Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Monday, May 31, 2010


Pursuant to yesterday's post, I feel I should talk about a term completely unrelated to Bogart, boggart.  A boggart is mythological critter that gets inside your house and breaks stuff, much like a poltergeist, gremlins, or children. They're said to be destructive but not always dangerous, although if you give them a name, they'll go all bananas and fling poo at your children or possibly eat you. Like giving gremlins water. This term is apparently related to bogeyman, but I've always thought of boggarts as destructive but imp-like, whereas I see bogeymen as the sort to eat your family. Maybe a bogeyman is a boggart who has been named. Or maybe it's Harry Potter.

In Harry Potter, the boggart was a nasty little beast who took the form of whatever you were most afraid of, sort of like Stephen King's It. Except to beat Stephen King's It, you inexplicably needed an orgy and fake battery acid, whereas Harry Potter's boggarts can be gotten rid of by turning them into Professor Snape in drag. The Online Etymology Dictionary claims that the term bogey, as in an unidentified aircraft, is related to boggart, which, it claims, comes from the Scottish word for ghost, bogle.

It does not appear that these terms are related to booger or boogie, though. Too bad.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

I don't mind a reasonable amount of trouble

One of my favorite slang terms is "Bogart," a verb which means "to hog." My favorite part of the word is its history. Sadly I don't remember exactly where I read this, but it's filed away in my brain as having come from a Reliable Source, so I'm guessing I didn't read it on Yahoo! Answers or anything. 
The term first shows up in the 50s or so, and it means, basically, to strong-arm, or rough somebody up to get them to give over the goods, or the papers, or the falcon, or whatever else it is that Bogey wants you to give over. I knew that the term later referred to the act of hogging the pot, as in "Hey, don't bogart that blunt" (see how hip I am with the lingo?). A pretty big shift, over a relatively short time, I thought.
Turns out, apparently, that the term "bogart" used to refer to hog the pot, has its very own etymology. It refers to the fact that Bogey was always smoking. Apparently, the two terms sprang up independently of each other. If, of course, the unnamed Reliable Source is as reliable as my mental filing systems seems to think it is.
So now I'm thinking about other folks whose names have been borrowed and verbed, if you will. There's Echo, of course, the nymph of myth whom Hera cursed by taking away Echo's voice, so that Echo could only speak to repeat another's words.
More recently, we've got the verb "MacGuyver," which means to improvise something brilliant with unconventional materials, as in "My bike was stolen, so we had to MacGuyver a new one together out of old parts and duct tape." This term is often used to mean "jury rig," but I think for an action to truly be a MacGuyver, you have to be making something, like an airplane, out of random crap, like duct tape and PVC piping, rather than repairing something that was broken.
Chuck Norris is on the verge of being verbbed, but his popularity is waning, so I doubt our kids will be using the expression "So I Chuck Norrised him into next Tuesday." The term "Chuck Norris" should only apply to roundhouse kicks, in my opinion.
Ninja doesn't refer to a specific individual, but I do like that "ninja" has become a verb lately, as in "My boss caught me playing online poker after he ninja'ed up on me." This probably first appeared in multiplayer online games, in which some folks would stand around while you fought the bad guy and then ran over and took the dead bad guy's swag before the victor could do it - this came to be known as "to ninja someone's loot." 

One of my favorite poems, appropriate for this occasion: 
Narcissus and Echo

by Fred Chapell

Shall the water not remember    ember
my hands slow gesture, tracing above  of
its mirror my half-imaginary    airy
portrait? My only belonging    longing;
is my beauty, which I take    ache
away and then return, as love of
teasing playfully the one being unbeing;
Whose gratitude I treasure   is your
moves me. I live apart        heart
from myself, yet cannot        not
live apart. In the water's tone,  stone?
That brilliant silence, a flower   hour,
whispers my name with such slight light:
moment, it seems filament of air      fare
the world becomes cloudswell.      well

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Whole world

Is redundant redundant.

