Re: Fight

Cancer is advertised as something we must fight. Yet fighting isn’t the answer; calm, methodical, verifiable research is the only solution. We regularly use fighting references when we want to overcome, push forward, resolve tension or see the back end of discomfort. The recent impeachment trial of past U.S. President Donald Trump saw his defence team cut and paste numerous examples of the use of the word Fight from speeches made by prominent Democrats. Without the full context however, the video made both sides of the constitutional hearing appear foolish because of how we overuse this violent word Fight.

There are many examples of peaceful methods to demanding change. I admit that sometimes writing letters, Tweeting our displeasure, congregating in silent protest, marching in solidarity, creating blockades, imposing sanctions or demanding compensation are not enough to change minds. Fighting must not be our first method of resolving a problem. The United States of America is not the only country to fight abundantly, but they sure have a record for liking that word Fight in the context of almost anything. When a problem comes up, it seems to be the American Way to wage a war with it. Currently, it’s a war on viruses.

To fight everything and anything puts a ‘me against the rest’ stamp on our language. Once it is in our common language we find ways of making it sound reasonable so our actions then become the meaning of the word. I have fought for things I believed in and I have run from trouble, but a response to a perceived threat doesn’t need to be just Fight or Flight. Some creatures in nature survive by Freezing. You won’t survive long if you are the proverbial deer caught in the headlights, but an animal like an armadillo can get out of a tight spot with a predator by rolling into a compact ball. Other animals can even feign death to avoid conflict. A mother Killdeer doesn’t fight to protect her nest, she Freaks, making a spectacular distraction. Likewise we humans can sometimes turn to comedy to draw attention away from an aggressor. We can Fawn in an attempt to placate the offender, for a moment, to ease the tension. Turning the other cheek doesn’t need to mean acceptance, or even meekness. It can be a method of biding time until a positive awareness returns. In family arguments, rather than fight, it may be a choice to admit Fatigue with yet another go round on the same grievance. These avoidance techniques give us a chance to gain a new, more useful perspective.

Only the person at that particular time and place knows the best way out of a threatening situation. I have felt the walls closing in on me. Regular doses of aggression being pushed on us will surely inform our responses, however I feel intuitively that fighting is not the answer. I’m not wishing to be part of any Fight Club, especially when someone is trying to convince me it’s for a good cause. I’ll seek peace first.

Re: Chips

I’m always on the lookout for great fried potatoes. At least once a week my mom used to cook up a dangerous mess of chips in a stove top pot. She used lard which she kept in a container in the fridge. This fat was never thrown out to my knowledge; she clarified it regularly through a strainer, then cheesecloth. The hand cut potato slices were chilled in the fridge overnight then put in a wire basket which could be clipped to the side of the hot fatpot to drain. The chips were slippery with the oil and ever so tasty with salt, vinegar or ketchup.

When someone refers to fried potatoes as ‘fries’ I immediately think of the McDonald’s variety. However, they are not the ‘chips’ I remember from my childhood. Fast food fries are usually pasty, dry and unappetizing to me. They are probably a long way from the Belgian pommes de terre frites that WWI American soldiers were reported to love. I’ve ordered steak and frites in a fancy restaurant and was underwhelmed with that fried potato version. I’m particular about my chips.

In 2003 there was an amusing international kerfuffle involving the term French fries. A politician in the United States named Bob Ney got himself in a knot over France not agreeing to the Iraq War and took exception to French fries being offered in his cafeteria so he had the item relabelled on the menu as ’Freedom fries’ to make a childish point. Mr. Ney is clearly an example of someone who might walk around with a chip on his shoulder. Here is Lera Boroditsky showing how language and this coined term was used to politicize the event. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YL8cZ6nmWPg .

