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.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Time for a little ultraviolence

Sunday, some friends and I got talking about A Clockwork Orange. I realize film snobs like me are supposed to have shrines to Kubrick in our basements, but can't stand this film. And not because it's not great. I mean, in the same way that the first World War was The Great War. It does what it sets out to do magnificently. I'm just not cool with what it set out to do.
Okay, so here's the background. 1963, Anthony Burgess writes A Clockwork Orange, a disturbingly thought-provoking book that raised new questions in a groundbreaking way. And it did it without sensationalizing or glorifying violence, especially impressive considering the story is told in first person by a dude who's whole world revolves around sensational, glorified violence. 
The book has the main character, Alex, undergo treatment in jail that's supposed to condition him to feel sick every time he even thinks of violence. They give him drugs that make him excruciatingly ill, then force him to watch scenes of graphic violence. The treatment's a total success, but its lasting impact on Alex is tantamount to torture. He can't defend himself, he can witness acts of violence, and because the films of violence were always accompanied by classical music, Alex can't even listen to the music he loves without growing ill. Burgess kind of makes you feel empathy for Alex, which is impressive considering Alex is pure evil. He does not, however, try to force a conclusion on you about it, which I think is the mark of a really effective narrative. 
The movie attempts to do something completely different. It attempts to do to its audience what was done to Alex. For instance, one of the early scenes has Alex and his friends torturing and raping a woman while Alex performs Singing in the Rain, and for a lot of people, hearing that song evokes a visceral reaction years after they saw the movie. 
The thing is, that's not really fair. It's not fair for Kubrick to pull that trick on an unsuspecting audience who, unlike Alex, are mostly not evil. And I don't feel like Kubrick ever really portrays the violence as a bad thing. Alex is a cool and charming badass with whom we're supposed to identify. And judging by the decor in half the dorm rooms I frequented in college, a lot of people do.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm not sure that just because it can be done, it necessarily should be done. 
I'm not trying to say that Kubrick shouldn't have done it, or that he's a bad person for having done so. I don't think that people shouldn't watch it, or are bad people for doing so. I think art, even art that I find really disturbing and wrong, should never be censored other than by the conscience of the artist. I just didn't think conscience played into the creation of the film, and I find that irksome.
Also, what the hell was with the chorus line of dancing Jesi? 
Wow, there is no way to write this that doesn't come off as prudish and stodgy. Ah well. If the shoe fits.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Can you name the source of the Greatest TV Quotes and Catchphrases? - sporcle

Can you name the source of the Greatest TV Quotes and Catchphrases? - sporcle

I've been wanting to do an entry on catch phrases for a while; what I'd really like to know is where they came from and how long they've been around. But, you know, I'm a little lazy. So here. Have this instead.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Medicinal marijuana. = A cure? I'm in a damn jail.*

Right about now, anagrams are rocking my world. An anagram is a word or phrase made by rearranging the letters in another word or phrase. I have no idea how anyone discovers these things, because just thinking about anagrams makes my head explode a little. Head explode is an anagram for Exhaled Dope, and sadly, I couldn't even come up with that on my own. 
So I'll give a couple more I didn't come up with:

Britney Spears
is an anagram for
which is an anagram for
Best in Prayer.


Then there's this one from Andrew Brehaut:
The President of the United States of America = Incompetent, hated head of state terrifies us.

But the mother of all anagrams, found by a person who much have so much time, and so many brains to burn, is this. So there's this nonsense word in Love's Labor Lost, honorificabilitudinitatibus. Some mad genius rearranged the letters to spell Hi ludi, F. Baconis nati, tuiti orbi., which translate from Latin to These plays, F. Bacon’s offspring, are preserved for the world.
Dude. Dude, man.

*Larry Brash

Friday, September 24, 2010

You can't always get what you want... but then again...

I wrote this in 2004, when I was working at a very, very lousy job:

All I wanted was a job in an office. Hour long lunch breaks, benefits, days when the girl in the next cubicle brings in brownies. If I'm going to have a job that sucks out my soul, why can't it at least be in a place where I don't have customers threatening to kick my ass?

I don't remember writing this, but it's in my handwriting, so I guess it was me. And dude, the girl in the next cubicle over has brought in brownies on more than one occasion.
And you know what's really weird about it? The job somehow actually doesn't suck out my soul. Most days anyway. Working in crap jobs I often comforted myself that at least I hadn't sold out. What made it worth the death threats at the head shop, the rape threats at the group home, the grease burns at the burger place - what made that all OK was that I hadn't sold out to the man.
But now that I have sold out to the man, I spend more time volunteering than ever before, more money on charity than ever before, and even though I sit in front of a screen all damn day long, I spend more of my free time writing than ever before. Is it harder to write when you don't have all kinds of suffering? Hell no. I've had plenty enough misery in my past to keep me stocked up on good material for possibly the rest of my life.
Also, I have enough money for candy and Hello Kitty toys.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

