Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Curses! Also, a little something on Mozart and pungent cheese.

They say there is a time and a place for everything. For the most part, I’ve found this to be true, and I firmly believe that a fair portion of the wisdom you acquire as you meander through life involves learning the whys and whens and wheres of what is considered suitable within a given situation.

Take swearing, for example.

No, seriously, just think about it.

Although it might not seem obvious at first, proper swearing requires a modicum1 of dexterity2 and finesse3. Well, unless you don’t mind coming off as an ass in front of family, friends, or complete strangers.

Over the years I’ve found that successful swearing can be measured in degrees, depending upon the current audience and the specific situation.

For starters, I never swear in front of my children.

Okay, okay. There are a few caveats4 with regards to the above statement. They are as follows:
1) When reading books aloud with my children I generally read the actual swear word if it is in the book (except to my youngest, who will chastise me soundly if I forget to substitute the “Bloody Hell” remarks in Harry Potter with the more acceptable “Bloody Heck”). Sorry, W, sometimes I forget.
2) If they overhear me in a phone conversation they may catch the occasional lapse in verbal purity. Sometimes I forget that little people have big ears. Bad mom.
3) Since my two older children have passed the tender age of 18, I have relaxed my guard and allowed a few mild expletives5 to slip out. After all, they are pseudo adults now, right?

But we’re just getting started. I could list all of the rules, or maybe I should say guidelines, I’ve refined over the years, but perhaps it would be easier and more succinct to express it in a table, like so:

To get a better idea of the degrees involved here, think of “0” as language that would make your Sunday School Teacher proud, while “11” approaches levels of verbal depravity6 that would make a pirate blush. And none of this has anything to do with trying to act cool or worldly, it’s simply a matter of letting your inner chameleon match its colors to your surroundings.

Well, you say, that’s all very interesting but do you have a point here?

Yes, as a matter of fact I do.

You see, I’ve noticed that a similar set of guidelines should be applied when employing the unique and/or grandiose7 words that I love so much. That’s right. Remember those swear words that should only be pulled out for special occasions with those who can really appreciate them? Sadly, the same is true for the lavish, weighty gems of our lexicon8 that make my heart go all aflutter. Because the simple truth is that some people fear, or even resent, the use of “high fallutin’ words.”

Trust me, I’ve seen the looks. Unintentionally savor an intensely scrumptious9 adjective or inadvertently liberate10 an overly energetic verb and you might find yourself facing a listener whose eyes have suddenly glazed over with that “I have no idea what she’s talking about but I’m going to pretend that I do” look. Or, worse still, your listener’s eyebrows furrow until they almost meet in the middle and the corners of his mouth twist down towards his shoes, and you know he’s thinking, “Who does she think she’s trying to impress with all that fancy, schmancy talk.”

And the answer is, no one. I do not use “fancy” words to obfuscate11 the unwary; nor do I use them because I want to come across as an erudite12 snob. I use them because I love them. I cherish them. I would caress them if they had corporeal13 forms.

I eventually learned to be more discrete with my passion. I keep my pretties in a drawer and only bring them out on display in those special moments when their magnificence can be fully appreciated. Kind of like the ring my mother-in-law gave me, which is beautiful, but too fancy and too expensive for everyday wear, or like Gorgonzola14 cheese.

1Modicum. Ooh, I’d like just a bit of that. Oh, not that much, really. Just a smidge. Ah, just right.

2Dexterity. Think of a tennis player as he deftly returns each of his opponent’s volleys. Now try applying that sort of agility in a conversation or a battle of wits.

3Finesse. Think of ballet dancers pirouetting across the stage. Now imagine such a demonstration of grace executed in a verbal or mental fashion.

4Caveat. This is always true. Always. Except for this time, or under these circumstances, or when the moon is full and in a month starting with the letter J.

5Expletive. The punctuation marks favored by many a teenager. When I was young I had a friend who kept a particularly expansive string of profanity reserved for special occasions. It went something like this:%^##@&!+  }!$$  =@>+ =*(\ My mouth used to drop, slack with awe, when she pulled out that little jewel.