What I love about the English language is the variety of ways I can use the same word. Wood chips don’t elicit a watery mouth (except perhaps if you are a beaver) yet those kind of chips conjure a smell of resin and the damp basement where my father would create carvings out of pine logs. I’d like to say I’m a chip off the old block but I don’t carve or make potato chips. I content myself with ordering the popular side dish when I’m checking out a dining spot. It’s hard to not think about chips, and get a craving, because the word is used in so many ways. Children of my generation laughed at the adventures of Chip&Dale. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlmdWP0Y8e4 . Go to a casino and you need a supply of chips. Better keep a chipper attitude because your friends might accuse you of being too ‘chippy’. I try not to let what others think of me to get me down so I just let the chips fall where they may. I even had a childhood friend whose nickname was Chip.

The frequent use of the word chip, in many contexts, makes me hungry. Lately I’ve found the best chips from food trucks, but they’ll never match the batch from me mum’s fryer.

Re: Levidrome

During COVD19 lockdown I became one of those people who relearned the joy of jigsaw puzzles. In fact puzzles of any kind are great for stimulating the mind and distracting you from dark or worrying thoughts. A Levidrome is one such puzzle that I came across while tweeting on social media. Levidrome is a new word that is reminiscent of the word Palindrome. We know a palindrome is a word that can be spelled the same backwards or forwards: Anna, Otto, toot and sees are palindromic words. But what happens when a word is spelled backwards creating an amusingly different word? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpZ3bh1R6Kk

This boy named Levi figured out that stop spells pots in reverse. He asked his dad why there wasn’t an English word for this phenomenon and the word Levidrome was invented to fill the void. From then a movement grew to get this word in the dictionary, any dictionary. Connections were formed on social media and elsewhere. Folks from all walks of life (even the multi talented William Shatner) joined the campaign. Oxford Dictionaries had this to say: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJkV9HwtM4k

School teachers from various world locations have reported that they are using Levidromes in classrooms. Creativity is stimulated when playing with words and much has been learned from these activities. A song has been composed by Lola Parks to entertain, simplify and enlighten. 

To date I have been unsuccessful in getting this new word and its concept accepted by the people at Wikipedia (apparently something about promotional restrictions which somehow does not conform to their policies). Maybe someone else with more experience on that platform will have better luck. Being a cheerleading kind of guy I’ve been  levidroming with other levidromers to keep the word in the public eye and to have fun coming up with new Levidrome pairs. It’s a truism that when you discover something new, it makes an appearance in unexpected places. The 1994 film Reality Bites contains a scene where one of the cast humourously discovers a Levidrome pair. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQVw58aDt3Y .

Some puzzlers have invented crafty clues to challenge the search for Levidrome answers. Some have found ways to use other languages to expand the reach of young Levi’s idea. These riddles sometimes take the form of poems or narratives. For example this riddle sounds like an opening to a short story: In the kitchen Amy was in charge, the celery was not cut small enough so she chopped it again.’ The Levidrome answer is: Decider/Rediced. Someone has made a list of Levidrome pairs and posted it online at https://www.levidromelist.com/. There are more than 500 English words that have been discovered so far.

Who knows what new forms levidroming might take? Even ale drinkers are getting in on the Levidrome action. A local brewery appropriately named a special batch of beer, ‘Regal Lager’. I enjoyed this review of the brew by a frosty imbiber. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRjD8OZJnr8

Re: Cliché

With the COVID19 pandemic, clichés are going viral: ‘We’re all in this together’, ‘The new normal’, ‘Flatten the curve’, ‘Social/Physical distancing’. Everyone is catching these phrase viruses. Clichés are just phrases that were once respected for their originality and meaning yet in these compacted times, a phrase, however helpful, can easily become worn out from overuse. Then people may stop paying attention.

