Do you know there’s a disgusting part in “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” aka “T’was the Night Before Christmas”? Here it is:
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
That’s right; he threw up the sash. Yuck! Now, if I’d been copyediting this poem, I would have changed it to “threw the sash up” and suggested the author find an alternative rhyme to replace flash/sash.
I usually let the writer’s style prevail, except when it comes to throwing up. It’s amazing how many times I’ll come across someone in a book throwing up his hands. Oh no, you don’t! No throwing up hands when I’m here!
I’m not alone in having a pet copyediting peeve. A colleague of mine refuses to let the word “snuck” sneak by and always changes it to “sneaked.” Another hates “donuts” saying it looks like it should be pronounced “doo-nuts.” (As in, “He threw up the donuts”? I can’t imagine such a thing happening with doughnuts.) Another cannot tolerate the word “pert”and simply changes it without even querying the author. Ah, if only it were that simple to remove all that annoying, dare I say nauseating, pertness from the world! Who would miss it? Certainly not I.
Luckily for Clement Clarke Moore, most readers are too sidetracked looking up the definition of “sash” to notice any throwing up.
I made bread! This is earth-shattering, even though we’re talking bread mix, because I don’t cook so much as burn things. But the cold weather just lit something in me; call it that old hearth and home instinct, if you will.
I didn’t have much hope for this bread and consoled myself that, if nothing else, it would make a good science experiment. But lo and behold, the bread survived! It was edible. It was actually tasty! To me, at any rate. My son took a few bites and refused any more. Ever.
Now, this guy is not a picky eater. He’s a tall, lanky teenager who is always hungry and will eat anything from plate or package that remotely resembles food.
In fact, the other day he asked, “Mom, can I eat insects?”
I took this as a rhetorical question and replied that yes, because in other cultures insects are a staple and considered a good source of protein. Nevertheless, i couldn’t help picturing him plucking bugs off the grass and asked, “Why would you want to? Don’t we have enough food in the house?”
A few days later I walked over while he was at his desk and asked what he was working on. To my surprise—more like shock—he held up a dried cricket. When I asked if he was studying crickets, he informed me that he was eating them. His environmental science teacher had given out boxes of dried crickets and explained that they were the food of the future.
So…crickets, yes. My freshly baked bread, no.
This bread is so dense and filling that I came to the conclusion I’d unwittingly made lembas bread, something that could sustain even the hungriest hobbit fleeing orcs and uruk-hai. Yes, folks, you can go online and find recipes by Lord of the Rings devotees who have diligently attempted to replicate this elvish concoction. Or you can just hand me a package of Ikea bread mix and et voilà!
My bread experience reminds me of The Little Red Hen. You know, where the Little Red Hen asks the dog, the cat, and the duck (or variations thereof) who will help her plant the wheat, harvest it, grind it into flour, etc., and they all reply, “Not I.” Until, of course, it’s time to eat the bread, and then everyone wants to help. In every edition of the book there is inevitably that illustration of those three faces, peering hopelessly and hungrily at the Little Red Hen.
I think every child who has ever read this story has one of two reactions:
- Wish the hen would have mercy and give the animals some bread and a chance to redeem themselves.
- Yup, feel bad for them, but they didin’t help. Sucks for you, guys!
My own childhood reaction was that the other animals could suffer but not the cat. In fact, the idea of that cat being unhappy distressed me so much that my mother had to retell the story with an alternative ending in which the hen takes pity on the cat, who is allowed to come in and have bread. Which implies I started life as a superficial sort of person who believed that a different set of rules apply for individuals whom I consider cute and charming. Even more disturbing is that I later wondered what cat in its right mind would hanker after bread rather than eating the hen.
Both my cats have turned up their noses at my bread. They also prefer bugs.
Bravo, Timothy Egan, for your column “Words for the Dumpster,” on words to put out to pasture for 2013.
