Monthly Archives: September 2010

A penny saved

I don’t know why I don’t read Real Simple magazine more often. Maybe it’s because I want it to be called Really Simple. I do pick it up now and then, or visit the website and always find light-hearted yet interesting features. Today there were two I found equally stimulating: “10 Twists on a Cupcake” and “Fall Cleaning Checklist.”

I saw something else that was fun:  “7 New Uses for a Penny,” based on suggestions readers sent in. Considering that in 2007, SavingAdvice.com  already published “83 Things You Can Do with a Penny,” there now must be 90.

Real Simple reader Rachel Harrison Massa of Stamford, Connecticut, suggested a party icebreaker. “Hand out pennies at your next gathering and ask each guest to share a story that happened during the year his or her penny was minted. If the coin predates a friend, let the person improvise.”

Is there any reason we can’t play that game here? But let’s expand it. If you don’t have a story from the year of your penny, just share something interesting about where you were living or what you were doing that year and maybe name a song that was popular.

I’ll start. I just pulled a penny at random from my ceramic piggy bank.

1995. Coincidentally, that was the year I first heard Congress consider the notion of doing away with the penny altogether. In a hearing in a House Banking subcommittee, an advocacy group called the Coin Coalition was pushing to phase out the penny, as part of its proposal for producing a new one-dollar coin.

A popular CD from 1995: Love and Money by Eddie Money.

Who wants to go next?

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Filed under Family and Friends, Music, Politics, Reading

Catch a wave?

It has been said that it’s the little things that bring happiness into our lives. Not to make this a glass-half-empty conversation, but isn’t it also the little things that drive us up the wall or at least make us shake our heads in perplexity?

I took a three-day road trip recently and noticed the striking disappearance of a little thing. So simple, but now, so gone.

I am talking about the thank-you wave.

Granted, I tend to overdo it. When someone is kind enough to let me cut over, I flail my hand back and forth for a good long time, just so the driver knows how grateful I am.

I also happen to be pretty darn generous with drivers who wish to cut in front of me—unless, of course, it’s some doofus who has flown down the shoulder and suddenly wants VIP treatment. But usually I allow one car. If each of us practiced this, traffic might just keep moving smoothly.

In the 500 miles I put in on the road last week, I’d say I let more than a dozen drivers slip into my lane ahead of me, just to be nice.

Not one thank-you wave came my way, in 500 miles.

What happened to this simple gesture of thanks? What made it extinct?

Others have noticed, I know, because mine isn’t the only commentary out there about it. I agree wholeheartedly with one woman who commented, “Let’s not let this gesture go the way of the R.S.V.P. or be piled on to the ‘that’s ol’ fashioned’ etiquette junk heap.” Another person started a blog entitled Thank-you Wave, in January 2009, but the blog is empty, in which case the wave has literally disappeared.

Part of me wants to be mature and not sweat the small stuff, while the other part wants to explode into a George Costanza-esque tirade and shout, “We’re LIVING in a SOCIETY…”

I’m sorry to be complaining so much this week. I don’t know what else to do, except perhaps keep on over-waving. And letting people in. And continuing to look for the best in my fellow motorists. Except that jerk riding the shoulder.

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Filed under Rants and Raves, Travel

A real stinker

Something else is bugging us here in the nation’s capital. As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, we are undergoing an invasion–in our homes, in our cars, at work, on our persons.

We thought we were safe until 2021, when the 17-year locusts are scheduled to return.

But no, Mother Nature has sent the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, so named because of the noxious odor it emits when squashed. I understand our neighbors to to the north and south are also being plagued.

I first noticed stink bugs when my two cats started chasing them around the house. Then I spotted them within the window frames, crawling across the kitchen counter, then pretty much everywhere. I’ve picked one out of my hair and one off my clothing. I even plucked one off a stranger Friday night as we waited in line to retrieve our cars from a restaurant valet. It was the least I could do, as I had noticed the poor guy earlier as his dinner companion (wife, girlfriend, first date, sister, don’t know) sobbed through the meal. Then to be attacked by a stink bug.

The stink bug appeared Saturday on the front page of The Washington Post, below the fold, jumping out at readers as they turned over their morning papers. The article quoted a noted entomologist who predicted the invasion “is going to be biblical this year.”

As I contemplated whether to share this creepy phenomenon with my blog readers, I soon learned I had been beaten to the punch.

My friend Dennis wrote a descriptive post on his blog and I didn’t want to be a copycat. Then I thought I’d write a stink bug haiku. Nope, it’s been done. Stink bug rap? Done, including clean and dirty versions.