My former father-in-law wrote the book on clichéd discourse. He revelled in bromides such as, ‘Love your enemies:It drives them crazy.’ He enjoyed teasing actor friends with the worn platitude, ‘Break a leg’. He preferred the banality of weather talk over conversations that challenged his one sided view of things. He sometimes sat me down and issued a string of trite phrases that blurred into a single slurry of thought, like this memorable one after I asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage. As I recall he said something about; ’The blushing bride, bury a hatchet, at loose ends, busy as a bee, depths of despair, easier said than done, the fair sex, calm before a storm, to the bitter end, in no uncertain terms.’ We shook hands after this confusing monologue, which I took to mean he was blessing our union.

I’ve always thought that clichéd statements were examples of lazy speech, much like swearing. I discouraged my sons from wearing out words while trying to say what they were feeling or thinking. When my wife and I went on a cruise, we agreed beforehand to steer dinner table conversation away from clichés like; ‘So, where are you from?’ or ‘What do you do for a living?’ or ‘What’s your story?’ Or, the worst of all; ‘Is this your first cruise?’ Instead of using these banal queries we tried something refreshing like; ‘How do you express your artistic side?’ or ‘What would you find hard to live without?’ Or even a cymbal clasher like, ‘Who do you love most?’

Clichés can be considered the comfort food of language. A cliché will sound familiar and therefore safe. We often speak them to get quick acknowledgement of our ideas and a sense of where the other is at, in their view of the world. A cliché spoken and received may identify your level of understanding or establish you as part of the club or tribe. For example, when we want to show support for soldiers we speak of their ‘supreme sacrifice’. We often acknowledge grief by sending ‘thoughts and prayers’.

Over time, we might cultivate phrases that become the proverbs or slogans by which we live. My favourite is, ‘Plan for the worst/Hope for the best’. The truism, ‘You get what you pay for’ will quickly establish a point of view. ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’ holds bits of sage wisdom, however the language we use to describe our complicated lives requires more than hackneyed old sayings. Insight can be found in some clichés yet I’d hate for them to disguise the whole truth about me or the world.

Re: Speech

Two speeches marked my youth with vivid words of instruction on how to behave in the world. The first, notably remembered as the “Ask not…” speech, was delivered in 1961 by John F. Kennedy at his inauguration as the 35th President of the USA.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SODxisodLA0 The second, popularly named the “I have a dream…” speech, was delivered in 1963 by Martin Luther King Jr. after his March on Washington DC event. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vDWWy4CMhE

In the early sixties my parents and teachers guided me to use public speaking to overcome my natural shyness. Much to my wonderment, I won several local and regional competitions and was chosen by my grade eight graduating class to be their valedictorian. That training has emboldened me to speak up in my community as needed. I have chaired meetings, led workshops, been a guest on television programs and introduced other speakers at various events. Yet I’m still sort of shy.

The talent of being a speaker, or one who speaks in public seems archaic in some ways. Yet we still expect someone to say a few words when we are gathered; at weddings, funerals, church services, rallies, office parties, gallery openings, award ceremonies, protests and all manner of celebrations. Someone may shout, “Speech, Speech” to encourage an orator, while another drawn to a microphone may admit, “I’m speechless.” To give a speech may seem old fashioned but delivering an oral message of substance and emotion still has relevance in this age of text-messaging. Speaking for myself, I’d wonder who could not be moved by the “How dare you…” speech from Greta Thunberg, delivered to the United Nations in 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYqtXR8iPlE. Her message is in some ways delivered like the town crier of old bringing news, proclamations, or in this case, a dire warning.

In countries with Parliamentary governments there is the tradition of the Speaker. He or she is responsible for keeping those elected from going rogue, in a manner of speaking. All speeches must be formally directed to the Speaker who decides if they are in order. The right to speak freely is enshrined in the constitutions and laws of many countries. From the lowly plebe to the highly entitled throughout history, we all have the right to say what is on our mind. Whether you exercise that right in a circle with a ceremonial conch shell, at a Speaker’s Corner, in a coffee shop, or if you get selected as a guest on a talk show, your opinion matters.