But the column makes me ponder the word “Dumpster” itself. There is much ado as to whether the word should be capitalized or if it has become generic, making it permissible to lowercase it as “dumpster.” According to Merriam-Webster, the word is still captialized as a brand name. But as Doug Fisher writes in his blog, Common Sense Journalism, we can rest assured that lowercasing “dumpster” is okay, since the AP has given this the nod in its 2013 stylebook.
Did you know the Dumpster was originally called the Dempster-Dumpster after its inventor, George Roby Dempster? Dempster and his brothers formed the Dempster Brothers Construction Company and were responsible for building roads and railroads in the Appalachian region in addition to the aforementioned Dumpster. Dempster was also active in politics and a humanitarian who hired people with disabilities and supported desegregation.
The Dumpster has inspired the art of Dumpster diving. Mac Premo’s Dumpster Project is a repository of memories, while Professor Dumpster’s Dumpster Project is a lesson in waste and environmental sustainability. I can’t but help pointing out that Mac capitalizes Dumpster while the professor does not (unless when referring to himself, of course).
George, in your honor, I will continue to capitalize “Dumpster” and help keep it from sinking into the morass of words that have lost their trademarks. In other words, let’s keep Dumpster, capitalized, out of the trash bin.
The other day in a meeting a colleague advised we not have more than about 200 words per web page for fear it would cause “cognitive dissonance” in our readers. What followed was empty looks as everyone tried to make sense of what she’d said. Did she mean they’d be confused? Overwhelmed with information?
In the real world—not that of pompous internal meetings—”cognitive dissonance” means: “psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously.”
She’d pulled a Humpty Dumpty! Surprise!
By pulling a Humpty Dumpty, I am not referring to falling off a wall or being aided and abetted by the king’s employees. “Pulling a Humpty Dumpty” is assigning a word any meaning you want instead of its dictionary-designated definition.
Consider the following discourse from Through the Looking-Glass between Alice and our egghead friend:
“And only one for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!”
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ “
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,’ ” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs: they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”
“Would you tell me please,” said Alice, “what that means?”
“Now you talk like a reasonable child,” said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. “I meant by ‘impenetrability’ that we’ve had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you’d mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life.”
“That’s a great deal to make one word mean,” Alice said in a thoughtful tone.
“When I make a word do a lot of work like that,” said Humpty Dumpty, “I always pay it extra.”
“Oh!” said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.
“Ah, you should see ’em come round me of a Saturday night,” Humpty Dumpty went on, wagging his head gravely from side to side, “for to get their wages, you know.”
(Alice didn’t venture to ask what he paid them with; and so you see I can’t tell you.)
I wonder if the words “cognitive” and “dissonance” came to Ms. Dumpty’s house after our meeting to demand their wages, time and a half for putting on such a spectacular performance and causing what I shall call “cognitive dissonance” among those in attendance.
I must away! I hear a knock at the door; it looks like I owe two words payment of some sort.
What a capacity language has to irk people. Why else would various organizations compile their lists of overused, annoying, or ridiculous words or phrases they wish would disappear in 2013?
We have “Twitterverse,” “whatever,” “like,” “fiscal cliff,” and “YOLO.” Such phrases as “at the end of the day,” “it is what it is,” “just saying,” and “no worries.”
But nowhere do I find two phrases that are becoming fixations in the workplace. The first is “reach out,” which seems to have replaced contacting, calling, or even getting in touch. And second, talking to, discussing, or speaking with have been ditched in favor of “having a conversation.”
What are these words doing in the business world? I think of them in terms of “Reach out to Aunt Bessie and see if she needs help after her hip replacement,” or “Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth, Jane, and Mr. Bingley had a conversation over tea and biscuits.” Not “We need to reach out to Roger and have a conversation about why IT refuses to address why our network keeps crashing.”
Maybe it’s just me, but reaching out and having a conversation implies a touchy-feely moment that’s informal and friendly. Which is fine, except when the people you’re reaching out and conversing with aren’t equals and could be responsible for you not getting that raise or promotion or being reprimanded etc. So the next time at work I need to contact someone to talk to them, I’m going to say just that. Quite likely, my choice of words will annoy someone.
