicures by highjacking terrorists ready to snip.
So. What do you want to bet the federal universal connectivity charge on our phone bills goes up soon?
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

#688 Understanding Clips

So sometimes, I’m pretty sure someone who doesn’t know how to use a thesaurus is in charge of a lot of product labels.
I’m looking at a paper clip box the other day. And on it, in Spanish and English, are words that describe paper clips. I actually like bilingual boxes, as I am often curious what a thing in English is called in other languages.
I remember buying a vacuum cleaner once and seeing that the term “crevice tool,” which, frankly, no home appliance should be without, was rendered in Spanish as “tubo de estension.” Tubo de estension became a wonderful phrase my friends and I bandied about for humorous purposes for a long time.
Oh, quickly, my husband, I need the tubo de estension. I see a bunny of dust!
Anyhow, you’d be interested to know that the two words “paper clips” translate into Spanish as sujetapapeles. It is rendered on the box as one word. I tried looking it up in a Spanish/English online dictionary but the closest I could come was papel, meaning paper.
The other word on the box they translate into Spanish is antideslizantes. Which, I know, sounds like something you give your sleezy aunt to make her behave better or something. Anti-de-sleeze-Aunty.
Okay, It’s a stretch.
Antideslizante translates back into the English on the box as non-skid. But it actually translates as non-slide.
Cause here’s the rub. I’m not sure skid is the word to use for a paperclip anyhow. Non-slip would be more like it.
What really is the difference between a slip and a skid? They are listed as synonymous in thesauri, but you know and I know, people typically use the word skid to describe larger things.
I may make a tiny slip but it takes a lot of movement to leave a skid mark.
Skids are larger issues than slips. Because people may slip up, but they definitely head down when they’re on the skids.
So, unless a paper clip is attached to a prescription for an anti-depressant I don’t think it can be non-skid in any language.
See?
Si.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

#687 Underball

There are trailer hitches. And there are trailer hitch balls.
And then there are the things some guys hang from the trailer hitch balls on their trucks.
These things are fairly recognizable representations of the gamete-producing organs most males have slung from there own hitching area.
The area they, um, hope to use more when they get hitched.
While the display of actual living male organs is forbidden, in most states the display of representations thereof is not—if one is sure not to include the entire set of genitalia.
Usually, when a gentleman displays these things from his trailer ball, he uses a pair that are fairly large. An expert in animal husbandry would surely conclude that these freudio-pseudo prairie oysters originated on a bull.
Perhaps that is the purpose of the male truck owner’s display and wanton disregard for the niceties of civilization. This cowpoke is broadcasting to all and many that he defies convention. He’s a tough nut to crack. A bull. An hombre. The strong and silent ubermensch of the wild wild west.
These freud-icles dangling from his truck are his male plumage, designed to attract a special type of mate.
But there’s a Legislator in the state of Virginia that’s trying to make them illegal. Display of such hitching ball ornamentation would be a misdemeanor punishable by a $250 fine. It would be a crime because they distract other drivers.
The lawmaker was responding to one of his angry constituents, who was testy because he’d had a hard time explaining the not-so-delicate danglers to his daughter.
I hope he tells his daughter to consider them a warning sign. Here’s the deal Sally, don’t go out with a guy who’s nuts enough to display such things from his trailer balls.
Because it’s likely this young feller has issues.
He feels a little inadequate perhaps. He feels by flaunting his maleness he can get the attention he apparently isn’t getting any other way.
Or maybe he’s just desperately offering them to a potential mate. Please, please, take me. You can have these. I’m not using them.
See, I even hung them from the back of my truck.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, January 28, 2008