Then I thought, aha, The Stink Bug Blues.

Doh! How early does a person need to get up to write an original piece on a stinking insect?

So basically, I got nothin’. But the blues…

Maybe this will take our minds off bedbugs for a while.

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Filed under Foibles and Faux Pas, Music

Keeping fear alive

Over the last few days, we’ve seen more than enough of Stephen Colbert’s recent testimony before Congress, and read or heard volumes of commentary on his daring comedic prank. It’s Monday, so we need to lower the curtain on this farce.

And we will, after I’ve had my say.

But first, allow me to preface my own commentary with a few biases.

  1. I think Stephen Colbert is a talented, albeit outrageous, humorist.
  2. I appreciate good political satire. Those who know my family history know that political satire been berry berry good to me (as Chico Escuela, SNL’s Garrett Morris’ Dominican baseball player, would say).
  3. I was a lobbyist in Washington for 15 years and continue to have both a healthy respect and healthy cynicism for the political process.

So about Colbert’s appearance: I was appalled and here’s why.

There are far too many people in the United States who believe what they believe based solely on what they see on television. These are often the same people who want to vote their senators and representatives out the day after they’ve voted them in. The last sound bite they hear is what they believe; it’s upon which they base their political beliefs and voting behavior.

Many people already think Washington is a big joke. Stephen Colbert gave them every reason to keep laughing, and to go on believing our public servants are little more than monkeys flinging dung at one another. For what? Innocent playfulness? Ratings? To use his faux-conservative persona to further confuse television viewers on an issue that already has made dung-flinging an Olympic sport?

I have staffed many Congressional witnesses over the course of my career. I have written their testimonies, both the prepared statements and the oral remarks which, by the way, are supposed to match, except in length. I have prepared witnesses by helping them anticipate questions and criticism. I have gotten them involved in coalitions and congressional meetings, not only to help them advance their business agendas, but also to give them a better understanding of our nation’s governing process.

I watched these executives set their cynicism aside and approach their roles with dignity and respect. After having participated in the political process, they said they gained an appreciation for the hard work and integrity most of our elected officials take to their difficult jobs. I wish all Americans could have this vantage point.

Stephen Colbert is a funny guy who has only made matters worse for a system in serious need of confidence and trust, by making figurative armpit noises from the congressional witness chair.

Maybe when he comes back October 30 for his “March to Keep Fear Alive,” he’ll make apologetic visits to some Hill offices, sans the video of his colonoscopy.

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Filed under Rants and Raves, Uncategorized

More holiday greetings

Have you realized that Christmas is exactly three months away?

Have you begun thinking about what you’ll put in your Christmas letter? Or gearing up to read the dozens of letters you will receive during the holiday season? 

I am often well into Christmas preparations by this time of year. My goal is usually to have everything done before Thanksgiving, so I can deal with our family’s onslaught of birthdays and anniversaries that fall between the two holidays, and also so that I am able to give the Christian season of Advent its due solemnity.

Ha. Even with all the advance preparation, it seems I still crash into Christmas like an overheated stock car having lost two wheels.

My tradition has been to have hand designed Christmas cards in hand in time to address them by hand while I am answering the door Halloween night. Then over the next four weeks, I write the notes inside at a civilized pace, and actually give thought to the family and friends I am writing. We send out more than 250 cards every year, so pacing is key.

Every year, the dilemma of a Christmas newsletter presents itself. Do I really want to burden my loved ones with 12 months of minutia when they barely have time to count two turtle doves?

I’ve always been a fan of photos. A picture is worth a thousand words, so I like one or two that say it all. I prefer they be larger than a thumbnail and illuminated by a flash, so we don’t need magnifying glasses when we sit down for the card-opening ritual.

Now that I write a blog, you already have more details about my year than any holiday letter could reveal. You know about my speeding ticket, my ills and diet woes, my husband’s amnesia, my favorite song lyrics and my son’s college graduation, as well as way too many stories and true confessions from my childhood. You know we are getting central air, and that I have a clean basement. You’ve read my travel stories and know which airports I’ve been in, what books and magazines I read, what concerts and plays I’ve attended. You even know my favorite smells and how many weeks I have been off coffee.

Egad, I’ve already written the world’s longest Christmas letter, more than 150 pages! How can you stand me?

I still plan to hand address 250 envelopes this year, but there is nothing left to put inside.