Mr. Kennedy urged us with his words to be active in our community. Mr King invited us to dream and then to help build a more inclusive land for all citizens. Ms. Thunberg asks us to pay attention to the science so we can work together to save our planet. All speakers talk, some walk their talk. We can amplify speeches by our actions. Hopefully for the betterment of our species and all other species on this planet that we share.

Re: Why

My granddaughter has discovered the word Why. This is an amazing step for one small girl. This word can be used to stop time in its tracks. Bath time can be delayed while answers are being weighed. Even if the answer is not understood, an important moment of assurance has been established: Why is a very powerful word. From our beginning we learn to use language to shape our environment, to control, or at least influence, those around us who are important to our well being. From the parents’ point of view, the word Why can sometimes seem as a test, at best it is surely a quest for information. Here is a wonderful song by Anne Murray that captures the importance and frustration of this word. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYsadwkBrnI

Before wee babes can formulate discernible words, sounds sub in for communicating needs. Likely, the word When was the first question which came out more like Whaaa! This universal cry: When will I be fed? When is my diaper going to be changed? When is Mommy coming? Translation: Whaaa? Whaaa?

Journalists are taught the five Ws in order to get the important elements of a story. The who, where, what, when, why of an incident are key to understanding. The reporter wields these questions as a surgeon might use a scalpel, to expose from witnesses the details of the event. In my chronological order of question development I see Who, What and Where, as words learned after the When and Why of baby vocabulary: The Who? babes can see, the What? they can point to or grab, The Where? will eventually be explored on pudgy knees.

Getting to How, now that is the most important question of all. In my life, the question of how has been the difference between youthful thinking and adulthood. After you have accumulated data on the first five questions it is the “how about it?’ that looms large. When we reach How, we are searching for our essential selves. We alone can answer the How’s of life: How will I behave? How will I make a living? How do I want to fit into this world? How shall I be?

I’ve spent many a frustrating time trying to figure out an answer to why after an event in my life. It’s a windy road of back alleys and dead ends. It’s a journey of little use. It’s a spinning wheel of thought, endlessly circling without resolution, without direction, without hope. Here’s David Clayton Thomas singing about the trouble with Why. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kK62tfoCmuQ

Agonizing over the Why of something is part of human nature. Most times the reasons behind something are not as important as finding a way out, over, through or forward. Inspecting the How To, can point the way to the future better than any other question. How is a hopeful word. When you become an adult, dumping the Why frees you to consider your present moment so you can finally assert, “This is how it’s going to be from now on.”

Re: Shakespeare

Shakespeare writes music, if music be truth. And since music is Art then Art is also truth. And since I can see Art in everything then Shakespeare is everywhere.

My blog postings are regarding words and though I not be the Bard, by any stretch, I can value the power of words. So I propose that Shakespeare is more than a name but a word with meaning far beyond the person who was Shakespeare. For me and many, the name used as a word can itself conjure up words that cast spells on the imagination and bring clarity to one’s existence.

I was introduced to Shakespeare, the man, in high school history class. This writer lived and worked over 450 years ago. His work is still studied, re-imagined, reproduced and talked about today. To me he is Sir William, although he was never knighted. The fact that scholars have doubted some of his originality matters not to me, for his name stands as a brand upon the beauty of the English language. It was in grade ten that I came to know Shakespeare as a word beyond the name. We studied The Merchant of Venice in English class that year. We dissected the words in the play. We practised the poetry. We acted out parts. We became characters. We went to Stratford, Ontario to see the word made flesh on stage.

Henceforth, I saw Shakespearean things in other art forms. Just as music can move you without knowing from whence that feeling came, experiencing Shakespeare can bring understanding to my very existence. Like music, Shakespeare is a language that I don’t need to translate to fathom. When read, Shakespeare flows like poetry. When watching actors portray the parts transcribed, the audience moves with a rhythm palpable. It doesn’t have to be live theatre either. The film Shakespeare In Love captures well the play within the play. Who cannot feel as the audience does at this scene near the end of Romeo and Juliet?