#686 Uber-Market

So the other day I was in the supermarket.
I love saying “supermarket.” It makes me think I’ll find things there from the planet Krypton or something. This is where Superboy shops for his super red BVDs.
And you can’t get super muscles without super supplements and power drinks and energy bars and lots and lots of additives to preserve freshness.
That’s what really makes the market super—everything in there is packaged to put on a shelf. And everything on the shelf has a shelf life clearly marked on it.
In third world countries, excuse me, emerging economies, they have markets out in the open with flies and animal poop and stuff and you’re never sure if the mongoose bladder you’re buying is fresh or about ready to go over. Or the yak soup will make you yak indeed. Gustatory sickness is just around every steaming, putrid corner.
But not here. Here two-thirds of the calories the average American consumes are represented by four crops—corn, soybeans, rice and wheat. Because we have better living through chemicals and if we don’t like our food we can magically change it to a new shape. We can strip all the vitamins out of something and then add them back in. Grind it down to a paste and then form it up into creative and wonderful figures and representations of what fresh food used to look like.
Like vegetables? We have crackers shaped like vegetables.
Like fruit? Trix now comes in not just fruit-flavored but fruit-shaped sugar pellets.
The super power of extrusion technology.
So, when I went through the supermarket cereal aisle I saw a very interesting product. It was Eggo Waffle-shaped, cinnamon toast flavored, breakfast cereal. Three, count em, three breakfasts, waffles, cinnamon toast, and cereal, all rolled into one artistically extruded rendering. And not bacon and eggs either. Three starchy breakfasts—waffles, toast and cereal.
And the funny thing is, one aisle over, you could get actual Eggo waffles, whose prefab preparation requirements had already been reduced to putting them in a toaster.
But these were waffle-shaped things you could put on a shelf in your pantry for ten years! Now that’s super, man!
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, January 25, 2008

#685 Unpopped Off

So I saw this interesting article in a Seattle paper. Turns out people are dying, so this is no laughing matter, but how they are dying seems like some bad horror movie premise.
They are dying from butter flavor.
That’s right, I said butter flavor. Not butter, as in high cholesterol and hardening of the arteries. Not butter, as in heart attacks and high blood pressure strokes. Not even butter, as in dying on the toilet with an impacted Elvis bowel.
Nope, butter flavor.
Seems the food additive diacetyl, which is used to provide that buttery flavor they put in microwave popcorn, can kill in sufficient doses if you inhale enough of it.
Yes, inhale it. Apparently, it’s okay if you just eat it.
But popcorn factory workers have been popping off at an alarming rate and diacetyl seems to be to blame. And, the problem is, no government agency has the salt to deal with it.
The science indicates that inhaling enough diacetyl leads to a condition know as Bronchiolitis Obliterans, which, essentially, is the blockage of the smallest air passageways in your lungs, which prevents necessary molecules like, oh, oxygen getting by.
The result is suffocation and death. What a way to go.
Did your dad die in the war? No. He died from inhaling buttery flavor.
The story gets worse. A simple point source like popcorn factories can be dealt with. But now the United Food and Commercial Workers Union is after the feds to regulate cooking additives that contain diacetyl. Chefs that frequently use spray on buttery Pam and other low-cal non-stick flavor additives in restaurants are also at risk.
Worse still, the feds can’t agree who should regulate it. OSHA is moving as slow as a glacier melting before global warming. Perhaps I should say slow as a cold stick of butter.
The FDA says it’s only concerned with food people eat and drink. They say they can’t regulate foods that people inhale.
I wish I was making the last part up.
But when it comes to bureaucracy and responsibility, that’s the phrase that sums up that last unpopped greasy kernel of truth.
“It’s not my department.”
America, ya gotta love it.

