Category Archives: Words

By Any Other Name…

Names are a big deal in my business.  You have to have legal names for air ticketing, names for namebadges, nameplates for dinner seating, names on awards – sometimes one person can have four different names in these situations. 

Over the years, I’ve seen some doozies.  One couple asked for “Chief” and “Boots” on their badges – the client said no.  I’ve had requests for Princess, Houdini, Sport, even the Big Lebowski.  Several times participants have “exaggerated” their titles when they register for programs.  It’s always pretty clear when someone’s title shows up a President of their company.  I did have someone once type in “Grand Exalted Poombah” – guess he thought we didn’t really need the information and he could have some fun. 

The best name I ever came across was Waightstill Scales.  His nickname was Booger. And the company that he worked for had an award named after him since he was their top salesperson of all time.  The Booger Scales award.  And his namebadge?  You guessed it, Booger Scales.  I kid you not.  I think you’d have to be really confident to carry that name your whole life and then to give it to your son, whose nickname was Waighty.  Waighty Scales.  I swear, I am not making this up.

What’s the funniest actual name you’ve heard of someone having?

Door Stoppage

Photo credit:  The Avocado

On Friday Steve suggested a book be used for a doorstop that Clyde needed.  My very first thought was Ulysses.  I was an English major at Carleton and there were two infamous lists.  One was the short list – about 100 titles that you’d better have read before your comprehensives at the end of your senior year.  Then there was the long list – this was about 500 titles – that the English department thought you should read if you wanted to be truly well-read.  I know, I know, incredibly  presumptuous.  I got copies of these lists in my sophomore year and kept them for years.  As you can imagine, Ulysses was on that list and while most of my brain knows there is no reason I have to read this, a little bit still thinks that I should wade through Joyce.

Three years ago when I started getting rid of excess stuff, I realized I had THREE copies of Ulysses.  Unfortunately for Clyde’s needs, I got rid of all of them, along with most of the guilt that I never could get through the first chapter, much less any farther.

But it made me think about what other books I could imagine consigned to doorstop-hood.   I pulled up my reading list to look for 1-star titles that I wouldn’t mind using to keep a door open.  I started keeping this list in 2007 but didn’t start assigning stars until 2013.  I actually don’t have too many two-star titles, and next to no one-star ratings (it’s a 1-5 rating).  Life is too short – if a book isn’t shaping up, it goes back to the library (or if I actually purchased it, on a pile to be donated to the library).

I do have a few one-stars, but they bring up a secondary problem… I don’t actually remember all of them.  So here’s a short list of my one-star doorstop recommendations:

  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (not even a whiff of memory about this one)
  • The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan (I know that tim loved this one, but it didn’t have enough surrealism to support an unbelievable plot)
  • Gingerbread Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke. I kinda liked the first few and I do like the Hallmark movies made from the series, but this one stunk and the main character stepped over so many lines (moral AND legal) that I couldn’t believe it.
  • Man in the High Castle by Philip Dick. You all know I love alternate-reality future stories but this one did NOT satisfy.  Several concurrent stories, which did not ever intersect, did not wrap up  in any meaninful way and one that jut didn’t make sense.  (And in looking at the reviews of the tv series, they pretty much didn’t use 95% of the book.)
  • And then my one and only negative star title… Swamplandia by Karen Russell. I only finished this because it was a book club title.    Unbelievable set-up, unlike-able characters, tragic outcome and ending that could not happen in anybody’s reality.  There are actually good reviews of this book, but I can only say that hallucinogenics must have been involved.

Any nominees for a door stop?

Aha!!

I love having “aha” moments and I’ve had three recently, all from reading.

#1.  99% Invisible City by Roman Mars details a lot of the infrastructure that surrounds us in the urban environment, much of which we don’t notice and definitely take for granted.  In discussing wireless towers, he writes: “As commercial cellular towers began to sprout up in the 1970s, diagrams depicting their coverage areas looked like blobby plant or animal cells pressed up against one another – hence the name ‘cell phones’.”   I had never stopped to think about why we say “cell phones” so this was an amazing discovery for me.  I stopped reading for a moment and reveled in the fun of it.

#2.  This is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan.  This is the second book of Pollan’s that features discussion of hallucinogenics.  In writing about mescaline, he alludes to the song Mellow Yellow by Donavan and that the meaning of the song is about smoking banana skins, believed in the 60s to be hallucinogenic.  I can sing along to Mellow Yellow but never ever thought about the lyrics and what they might mean.  (Turns out Pollan was actually wrong – Donavan was writing about an electric vibrator that he had seen an ad for – the equipment was called the “mellow yellow”.)

#3.  A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor.  This is an older travel book; the author walked from England to Constantinople in the days before WWII.  After completely overdoing it in Munich at the Hofbrauhaus, he woke up with a “katzenjammer”.  Now I remember the old comic the Katzenjammer Kids, but had no idea that katzenjammer actually means hangover.  I’m not sure how “cat” and “distress” came to mean hangover, but it’s fascinating to know this tidbit!

Can’t wait to see what the next few books reveal!