Whole entire world is redundant redundant redundant.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

And a hungry little boy with a runny nose plays in the street as the cold wind blows

Someone told me the other day about a person they'd met who claimed to live "on the ghetto end" of an obscenely opulent gated community down the road. Oh, well as long as you live on the ghetto end, I guess I can't call you... hey wait a minute.

So when I hear the term "ghetto," the first thing I think of is Jews and Nazis, which isn't how most people seem to see it these days. And it's hard to come up with a current definition, really, when everybody on earth claims to be ghetto. And I'm guilty, admittedly, of referring to the neighborhood where I grew up as the ghetto, for lack of a better term. So mea culpa, I repent.

One of my Facebook friends posted a status about how "ghetto" is often used as a synonym for "black," which I hadn't thought of, but which is true a lot of the time, which is pretty awful. And a lot of the time privileged people like me claim to be from the ghetto because we think it makes us seem less privileged somehow, and that's, I've realized, an appalling insult to people who actually did grow up going to bed hungry and dodging bullets and having no hope of getting out. It's a perversion of the term too, which Wikipedia defines as "a portion of a city in which members of a minority group live; especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure." Digest that for a moment. I can't even imagine being told that my skin or my family or the way I talk mean I'm destined to live a certain way in a certain place. But I want to insult people who were told that by claiming I was that too? Not cool, Brigid, not cool. 

Wikipedia also tells me that the word "ghetto" comes from the term "ghet," which means "slag" in Venetian. I wonder, then, what the word "slag" refers to. Does it mean that the people who live there are slag, or does it mean that the place itself is really crappy and horrible? Wikipedia goes on to say, though, that the term may not be quite so metaphorical in nature, but related to the fact that Jews were once confined to an island on which slag was also stored. 

Also, I just had to look up the word "slag," having noticed that I had no idea what slag actually is.

This picture came from the end of the street where I grew up. Back when this place was still a bar, legend has it that a guy got his nose bitten off in a fight. And I'm pretty sure that the reason the bar shut down was because someone got shot and killed in there. So ghetto isn't a complete exaggeration.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Internet said it, it must be true!

I've been reading lots of books on language and linguistics lately, and I'm coming to notice that the authors of these books spend a whole lot of time quoting each other. At one point in Roy Blount Jr.'s "Alphabet Juice," he quotes Stephen Pinker ("The Language Instinct") quoting Zinsser ("On Writing Well"). At least I think he does. It was all getting a bit too much like a game of telephone, and I was sleepy.

It struck me as quite funny to wonder if one of the dudes in the chain of books on writing guys could just be making all this crap up. Like if Bill Bryson regularly gets drunk, makes up crazy crap, shoves it into the log flume, and the next thing you know, Pinker's using Bryson, and McWhorter's using Pinker, and Bob's your uncle, Bill Bryson has conned the world into believing there's a city in Kentucky called Sugar Tit. Oh wait, there is a city called Sugar Tit? My bad, Bryson. But I've got my eye on you - you know far too much on too many subjects to be trustworthy.

I thought of this, because back in high school, I dated "The Liar." Everybody knows this guy. The dude who just makes crap up for absolutely no reason. Like he'd tell me he'd had eggs for breakfast when in fact, he'd had toast. Seriously, what made him decide to tell me his middle name was Sebastian when it wasn't? So That Guy, I've just discovered, has written an obscure academic text. If he's still, in fact, That Guy, he could be reinventing truth as we speak. Some academic somewhere takes a quote, sites it in her own academic text (Guy, That p. 457), and the next thing you know, Bill Bryson's written a smash hit book on that corner of academia all filled with That Guy's senseless factoids. Note: Those of us who know who That Guy is aren't going to name names.

An interesting factoid, by the way about the word factoid. We usually use it to mean "bit of trivia," but when Norman Mailer coined the term, he defined it as a false or baseless assertion, stated as fact - a factoid is a fact like a humanoid is a human. But since I've called this fact a factoid, perhaps Norman Mailer didn't invent the term, and a factoid really is a bit of trivia. If a factoid is a bit of trivia, then it IS true that Norman Mailer coined the term to mean a false or baseless assertion. See? Truth reinvented. This is some deep shit.