Please remember there’s no Word Nymph on Sundays. I may still be recovering from National Punctuation Day.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Holidays, Technology and Social Media

Holiday greetings

Allow me to be the first to wish you a happy National Punctuation Day. The seventh annual National Punctuation Day, to be precise.

NPD is the brainchild of one Jeff Rubin, an author and expert in shameless self promotion. He even managed to get the holiday recognized as official in Chase’s Calendar of Events.  If you go there, you will also see that October is Self Promotion Month.

Given all the activities offered on the holiday’s website, you could be a faithful observer of this occasion for weeks.

For example, you could:

  • give yourself a refresher on the correct uses of 13 types of punctuation;
  • enter a Punctuation Haiku contest;
  • make Norma Martinez-Rubin (a.k.a. Mrs. Punctuation)’s famous Semicolon Meat Loaf, the official meatloaf of National Punctuation Day, or make one in the punctuation shape of your choice;
  • sit in on Punctuation Playtime at a participating school, and enjoy punctuation relay tag, a Wynken, Blynken and Nod punctuation contest or a punctuation rap performed by facilitators and students;
  • purchase T-shirts, latte mugs, greeting cards and punctuation posters from the official NPD website; and
  • as the Rubin suggests, take a leisurely stroll, paying close attention to store signs with incorrectly punctuated words. Stop in those stores to correct the owners. If the owners are not there, leave notes.

Or you could observe the holiday by reading some the blog posts I’ve written on punctuation.

Forgive me; I’m just gearing up for Self Promotion Month.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Holidays, Marketing/Advertising/PR

Vulgarity N through Z

…continued from yesterday

The following words and phrases have been picked from the second half of A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, published in 1787, for your amusement and use.

Nicknackatory:  a toy shop

Nick ninny:  a simpleton

Old Roger:  the devil

Oliver’s skull:  a chamber pot

Peppered:  infected with the venereal disease

Queer rooster:  an informer who pretends to be sleeping, and thereby overhears the conversation of thieves in night cellars

Rabbit catcher:  a midwife

Roast meat clothes:  Sunday clothes

Scotch fiddle:  the itch (Scrubado has the same definition)

Slush bucket:  one who eats much greasy food

Smicket:  a woman’s smock or shift

Stallion:  a man kept by an old lady for secret services

Stewed Quaker:  burned rum with a piece of butter, an American remedy for a cold

Timber toe:  a man with a wooden leg

Uphills:  false dice that run high

Wife in water colours:  a mistress or concubine

There you have it. Thirty-three words and phrases from the days S’s looked like F’s.

Now go out there and confuse your friends and colleagues with your new vulgar tongue.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Reading

Vulgarity A through M

Some time back, while researching for a blog post, I became aware of a book that I later ordered but didn’t read until now. I might have mentioned it. It’s called A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose.

The book itself was published for the first time in 1787, and there is text within that is much older.

One reason I didn’t read this book in earnest until now is that the print quality is so poor that it’s hard on the eye. But the content is so intriguing that I decided to adjust my glasses and give it some focus.

I’m glad I did.

It was written to compile, according to the preface, “the vulgar allusions and cant expressions that so frequently occur in our conversation and periodical publications…”  The entries are also described as “Pedlar’s French” and “burlesque phrases.” Well, I wasn’t around in the 18th century, but I can’t imagine some phrases ever appearing  in common language or publications. I can tell you a good number of the so-called “quaint allusions” used in that period are as shockingly vulgar as anything one would hear or read today. If you want to read these, you are going to have to purchase the book. But be aware–there obviously was limitless tolerance for certain varieties of ethnic and gender slurs 223 years ago.

It also struck me how many terms that I thought were fairly modern were common so long ago. I’d be too embarrassed to cite examples. 

The dictionary entries aren’t all dirty; some truly are quaint.

So I thought I’d share a few with you. Wouldn’t it be fun to drop one or two into ordinary conversation at work today and see what kind of reaction you get?

Today I’ll be giving the highlights from the first half of the alphabet. If you like them, join me tomorrow for the second half.

Brisket beater:  a Roman Catholic

Clicker:  one who proportions out the different shares of the booty among thieves

Cock-a-whoop:  elevated, in high spirits, transported with joy

Dot and go one:  to waddle, generally applied to persons who have one leg shorter than the other

Flesh-broker:  matchmaker

Frosty face: one pitted with the smallpox

Gollumpus:  a large, clumsy fellow

Hang an arse:  to hang back or hesitate

Hop the twig:  to run away

Huckle my butt:  a hot drink made with beer, egg and brandy (Five dollars to the first person I hear order that at Applebee’s)

Humdurgeon:  an imaginary illness

Irish legs:  thick legs. It is said of the Irish women that they have a dispensation from the Pope to wear the thick end of their legs downwards.

