Category Archives: News

Civics meets syntax

Even before the 2012 election process begins in earnest in a few days, I already have indigestion.

It used to be that this Beltway baby salivated at the onset of an election year, and all the intellectual and ideological meat it served up. I don’t know anyone who’s hungry any more, except maybe television stations with ad time to sell.

I count myself among those who have lost their appetite from the shallow rhetoric and competitive sparring—and I suspect that’s just about everyone.

However, my particular beef has to do with (surprise!) language. Perhaps my ear is too acutely attuned to misuses, but I’m aurally assaulted day after day, not just by the candidates but those who cover them. Considering the fact that we’re in this for the long haul, I’d like to see us clear a few things up:

“Congress and the Senate” is incorrect. “Congress” and “the House” are not one and the same. Congress is composed of both parts of our bicameral system–the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Congress did not “adjourn” in December. A Congress adjourns just once, at the end of a two-year Congress. Members “recessed” until 2012, when the second year of the 112th Congress begins.

“Re-doubling” is re-dundant. According to some news outlets, the primary season has this or that candidate “re-doubling his efforts” in this or that state. Unless the pol is quadrupling his efforts, this is incorrect.

“We” is not the candidate. Candidates of both parties are equally guilty of the relatively recent practice of pluralizing themselves in speech. If the United States were governed by a monarchy, this might be a “royal we,” but we are not.

Have you noticed this? The candidate refers to himself, or occasionally, herself, as “we.” I can assume “we” refers to his campaign team, his administration, his volunteers. He’s being nice. He’s being inclusive. “We” is fine when he refers specifically to the campaign team.

But to say “We are the candidate who will [reduce the deficit, reform Social Security, insert the promise of your choice]” is not just incorrect, but absurd. It makes me wonder if pluralizing the pronoun is a scheme intended to spread the blame when the electoral matter later hits the fan.

Come to think if it, I might just vote for whoever refers to himself as “I.” (Just as long as he doesn’t use it as an objective pronoun.)

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Filed under All Things Wordish, News, Politics

Write me a letter

All right, wordies, who’s up for a Word Nymph challenge?

Here’s the background:  This week I wrote my first letter to the editor of The Washington Post. That’s significant considering I’ve been reading the Post since I could read. In fact, I still have the Sunday edition my father bought the day I was born. It’s also surprising that I only now penned my first gripe, considering the nitpickiness of my nature.

Like many newspapers, the Post has suffered sizeable cutbacks in recent years, many of which have hit the editing team. Up to now, when I’ve noticed an occasional typo or less occasional grammatical, spelling or punctuation error in my hometown paper, my reaction has been more sympathetic than critical.

However, last Sunday, an erroneous subhead provoked my inner schoolmarm. I fired off a pithy primer on subject-verb agreement that I thought might have a chance of being printed, if not in the daily Letters, then surely in Saturday’s “Free For All” space, typically set aside for granular grievances.

I awoke today—Saturday—with the excitement of a child on Christmas morning, and ran out to get the paper. I flipped directly to the editorial pages. Nada. I wondered: Was my letter too nitpicky? Too esoteric? Not well written enough?

Here’s the challenge:  1. Read the following headline, along with its subhead (sorry, I can’t find a link to the original editorial). 2. See if you notice the grammatical error. 3. Submit, in the Comments section below, your pretend letter to the editor, using fewer than 200 words (mine was 106). The best submissions will win a prize and the opportunity to help me the next time I’m stirred to speak up. Extra credit goes to anyone who can furnish the link to the editorial.

Picking on Catholic University
A complaint of bias against Muslims seem frivolous.

Go.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, News

Sounds like hypochondria

As part of my consulting practice, I do a lot of work for the medical profession. I often work with groups of doctors who are discussing the latest treatments for various diseases. When I’m on a project, I’m immersed in descriptions and data about symptoms, diagnosis, prevalence and treatment.

It’s interesting work and I enjoy it. There’s only one drawback. By the end of every project, I’m convinced I have the disease. In my mind, I’ve had ADHD, Alzheimer’s, Narcolepsy, Colitis and some pretty serious neurological conditions. I imagine there are also some pretty nasty viruses brewing in my system.

If I were to self diagnose, I’d say it’s a hypersensitivity to data and descriptions.

My latest condition? Misophonia. I didn’t pick this one up at work but rather, watching the morning news. Have you heard about it?

As best I understand it, Misophonia is a low tolerance for certain kinds of sounds, thought be the result of abnormal connections between the autonomic and limbic systems of the brain. People who suffer from Misophonia aren’t just annoyed by their triggers. They’re enraged.

Maybe you saw the news story. A woman and her husband had to eat in separate rooms.

Speaking from experience, I can tell you the condition isn’t triggered by loud noises. I can put up with most loud noises. What triggers my Misophonia—and, I trust that of my fellow sufferers—are the quieter human sounds: breathing, chewing (the sound of any gum chewing whatsoever sends me into orbit!), slurping coffee or soup, the shuffling of feet. If I had to name one trigger that evokes homicidal thoughts, it would be a nose whistle.

