Tag Archives: news

Off and on

Over the weekend, while watching television news, I heard two different people, in unrelated stories, describing realization processes. One said, “Suddenly a light bulb went off in my head.” (At least he didn’t say the light bulb literally went off in his head.) The other said, “All of a sudden, it was like a light bulb went off.”

Am I wrong or, when one has idea—or when something comes to light—the light bulb goes on?

This morning, I set out to research this. What I found upon searching “light bulb went off” were one or two blogs addressing this very subject, and a long list of entries comprising serious text in which the expression is used incorrectly.

There’s no mistaking the imagery. A light goes on, things become clear. One has an idea or, appropriate for the season, epiphany. This makes perfect sense, so why are light bulbs going off in so many heads?

Maybe we can remember it this way: Lights go on and sounds go off.

Sirens go off, alarms go off, firecrackers and explosives go off.

Or maybe it’s not so simple. When my alarm goes off in the morning, doesn’t it really go on?

Either way, if any of us is ever interviewed about a brilliant idea—and if we choose to use the light bulb image—let’s  remember how to use it in such a way that our audience still thinks we’re brilliant. And let’s remember that also means not saying “literally.”


Filed under All Things Wordish, Marketing/Advertising/PR, News, Technology and Social Media

Much ado

It makes me sad when I hear a really interesting word, begin to adopt it into my own vocabulary and then, nearly overnight, hear it thrown about willy-nilly, having lost its distinctive meaning.

This makes me think about the first girls to wear Ugg boots. I still don’t own any because, by the time I became aware of them, they had already saturated the fashion scene and were being worn in places where they have no use, such as at formal events or in the desert Southwest.  There’s a narrow window in which to enjoy something novel before it’s over- or mis-used.

We were watching a morning news program yesterday, a story about a Tacoma, Washington, boy having been sent home from school for wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey. The Seattle-based reporter ended the piece, naming the incident a “kerfuffle.” I said to my husband, “I love that word, ‘kerfuffle.’” Just then, our local news anchor said, “I love that word, ‘kerfuffle.’”  The horse is out of the barn.

“Kerfuffle” isn’t a new word and, from what I understand, the British adapted the Scottish “cerfuffle” and made it theirs long ago. It’s just that we don’t hear it all that often. It’s fancy and delicate and best saved for special occasions, much like Grandmother’s white lace tablecloth.

Whereas “kerfuffle” has long referred to commotion, fuss, brouhaha or misunderstanding, it seems many are using it almost euphemistically, to trivialize more heated or violent incidents. One literary blog elaborates.

Other words describing social conflict have evolved over time.

I remember studying the word “altercation” for a vocabulary test in grade school. The definition I memorized was “a wordy quarrel.” Webster’s defines it as a “noisy argument.” News writers and broadcasters now use “altercation” to describe a fist fight, even an incident involving gunfire. They also describe a barroom brawl as a “melee,” a term that has typically referred to combat situations.

As we’ve observed here lately, there is a place for language evolution, though I’m sad to see distinctive words become watered down through overuse. Perhaps there’s also a place for Grandma’s lace tablecloth for Tuesday’s hamburgers; just don’t get ketchup on it.

I missed the Uggs boat and, clearly, my new favorite word is aboard a train that has left the station.

It’s just a simple observation. I won’t make a kerfuffle out of it.


Filed under All Things Wordish, Beauty and Fashion, News, Rants and Raves

Weird news day

I don’t tweet much. Once a day or so, just to blast out blog updates.

On Twitter, I follow more than am followed. I follow 26 people and only 15 follow me. I really must do something about this.

The reason I follow most of the tweeters I do is to get information. While it might be mildly relevant to know where someone is lunching, I am more interested in newsier Tweets. These often include items that don’t make the major newspapers, are written with esoteric angles or are relevant to narrow industry sectors. Or they’re just plain funny. Those I follow are publications mostly—The New Yorker, Fast Company, Vanity Fair, Advertising Age, Politico. Freaknomics puts out good stuff. I’ll make another pitch here for Fake AP Stylebook.

One night recently, as I was scrolling the latest Tweets before bed,  the most bizarre collection of headlines jumped off the screen.