At least we're not being eaten by lions

The word of the day today is zoochosis. Coined in 1992, it refers to the strange behaviors exhibited by animals in captivity - rocking, pacing, self-injury, and stuff like that. It's weird, but even animals in really big enclosures, enclosures designed to make animals feel free, do it too. Animals will pace in the same spot so much that they wear grooves into the ground.
The word's been popping into my head lately because, I mean, my cubicle is lovely and all, but I get to really feeling like an animal in a cage. I do a lot of pacing and rocking. I'm zoochotic.
It's not a complaint, just an observation. I'm a writer, and I'll always be one. No matter how big my enclosure gets...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Boldly going where every other blogger on earth has gone today

In honor of International Talk Like a Pirate day, let me lay some pirate speak on you.*

Avast: Stop. Now you know. Allegedly, according to Online Etymology Dictionary, evolved from the Dutch houd vast, for hold fast. Which sounds an awful lot like hold fast, and not much like avast.
Scurvy: Disease resulting from lack of vitamin C. Which you probably knew. What I love about this word is that you knew the moment you heard it, you knew its origin had something to do with a sailor. Other diseases have boring clinical names, but sailors, by virtue of their being the primary victim, they got to name it. Which I guess is a silver lining. Some day, by the way, pay attention to how much vitamin C is in the foods you eat. You'd have to work really hard to get scurvy.
Limey:  Nickname for Englishmen. Comes from the fact that British sailors ate limes to avoid above mentioned scurvy.
Me Hearties: My homies. Okay, actually, it means sailor, descended from another definition from the word, physically vigorous. Or at least, says so. 
Ahoy!: means Yo dog!. Or something like. Alexander Graham Bell answered his invention not by saying hello, but ahoy. Didn't stick.
Booty: Slang for swag. Apparently comes from the Germanic bute, meaning exchange. Refers to a woman's butt in recent years, although I bet the terms are totally unrelated. I mean sure, a great butt is a great prize, but I'd guess booty evolved from butt. Or possibly caboose. That's just a guess, though, I've got nothing to back that up.
Three sheets to the wind: A sheet referred, not to a sail, as you might deduce, but a rope that holds a sail to its mast. If a sail's got three of its sheets untied, it's flopping and staggering all over the place. So sayeth the NPR show A Way with Words
Head: The crapper. Refers to the fact that toilets were under near the bow, and the bow is the head of the ship

*For those of you who know and care about these things, I'm obviously a ninja and not a pirate, but talk like a ninja day would be pretty quiet.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

I wanna see the Force lightning, damn it!

In an episode of their show Bullshit, Penn and Teller argue that members of PETA are like Nazis. They list similarities between PETA and Nazis. They show pictures of PETA rallies alongside pictures of Nazi rallies to show that PETA protesters look a lot like Nazis. They point out, of course, that Hitler was a vegetarian.
Obviously, they go on to state, they aren't equating PETA with Nazis. They're using the argument to demonstrate that anyone can site similarities between their ideological opponents and Nazis. They're using the argument to point out that comparing one's opponents to Nazis is utter Bullshit.
I'm guessing the Pope doesn't watch Bullshit; which isn't his fault, they probably don't get Showtime at the Vatican. 
People who take the side of the Pope, who are growing fewer and far between, argue that the Pope isn't comparing atheists to Nazis when he says:
Even in our own lifetimes we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus a reductive vision of a person and his destiny.
Maybe there's something going over my head, but making the very false claim that the Nazis were atheists who tried to "eradicate God from society" and then stating that it was "extreme atheism" that was to blame seems just a bit similar to comparing atheists to Nazis. Even though Hitler said in a 1933 speech:
We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.
I've heard other folks claim that saying things like "Obama is in favor of socialized medicine. The Nazis were in favor of socialized medicine as well," is not comparing Obama to Nazis. Maybe it depends what your definition of is is.
So here's the new rule, cats and kittens. Just stop comparing people to Nazis. Stop doing it overtly, and stop doing it with coy implication - you're not fooling anyone, you're simply showing you don't have the courage of your convictions.
Republicans aren't like Nazis, Democrats aren't like Nazis, even the KKK aren't like Nazis - although they do share some of the ideology. Only Nazis are like Nazis. The Third Reich was dedicated solely to the cause of evil, to the cause of murder, torture, and hatred. Do not cheapen, do not disrespect, do not trivialize the incredible, the unholy acts performed upon the victims of the Nazis by making comparisons, coy or otherwise.

I do not, however, have any problem with this comparison. Although I suppose it's disrespectful to the people of Alderaan.

By the way, a great, great many Catholic individuals risked unimaginable torture and grueling death to try and save others from the Nazis. Like this guy. I know first-hand, that Catholics can be some of the most ardent, most loving advocates of peace and love. These Catholics deserve a far, far better leader.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My funny Valentine

So I'm not huge into Interpretations and Symbolism or even Poetry (like poems, don't so much love Poetry). But this is something I find kind of neat.

Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 is often titled "To a Dark Lady," and often interpreted literally. In the movie Shakespeare in Love, we see a woman lover of his who looks like she's maybe got African ancestry. But Shakespeare almost certainly wasn't being so literal when he wrote this, my favorite of his sonnets, sonnet 130. 