Any “aha” moments for you recently?

Alas…

It’s fairly well documented that William Shakespeare coined a lot of  words (sources go as high as 2000) that we use commonly today:

    • Auspicious
    • Bloody
    • Dwindle
    • Frugal
    • Gnarled
    • Majestic
    • Multitudinous
    • Premeditated
    • Sanctimonious

There are also scads of phrases that he was the first to use and that we still use today:

    • Seen better days
    • Too much of a good thing
    • Love is blind
    • Set your teeth on edge
    • The game is up

Unfortunately, having seemingly absorbed the rules of language and grammar in my youth, I am often (read “always”) torn when I come across a new word.  Part of me wants to send these new words to the trash can and part of me wants to embrace new words wholeheartedly.  After all, think how unimaginative English would be if we hadn’t embraced “gentlefolk” or “jaded” or “pendantical”?

This week, I heard the word “bleisure” (combination of business and leisure travel) and I was a little appalled.  If there is business, can there truly be leisure?  Even my trip to Kenya and Tanzania, which was devoid of clients and official business, still felt like a business trip to me as I was surrounded by travel professionals from other companies.  But I suppose there are plenty of people out there who can combine business and pleasure, making the word “bleisure” useful.  I just can’t see myself ever using it.

Anything new bugging you this week?

What to Read Next?

Last month Bill asked “How do you judge a cookbook at first glance?”  For me the first thing a cookbook has to have is a great photo on the front to initially catch my interest.  Then it needs to be a niche that I’m interested in (vegetarian, ethnic, baking).  That’s enough to get me to request it from the library.  Once I get the book, the quality of the production is key, how easy it is to follow the directions, how many recipes appeal to me, will the ingredients be do-able?  Probably 50% of the cookbooks that I peruse from the library go back and I never think about them again.  Then about 49% might have a recipe or two that I’ll copy for myself (I have a big white binder for these).  Then there is the rare 1% that I feel I would to have my own copy of and then I try to find it as inexpensively as possible.  And then I have to get rid of an existing cookbook.  Cookbook shelving unit is cram-packed!

All of this quantifying led me to another thought.  How do you judge ANY book at first glance?  How do you decide to read a specific book?  And if you choose badly, what do you do about it?

For me, great titles are key; it needs to be interesting, maybe some word play.  “Dragons” in the title is a gimme.  The phrase “mercenary librarians” on the cover of a book was too tempting to pass up last month.  It’s a toss-up whether author or subject matter is the next ingredient for me.  I’ll pretty much read anything by my favorite authors.  I even read Michael Pollan’s LSD book last year.  Only a very few authors have failed to keep my interest.  Poor Barbara Hambly lost me between the vampire books and the nasty ice queen series.  If a book has an author with whom I am unfamiliar, then subject matter can draw me in.  Of course, I’m curious about so much stuff that pretty much anything can work in this respect.  I’m not a romance fan and I get irritated pretty quickly with historical fiction but even having said that, I will still occasionally read something in these genres.  I prefer fantasy to science fiction.  I’ve read my fill of WWII titles the last few years but if something comes well-recommended, I might put it on the list.

There is another category of “what do read” for me because I’m one of those folks who reads multiple books concurrently.  At any given time I have a book on CD in the car, an audiobook on my pc and a variety of books piled up in my bedroom.  When I decide I want to read, I have to decide WHICH of those books to pick up.  Most of the time, it’s my mood that decides, but if a book is coming due soon and I can’t renew it, that factor often takes precedence.  Now that the library has re-instituted due dates, I have to think about this more.

I am also a book-abandoner.  I decided about 15 years ago, after struggling for weeks to finish Blood on the Snow by Tunstall, that life is too short.  There are so many books published each year that no one could read them all so if I don’t finish a book, it won’t doom the publishing industry.  I once quit reading a book on page four; I already had the feeling that I wouldn’t enjoy the characters or the plot.  Authors beware – you gotta hook me fast!

So the answer to Bill’s question is complex.

How do YOU decide what to read?  Can you abandon a bad choice?

Confusing directions

We like to grow dahlias in our garden, even though our winters are too cold for them to winter over. We don’t have a cold room in our house to store dug up dahlia tubers over the winter to replant in the spring, so we order new tubers every year from wonderful place in Washington State-Swan Island Dahlias. Their instructions for successful dahlia growing are sort of confusing.

We are to plant the dahlia tubers in rich, moist, soil, but are instructed to not water the tubers until the shoots emerge from the soil. They will rot if we do. It may be ok to water if it is dry or if they are in pots, but that is dicey. It is hard to know what we are to do. What is too dry, and what is too wet? I am happy to report that five out of seven dahlia tubers are emerging from the soil with some watering here and there, given our dry spring, but I still have anxiety about the watering issues. I still don’t know what I am to do!

What are some confusing directions you recall? When were you at a loss about what to do?

Songs to plant beans by

If any Baboons chance to drive past my house today, they might see a strange sight. They might see me and hear me singing in the garden.