#684 Unfeeling Cold

It’s not hard in the 21st Century to be overwhelmed by all the changes in technology. It seems like every other nanosecond someone comes out with something new and earth shattering in the way of inventiveness.
Kind of makes you wonder why we’re still dependent on foreign oil doesn’t it?
I mean, with computing speeds now seventy jillon times faster than the original green-screeners we started with, and with chips smaller than a slug’s eyestalk, you’d just figure someone would have come up with a fuel alternative by now that doesn’t drive up the price of corn in the supermarket.
Maybe the incentive of 100 bucks a barrel while light a stick under someone’s posterior.
In any event, the pursuit of such technology often takes interesting turns. The other day I was watching a football playoff/wrestling match and saw something interesting.
Oh, wait a minute, did I say wrestling match? Wrestling matches are fixed.
What was I thinking?
Still, you have to ask yourself why they call the things they do when the football gets hiked “plays.”
Anyhow, on comes this commercial for a beer company. No surprise there. Except they seem to have run out of things to say about crisp, clear, taste and so they’ve put the technological drafting horse to work and invented a fancy new bottle to create interest in their product.
It’s cold activated.
That’s right, when the mountains on the label turn blue, you know your beer is cold.
They should call it a beer-ometer!
So what if it’s like one of those semi-pornographic novelty cups you can buy that make the picture of someone’s outerwear disappear when you pour liquid in it?
Are you now curious about the craftsmanship behind the cold clear taste?
I mean, if they have to divert you with a gimmicky bottle...
And really. My refrigerator door doesn’t have a window in it like my oven, so I’ll have to be open it up to see if my beer is cold anyhow. And having opened the refrigerator I’ll be able to use that tried and true ancient technology to check for coldness.
My fingers.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

#683 Unruly Text-jinks

I’m well aware many of my concerns are less than mainstream and that I devote an inordinate amount of virtual ink to trivial things.
But it could be worse.
After all, we apparently live in a society where they have to make a law to remind people not to “text” while they are driving. I mean really, has common sense entirely deserted Americans worshipping in the lap dance of technology?
Texting requires hands, fingers going to specific locations—small locations, I might add. Small motor skills do not synch well with large motoring skills.
And texting requires reading. Reading requires eyes. Coincidentally, driving requires eyes.
It really seems absurd that anyone would even try it. (Okay, I admit, I’ve tried it, but I didn’t send.) Is it just because it’s small? Would someone put a typewriter on their dashboard and tap away during morning rush hour?
This is the kind of hijink that gets people in trouble.
By the way, recently I asked if there is such a thing as one hijink. I was kidding. But I looked it up and you know what? There is.
Hijinks is not a madeup word at all, like zowie and boingo. It actually derives from the term jink and was originally the two words high jinks.
As opposed, I suppose, to low jinks. Or possibly just ordinary jinks.
Jink is a verb that first appeared in about 1715 and meant to wheel or fling about in dancing. High jinks was originally a drinking game. Jink was a dialect variation of “chink” meaning to gasp violently. “Chink” came from the Old English “cincung” which meant boisterous laughter. “Cincung” appears to contain many of the same letters as the phrase, “coughing a lung.”
“Jinks,” without the “high” attached to it, now means “rambunctious frolicsome play.” Although I have never, until now, heard of it without the high attached to it.
One dictionary lists as synonyms “horseplay” and “skylarking.” I love synonyms. But they never seem to make it easy to explain weird words to foreigners, do they?
“Hijinks? Oh that’s easy, they’re, you know, like horseplay or skylarking. Skylarking? That’s, um, like stupid, meaningless, non-commonsensical behavior.
You know, like drive-texting.”
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

#682 Uneasy Language

We all know the English language has lots of traps for foreigners trying to learn it.
Someone who’s Polish, for instance, who wants to market a special candy he calls a Polish Cream, has to be sure that he always capitalizes the word, lest people think they should use it to polish things.
Likewise, it’s tough for anyone to figure out the difference between read and read if the sentence doesn’t give some clue as to tense, as in “I will read the book” and “I have read the book.”
You’d think somewhere along the way some international English word board would have said okay, from here on out when someone is going to read a book, we can spell it reed. Better yet, so people don’t think we are beating it with a grass stalk, let’s spell it r-i-e-d. It’s an untaken word and it honors the “I before E except after C except as an A as in neighbor and weigh” formula we once read about in school.
Then you got your plural problems. How do you tell a foreigner why fish is the plural noun of fish? Much less, that it’s also a verb.
I like to fish in a school of fish to get a fish to eat.
Then there’s deer and moose. Single or plural it’s all the same thing. Makes you think we never cared enough to get to know a moose individually doesn’t it.
You know moose. They all look alike.
Except Bullwinkle or course. Which name always seemed to have an effete feel. Makes you think it could be a insulting slang word for a steer.
The other day, someone made a great point against an argument I was making and I had to say, touch√©. So I was thinking, if I had never seen the written word, and the point wasn’t that good, would I have said one-che’?
And what about hijinks?
If you’re tired and don’t have the energy to really frolic uncontrollably, but still what to be part of the crowd, is it possible to engage in just one hijink?
America, ya gotta love it.