I’ve been called a Mac bigot and a Mac fanatic. I fell in love with my first Mac, a PowerBook, in 1995, when I was surrounded by PC users telling me it was a waste of money because Apple was going down. I never looked back, moving on to a G4 Cube that I still have even after it crashed (my sister still has her original Macintosh from 1984). I’ve owned three iPods and am typing this on a MacBook. We bought my father an iMac for his eightieth birthday, an iPad for his ninetieth, and my daughter a MacBook Pro for her high school graduation. We’ve also owned PCs for years now, making us an interfaith family. But PCs don’t inspire the same emotions as Macs.
But it was more fun being a Mac user way back when. The “Mac vs. PC” campaign captured the stereotype of the PC user as buttoned-up business stiff, but Mac users were not cool young skateboarder types back in the day. They were the artistic, designer/writer nerds who resembled Steve Wozniak more than the cute actor who dated Drew Barrymore. And Apple was the anti-business company that flew a pirate flag and threw hammers at Big Brother, and a visionary that made products you fell in love with. In the Mac users’ group I was once a part of, bashing Bill Gates and calling Microsoft the Evil Empire was de rigueur.
Now Apple is seeing its image insidiously poisoned by reports of how ill treated its factory workers in China are. As Mike Daisy, who wrote and performs The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, pointed out in an interview, Apple has now become the Big Brother it once mocked. A front-page article in the New York Times and a segment on CBS Sunday Morning show that the gadgets we are enamored with are made by little hands, some as young as twelve. It’s as though Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle were updated as, perhaps, The Orchard. Meanwhile, Gates just donated $750 million to AIDS research.
All over the Internet people are posting that it’s unfair to pick on Apple, that all our electronics items are made under similar, or worse, conditions overseas. But I think it’s absolutely fair to pick on Apple because no other brand commands the adulation Apple does.
Once, I used Apple products and part of me felt gratified, as though I were an outsider who wasn’t afraid to break from the crowd of lemming-like drones on their PCs. When Apple began promoting a hipster image, I still loved my gadgets even though I didn’t care if they were considered cool or not. We don’t just use Apple products, we have a relationship with them. Can we relate as well to the workers in China?
My prediction is that in the next fifty years, the tide will have turned. By dint of their willingness to labor under these conditions and work longer hours than we do, China will have become an economic and technological powerhouse. And we, after sitting here for years playing with our gadgets and apps, obsessing over our social media profiles and what our friends are doing and watching the Kardashians, will find ourselves left without jobs in a country that’s been surpassed. The Chinese, now working 40-hour weeks and living in McMansions, will move their factories here so we can live in dorms, work 20-hour shifts and become suicidal so they can have the latest gadget. And could we blame them?
We all know how the quickly child stars burn out. I’ve worked on books about Mackenzie Phillips, Todd Bridges and Jodie Sweetin and their struggles with drug addiction. It goes to show that growing up is difficult enough without being haunted by the public’s expectations and the ghost of your childhood self.
Children immortalized as literary characters have carried this burden as well. Alice Pleasance Liddell was identified as Alice in Wonderland into her eighties. Christopher Milne came to despise the Pooh books and his inability to both get away from being little Christopher Robin or receive any monetary compensation, as the elder Milne kept the royalties for himself, wanting his son to succeed by his own merits (never mind that Christopher’s games with his stuffed animals provided the literary fodder). Peter Llewelyn Davies referred to the book and character J. M. Barrie named after him, Peter Pan, as “that terrible masterpiece” and committed suicide at the age of 63.
In the 1970s photographer Jill Krementz wrote a series of photoessays known as the “A Very Young…” series. The first, A Very Young Dancer, follows several months in the life of a ten-year-old girl who studies ballet at George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet and wins the role of Marie in the New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker. Many a child who sees the Nutcracker at Lincoln Center dreams of being in the ballet and living the life of a talented ballet student, so it was no wonder that this book made an impact on a great deal of young readers.