A flower-oid to go with your factoids.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Ugly shoes that lesbians wear

At church yesterday, I learned that early feminists like Margaret Fuller were called "Blue Stockings" because they had a reputation for wearing sensible and comfortable blue wool stockings over the black stockings a true lady wore. People have been obsessing over feminists' footwear since 1750. Which is to say that bigots have been characterizing feminists as ugly since feminists first appeared.
The title of my blog refers to an episode of a game show (Pyramid?) in which one player gets another to guess "Birkenstock" with the clue "ugly shoes that lesbians wear." (On a side note, I spelled Birkenstock wrong, and one of the suggestions spell-check gave me was "Bluestocking."). And of course, every anti-feminist idiot will site ugly shoes as a defining, and damning, characteristic of feminists.
You know, if the worst thing they can say about us is that we wear ugly shoes, you've got a pretty flimsy case against us, kids. If the best you can do to argue with people who believe in equality for men and women is that we're ugly, well then, you don't have an ugly shod leg to stand on. I happen to be gorgeous, and I have fantastic shoes.
I wonder, though, exactly where the stereotype even comes from. Is it that women who have the audacity to try to break free from discrimination could only want to do so because they can't find a man? Is it that being pretty is a full time job and doesn't allow any room for having thoughts or careers? How do you contest an argument that is so fundamentally stupid? What logical response could stand a chance against such an alarming lack of logic? 
Some other arguments floating around the Interwebs about us man-hating ball busters:
We're all lesbians. Obviously.
Rape isn't real - feminists largely made it up to punish men for having sex.
Women are taking all the men's jobs, and they're not qualified to do them
Nobody holds us accountable for our actions
We won't be happy until men are submissive (OK, well who can argue with that?)
That last argument, though, tells us a lot. If women were once dominated and want to now dominate, and that's a bad thing, than it is correct that men should be the ones who dominate. In making this argument, anti-feminists are explicitly saying that men should dominate women, and then they claim that men do not want to dominate women.

Thanks to Renee for the info on Margaret Fuller.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

This is an attempt to collect a debt

We've had our home number for going on five years now, and we're still getting collections calls from all over town for some Jean Hagle lady (or some Gene Haydle guy). They're pretty friendly, as far as collections people go. They don't believe that I'm not Jean Hagle (or Gene Haydle), of course, but they wouldn't be very good bill collectors otherwise.
It's kind of interesting, actually, to see the process from the outside. I mean, it's a lot less intimidating when I'm telling them I don't owe them any money and I'm actually telling the truth. One thing I've noticed about bill collectors is that they're never Gary or Tina. They're always Miss Robinson or Mister Nash. Rather a graceful trick, really. From the first word you're a petulant child. 

It's hard for me not to see bill collectors as monsters. I mean there are logical arguments, pro and con, but it's hard for anybody who's been there to get past the visceral. The constant calls, the snarling sarcasm, the way they act like you're not working three jobs just to pay the bills and you're not even sure you do owe them money? It's hard to imagine somebody like that going home to their husband and kids and eating casserole and playing Monopoly, but they probably do. And they probably find it hard to believe you're working three jobs just to pay the bills and aren't sure you owe them money.

Bill collectors were probably the single worst thing about being poor. 