I’m sure there’s an olfactory equivalent and I’m sure I have that too. I suspect it’s because I’m nearly blind as a bat and, therefore, my senses of hearing, smell, taste and even touch are super-acute.

I’ve heard music in my bedsprings, I can smell when someone has visited a house with a dog and I routinely detect what my husband had for lunch. The toe-tapping of an average human feels to me like the footsteps of the Jolly Green Giant.

Okay, so now you know there’s something wrong with me. Give me a moment and I’ll give you the proper clinical term.

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Filed under Health, Movies, Television and Radio, News

Slow it down, run it back

I don’t suppose the White House, the organizers of political debates or the NFL would consider checking with me first.

The last two nights, I had conflicts that precluded my watching national events or otherwise attending to entertainment needs. I’m still catching up on what happened.

Wednesday night, I twitched and trembled when a social commitment kept me from watching Republican candidates debate the nation’s affairs and poke each other in the eye. I trusted I’d catch enough clips in the morning to catch up, but even a broad scan of news channels—as well as newspaper accounts and commentary—failed to bring me adequately up to date.

Thanks to my cousin, I was able to read the full account online and now feel completely caught up and entertained. The piece even culled the notable language twists and gaffes, just as I would have, had I tuned in.

Last night, the President graciously agreed to address a joint session of Congress at an early hour so as to not delay kickoff of the 2011-12 football season. Problem was, I was on my way to a special dinner and had to listen to the speech on the radio on the way over.

No problem, you think? The president—any president—addressing a joint session of Congress is my red carpet. I like to catch the lead-up commentary, be there for the knock on the door, hear the President announced and closely watch the procession down the center aisle. I note whose hands are being shaken, who gets a wink or a pat on the back, who sits with whom, what colors the women are wearing and the sneers on the faces of members of the opposing party. You don’t get that on NPR.

As if there weren’t enough entertainment on the menu, I also missed my brother’s live interview with Food Network Star winner—and Sandwich King—Jeff Mauro on his weekly culinary radio program.

I have a busy work day ahead but I won’t lie, I’ll be slipping in some personal time to catch up on everything I missed.

You know, they really ought to invent some sort of device that allows you to record programming for future viewing.

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No skivvies, no service

From the flaky folks who banned the Happy Meal – a new piece of legislation that makes so much sense it’s ridiculous.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will consider legislation requiring naked people to place something under their bottoms when they sit in public or eat in a restaurant. Let’s hope the bill goes so far as to prohibit that something from being a restaurant-issued napkin. Ewww. Double ewww.

The legislation was introduced by Supervisor Scott Wiener (of course). I assume Clerk Johnson entered it into the record.

Wiener is a new board member who took his seat earlier this year, presumably donning drawers. Wiener represents a nudist-friendly district so, au naturally, is behind nudists’ rights. However, he felt that public parading of privates had gotten out of hand—that hanging out unharnessed posed health concerns.

I’ve taken the liberty of crafting a campaign slogan for Member Wiener’s initiative. This can be cross-stitched on a 12-inch square linen, which doubles beautifully as a sampler and a can cozy.

If you sit down,
dining in town,
Be a chum
And shroud your bum.

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Filed under Food, Health, News, Politics

Panic attack

Mark Twain was known to have said, “Everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it.”

As Hurricane Irene barrels toward the United States, the weather is all anyone is talking about. Someone, do something.

Usually, The Weather Channel is fairly tempered in its wording. Forecasters take such flak for both underestimating and over-hyping conditions that they must walk a fine line between issuing timely alerts and not inciting panic, even when conditions are urgent. By necessity, they choose their words cautiously.

In all the years I’ve followed The Weather Channel on weather.com, however, I’ve never read such strong language as I have these last 24 hours:

“extraordinary impacts”
“very dangerous”
“serious and multi-hazard threat”
“rare potency”
“particularly threatening situation”
“dire threat”

They’ve even created a new threat level category: EXTREME. All caps.

In fact, the site is using ALL CAPS and exclamation points all over the place! As drama goes, that’s the punctuation equivalent of Al Roker twisting in the wind.

Meteorologists caution that Irene will impose severe conditions on the major metropolitan areas of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, including Norfolk, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, Hartford and Boston. “This hurricane has the potential to produce flooding rains, high winds, downed trees (on houses, cars, power lines) and widespread power outages,” the site warns.

One troubling aspect of this looming disaster is that, not only must East-coasters prepare for damage and loss, but we also have to brace ourselves for ridicule from the rest of the country. California is still snickering over our little 5.8 earthquake, while red state residents are blanketing Facebook and Twitter with stupid quake jokes about policymakers.

I seriously hope Irene has a change of heart and a change of direction. No one would look forward to singing “Goodnight Irene” more than beach dwellers and East Coast city folk. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to dash out for an emergency supply of Perrier and camembert.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, News, Technology and Social Media

A sign from above

I received an e-mail reminder last week of the coming of National Punctuation Day. As soon as there’s a nip in the air, I start planning a celebration and contemplating the meaning of these literary symbols in our lives.

Of all my punctuation peeves, one near the top is overuse of the exclamation point. I believe this should be reserved for special occasions, for exclamations or situations that are truly remarkable.