6Depravity. Oh, the horrors. Have you no shame? How can you show your face in public when you’ve allowed yourself to wallow in the grimy depths of the darkest basement of morality?

7Grandiose. This is one of those words that you’d like to visit some day and then photograph and, of course, utter the appropriate number of oohs and aahs as you gaze upon its vast splendor, but it’s not really one to call home. Rather like the Taj Mahal or Buckingham Palace.

8Lexicon. Imagine a cupboard, nay an entire warehouse, full of words. Big words, little words, fancy words, simple words, words that inspire hope, words that inflict pain, words that make love blossom. All the words you can imagine, each ripe for the picking, there to add to your verbal arsenal or to a spoken bouquet.

9Scrumptious. Cheesecake. Need I say more?

10Liberate. I found a little box filled with hoards of tiny whatsits. They were jammed so tightly within the walls of their miniature cell that they could hardly move. Moved by their plight, I opened the lid of their prison and released them into the world. “Fly, be free,” I chanted as I sent them on their way. Little buggers scurried into every crack or cranny they could find, including the little air vent on my laptop, and then they gnawed holes in my hard drive and left tiny droppings all over my keyboard. Lesson of the day: Some things are locked up for a reason.

11Obfuscate. Oh look, someone left behind a nice, pristine trail of truth. Hmmm… I’m not really thrilled with where this track leads; it’s ends uncomfortably near my front door. Perhaps I’ll sprinkle a few contradictory details along the edges and scatter some misleading statistics down the middle in order to hide the path’s actual destination.

12Erudite. Well now, according to Bromage, et al, the cranial capacity of Australopithecus afarensis is 438 cc… Ah yes, well if you’ll remember Fibonacci himself, in his book Liber Abaci, introduced Arabic numerals to Europe… Of course, Mozart composed all five of his violin concertos while employed as a court musician in Salzburg…   Please keep in mind that Erudite and Pompous are not in fact married, although the two may sometimes be seen, arm in arm, enjoying an extravagant night on the town. For a perfect glimpse of what their love child might resemble, look here or here.

13Corporeal. Here’s a simple test to determine whether something is corporeal or not. Take two separate somethings, say Thing 1 and Thing 2. Now, try shoving your fist as hard as you can at each of these somethings. Say it goes through Thing 1 without encountering any resistance whatsoever; there is a distinct possibility that Thing 1 is not in a corporeal state. Or perhaps it is jello. If, however, it meets Thing 2 and stops abruptly with a jarring or excruciating sensation, then you can be assured that Thing 1 is corporeal. Now go bandage your knuckles before you bleed all over my blog.

14Gorgonzola. Rapture delivered in the form of creamy, blue-veined morsels. But be forewarned, a little goes a long ways.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mouse Ears and Tired Feet

Obviously I’ve been rather remiss1 in posting lately.  I do have an excuse, however.  Honestly I do.

Last week I took my youngest son to Disneyland.  We had a blast, and I’d go back next week if I could swing it. But after a day of traveling there, 3 long days of walking around and standing in line (not friendly to the feet, I assure you), followed by another day of travel, followed by a few piles of catch-up-right-now items at work, I’m afraid my brain is a bit overtaxed2.  So, my blog goes hungry and my poor novel gathers dust (sorry Eòin, I really do miss you).  Alas. 

1Remiss.  I should have done that, but I forgot.  I meant to do that other thing, but I didn’t.  And I really have to do something else, but I probably won’t.

2Overtax.  For those of you who have children, remember those first few weeks after bringing that new baby home.  Well that period in your life, although certainly a wonderful experience, epitomizes what it means to be overtaxed.  Another way of expressing this:   
New Baby = Overtaxed (Body + Mind) + Happiness.

See, even my footnotes are tired and flaccid3 this time.  Next time will be better.  Really.

3Flaccid.  I'm  not going to touch this one with a 10-foot pole. Nope. Not even a limp, droopy 10-foot pole.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A celebrity stops by. Plus, a little something on Champagne and Darth Vader.