As for Miss Robinson, Jean (Gene), and me, it'll be straightened out by tomorrow. And here are some tips for dealing with the green meanies (I friggin love

And here are some more forms of address, for when you're dealing with sources more powerful than Miss Robinson, courtesy of the "Oxford Essential Writer's Reference."
  • American Ambassador: The Honorable Miss Robinson
  • Lawyer: Mr. Mister Nash, Attorney at Law 
  • House Speaker: The Honorable Speaker of the House of Representatives (that's a tough one to remember)
  • Rabbi with Doctorate: Rabbi Miss Robinson, DD
  • Associate Justice of the Supreme Court: Mr. Justice Mister Nash
  • Catholic Bishop: The Most Reverend Miss Robinson
  • Pope: His Holiness Pope Mister Nash III
  • When in doubt, go with The Honorable, or Your Excellency if you're feeling fancy.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

You saw me standing alone

The first time the term "blue moon" appeared in English, some 500 years ago, it referred to something preposterous and impossible, used in a manor similar to the expression "Next you'll be telling me that the sky is green."
A couple hundred years or so later, the expression "blue moon" was used to mean never - as in "That will happen in a blue moon"; it meant something like "when pigs fly."
More recently, the term "blue moon" has come to mean something that happens every now and then, as in "Every once in a blue moon, I get a taste for pickles and ice cream." In addition, "blue moon" can refer to the second full moon in a given month. We're not sure whether the chicken or the egg came first on this one - it may be that one term sprouted from the other, or it may be that they sprouted all by themselves.

It would be pretty cool if I brought this up on the occasion of a blue moon, but the next one won't happen until 2012.

What's interesting about this to me is that the meaning of the term did an abrupt 180 at some point. It used to mean "never" and now it means "sometimes." How weird is that? I can only think of one other expression that has done that, sort of. "Fat chance" and "slim chance" ("fat chance" is used sarcastically, but has been used that way for so long that the term's not usually considered irony). I wonder how many others there are.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I am writing

One day I got my eyebrows threaded at the mall. If you're not aware, "threading" is a method of hair removal most commonly associated with India in which thread is used like tweezers - it's as effective as waxing, but painful like a root canal. 

In response to my wincing during the torture session, she kept saying "You are having many fine hairs."
The experience made me wonder two things. One, why on earth I would choose to pay someone to remove harmless stray hairs in such an excruciating manor? Two, why do people from India seem to add unnecessary "ings" to words? Must be something to do with the Indian language - maybe in India, people use gerunds in place of verbs for some reason.

But, as I just read in John McWhorter's "Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue," it's not the Indians who use gerunds in place of verbs, it's us. A gerund is a verb that's been made into a noun, usually by adding "ing." So if I say "Writing makes me happy," I'm saying "The act of writing makes me happy," and "the act of writing" is the subject of a sentence - a noun, basically. What I've never noticed is that the English language uses "-ing" words unnecessarily a lot, and it's one of only a handful of languages that does. For instance, right now, I am writing a blog entry. In this, the writing takes place in the present tense - it's what I'm up to right now. However, the present tense of "write" is "write," not "am writing." It would make more sense to say it the way every other language does, "I write this entry," but in English, that sentence isn't quite right.

So the nice Indian lady torturing me didn't say "you are having" because of some peculiarity of her language, but because "have" is one of the only verbs we don't add "-ing" to when saying something in the present tense. Her error was only that she forgot which words are the exceptions to the nonsensical rule.

And the moral of this story is that I was guilty of something Americans are so often guilty of; I assumed that because she wasn't born in America, I was doing it right and she was doing it wrong, when in fact, English speakers are doing it wrong... well, English speakers are doing it kind of counter-intuitively.

And... random flower. I think this is my mom's yard.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What it is, what it's not

I shall start this entry with a disclaimer. The purpose of this exercise is to remember what I'm saying when I'm saying something. This is not a proclamation condemning people who use strong words lightly, and I'm not even saying I don't do the same. I make this disclaimer because this is an expression I catch myself using a lot, one a lot of other folks use, and I don't want to make people feel all guilty and icky.

So, without further apologies, here's the new feature I'm calling "What it is, what it's not."


What is: Obsessive-compulsive disorder. A serious and sometimes debilitating mental disorder characterized by severe anxiety combined with behaviors aimed at alleviating that anxiety. 

What it's not: Perfectionism, meticulousness, focus, caution, idiosyncrasy, fastidiousness, or attention to detail.