I have visited some of the sites in England where William Shakespeare once walked. I have paddled on the Avon River. I visited his cottage in Stratford.
I discovered the spirit of Shakespeare is not of a place. When I feel the word Shakespeare my mind opens. Today I came across a piano installed on a sidewalk beside a beach and I thought, “My! How Shakespearean!” Last week I went to a production of the musical Mamma Mia. The songs were not so much sung as recited rhythmically, as in a play that Shakespeare might have written. Here through the inspiration of music by ABBA; love was asked for and not given, betrayal was evident, protagonists were aggrieved, antagonists were forgiven, lovers were reunited, souls were enlightened. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OBneuoZaOw

The word Shakespeare comes to mind, whenever I see signs that someone is exploring humanity. In my community we often see Living Statues: People dressed as characters who mime. They are human, trying to reach other humans through Art: That’s Shakespeare! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szeq1M0_7PQ

Re: Phobia

The word Phobia is actually a suffix that has morphed into a word through common usage. You might say someone is phobic if they are demonstrating anxiety. A person may tell you they have a phobia to something. Both Phobia and Phobic can be words used to exaggerate the fear that someone feels. Lucy tries to explain phobias in this scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8SDztycKwY

I don’t like to admit I’m fearful. That’s like showing your hand in a card game. My fears don’t tend to limit me in the pursuit of a fulfilling life. I believe that’s where phobias come in: When your fears direct you to stop normal functions. I’ll admit to feeling discomfort over certain things that, in the extreme, might be phobias. For example: I don’t enjoy crowds (enochlophobia), I like to be inside before dark (noctiphobia), I avoid tight spaces (claustrophobia). The latter fear I can trace back to a bizarre game my mom and dad used to inflict on me when I was very young. When I asked to jump into their bed on a weekend morning they would wedge me with their elbows between their bodies so I couldn’t escape. Tough to know why I would ever come back for more of that but to this day it’s a challenge for me to stand in a packed subway car.

We have hired someone to renovate our bathroom. The workers’ first day on the job was a highly anxious time for me. Despite being confident about the decision to go ahead with this project, the noise and numbers of people involved produced a fear of the future reaction. What will they find behind the walls? Will they break anything important? Is it going to cost me more than budgeted? I know I’m not alone when it comes to Chronophobia, especially in the Anthropocene Age. It seems hard to look positively to the coming days in our current climate, political or otherwise.

The politics of fear cannot help us make good decisions yet this is the currency used by many to buy our vote. Xenophobia is a word that is being used to legitimize racist statements and activities. Our cave dwelling relatives had reason to fear others. In our modern world we need others, we need the collective, we need diversity, if we are to continue to survive as a species.

The antonym of Phobic is Phile. I’d rather promote the latter as a way to describe my positive nature. I love books, so I am a Bibliophile. I appreciate the artistry in clocks, so I am a Chronometrophile. I thoroughly enjoy film so I call myself a Cinephile. I’m proud of my heritage despite its flaws so I am an Anglophile.

There are just as many Phobias as there are Philes. Two sides of the same coin so to speak. We must find balance yet when our fears dominate let’s hope there is someone to watch over us. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y92LxyuNFZ0

Re: News

“No news is good news” is a popular phrase attributed to the English King James around 1616. In the present day context the phrase might be distorted as: “All news is fake news.”, “Good news is suspect.“, “Bad news is everywhere.” As a person who needs to know, a day without news of some kind presents a dilemma of sorts.

Newspapers, of the actual made with paper kind, have been an important part of my life. Growing up in Toronto, I was used to the Telegram which was my father’s choice for print news. I loved the comic section on weekends and they had great coupons for use at the Toronto Exhibition (The Ex) every summer. I delivered the Toronto Star as a teen, snagging the occasional copy for free and enjoyed debating the different editorial points of view with my dad. When I went to train as a teacher, the Globe and Mail became essential to me for the job postings. Previously, Dad would have referred to the Globe as “that rag!” because of its editorial tone against workers and its support of business before people. In truth, I did snag my first job interview thanks to the Globe.