Over the years, discussion boards across the Internet have received many a query as to what became of Stephanie. Finally, today’s New York Times reports in “Storybook Ballerina’s True-Life Adventure” that Stephanie’s adult life wasn’t nearly as storybook perfect. Shortly after publication, she was asked to leave the school, something that became a source of shame for the “Very Young Dancer.”
It’s too bad that Stephanie felt this way, as being asked to leave a school that acts as a training ground is more the norm than continuing on to a professional career. It’s gratifying that Stephanie has overcome her demons and is now happy with her life in Wyoming.
Over 250 years ago, Thomas Paine used the power of the printed word to influence public opinion when he published Common Sense. When I visited Zucotti Park today, I knew that printed signs would be a medium for the activists’ messages. But I was expecting to see laptops, webcams, smartphones, flash mobs and QR codes moreso than pamphlets, The Occupied Wall Street Journal and The People’s Library.
As Jennifer Sacks reports in her article, “Occupy Your Mind: The People’s Library” in today’s edition of The Occupied Wall Street Journal: “That a lending library would spring up fully operational on day one of an occupation makes sense when you consider that the exchange of ideas is paramount here…” She continues to quote librarian Mandy Henk, who says, “Anytime you have a movement like this, people are going to bring books to it. People are going to have information needs. And historically, the printed word has played an extraordinarily important role….Stories are incredibly important for helping people to understand the world…And this is a place to come to understand the world.”
Information increasingly means the Internet. As revolutionary as the Net may be, you still need access to it. According to the this report by the U.S. Department of Congress, 28% of Americans do not use the Internet at all. This 28% obviously falls into the 99% category the activists are representing, so it was gratifying to see people without computers, Internet access or smartphones aren’t being excluded.
These activists’ position is that change can be effected by building awareness through nonviolent methods. Perhaps the pen is still mightier than the sword.
Tonight marks the third annual Fashion’s Night Out. It’s an evening of fashion fun and frolicking that takes place across New York from the meatpacking district to the upper East and West Sides (as well as Milan, Atlanta, and the wilds of Williamsburg).
Fashion’s Night Out vs. Savage Beauty
Of course, there’s no way this event will dethrone the Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibit at the Met’s Costume Institute as the hipster happening of the season. Some say McQueen is a genius; others that he’s sick, citing his penchant for covering the models’ mouths or entire faces with fabric, chain mail, or other bits of hardware and forcing them to hobble down the runway in sadistic-looking footwear. As one attendee summed up the exhibit: “Nightmare clothes and nightmare presentation. The exhibit space was so crowded I couldn’t run out of it as I wanted to. If that was what was going on in his head, no wonder he killed himself.”
Yes, plenty of his designs are disturbing. But others are enchanting, exquisite, charming, and beautifully constructed and tailored.
Creativity vs. social CRM
The New York Times laments that when the McQueen exhibit “finally closed in August, a curtain quietly came down on contemporary fashion’s great decade of experiment and expansion,” and that Fashion Week and Fashion’s Night Out are more about appealing to the “Maxxinistas” rather than pushing the creative envelope. But the masses aren’t even bargain hunting at FNO. Mashable reports that Simon Doonan says sales in 2009 were disappointing. The event may be less about pushing product and more about building brand awareness and loyalty and creating a “strategic marketing initiative” by engaging customers via mobile apps and social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr et al.
I’m not quite ready to mourn the demise of couture. My takeaway from the McQueen exhibit was that he was a master of marketing more so than even the usual top designers. It’s highly unlikely anyone bought a dress with sleeves that wrapped around your torso like a straightjacket or a skirt made out of wood. But by grabbing our attention by creating groundbreaking runway shows and scandalous garb, he had customers lined up to buy the understated, less ridiculous, but quite lovely gowns to wear to red-carpet parties so they could say they were wearing a McQueen.
Here’s to creativity, in whatever form it takes.