My town played host to a rather famous—some might say infamous1—visitor last night.
Now, he’s a capricious2 sort—seems he rather enjoys keeping people guessing and has a tendency to disappear for months at a time and then suddenly reappear at some of the most inopportune3 moments—but this time his arrival caught very few townspeople by surprise. After all he’d already paid us a brief visit a couple of nights ago on what I suppose you might consider a publicity stop. Truth be told, I didn’t actually see him during this earlier visit, but I knew he’d passed through because he left his calling card on the windshields of cars all over town.

Last night, however, was no publicity stop. This time he pulled out all the stops and gave the entire town a taste of his unique skills. And it was quite the show.

Granted, not everyone appreciates his artistry. His detractors4—who might very well outnumber his admirers—consider him a nuisance at his best, and downright destructive at his worst. There’s no denying they present a good case—after all he has been known to wreak a little havoc from time to time—but I can’t help but admire his artistry. I mean, this fellow has talent on a grand scale.

I’m sure you’ve heard of him and, unless you live in the far-flung reaches of the world that seldom or never serve as stopping points on his widespread peregrinations5, you’ve seen his work. His monochromatic6 paintings—executed in broad, bold strokes embellished by delicate whorls and filigrees—are impossible to mistake for the work of another. And, lest there be any doubt as to their origin, he signs each piece with a flourish, Jack Frost.

1Infamous. Probably not the kind of fame you were hoping to attain. Unless you want to join the ranks of such individuals as Jack the Ripper, Benedict Arnold, or Darth Vader.

2Capricious. One of my children’s favorite books when they were young was a collection of Native American tales featuring Coyote, The Trickster. Ah, Coyote. Inevitably motivated by unpredictable, ever-changing whims. Not the sort to rely upon, although you might say you can rely on him to be unreliable. But even that’s no guarantee because every once in a while he catches you off guard by committing an act of surprising heroism. If ever there was a character that embodies the meaning of capricious, Old Man Coyote would be the one.

3Inopportune. Kids are gone for the evening. Hooray! Candles are flickering. Ooh la la, romance is in the air. Champagne is chilled and ready to pour. Two bottles, mind you. The doorbell rings. What the…? Now, if ever there was an inopportune time for a surprise visit from your mother-in-law, this would be it.

4Detractor. Remember that snotty girl on the bus who called you names and made fun of your clothes? Well, she just might have claimed the dubious honor of being your very first detractor.

5Peregrination. This word measures a perfect 10 on my spiff-o-meter. Yes, it’s that magnificent. Weighing in at a hefty 13 characters, it’s hard to ignore it when it muscles its way into a sentence. Yet this seemingly ponderous word has a lighter side. It loves long, meandering walks on the beach at sunset or ambling strolls amongst the bright wildflowers in a sun-washed meadow. You see, for peregrination it’s all about the journey, not the destination.

6Monochromatic. And today’s color is: red. Yes, red. Such a versatile color, too, it’s as comfortable making an appearance in blushing rose as it is hitting the runways in shocking crimson. What, you want to talk about blue? Absolutely not. Everyone knows red is all the rage and blue is just so yesterday's rags. Remember, there’s more to monochromatic than just shades of grey.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Snails, Wood Pulp and Bacon

Newsflash: I actually used the word Sesquipedalian1 in a real-world, non-internet-y, setting.

How cool is that?

Okay, I have to admit it was my husband’s idea. We were filling out the latest in a steady stream of forms/checklists that seem to spring from the very air when you have a child with special needs. Seriously, every specialist has a new pile of paperwork that looks remarkably like the last pile, with some subtle changes in format or wording to make you think you’re filling out something new and amazingly insightful. I’m quite certain that these stacks of cellulose2 somehow breed and reproduce pale, fibrous offspring in the shadowy depths of their progenitors’3 filing cabinets.

Wait, I’ve momentarily lost my train of thought here. Where was this heading? Oh, now I remember.

So we were scribbling answers on yet another stack of pressed wood pulp when we ran across the inevitable question: Does your child have any unique interests? I’ve seen this question, or variations thereof, a hundred times. At least a hundred. Because when you’re talking about an individual with High Functioning Autism or Aspergers, you can bet your sweet bippy (don’t ask me what that means; I just know my grandpa loved to say it) that they’re going to perseverate4 on something.