I encouraged all my sons to have a paper route. It may seem old fashioned but I still maintain that this early job helped them build personal qualities of orderliness, perseverance, responsibility and tolerance. They osmotically became curious about what they were carrying each day, and how the task exposed them to their community, their village members, and a wider world.

Digital media now takes centre stage for news delivery. Some content remains faithful to the journalistic standard of daily print newspapers around the globe. For example, I enjoy The Guardian being dropped off in my virtual mail box every morning, like the ‘Hear Ye, Hear Ye’ of old England, bringing me a non-North American perspective on stories of the day.

I recently had a brief Twitter exchange with a member of The National, CBC’s nightly news platform. I have some issues with television as a news source: the commercials, the sensationalism, the growing folksiness, the ‘team’ approach. I dislike turning a news broadcast into entertainment. I want nightly news to be delivered with a serious tone by someone who takes the day’s events as seriously as I do. Later, I can enjoy Stephen Colbert helping me look at the absurdity of some news items, he’s amusing and provocative, but he’s no Walter Cronkite, Ed Murrow or Diana Swain.

I would much rather know than not know. Gathering news from a variety of sources brings me peace, even if the news is bad. From the information I have gathered I can make a plan, formulate an idea, or resolve a conundrum. No news is definitely NOT good news for me. I wouldn’t call myself a ‘news junkie’. This is a harsh interpretation of the need for facts and indicates a compulsion. I resist feeling compelled by anything, but I do get a bit twitchy when my morning paper doesn’t arrive on time.

Re: Sorry

I don’t say the word Sorry very often. Not because I refuse to own up to my mistakes. It’s just that I seem to have a specific view of what Sorry means.

I’m too formal for my own good sometimes. I have had complaints that I don’t say sorry often enough, or quickly enough. Trouble is I don’t understand the concept of saying the word as a balm, so I bomb. I can come across as being cold as a result of my reluctance to say sorry as a soothing agent.

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” This is a phrase from the early seventies that is senseless. Likewise at a funeral when I hear someone say, “We are sorry for your loss.” I’m baffled. These people may be showing they care but surely they don’t mean they’re responsible for the death? I picture myself trying to explain this use of the word to an alien being, fresh from some distant planet. They keep nodding their head, not in understanding but in bewilderment. Just like me.

I’m not much good contributing to a woe-is-me sort of conversation. I can’t joke about it or fake feeling sorry either. There are many stand-up comics who riff on the difference between the sexes when it comes to the word Sorry. Men will joke that it’s probably best to wake up and start apologizing to your partner just to cover any contingency. That’s insensitive but I can’t help but laugh. Sometimes I think it might be good advice. Trouble is, I can’t make an apology sound sincere if I don’t feel responsible. In the same way I’ve never been a good liar, my face shows my guilt. Weaselly politicians and ferret-like corporate CEO’s may get away with statements such as, “If we have caused any harm we apologize.” This as a way to suggest that it’s somehow YOUR fault for being aggrieved.

If I say sorry I want to mean it. I remember one time feeling so badly I had screwed up that I actually went on bended knee to plea for forgiveness. I’ve never used flowers or gifts to apologize. I want the words I use to redeem me, since it is likely that words got me into that awful predicament in the first place. I used to discipline my sons by saying that if they really mean the apology they had to make a full sentence. ‘I’m sorry’ never cut it in my house. “Sorry for what?” I would ask. I would suggest a sentence starting with, I’m sorry for…, then maybe adding a question such as “How can I make it better?” They could never cop-out by saying, “I’m sorry IF I hurt you.”

I can be extremely sad that someone is going through some trial. I can sit patiently and listen to the story of anguish. It’s hard to find words that will show compassion. But that doesn’t make me want to apologize. I’m sorry for being such a stickler.