For instance:

If you wash your hands for a really long time because you don't want to get sick, you're fastidious. If you wash your hands until they bleed and still feel like you're crawling with germs, you may have OCD.

If you proofread a paper half a dozen times before you turn it in, you're meticulous. If you're so afraid of typos that you're terrified to write the paper, and it's jeopardizing your academic career, you may have OCD.


You know what's weird that just occurred to me? We're so prudish that we call rooms with toilets "bathrooms," but little old ladies use the word "anal" in polite conversation. I don't know about you, but I'd way rather think about a toilet than an anus. Toilets can be clean and shiny, and anuses (actually ani, if we're being technical, I think)... not so much.

Ever wonder where this one came from? I mean, if someone's all meticulous and obsessed with details, you don't really associate that kind of person with gross body parts. Well, I don't anyway. This one's got Freud written all over it. His theory is that people who are all meticulous and fussy as grown ups didn't like to poop when they were babies - they were anal retentive. He also said that people who liked to poop when they were kids could turn out to be artistic, free-wheeling, loud... they were anal expulsive. So anal could really apply to either. Making me anal. Rock.

Funny thing about Freud... while his research and writings on psychology were ground-breaking, a lot of his theories, like the whole childhood pooping thing, have been dismissed by later research and stuff. Yet his theories - like the one about big cars compensating for small naughty bits - are immortal in pop culture. 

Maybe my next entry won't involve poop...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Potty Mouth

Before prohibition, women weren't allowed in saloons. Prohibition comes along, all bets are off, and now everybody's allowed in saloons, because saloons aren't allowed to exist. Ladies are in saloons for the first time, and since there are ladies, there need to be bathrooms (because where women go, bathrooms always follow, of course). They often slapped these bathrooms together in some tiny corner, and these little bathrooms were called powder rooms. Why powder rooms? Danial Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, doesn't say. What's more, my online resources, as usual, disagree. That's just about all they seem good for. On a related note, are you aware that an individual subscription to the Oxford English Dictionary is like $300 a year? Not cool. But I digress, as usual.
Anyway, I'd assumed that the term "powder room" was the twisted child of the Victorian era, a magical time in which "Chicken Breast" was a swear word and "blouse" was unspeakable. We'll have a long talk about the Victorians later, don't you worry.
At any rate, this got me thinking that the term "bathroom" itself is a quaintly euphemistic. I mean, we use the word for rooms in which it's really hard to take a bath. Unless you're tiny, I suppose. I like the Euro "water closet," because that's really what they are, sans bodily functions. 
Wikipedia tells me that the word "toilet" descends from the French word toile, for a towel used in hair care, and then toilette, for a dressing stand (on which sat a toile, I'm assuming). So that's even sillier than "bathroom" in terms of naming stuff after things only tangentially related to what they are, in the name of having to not talk about what it's really for. Oh yeah, I just dangled a preposition. Watch me go.
In grade school, we were supposed to call the bathroom the "lav," which comes from the Latin verb "to wash," so it and bathroom are basically synonyms, although one's in another language, so I guess that makes it less icky. 
I think we should just call a thing what it is and say "excretory room." 
Would you believe I don't have an appropriate photo for this one?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


I think I was about six years old when I figured out I was white. I knew that black and white existed, but it didn't occur to me that it had anything to do with skin color - after all, I'd never met anybody with black or white skin, only shades of peach and brown. 
Yesterday I heard an interview with a dude named Guy P Harrison, who wrote the book  Race and Reality: What Everyone Should Know About Our Biological Diversity. He said that when Irish immigrants first came to America, they weren't designated as white. They weren't good enough to be white. So that explains that.
The interview was pretty lengthy and it really gave me a lot to think about. I'd like to actually read the book before I talk much about it, but he says there's no such thing as race, scientifically speaking, and the differences we perceive between the races are due more to society than biology. 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The only thing we have to fear...