I wondered how these would look to someone having just awakened from a decade or two of hyperbaric sleep and wanted to catch up on the latest developments in fashion, politics, the environment, cable news or travel. Then again, Twitter in and of itself might buckle the brain of anyone who’s been out of touch for, say, 10 years.

Here is just a sample of the headlines I read within in just five minutes’ time:

New York Fashion Week to Include Designer Sex Toys

Barbara Boxer aide charged with possession of pot

China Beats U.S. to First Offshore Wind Farm

Scandal Glossary: The Complicated Past of Piers Morgan, Larry King’s Replacement

Airport “Naked” Body Scanners Get Privacy Upgrade to Anonymize Your Naughty Bits

Pinch me; I must still be dreaming.

Please remember, there are no blog updates on Sundays. I’ll be opening the Sunday paper with caution.

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Filed under News, Politics, Reading, Technology and Social Media

Beware of age

Yesterday’s disappointing news from the Gulf of Mexico has had me fixed on a particular word, one that seldom appears in good news. 

Not long after it seemed the cap on BP’s spewing oil well was going to hold and finally begin to contain the massive spill, something troublesome was discovered—seepage.

Seepage is never good.  It’s unintentional.  It’s messy.  It often means something is going somewhere it’s not supposed to.  If seepage is in your story, chances are, you’re in trouble.  Just when the higher-ups at BP were looking forward to exhaling, along came seepage.  The last thing the poor citizens and businesses along the Gulf Coast want to hear is seepage.

Yesterday, for whatever reason, the word leapt off its prominent spot on the front page and created little puddles in my brain.  But with every lame attempt to blot them up, more disturbing words ending in “age” came at me. 

“Age” is a common suffix, used, among other ways, to turn verbs into nouns, such as seepage.   It is also used to turn singular nouns into uncountable nouns, such as signage and plumage.  Signage and plumage are good things, and, if you were delivering news, you wouldn’t mind them in your story.  Acreage, coverage and cleavage are also nice things to have.

But all I thought about yesterday after reading about the seepage were all the other “age” words—most, oddly, beginning with “s”—that one would not want to have to use in his or her story, nor want to hear when receiving news.

Sewage isn’t something you want to hear about.  Steerage isn’t a desirable place.  If you are relying on your work or the product thereof, a stoppage is bad news, as is a shortage.  Don’t tell me about spillage, spoilage or soilage.  Slippage is unacceptable.  And absolutely no one wants to have to explain shrinkage.

Those are the “s” words.  Please don’t send me back to the beginning of the alphabet or we’ll have to talk about blockage, bondage, breakage and carnage.  So let’s not go there.

Before we move off yesterday’s front page story, let’s add “burbling” to the list of words that aren’t usually used in good news.

Note:   I first thought burbling was a portmanteau for bubble + gurgle, because isn’t that what the seepage is doing?  As it turns out, burble is also a scientific term.  It’s a turbulent eddy in fluid flow caused by roughness near the boundary surface or loss of energy in the laminar flowing fluid.  But then you all probably knew that.


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

Little old lady who?

“Deputies Kill a Fla. Grandmother Armed With Gun”

“Grandmother Defeats Home Invader”

“Slamming Granny: Grandmothers for Peace Get Hard Time”

“Australian Grandmother Fights Shark” 

These are just a few headlines from print and broadcast stories of late.  In addition, The Washington Post reported recently that “Donna M. George was a grandmother living in a gated community in Fredericksburg when she sold prescription drugs out of her kitchen — while babysitting for her three grandchildren.” 

I am not sure precisely what image the news media are trying to conjure by naming Grandmother in the headlines but I am pretty sure it’s not me or my peers. While I am not yet a grandmother, plenty of my friends in their 40s and 50s are.  If they did anything newsworthy, why would their grandmother-hood be of note? 

No, I suspect the image the media are after is the stooped over, gingham-clad lady with a gray bun atop her doddering little head.  You know, Tweety Bird’s Granny.  It’s that lady’s role in a crime or act of heroism that makes the story all the more sensational. 

I have news for headline writers.  Today’s Grandmother looks like I do.  No gingham shirt dress, no bun.  Today’s granny wears low rise jeans and a ponytail.  She listens to Christina Aguilera, pops her gum and says “I’m like” when she means “I said.”  While, admittedly, she may eat a few more prunes than she used to, she also runs marathons and goes to wine tastings.  She might even write a blog.

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