Join giblets:  said of a man and woman who cohabitate

Kickerpoo:  dead

Leaky:  about to blab, as one who cannot keep a secret

Liquor one’s boots:  drink before a journey

Moon-eyed hen:  a squinting wench

To be continued…

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Reading

A reaching offense

Adding to the growing commentary on the steady decline of the English language as we once knew it, The Washington Post Magazine’s Gene Weingarten has written one of the cleverest pieces to date.

Please read “Goodbye, Cruel Words” for yourself because I will most certainly fail to do it justice here. Readers, this figurative obituary of the language is right up our alley with real-life examples of ridiculous errors in grammar, usage and syntax committed by some of the most highly regarded newspapers.

Please note: the piece calls attention to a once-trendy, now overused phrase to which I ashamedly plead “Guilty.”

I probably picked it up 10 years ago in my corporate days; my dealings with corporate clients since that time have etched it ever more deeply into my lexicon. And, truthfully, I’ve always liked it.

As Weingarten introduces it, “[no] development contributed more dramatically to the death of the language than the sudden and startling ubiquity of the vomitous verbal construction ‘reach out to’ as a synonym  for ‘call on the phone,’ or ‘attempt to contact.’” He calls it “a jargony phrase bloated with bogus compassion – once the province only of 12-step programs and sensitivity training seminars…”

Bingo.

I wonder if “reach out” started with AT&T’s tear-inducing television commercials of the 1980s, “Reach out and touch someone.” As Weingarten points out, reaching out was a gesture of sensitivity or support. It probably derived from “outreach.”

Looking back on the countless meetings I’ve attended in the last 25 years, I can almost trace the phrase’s road to ubiquity, including a U-turn in its meaning. Reaching out has gone from a gesture of good will to one of asking a favor or, in the extreme, groveling.

Come to think of it, I have “reached out” quite a bit over the years.

“We need to get Sen. Smith on board with this.” “I’ll reach out to him.”

“I’ll reach out to XYZ Corp. for a $50,000 sponsorship.”

“I’ll reach out to Mary to see if she’ll be the closing speaker for the conference.”

Guilty as charged. Not because I’ve spent my career calling people to ask them for things, but because I’ve done so using a vomitous verbal construction.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Marketing/Advertising/PR, News

Clean by the numbers

Today’s might seem like a mundane topic. I chose it for several reasons. For one, this blog is about language and life and sometimes life is, well, mundane. Thank goodness. The second reason is that it gives me a chance to mix a few numbers in with the words for a change.

We have been in our house 20 years this month. Our house was built in 1912. Much like a 98-year-old person, a 98-year-old house needs a lot of care and attention, even if the results aren’t readily visible.

The big news for us is that, after two homes and almost 25 years of marriage—including 25 sweltering summers in the swampy Washington, D.C. area—we are soon going to get central air conditioning. We will also be waterproofing our damp basement. Big dollars, little aesthetic value, but a welcome change.

Those of you who know me personally know I am a clean freak. My fastidiousness is outdone only by my germophobia. Even so, there are areas within this 98-year-old house that get neglected.

Saturday I spent six hours cleaning the basement, five of which were spent scrubbing the cement floor.

As I view all unpleasant tasks as learning experiences, I thought I would share with you what I learned on Saturday.

  1. Five hours of basement mopping burn as many calories, and yield as many sore muscles, as three months of Jazzercise.
  2. A new sponge mop is good for two to three basement cleanings. When you haven’t cleaned the basement in three years, the equation is: 1 mop = 3/4 of a  cleaning.
  3. Eradicating visible mold from concrete walls takes one-half of a large bottle of Tilex and two gallons of elbow grease.
  4. The drip pan of a dehumidifier should be cleaned more often than once every 20 years.
  5. When a husband comes downstairs to “help,” his patience with your goals and methods lasts approximately 15 minutes, fewer if you have been off coffee for 15 days. Never mind how I know this.
  6. Even though we had only one child, we will have enough toys, books, games, puzzles, art supplies and Pez dispensers for 12 grandchildren.
  7. The moment you empty two litter boxes is the same moment in which two cats hear a call of nature.
  8. Finally, if you “accidentally” suck crickets into a vacuum cleaner, they will continue to chirp for up to 45 minutes.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Foibles and Faux Pas