Sunday, December 16, 2012

Words with Strangers

Dedicated Slacker Guide readers--both of you--have noticed that your blogger has been slacking even more than normal. If you are inclined to blame the baby (i.e. good parenting) or pre-concert syndrome (i.e. doing my job) please allow me to retort.

Well, okay, it is those things to some degree. However, part of it was an attempt to complete NaNoWriMo. I knew from the outset that I wouldn't "win," but it took longer to accept that I wouldn't get a B-. Even so, 40,000 words turned out to be quite a lot and didn't even pass with a D-. The experience will certainly return as a topic for a future post, but until then I figured I should offer up a warmed-over Facebook note.

This is an idea stolen from Jennifer, who stole it from our friend Scott who published his to his blog and also here. He stole it from Joslyn Hamilton who may have read Jen’s by now and may someday read this—such is the nature of social networking.

Words I like: 

Breakfast – soft on the edges, crispy in the middle, a great meal with a great name. I also like the name and the concept of “brunch,” but it turns out more in theory than in practice--pancakes and salad in the same meal just isn’t right.

Confounded – my father’s swear-word substitute: “I can’t find my confounded glasses.” Like many things my father says, I started using this word in gentle mockery, and now use it unaware, and without irony.

Thighs – I like many words for female body parts. This one just seemed relatively appropriate to this list.

Catholic – the word means “universal,” but common usage allows one denomination to claim it for themselves.  Like other words that lose their meaning with modifier in front of them (see also: perfect, silent, unique), I believe we should insist on using the more accurate Roman Catholic (which means universal, but in a specifically Vatican way). Here’s a secret: when Episcopalians are feeling particularly ornery, they just call them “Roman.”

Buttery – butter in all of its parts of speech is appealing, but as an adjective it has a connotation of excess that adds value. Can also be applied to non-food items such as leather, and thighs.

Liquor – I enjoy wine (in moderation) and beer (even in excess) but neither word has the onomatopoeic perfection of liquor. Even before I’d had any, I had some sense of the sweet/bitter/smooth/harsh/forbidden-yet-socially-acceptable qualities of the stuff.

Morendo – musical term for “dying away.” I like when composers give you more to go on than “rit. et dim.” I also felt compelled to have at least one musical term on here.

Ostensibly – we need lots of words in our culture to qualify a statement as possibly untrue. See also “allegedly”, “reportedly”, and , “said Michele Bachmann.”

Irony – especially as a lifestyle affectation. See Nick Hornby’s treatment in High Fidelity here.

Haydn, accompanist, tympani, rhythm – these are words that I can spell that not everyone can. Notice, there are not so many of them and that they are somewhat limited in scope and usage.

Fricative – I use this for all consonants produced through friction of air through your mouth (for a better definition, and some examples of Welsh IPA, see the Wikipedia entry here). It sounds vaguely improper, but not as bad as "labiodentals" (see here), which I would never try to say at school.

Malaise – I heard this word in a This American Life story, and now use it for any out-of-sorts feeling that lasts more than a day or so.

Words I Do Not Like:

Just – used ostensibly to moderate or nullify the severity or magnitude of something. Especially bad when paired with “every time,” as in “If you want to lose weight, just make sure to _____ every time you eat out.”

Freedom – I’m not so sure that people who use "freedom" as a synonym for "patriotism" are actually thinking about what the word means. Freedom requires tolerance of other people's religion, sexual preferences, political views, manner of dress, country of origin, native tongue, intelligence, housekeeping habits, bumper-stickers, culinary needs/preferences, lawn-care standards... It's not freedom if they have to do it your way.

Colic – first, it was part of the accusation that I was a difficult baby, then it was (incorrectly, it seems) the reason that my hair would never lie flat. Now it’s a very bad day (if you’re lucky) or death (if you’re not) for horses. Plus, it’s an unattractive word.

Thighs – as a word for a male body part, it is not such a happy topic for me. Neither is it so good as a part of a chicken, as they are so difficult to cook properly.

Mandatory – professionally I am guilty of using this word a lot, but I am aware of the fact that it is something you tag onto a policy when you don’t want to actually discuss its merits. For a perfect treatment of the word “policy,” see Scott’s list here.

Fair-and-balanced – Fairness is rarely achieved through balance. If it were, we could just take from anyone above the middle and give it to anyone below. This is in fact proof that you don’t really believe in it either. You just want your most batshit-insane ideas to get 50% representation in the conversation.

Hard – not a bad word, and quite necessary in many circumstances. As a schoolteacher, though, you learn to remove certain words from your normal vocabulary. See also: "shaft," "lubricate," "eat," "tongue," “69,” “finger,” and most unfortunately for music teachers, "pianist."

Assessment – insert rant about standardized testing and the methodical ruin of creative thought, aesthetic awareness, and the downfall of the liberal arts here: _____ (see also: here). My other objection is that I’m very likely to substitute the plural noun "asses" when using it as a verb in written communication, which makes for awkward spots in memos, syllabi, and grading policy postings.

There it is. I do request that you consider posting your own list either in the comments or as a link in the comments. You know you have one.

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