#681 Unconscious Errors

I suppose many of my humorous perceptions come from the fact that I was pretty slow on the uptake as a child, and so got teased a lot.
I tended to take the world too literally sometimes, so when an American word had a obvious meaning, or at least sounded like it did, my immature brain followed along in that direction, never questioning until someone pointed out my error by laughing at me.
I remember my 2nd grade classroom laughing uproariously when I mentioned aloud my belief that paratroopers came out of planes in groups of two.
After awhile I mentally distorted that laughter into a perception of approval. They weren’t laughing at me, they were laughing with me, I believed. Later, I really didn’t want to be with them, so I took control, sought out the laughter purposely and made sure that, in fact, they were laughing at me, and specifically the things I made them laugh at.
Wow.
Someone grab some psychotropic medication, I think this guy just had a pocket psychobabble attack.
Anyhow, that’s why I see words funny and why I sometimes insist on people knowing things about like, oh, unconscious redundancy of which they’re unaware.
Like the words chai tea. Chai is an old Chinese word that means tea. It’s another word for the same thing. Ordering a chai tea, even though it now carries with it the connotation of various spices and stuff, really means you are ordering a tea tea.
Which sounds a little like baby talk, possibly referring to some type of excremental function, like poo poo and pee pee.
So, while we’re on the subject of paratroopers, the reason it got me in trouble was because I had just learned about “o’clock.” My mom pronounced it “uh” not “oh.” I thought it was short for “of.” 3 o’clock, 3 of clock—made sense.
So the confusion with “pair of troopers” ensued.
Later, when my mind was in a different childlike state in the sixties, I wondered if you could get busted in a drug raid if you only have one phenalia. Or if you were only in danger when you had a pair of same.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, January 18, 2008

#680 Usage PC

I’ve spoken before about our weirdness when it comes to gender-specific words. Weird because English is one of the few languages that really is largely non-sexist.
Others, especially the romance languages, assign genders to every word. And do so with both suffixes and articles.
Yesterday I wrote about a condition known in English as the frizz. In Spanish that translates as “el frizz.” Apparently, at least to Spanish linguists, frizz is masculine. No wonder women hate it so much.
I’ve also made mention in the past of our tendency in the employment of language PC to approach nonsensical states, as in converting the word “chairman” to “chairperson” and then deciding on the shorter “chair.”
Either he or she is the “Chair” of the committee.
As I’ve said, gender seems preferable to being named after a piece of furniture.
My Microsoft Word grammercheck includes what I like to call PC-Usagecheck, or possibly just PC-check to avoid confusion with PC Usage as in personal computer usage. It’s always underlining gender-specific words with a green squiggly, then suggesting more acceptable socio-lingual alternatives.
The other day it hit me with two of them. The first was the word “craftsman.”
Sorry. I was just writing along and used it unthinkingly. Partly because at the time I actually was referring to a male craftsman.
PC-check underlined it, so when I right-clicked on it while I was going through my first edit, I naturally was expecting to see one or two alternatives—possibly “craftperson,” or in the chairperson/chair tradition maybe just “craft.”
I’m a craft.
Good, I hope you’re handy.
But lo and behold, PC-check fooled me altogether. It suggested “artisan.” Apparently, we’ll just avoid that whole craft movement thing and slip over to a PC synonym.
Man oh man, I mean, person oh person, I love the 21st century.
So not long after that, I chanced to use the word “statesman.” Got the green squiggly. I was hoping for “statesperson.” Or possibly just “states.” She’s a great “States.”
But no. “Diplomat” or “Political leader.” Boring.
Although I must admit, I always thought diplomats were automated coin-operated places where you could get dips.
Until they went to work as PC-check programmers.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

