Words of the year ~

In recent news, Oxford Dictionaries has named toxic as its Word of 2018.

Seriously? Toxic has been very popular (e.g., toxic masculinity) for some years now. I think there are better choices. Here are three:

IMPACTFUL. The weakness of this candidate for Word of the Year is that, like toxic, it’s been around for some time. But it ballooned in 2018. What did we say before everything became impactful? Consequential? Influential? I can’t remember. I do recall that English speakers, once upon a time, would comment that a given action or phenomenon would have an impact, or even have a great impact. But we won’t make room any longer for an entire phrase to express that idea when we can go with one word, or two at most (very impactful). English’s evolutionary trend is generally toward compactness (and thus, you could argue, impactfulness), although experts might argue that the product in this case is garbage.

CURATED. In the past year, suddenly nothing is selected or chosen. That isn’t special enough. Things now are curated. A word that once applied specifically to museums and art exhibits now is used in reference to all kinds of mundane objects and experiences. A display of frames at Joann Fabrics urged me to “curate my life,” something we are all said to do on Facebook. Recently I saw an ad for a packaged assortment of fancy cheeses, which, readers were told, had been carefully curated. You can charge more for that; carefully selected cheeses are, one presumes, more plebeian than those that are curated.

OPTICS. Whoa! I’m putting this out here big and bold without even considering the optics of having chosen this word. Optics hit the major leagues in 2018. Suddenly it’s all over the place in a non-physics sense. No word that I’m aware of has ever tried harder to achieve Word of the Year status. (The fact that it didn’t—well, the optics of that are problematic.) No news pundit any longer speaks of how something looks, or whether it has a damaging appearance. Rather, they ask people to comment on the optics of a given situation, invariably when something looks inappropriate, unfortunate, or positively (negatively?) terrible.

So, Oxford Dictionaries, move over. This blog is too late with its candidates to be impactful, but its opinions are carefully curated. Against all odds, I’m confident that only readers who indulge in toxic criticism will disdain them.

Doggerel ~

I’ve decided to delete my Doggerel page. Since it doesn’t allow posts, no one ever knows if I’ve added anything there. So I’ll just incorporate poems as posts on my Home page. Here are the three poems I had on the Doggerel page. I shouldn’t call it doggerel; it’s really light verse. Both share an emphasis on regular meter and rhyme schemes, but doggerel is clichéd and usually saccharine. Light verse, at its best, is exemplified by Lewis Carroll and Ogden Nash and Dorothy Parker, masters whom I could not begin to approach but whose cleverness I greatly admire.

––––– Aug. 28, 2013
I posted a link on Facebook to an article about pufferfish and the beautiful circular patterns they make in the sand. After a friend admitted having eaten fugu (pufferfish), I wrote this.

On Fugu

I understand the pufferfish
Will make a most delicious dish.
But if your chef is none too swell
And cuts that fish up none too well,
You’ll soon find that your lovely lunch
Will pack a fatal-istic punch.

––––– Aug. 28, 2013
This poem was written for a plant biology professor after his return from a research trip to Romania.

On Romania

Romania’s a lovely place
With Vlad so long deceased.
But Hollywood, with sex in mind,
Won’t let Drac rest in peace.
A vampire here, a vampire there,
And soon you’ve got a coven.
The things they do sure seem to be
Some bloody twisted lovin’.

––––– Aug. 28, 2013
I originally posted this poem to my Facebook page; hence the title and the jargon.

Facebook Fantasia

Some knight on a quest may encounter my wall.
He’ll scale to the top, though it be very tall.
He’ll sure-foot each solid and each wobbly brick,
Take note of each petroglyph, cranny, and nick.
Oh my, he may think, even at my ripe age
I must friend the woman who fosters this page.
We’ll happily share all our ones and our zeros
And pledge to be each other’s sweet cyber-heroes.
I’ll let my fantasies take me this far,
For love at its core is a binary star.

So it goes ~

Q: Why did your blog take a turn for the serious side after only a few posts?
A: So I didn’t want to be all directive about the evolution of this thing, and certain personal events intruded, and…

Q: Did you hear what you just said?
A: Huh?

Q: Your answer. You started it with “so.” Why did you do that?
A: I don’t know. What difference does it make?

Q: “So” implies continuation, but that was my first question to you. No continuation involved.
A: Um…

Q: This wouldn’t have happened two years ago. In just the last few months, I’ve noticed countless guests on talk shows starting their answers with “so,” to absolutely no purpose.
A. O-kaay…

Q: It’s irritating. It’s incomprehensible. It’s everywhere. I watched a Charlie Rose interview recently in which the guest was asked five questions, and every one of his answers began with “so”—completely unnecessarily. How did this habit get started? Why has it spread so rapidly? One day everyone seemed normal, or at least as normal as everyone normally seems, and the next day it’s suddenly “so, so, so.” Why?
A: What are you, the language police? This really matters to you?

Q: Yes! “So” serves no purpose in these instances. It’s like watching someone who has the hiccups and can’t get rid of them. It’s maddening!
A: I hadn’t noticed. Maybe it’s just you.

Q: It isn’t just me. My sister has noticed the same thing, and she has the attention span of a gnat.
A: Oh. Can I get out of this interview? It’s turned kind of negative. I’m not into negativity.

Q: Negativity can be a positive thing if used properly. What’s your problem with it?
A: So okay, it’s bad for the skin, and your skin reflects your whole inner state of well-being, so—

Q: You did it again, you moron! But to resume talking about the blog—
A:  So it evolved in an unexpected direction, and I plan to get back on track any day now.