So I jotted down the by-now-standard response, “He has a fascination with snails.” Yes, snails. Want to know about snails? Just ask me; I live with a 10-year old malacologist5.

I know, I still haven’t completely explained the fortuitous6 event that allowed me to suitably (that’s the tricky part, after all) employ7 my favorite word, but trust me, I’ll get there. Really.

Once I finished writing the typical snail comment I stared down at the big white space stretched out beneath my chicken scratches. Hmm…that’s a lot of white space. Seems like we should be able to fill at least a little more of it. But with what? So I posed8 that very question to my husband. The rest of our conversation went something like this:

“Write down that he’s a Sesquipedalian.”
“Well, it’s true, isn’t it?” Indeed it is. Our son collects words like some boys his age might collect Pokemon Cards or Matchbox cars. I wonder where he got that particular interest…
“Do you think she’ll know what it means?”
“She can look it up.” I should have guessed he would say that.

So I wrote it down, taking care to do it neatly because it’s far too special a word to inscribe with my customarily chaotic scrawl. It was such an exciting moment. I leaned back and surveyed my work, admiring the beauty of it, feeling as giddy as the proverbial schoolgirl.

1Sesquipedalian. If this word were liquid I would bathe in it. That’s right. I would fill a huge tub with warm, silken Sesquipedalian and completely immerse myself in it. Whew, is it getting warm in here? What, you want to know what it means! You can look it up; I’m a little busy right now.

2Cellulose. No, I’m not talking about the stuff that gives your legs that lovely textured look--that’s cellulite. This stuff makes up the better part of most plants. Our libraries are filled with stacks and stacks of tree cellulose, all mashed, pressed into tidy rectangles, and neatly bound. Good stuff!

3Progenitor. Sounds like an awesome name for a super hero, doesn’t it? The Progenitor. I can picture him now, in a dark green, form-fitting outfit emblazoned with a large, glossy black P. His black cape billows out behind him and he stands poised on the edge of the tallest building, surveying the city he champions. In a voice that rings like the bell of justice, he declares, “It is I, The Progenitor, he who came before and from whose mighty loins did spring all things both good and pure. Look upon me and witness your beginnings!”

4Perseverate. If I were to perseverate on something, say bacon, a typical day might go something like this: Upon waking in the morning, I slip out from under the bacon-patterned sheets on my bed, throw on a lovely robe with bacon embroidered along the collar, and shuffle into my kitchen, throwing open the bacon-print curtains to let in some sunlight. After a magnificent breakfast of bacon and scrambled eggs with bits of bacon, I head off to work where I proceed to enlighten all those around me about bacon and its many unique and amazing attributes (because I’ve learned new facts since yesterday or perhaps they’ve forgotten some of the many fascinating details I related on earlier occasions). Then I have a lovely BLT sandwich for lunch and get back to work, scribbling little pictures of bacon on the scratchpad on my desk while I try to think through a solution for a current project. At the end of the day I head back home in the only car in the courthouse parking lot that sports a “Honk if you love bacon” bumper sticker. After a nice dinner of potato bacon casserole, I curl up in front of the TV and watch a riveting documentary on the history of bacon and then, just before nodding off to sleep, I flip through the worn pages of a much-loved copy of “The Joy of Bacon.” And, if that’s not enough of a taste of both bacon and perseverate, check this out.

5Malacologist. These are the guys or gals who know what that funny little door on a water snail’s shell is called (according to my son, it’s called an operculum), how an octopus changes color, and the average number of tentacles on a nautilus. Want to know more about mollusks? Ask a malacologist.

6Fortuitous. Ooh, how did that happen? I didn’t mean for it to happen--in fact I hadn’t even considered that it might happen--but now that it’s happened, I’d have to say that it worked out rather well. In fact, I’m not sure it would have worked out better if I’d planned it.

7Employ. Yep, you can put a word to work just as you might a person.

8Posed. Picture a mannequin in a department store window. It’s all dressed in the latest finery, neatly coifed and positioned just so. Perfectly posed, right? Now try that with a question--except you might have to skip the coif since questions typically don’t have hair.