Example? How about galaxies colliding?

According to NASA, two galaxies–VV 340 North, and VV 340 South—have begun to come together.

Because it’s 450 million light years from here, we can’t see it with the naked eye. Thanks to the Chandra x-ray observatory, this collision is revealed. In punctuation.

That’s truly remarkable!

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Friend of the trendless

Do you know what’s trending? The word trend as a verb, for one.

Trend as a verb has been around a long time, but its use was always narrow. Data points trend upward, for example. As best I’ve observed, the verb trend is usually followed by an adverb or other modifier.

Lately, everyone’s talking trending, which I fear went out as soon as it came in. Or should anyway. I know, I know, it’s on Twitter, it’s on the news, it’s on the radio, it’s PR-speak. The Today show has introduced a daily feature, accompanied by the most annoying techno music, called “What’s trending Today?” At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, this bugs me. I suspect I’m a party of one.

This doesn’t mean I don’t notice trends. One hit me between the eyes this week. Three times in 36 hours, in fact. Does that ever happen to you? Never heard of something and within a day it’s everywhere?

What’s trending? Pisco. First I read about Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan enjoying a Pisco Sour at a local establishment; then twice more, someone or other was noticed to be sipping it; I think one might have been Justice Antonin Scalia. I’ve read that, as trending goes, Pisco could be the new Mojito. Or for D.C. foodies, the new Mumbo Sauce.

According to PR Web, Pisco consumption in the United States increased 101 percent in 2010. Whether or not that’s a legitimate trend would depend on what it was in 2009, or 2008. I was always taught that a trend is at least three data points.

I haven’t tried this Peruvian potion, Pisco. Heck, I’m not sure I even know what it is. One source I consulted says it’s a brandy while another calls it a spirit. We have a knowledgeable guy at our local liquor store, but I’m afraid that if I went in asking about Pisco, he’d laugh, sigh, roll his eyes or all three.

If he did, I’d know it’s already trended.

In a piece on Monday, Slate cautioned us to not hate Pisco because it’s fashionable.

I don’t think I’ll be serving up piscopolitans any time soon.

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Super coincidence

Darn you, Stephen Colbert.

On Tuesday I had jotted a blog idea on the back of an envelope and had only to fill it out. This, you recall, was the day the nation’s policymakers approved the creation of a Super Congress of 12 members, to hammer out solutions to the federal budget crisis later in the year.

I had outlined some thoughts about the notion of a “super” Congress. My mind spun the notion into a “Super-duper” Congress, beneath an “Über” Congress. I swear I wrote this, even if you don’t believe me.

As I fleshed out the outline in a hotel room Tuesday night, I flipped on Comedy Central for a little bedtime snack of super-reality.

I found Stephen Colbert interviewing New York Times Washington bureau chief David Leonhardt. Near the end of the interview, Colbert recited the very notes I had just typed in. Great minds.

You’ll notice, if you follow the link to the interview, you might or might not experience a problem with the audio. On one computer, I could get the audio; on another I could not. I did a search on “why can’t I get audio on Comedy Central?” and learned that plenty of people experience this same technical glitch.

Among them is a young person whose conservative father has cut off all of his/her access to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert; this young person was trying to find a work-around.

As a parent of a former sneaky teen, I sympathize with well-meaning parents who want to control access to inappropriate content. But The Daily Show and The Colbert Report? Seriously?

So, I correct myself. Not “Darn you, Stephen Colbert.”  So he unknowingly stole my idea. He got there first. Plus, he has a few more followers than I do. He has millions. I have hundreds.

I say, “You, go, Stephen Colbert. You’re a super, a super-duper, even an über role model.”

Oh, and I’m not even going to bother with “Satan sandwich.”

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A hiatus from Hades

Have the searing heat and the national debt debate got you down? A scan of newspapers, Internet and television news and Facebook posts, not to mention those oft-forgotten personal conversations, shows a pretty grumpy America. We’re hot and we’re mad and we wonder how things could get any worse. Hrumph.

As I thought this morning about what to wear that would absorb the perspiration, and dreaded doing all the things I have to do today and over the weekend that involve going out in the 100-degree weather, my calendar spoke to me.

It happens that I’m scheduled to visit two hospice patients today and tomorrow. One visit involves taking an elderly patient out to an appointment. This woman asked me yesterday if I wanted to cancel because she was afraid the heat was going to be too much for me. This is the same woman who, when I expressed my condolences for the recent passing of her husband, said, “Thank you, but there are so many people worse off than I am.”

This is not intended to be about how people experience grief or face their mortality, or even to talk about who’s worse off than whom. We’re all entitled to our own feelings and, when it comes to misery, there’s no hierarchy.

But I’m choosing to see it that way this weekend. Yes, it’s 115 degrees in our cars. Yes, our country is swirling down with the Ty-D Bowl man in his little boat, taking our personal savings and investments right along with it.

But for the next two days, I’ll be with people who are facing some pretty unpleasant issues as well. My plan is to live in their realities for a while, and hopefully exchange the humidity and the national brawl for some perspective.

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Filed under Health, News