#679 Unfrizz

A Scottish comedian once pointed out that the hair we neglect the most, that from our armpit and, um, legpit regions, is the hair that is most healthy, silky, curly and luxuriant.
It is only our head hair that we feel we should overdo, dipity or otherwise. And so we shampoo.
After shampooing comes conditioning. Or so we are conditioned to believe. Even the fanciest shampoo’s job is to strip hair of unsightly oil buildup. So it’s required we substitute something for that oil to put back in.
Lest our hair dry and suffer from parchedness. Or is that parchity?
The shampoo industry, excuse me, the hair product industry, is not content to just place us on this endlessly lucrative—for them—wheel of destruction and renewal. No, the shampoo Shivas make sure we understand the terms of refusing to play their game.
If we don’t apply their non-animal tested concoctions to the dead protein matter sprouting from our scalps we will suffer the dire consequences of (scary music) the frizz.
“Frizz” is one of those words that sounds made up, like “for shizzle.” But, in fact, it dates back to around 1660 when it was adapted from the French word friser.
In those days, there wasn’t a lot of shampooing going on so it was just used as a word to indicate small tight curls. At no time during the following centuries did it mean anything negative.
Until now.
Now we are told to avoid the frizz like some kind of plague. Garnier Fructis even has an anti-frizz serum.
The word serum really makes you think it’s scientific and medical doesn’t it? If only Garnier Fructis will send their anti-frizz serum to the CDC, we’ll have that frizz plague knocked out in no time.
These folks are serious.
So serious they have a Spanish translation on their bottle about the dread frizz. Garnier Fructis provides, “Controla el frizz.”
Wow. Sounds like something you to smuggle. Hey senor, would you like some controla el frizz?
Or perhaps some Latin crime kingpin.
You’d better watch out for El Frizz.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

#678 Ubiquitous Ingredient

So it’s probably not the best idea in the world to be reading the labels on your shampoo bottle. As I was looking through the list of ingredients on mine the other day, I noticed among all the chemicals and herbs an interesting thing.
My shampoo is, quote: “Enriched with a Marine Algae Extract which offers sustained moisturization for all hair types.”
Sustained moisturization, huh? Sounds like a little Pacific Northwest in every bottle.
Or some odd courtroom exchange: I object, your honor, plaintiff’s attorney is obviously engaged in an attempt to not only deceive us but make the jury think we’re all wet with this nonsensical accusation of moisturization. Sustained.
I love the way copywriters play with words to make stuff seem more attractive. Sustained moisturization. Much better than moisturized, and a whole heck of a lot better than damp.
And let’s hand it to them, “marine algae extract” sounds so much better than, um, pond scum.
Yes, pond scum, because, curious George that I am, I scanned down the ingredients list to see if they have broken down and defined what this marine algae extract is.
Like they have to break down, say, the constitution of marshmallows in a Rice Krispie treat.
Turns out marine algae extract is, “hydrolyzed algin, chlorella vulgaris, and sea water.”
Chlorella is a form of unicellular green algae found in still, fresh water. It is actually used as an immune booster in the treatment of cancer. Hydrolyzed algin usually comes from brown algae. Seawater is, well, cheap.
And ubiquitous.
Not only that, it’s readily available in a variety of chemically tainted options. The seawater from say, the Hylebos waterway in Tacoma is richer in certain heavy metals, dioxins and other latent carcinogens than, say, the seawater off the coast of Easter Island.
I’m guessing the shampoo ingredient batch was harvested closer in.
So it’s lucky chlorella vulgaris is a cancer fighter.
It probably shouldn’t need to be said, but I’m thinking this is another good reason not to eat your shampoo.
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