Q: I’m warning you, I’m going to knock all your “so’s” into next Tuesday.
A: You really need to get a life, you know?

Q: That’s your job. You’re the one writing the blog.
A:  Coulda fooled me, word freak. Get out of my space! This interview is terminated.

Twang, twang, twang ~

I grew up in St. Louis, the heart of the Midwest, where most of the natives lack a heavy regional accent. We possess the kind of vocal blandness that broadcasters are trained to achieve. Yet it appears that when I sing, at least some of the time I’m…uh…twangy.

I’m so ashamed. Even worse, because the accusation comes from my voice teacher, B., I have to take it seriously.

Last Thursday night, I ran through my newly assigned piece, a little slip of a song called “Fade Into You.” It’s dense with diphthongs: vowels that meld one vowel sound to another in the same syllable, like the long A (“late”), the long I (“line”), the long U (“lute”), and the vowel that can be expressed as oy (as in “loiter”).

Diphthongs are the heart and soul of twanginess. Without diphthongs there could be no country music. And here a disclaimer is needed: I have nothing against people with twangy accents or twangy singing voices. Truly. Don’t send me hate comments. Although I’m generally not a country music fan, I love Hank Williams and Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash. But in my voice lessons, twanginess is a Very Bad Thing.

Having run through the song my first time, I looked at B. expectantly. She scooted to the end of the piano bench and faced me. My tone was very good, she said, and my vibrato was rich. I started to relax and smile. Then she said, “But you’re killing the song. You’re killing the vowels because you’re twangy.”

She did a little imitation of me. “FAYYYD into YEWWW,” she sang.

“That is a gross exaggeration,” I protested. “I don’t sound like that. I’m not twangy.”

“You’re twangy,” she said flatly, and I could tell there was no point in arguing.

We worked on “fade.” She wrote down how she wanted me to pronounce it: basically like “fed,” with just a bit of the long A sound at the end. She demonstrated. “Hear how I’m almost singing ‘fed,’ but it still sounds like ‘fade’?” she said. I did hear, sort of. I asked her to sing the line as if the word actually were “fed.” She did. The difference between the two was barely discernible. I then realized that she essentially wanted me to un-diphthongize the diphthongs.


I sang the song again, concentrating so hard on clipping the diphthongs that my voice sounded distorted and unfamiliar. Indeed, it sounded disturbingly like a computer voice. I finished and looked at B. tentatively. “Was that better?” I asked.

“Much,” she said. “You were getting worn out at the end, but it was much better.”

“My voice sounded weird,” I noted.

“No it didn’t,” she said.

“And very deep,” I said.

She replied, “I think we need to do this in a higher register.”

OY!! Un-diphthongizing higher up the scale?! Please, no. But I tried it. I had to, because B. said so.

I try not to give this young woman too much grief. She knows her stuff—classical, jazz, Broadway, blues, pop. Plus, there is the consideration that she can always fire me as a student.

If I ever get around to practicing this week, I’ll do my best to avoid “FAYYYD” and “YEWW.” But Patsy Cline, I’m sure, would have scoffed “CrAAYY-zy!” Then she would have packed B. down to Kentucky or Tennessee so that she could hear what real honest-to-god twanginess sounds like. It might be quite a shock.

Hard Scrabble life ~

Most people of my generation, I suspect, will have heard this phrase wearisomely often over the years: “Working hard, or hardly working?” Had my father been alive to hear my shrieks when I began playing Scrabble seriously, he would surely have said, “Playing hard, or hardly playing?”

In the beginning I was hardly playing, though I didn’t realize it. When I bought an iPod Touch a couple of years ago and cluttered it with (mostly free) apps that I (mostly never) use, I was delighted to begin playing Scrabble against the computer. I didn’t bother to check out the app very thoroughly; I just started playing. I was pleasantly surprised that I usually won my games. That was before I realized that I was playing on the “Normal” level. (My dad would have had a derogatory joke to make here as well.) I promptly switched to the “Hard” level, despite the icon’s grim red face, and my eyes were opened.

Hard-level games bore little resemblance to the family Scrabble games of my childhood. Words I had never seen before, much less heard anyone speak, began popping up over the board like a rash, and I began losing by massive margins. Here’s what I wrote at the time on Facebook:

In short order I was pelted with unfamiliar words (pintle, anyone? qintar?), questionable plurals (zeals? muttons?) and spellings (gapy?), words cribbed from other languages (jeu), words that looked like Germans were trying to pronounce English (ichnite!), and what I am convinced is Klingon (gttyma).

The Hard level was mopping the floor with me. But I was learning, albeit painfully. Eventually I discovered the pleasures of playing actual people, from my ever-persevering, sweet cousin-in-law-once-removed to a Pakistani man who lives in Toronto and used to play in tournaments (I beat him perhaps four times thanks to stunningly good tile draws; he beat me perhaps 20 times thanks to stunningly good ability). My memory, I’m sorry to say, is not what it used to be, but I’m hanging on to the meanings of as many unfamiliar words as possible. Zori? Check. Chon? Check. Dol? Check. Most new words, however, I promptly forget.

I’m not a Scrabble expert. The dirty truth is that I’m now a Scrabble addict. I check my ranking obsessively and keep several games active all the time so that I usually have at least one play to make at any given time. Most telling of all, I have actually purchased a book about playing Scrabble. For my sister and some of my friends, this is going too far. But forget support groups; forget interventions. Don’t take my words away from me. Instead, help me celebrate the fact that a few days ago I bagged my first triple-triple bingo, droppers, for 158 points. Now that’s a rush.