I've never been a fan the term "homophobia." Unlike terms like "racist" or "sexist," the word "homophobia" implies that gay people are to be feared. It makes hatred of gay people seem less like bigotry and more like caution.

Further, it implies that bigotry against people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (GLBT) is different from other "-isms"; racism, sexism, and agism. These words are associated with hate and bigotry, generally accepted to be bad things. Phobias, on the other hand are neutral things, they don't reflect badly on fearer. 

And of course, the term itself doesn't make sense. The prefix "homo" means "same," so "homophobia" isn't fear of homosexuals, it's fear of "the same." Actually, maybe that does make sense. Perhaps so-called homophobes are afraid that people who are GLBT are, in fact, equal to them. Maybe homophobes are afraid that people who are GLBT will live in the same neighborhoods as them, go to the same schools, have the same rights. Maybe homophobes are afraid of finding out they're not all that different than the folks they hate.

Or maybe homophobia is a different animal from hatred of gay people. Maybe homophobes are just folks who are afraid because they don't understand. Or maybe they're people who have been taught to fear people who are gay and haven't yet learned any different. I mean, I was afraid of sushi the first time I tried it. That may be a bad example since I hate sushi, but I think you get my meaning. Maybe calling someone a homophobe rather than a gay hater means there's hope for them yet. Or maybe calling someone a homophobe is an unfair label. Maybe we should use people-first language and call them people who are afraid. Or maybe I'm rambling.

The Internet tells me that the term first appeared in the late sixties or early seventies, and every etymology site out there credits another person for coining the term. And it probably gained traction due to the fact that "homoism" and "gayism" sound fairly silly. I've heard "heterosexism" and "sexual prejudice," but I think the best way to resolve the issue is to eliminate the sentiment.

Maybe we should change the vocabulary of hate altogether. Maybe we should just call hate hate. Racists aren't racists, they're people who hate. And heterosexists are people who hate. And sexists are people who hate. Perhaps that makes me a hatist.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Flame on!

You may find this hard to believe, but I have a few literary pet peeves. A few. Exclamation proliferation is right at the top.
It goes without saying that more than one punctuation mark at the end of a sentence is one too many, no matter how strong a sentiment you're trying to get across. Oh, I've slipped up on occasion; it's laziness, really. I don't want to put the effort into using words that show I'm emphatic, so I'll slather my sentence with cheap punctuation and hope no one notices. One exclamation mark will do, thank you. Any more, and you're just using superfluous punctuation to compensate for lack of willingness or ability to state a position effectively.
But it's not just glaring punctuation violations that bug me. In e-mails where I work, everybody says "thanks!" when we mean "thanks." This isn't illegal or improper or anything, but it's dangerous. Generally, when I'm sending a "Thanks!" message, I'm thanking someone for telling me how to update a router firmware, and while I do appreciate this sort of information, it's not worth breaking out the pompoms, unless you're really into firmware (*cough*that's what she said*cough*). But if you don't conform to the punctuation expectation, you might seem ungrateful or sarcastic. I mean, you could say "Thanks. :)," but I think that's probably worse.
The real problem to all of this is, what do you do if you are emphatic about your gratitude? If you send me a box of chocolates, that's way better than information about router firmware. How do you express that? You'd have to say "Thanks!!" which, as I mention above, is a grammar felony. It's inflation, is what it is. Pretty soon we'll be taking a basket of punctuation to the market and having our baskets stolen, punctuation strewn all over the ground.

Who is to blame for punctuation inflation? I have a hypothesis, but it's one that makes me very sad. I think it may be comic books. Now I call it a hypothesis because, while comic books have committed horrific crimes against punctuation for many years, I'm not sure if those crimes found their way to the mainstream. Seriously, though? Marvel Comics seemed to have issued a ban on ending sentences with periods that lasted through the sixties and the seventies. And I don't mean that hyperbolically. I didn't have a lot of friends when I was a kid, apparently, because once, I counted all the exclamation marks in X-Men Issue 1. 551. It's almost as sad that I did that as it is that I still remember it. I've got a mouldering X-Men comic from the 70s in which there is not one single period. Heaping helpings of hyphens, dashes, and ellipses, though. To go with the roughly 20 exclamation marks a page. Yeah, I counted. Shut up.
That's all I got to say. Excelsior, ya'll!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Search for...