#677 Unclean Shampoo

So I’m minding my own business taking a shower the other morning and, compulsive reader that I am, I chance to look at my shampoo bottle.
I’ve seen it a million times, but for the first time I notice this statement on the label which says,
“No animal testing.”
And my first thought is, “It’s bad to give animals a shampoo?”
Cause you know, my basic posture in life is to take the simple approach and not expect strange and nefarious things afoot. I find it hard to put together the concept of shampoo and animal torture.
It makes you wonder if PETA activists are even now breaking into shampoo labs across the country and rinsing.
But then my next thought, always deeper and darker, was what kind of harsh and strange chemicals were they thinking of putting on my hair that they’d need to test on animals in the first place?
I mean, I would figure there was a class of shampoo chemicals that had been deemed to be relatively mild and non-carcinogenic at some time in the past and they were just juggling them around by this point.
Let’s see... Jojoba? Probably cool. Aloe Vera? Sounds okay. Lanolin? Keep it light. Hydrochloric acid? Ah, no, let’s skip that one. Carbolic acid enriched with kerosene? Nah, once killed a rodent. Too bad, thought we had a winner with that one.
There goes my mental picture of scientists being smarter than your run-of-the-mill, fifth grade, trial-and-error boy messing with a frog he’s thumb-tacked to a crude dissecting board.
So with all this stuff running through my head, and a little of the shampoo itself running through my eyes, I look a little closer at the shampoo bottle in question.
And sure enough, there’s aloe and jojoba, and a really fancy and expensive new ingredient, purified water. There’s also kelp, rosemary, and that tea that blends in with its surroundings so good, chamomile. But there’s also something called methyl-cloro-iso-thia-zo-linone.
And I think, eleven syllable chemical words scare me.
Maybe it’s time to get a pet.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

#676 Undetectable Camo

Not long ago I went through this giant outdoor store. I’d heard they had the biggest camouflage section in all of creation so I went to check it out.
When I got in the store, I couldn’t find it.
Now that’s good camouflage.
Actually, when I finally adjusted my eyes and saw it, I was totally and completely amazed. I had no idea there was so much camo in the whole wide world.
They don’t just have amorphous-leaf cheapo one-dimensional Walmart camo. They have camo for every conceivable habitat.
If the thing you want to kill or photograph lives in the marshes, they had camo for the marshes. Prey in the mature oak forest? Camo ditto.
Soon-to-be bleeding pheasant in the low scrublands? Low scrublands camo at your service, right down to the authentic rendition of a crushed can of Buckhorn peeking through the leaf litter.
Just kidding. But still, some hunting areas in the great American outback are less pristine than the camo artistic license indicated.
They also had camo with little flaps on it, which looked like leaves trembling in the breeze, so a flat uniform surface wouldn’t give you away to your sharp-eyed prey.
Good idea, except it kind of looked like they’d put your new outfit through a paper shredder.
They even had olfactory camo. That’s right, not content to just befuddle the visual sense of soon-to-be-fooled and dead prey, they had camo that was impregnated with “anti-scent” to remove human odors from the air as well.
Now that’s a cool idea. Hand those clothes out at the hobo shelter. Think of the carbon footprint they’d reduce with the energy savings on all that hot shower water.
Green camo!
But one of the weirdest things I saw was a camo vest for your hunting dog. Yep. You wouldn’t want your dog to look like an animal.
Actually it’s a good idea. I’m guessing your average dumb deer wouldn’t be concerned one way or another if your dog looked like Goofy or Pluto.
But if he looks too much like an animal some irresponsible drunk human might shoot him.
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

#675 Undepressed

Words and how we use them are an endless source of fascination to me.
Like this: I was un-decorating my Christmas ornamentation the other day and I told someone I was de-decorating, obviously trying to describe the process of taking stuff down.
And it occurred to me that the term decorate was already a undo type of term. You can detoxify and you are un-toxifying something. You can decode and you are breaking a code. You can decompress and get less compression.
But what about words like declare, decant and decorate? What do they imply?
If you decant a bottle of wine does that mean you canted it in the first place?
Or someone did? One of those professional wine guys tipping the bottle as he’s filling it? Is he a canter? Or is that some kind of special Jewish singer? No, wait a minute, that’s spelled differently. Canter is a type of run a horse does, isn’t it? Does that have something to do with how the wine first runs into the bottle?
And what about declare? When I eat an éclair is the process of its disappearance a declare?
Or if I declare something loudly is the opposite of doing so to simply clare? Biting your tongue perhaps, so that you don’t shout out an opinion?
What’s with mister silent?
Oh, he’s claring.
Then, of course, there’s my original problematic word, decorate. From all this deduction, I’m led to believe that the process of de-decorating is actually corating.
What are you doing on New Years?
Oh, that’s the annual time our family does its corating. Sometimes the whole neighborhood seems to do it. Me and all my neighbors were out corating our holiday lights on our houses.
You mean you rated them together?
No, no, not co-rating. Corating, the opposite of de-corating. It made us all feel really pressed.
Pressed?
Yeah that’s the happy feeling I get when the anxiety and sadness of the holiday season is over and a New Year has begun.
I’m not de-pressed, I am totally, wonderfully, pressed.
America, ya gotta love it