Last winter we got some Arikara bean seeds from a friend of ours from the Reservation. They are a bush bean that produces brown shellout beans. Our friend got them from a tribal elder some time ago. He is a pretty marginal gardener and he gave us the beans to grow in our garden. He is very excited for us to grow them, but he said there were a few things I had to do in order to plant them successfully.

First, I have to wear an apron and a scarf while I plant them. He told me his grandmother wore that when she planted and she was a good gardener. Second, I have to sing to the beans when I plant them. He wasn’t sure of the tune, since his grandmother whistled a barely discernible tune through her teeth while she planted. Oh, and I should make up some words to go with the song. He said not to worry if our Hidatsa pole beans felt jealous. They would be just fine.

My friend’s bean planting instructions are just like the directions he gives to find places on the Reservation-without GPS or a map you would never find your way.

I asked another Native friend what she would sing to the beans, and she said it was important that I compliment them. She is from the Cheyenne River Reservation and is Lakota. (In the same conversation I asked her the address of her new house. She said she wasn’t sure, but I could find it if I went down that one alley, the one with the 15 cats, and then turned left.) I mentioned her lyric suggestion to my bean bestowing friend, and he totally disagreed (Arikara and Lakota rarely agree), saying I had to plead with the beans when I planted them, telling them how much our survival depends on them.

I chose the tune to the Glow-Worm song, and came up with these lyrics:

Grow pretty beans, please heed us, heed us.

We need you so to feed us, feed us.

You’ll make us strong, please don’t take long, so grow pretty  beans, please grow

Part of me thinks that my Native friends are pulling my leg, but hey, if it helps the garden, why not?

Make up some bean growing lyrics. Choose whatever tune you wish. How are you at giving directions?

Duolingo

You all know I love my lists.  Last year when I got furloughed it took me a month to realize that I needed some routine in my days.  It was more challenging than I had expected to fill up approximately 10 hours a day, five times a week, especially since we weren’t supposed to be leaving the house.

I decided to use a daily list and to work on some new habits while I was at it: more fruits/veggies, drink more water, kitchen floor (yes, it REALLY needed serious cleaning), front porch (we’re scrapping old paint off the stucco), creeping Charlie.  The kitchen floor eventually got spectacularly clean, I got better at fruits/veggies and water, creeping Charlie…. well you know how it goes with creeping Charlie.  It was a relaxing part of my day to cross off things that I had accomplished. 

After about a month of furlough, I decide to re-start my work on Italian.  I had started about a year before, using a free app on my phone (Duolingo) but had let it slide after several months.  When I got back online, I started at the beginning even though the app remembered where I had been.  And I decided that I would keep each day’s lesson short; if I set a goal of too many minutes, I knew it might de-rail me. 

Yesterday after the first part of my lesson (I do two lessons a day), I got a blip saying I had hit 365 straight days… an entire year of working on my Italian every day.  I even did my lessons when YA and I went to San Diego in August – the app is on my phone, so easy peasy.   Of all the things on my various lists over the last year, this is the only thing that I have consistently done every single day.  It’s an amazing feat, even to me.  Of course, at ten minutes a day, I’m not blazing any linguistic trails, but if you want to know about elephants drinking water, I’m your gal (Gli elefanti bevono l’acqua)!

Do you have a routine you’re consistent with?  That’s you’d LIKE to be consistent with?

Snollygoster

Dictionary.com still sends me an email every day.  Some days I already know the word and most days I think “I’ve never seen this word before and I doubt I’ll ever see it again.”  But it’s still fun.  Last week, the word snollygoster hit my Inbox.  It means a clever, unscrupulous person.  This definitely falls into the category of “I’ll probably never run into this again” but it seems like such a fun word that maybe I should play with it for a bit.

If you are clever

But a bit unscrupulous –

A snollygoster!

Can you use it in a sentence?  Extra points if you can do a better haiku than I did!

Buzz Words?

Going back to work hasn’t been as traumatic as I was worried it would be.  The new software isn’t as daunting as I anticipated, although I shake my head that we’ve made things so complicated in trying to make them easier.  The steps to set up your various screens so you can “share” during an online presentation make my head hurt – luckily I don’t see that I will have to personally worry about this for quite some time. 

There is a new phrase that I’m hearing a lot since I came back (a whooping three weeks) … “socializing the idea”.  I don’t know if this is a Corporate America thing or just my company but I’ve heard at least 4 people use the phrase in various meetings/calls.  It basically means floating an idea by someone (usually a client) in a casual way.  As if you’re softening someone up to an idea before hitting on it hard.  The first time I heard it, I knew immediately what it meant – not sure if I’ve just been in the business-speak world too long or it’s a great phrase that needed inventing. 

But now that I’ve heard it four times, it’s beginning to grate a bit, so I’m wondering if this is just the new catch phrase of the month and it will be gone by fall.  There are so many buzz words in the business world that have disappeared off the horizon.  I haven’t heard anybody talk about paradigms recently and nobody seems to say “think outside the box” anymore.  Of course, “collaborate” is still going strong despite my prayers every night that it fly right off the world’s radar screen.

What words or phrases would you like to be retired?  Or kept on but at only 20 hours a week?