A McGuffin (or MacGuffin) is an element, usually an object, in a movie, that serves no other purpose than to move the plot along. Alfred Hitchcock coined the term; he explained the term in an interview thusly:

It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says, 'What's that package up there in the baggage rack?' And the other answers, 'Oh that's a McGuffin.' The first one asks 'What's a McGuffin?' 'Well' the other man says, 'It's an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.' The first man says, 'But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,' and the other one answers 'Well, then that's no McGuffin!' So you see, a McGuffin is nothing at all.
Quote courtesy of

Some of my favorite McGuffins:

The Maltese Falcon, the Maltese Falcon - The falcon was said to be important because underneath the black enamel, there are a bunch of gems. Lot of time and effort could have been saved if Sam Spade and the gang had just gotten together and robbed a bank.
Pulp Fiction, the briefcase - I've heard more enterprising fans postulate that the briefcase contained Marsellus' soul (which had been pulled out through the back of his head, hence the bandage). At any rate, we never find out what's in the thing... and it bugs me to this day.
Saving Private Ryan, Private Ryan - I'm not saying it wasn't a great movie, but the quest to save Matt Damon's character was really secondary to the recreation of the storming of the beach of Normandy. On a related note, I'm still a little queasy from watching it... twelve years ago.

And of course, there's the Holy Grail:

 There have been volumes written on the topic, on what it is, what it symbolizes, and so forth, and I'm not going to add to them. But I suppose my favorite Grail story is the one in the movie The Fisher King. In it, the main characters go on a mad quest for the Grail, which turns out to be a trophy on some dude's shelf. I liked this version of the Grail because it didn't pretend to be anything other than what it was, and the filmmakers didn't use that coy The Lady-or-the-Tiger cop-out. The Grail was the journey, and that's all that was needed.

Pic is from outside the grocery store. They'll let you take pictures for a long time before they start looking at you funny.
This here is one of the stories of the grail, as told by Parry, Robin Williams' character from The Fisher King

It begins with the king as a boy, having to spend the night alone in the forest to prove his courage so he can become king. Now while he is spending the night alone he's visited by a sacred vision. Out of the fire appears the holy grail, symbol of God's divine grace. And a voice said to the boy, "You shall be keeper of the grail so that it may heal the hearts of men." But the boy was blinded by greater visions of a life filled with power and glory and beauty. And in this state of radical amazement he felt for a brief moment not like a boy, but invincible, like God, so he reached into the fire to take the grail, and the grail vanished, leaving him with his hand in the fire to be terribly wounded. Now as this boy grew older, his wound grew deeper. Until one day, life for him lost its reason. He had no faith in any man, not even himself. He couldn't love or feel loved. He was sick with experience. He began to die. One day a fool wandered into the castle and found the king alone. And being a fool, he was simple minded, he didn't see a king. He only saw a man alone and in pain. And he asked the king, "What ails you friend?" The king replied, "I'm thirsty. I need some water to cool my throat". So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water and handed it to the king. As the king began to drink, he realized his wound was healed. He looked in his hands and there was the holy grail, that which he sought all of his life. And he turned to the fool and said with amazement, "How can you find that which my brightest and bravest could not?" And the fool replied, "I don't know. I only knew that you were thirsty."

Monday, May 3, 2010

That's very unique

A lot of word people like to complain that "very unique" is redundant, since "unique" means "unlike anything else." I disagree. If Versace creates a one-of-a-kind gown for Angelina Jolie, that gown is unique - it is unlike any other gown. If Versace creates a gown that allows the wearer to travel through time, that's a very unique dress. 

Biological Difficulties

We'll resume your regularly scheduled pontificating once my head clears.