Thursday, January 10, 2008

#674 Yanks in Vermont

Inherent, I suppose, in the notion of writing a daily essay, is that sometimes one hits the bottom of the idea barrel.
Fortunately, I consider the bottom of the barrel one of the most interesting places there is, and am only to happy to scrape off the gunk and dwell on it.
Plumbing the depths of the mundane is what I’m all about.
As a for instance, I was going through my medicine cabinet the other day and chanced across a gift someone had once got me as a Christmas stocking stuffer.
It was a small green-colored cubical tin upon which were emblazoned the words “Bag Balm.”
Underneath those letters was a small line drawing that at first looked like a representation of the fleshed-covered receptacle that loosely houses the male gamete producing organs.
Upon closer examination, that imagined sketch turned out to be an outline of a fainter sketch which represented the udder and teats of a cow. One’s first conclusion, that this Bag Balm was intended for an inflammation of some underwear-related chafing interface issue, was replaced by the even odder realization that a remedy was once devised for inflammation of a cow’s udder.
Still, the brief instructions next to the deceptive drawing contributed to the inherent humor in the aforementioned conclusion jump.
It said, “Massage thoroughly and allow ointment to stay on for full softening effect.”
The more thorough directions on another side of the tin were a mini-lesson in describing challenges rarely faced by us 21st century urbanites. “Bag balm has been the farmers’ friend, helping keep dairy cows from becoming chapped in the harsh Vermont environment. Thoroughly wash teats and udder with separate towels. Apply bag balm freely and massage gently twice daily.”
Okay, scrotile diagram aside, this tin was definitely meant for cow maintenance.
Then I had to wonder again whether the whole product really was yanking me in some way, as the instructions finished with this statement and disclaimer, “It’s like having another hand on the farm. Keep this and all medications away from children.”
Oh yeah, nothing like a “hand on the farm,” if you know what I mean.
America, ya gotta love it

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

#673 Yap Dog

So the other day I was in a store and I saw this bag of candy I just had to buy.
This candy has been around for a long time, and in fact was once the most lauded remedy for cough, phlegm, and an ancient ailment known as catarrh.
In other words, it was used as an expectorant. A mucus breaker upper.
But I found that out later. Having been raised in the era of Smith Brothers cough drops I’d never heard the name of this candy. And lucky thing too, congenital sophomoric glee at odd names would have drawn me to it for sure.
Because the candy was flavored with an herb called “horehound.”
It’s interesting to me that a language that taboos certain words, or at least is squeamish about them, will, by the simple expedient of tacking on a less obnoxious word, bring the original word into everyday and perfectly acceptable use.
The hound in horehound is such an example.
Some would argue that the hore in horehound, since it’s spelled with just an H and not the apparently harsher W-H- is not the same type we see offering their wares in the evening.
Amazing what damage a simple W can do.
I would argue that the word still sounds like the purveyor in question and that adding hound to the word invokes the vision of an interesting animal indeed.
One would most naturally think that a horehound was an odd form of dog to keep around.
Who originally bred them? And why? Is it a big dog?
Or a lapdog?
I understand certain terriers were originally bred to ferret out rats and protect grain and such. Was there a similar purpose envisioned for the horehound?
No indeed, they were not some bounty hunter’s trusted side kick, pointed like a drug dog, an illegal beagle trained to sniff out perpetrators of prostitution in some big bordello border raid.
No, the etymology dictionary says the hore is horehound is derived from the word hoary, h-o-a-r-y, meaning old, white and hairy.
Yeah right. So what kind of twisted individual wants a dog trained to hunt hair?
America, ya gotta love it

