Tag Archives: Titanic

This old house

1912. It was a very good year.

Well, maybe not for the passengers of the Titanic.

So far this year we’ve commemorated the 100th anniversaries of the Oreo cookie, the Girl Scouts (and eventually their cookies), the state of Arizona and the arrival of cherry blossoms in our nation’s capital. And the sinking of the Titanic. Nineteen-twelve also saw the International Opium Convention. No, not a precursor to Woodstock, but a drug control treaty. Too bad; it might have paired nicely with the Oreo.

Julia Child was born in 1912. So was Art Linkletter. And Gene Kelly. Helen Travolta, John’s mother, was a nineteen-twelver. (Did you know she was also in Saturday Night Fever? She portrayed “Lady in Paint Store.”).

As we turn in to the home stretch of 2012, I pause to appreciate the most important 100-year-old thing in the life of my family — our house.

We bought Old Yeller in 1990 with grand visions of renovation, many of which remain today only in our imaginations. We’ve lived happily here ever since, with only one full bathroom, two tiny parking spaces and, until last year, no central air. Most of our renovations came thanks to a tree falling on our house in 1996.

After 22 years, we are blind to the holes in our walls and our nicked Formica countertops. We jiggle each door uniquely to get it to open or close, and we still must open our dishwasher to access the utensil drawer. Our furniture is cat-clawed and our basement leaks. The Derecho of 2012 ripped several shutters off the back. But that’s okay. We have thousands of good memories, including more than 20 Christmas mornings and, in the old days, countless margarita parties. I’d be happy to hang out here indefinitely.

I suppose we should honor this old house in its centennial year in some meaningful manner. Any suggestions?

(Don’t tell anyone, but I wish we could register at Pottery Barn.)

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Filed under Hearth and Home

Don’t panic

Language has a way of enticing even the smartest of speakers to succumb to sloppiness, prompting misuses to spin out of control. Inspired by one too many examples, I offer today’s friendly reminder.

A rule of thumb:

Hilarious – good.
Hysterical – bad.

Perhaps that’s oversimplifying things a bit, but it serves as a helpful reminder that each word has its own distinctive meaning.

With common misuse, the distinction has grown more subtle.

“Hysterical” and “hilarious” are not interchangeable. Yes, online dictionaries have added one as a synonym of the other in recent times, but I’m not buying it.

As a matter of instruction, “hysterical” means to be in emotional shock. Some of its most common synonyms include: irrational, panic-stricken, jumpy, nervous and anxious.

People often describe movies or books or television shows or comedians as hysterical; therein lies the danger.

I suppose it could be accurate to describe a movie as hysterical. That is, if hysteria is a predominant theme. Theoretically, Titanic could be called hysterical, but it certainly is not hilarious.

One might call a comedian hysterical. He might be funny, hilarious, in fact, but is he shrieking uncontrollably? Ben Stein, for example, can be hilarious, but he is never hysterical.

When something is extremely funny, it is hilarious. Full of hilarity. When a person is extremely funny, she is hilarious. If she is having a hissy fit, she is hysterical. Remember, hissy derives from hysteria.

I could say that I found something so hilarious that I became hysterical. But it is I who was hysterical, not the thing that I found hilarious.

There’s the lesson for today. Your homework: Keep an ear out for one week and report back on how often you hear hysterical misused. Extra credit: Correct the offenders and hope they take it in good spirit and don’t become hysterical.

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Filed under All Things Wordish