Monday, January 07, 2008

#672 Yoicks

My son called the other day and as we were talking, he looks out from the store where he works and sees this lady walking down the street with one of those fancy new strollers.
She’s chatting away merrily on her cellphone while her yuppie baby, who is covered with polar fleece and nestled in the high-tech child seat, is enjoying the shock-absorbed ride.
But look out, mom’s also got a grande latte. And she’s put it in the convenient cup-holder built in to the baby carriage’s handle, which, lo and behold, is positioned so it’s right over baby’s upturned face.
Let’s hope she’s not too busy with her cell-chat and sees that big bump in the sidewalk in time.
Amazing. An incredibly designed baby transport unit. Safety engineered into every turn. Reflectors and fireproof material and cushioning everywhere. So gee. If I were that stroller manufacturer, would I put a cup-holder for presumably hot drinks right over the place where a baby sits?
Later, I’m out on the road and suddenly everywhere I look something strikes me strange.
Like I’m over in the medical section of town by the hospital. And as I’m driving by one of the many subsidiary industry out-patient medical offices I see this sign.
It says Multi-Specialty Clinic.
Now, I know sometimes my English sticks in my mental craw and prevents me from seeing the obvious, but how do you have a multi-specialty?
Isn’t a specialty something isolated and individual? Um, yeah, my specialty is generalism. You can say I’m the world’s foremost leading expert in the field of everything.
Not long after that, I drive by this freeway panhandler and he’s got a sign that strikes me funny.
Possibly because I was even then feeling the effects of the bowl of chili I had for lunch.
The bum’s cardboard sign said “Need Gas.”
Yoicks, I says to myself, most people have plenty. More than they want or need actually, and here this guy is asking for it.
Maybe he’s trying to get a leg up over the competition in one of those hobo campfire games. Really outshine and surpass—or possibly just outpass—everyone else in a round of Darn Tootin.
America, ya gotta love it

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

#671 Yankee Ingenuity

How far we’ve come.
How sad what we take for granted.
In my hand I’m holding a wonderful container. It’s made of clear thick plastic. It’s shaped like a cube, except it’s not a perfect, symmetrical cube. All its edges are reinforced with cloth taping. Taped seams, I think they’re called. They prevent random ripping and generally make for a more permanent joining.
The top of the cube comes open with a flawlessly aligned taped-edge flap. Around the edges of the top opening are the halves of a zipper, which when put together, zip shut to form a lovely cubular container.
The container is amazing. In primitive times, such a container would have been revered for its symmetry, its workmanship and its potential functionality.
Making such a container by hand, if the plastic were available, would have sent the craftsman to the highest and most exalted status in the tribe. Even today, in primitive areas, such a testimony to craftsmanship would be fully appreciated.
It would be a great container for storing grain perhaps, or berries. Maybe even small mammal parts preparatory to an evening spent making gruel and chewing the fat.
But I’m about to throw it away because I can think of nothing to do with it. I have harder and more permanent containers for storage. I have softer and more ephemeral baggies, foil, and plastic wrap for temporary messy stuff.
So this container, this symbol of Yankee ingenuity, taped seams, zipper, and all, will probably go into the trash. I can’t even recycle it.
And there is nothing more forlorn to keep around the house than an empty container.
Oh yeah, I remember that container. I kept it for a souvenir, of when I—bought my last blanket.
Because that’s what it is, the zippered soft plastic cube my blanket came in. Why did they have to package it so elaborately? Why did they have to bring the force of our massive 21st Century technology to bear, just to cover a blanket temporarily from shelf dust?
And how jaded our society has become, that such a piece of inventiveness, manufacturing skill, and ingenuity is meant to be used once and thrown away.
We take so much for granted. We forget who did what to earn it.
America, ya gotta love it