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
     And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
     As any she belied with false compare.

He didn't call it To a Dark Lady himself; much like the lovely Moonlight Sonata, it was named later by other folk. And the evidence that he's speaking in metaphor comes more from poems he didn't write. See, at the time, love sonnets were as schlocky as greeting cards. Everybody was running around with eyes like the sun and lips like coral and cheeks like damasked roses, whatever those are. Shakespeare was kind of saying that imperfection is beauty. Or at least, imperfection by the standards of all the schlock-flingers. 
All right, this post may be a little boring, but you've got to give me credit for schlock-flingers.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Last words

There's an NPR show called A Way with Words that discusses words, wordplay, word origins and such. Recently, I learned the origin of the term swan song. The term itself, we believe, found its way to us by way of the German word Schwanengesang, which I think sounds cooler.
Though the term came to us from German, the idiom exists because of a Greek legend - it was thought that certain swans sing a beautiful, mournful song right before they die.
It's a beautiful story, and it paints a lovely picture in my head. The only problem is that swans don't sing. I know I'm being too literal here, but swans honk. They grunt, they hiss, they moan and make all manner of sounds that aren't pleasant to hear. So the beautiful, mournful dirge that a swan might sing itself out with would sound a lot like rush hour traffic.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hate is too great a burden to bear. *

The other day at work, two coworkers walked by my desk, and one of them was saying that he thought Obama's health care plan was a horrible idea and would be financially ruinous. You've probably guessed that I'm a liberal, and that I support out president, yet his words made me want to run over and hug him. Which would probably have freaked him out a lot.
Why did I want to hug him? Because he wasn't saying Obama was a fascist (which he's not - buy a dictionary), or Hitler, or Satan. He wasn't railing about death panels (absolute nonsense). He was making an assessment of the plan based on actual facts and sound reasoning, and he was doing it without attacking or bitter sarcasm or thinly veiled racism. And you know what's crazy? He had a really good point. One I've never heard before, because the voices of the people shrieking about death panels have largely been drowning out the folks with logical and well-reasoned positions.
And he sort of made me realize why I get so upset when people speak hatefully of our president. It's not just that I support him or think that we should respect the office of the president. It's that I'm terrified of hate. I'm terrified by people who hate our president, people who hate Muslims, people who hate people of other races, people who hate gay people, people who hate other people in general. Every time we speak or behave hatefully, we put more hate into the world, and just lately I feel like the US is overflowing with hate. I'm terrified of what that could result in. 
I'm not saying the left doesn't do it. Only that the right's doing it a lot more loudly just now. And it scares me.

*Coretta Scott King

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A word I never knew I never knew

Morgan Freeman's character in Shawshank Redemption was a cumshaw artist. On M*A*S*H, Radar O'Reilly was a cumshaw dude. I used to work with a guy who had spent a lot of time in and out of mental hospitals who was the cumshaw dude.
A cumshaw is a person who tracks down and obtains stuff through unofficial channels. We think it was first used by people in the British Navy in the 1800s. When British ships began visiting China's shores, they'd often hear beggars use the word kam sia, a dialectical word for grateful thanks. British soldiers took the word to mean handout, and they used it to refer to anything begged, borrowed, or stolen, if you will.
I think the word's neat because I'm always surprised to find English words of Chinese origin. Chinese is so intricate and cryptic (to a non-speaker's ears) that it seems hard to believe anyone could ever pick up any Chinese words at all. 
Part of the reason, I've learned, that it's so hard to pick up Mandarin, and I assume this is true in most of the other languages and dialects spoken in China, is that there are relatively few unique syllables in Chinese, so that some words have dozens of different meanings when pronounced phonetically, but the tone, inflection, pitch, volume of a word differentiates it from the other words that are phonetically the same. So chances are that there are tons of words phonetically pronounced kam sia that might totally sound the same to Western ears.
How funny is it that phonetically isn't pronounced phonetically?
Random M*A*S*H trivia for the day: Gary Burghoff, who played Radar O'Reilly, was missing several fingers on his left hand, which is why he's so often seen holding a clipboard, a stack of papers, or his teddy bear. I was just thinking it's a little weird that they chose to hide the fact that he's missing fingers, but actually, I do find that when I notice somebody with a finger stump, I get really distracted by it. Which is odd - I've spent a lot of time around people with disabilities. And it's just fingers. If somebody's missing a limb or rocking a wheelchair, I barely notice.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The horrors!

Somebody, and it might have been me, but I doubt it, once said that you can tell a lot about a time period by watching their idea of horror.
So in the 30s, you've got Frankenstein. And I realize that Frankenstein was not written in the 30s, but you'll live. 
Steinbeck writes of the bank: "The bank is something more than man, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it." The thing I found interesting about Frankenstein's monster is that it's not evil, especially in the movie. He's just not qualified, so to speak, to be human. He doesn't kill because he wants to destroy, he kills because he doesn't know how not to destroy. And for that matter, he doesn't even know what destruction is. 
The market in the 1920s was also this giant, unwieldy monster, without a mind or conscience. The people who created the atmosphere that brought about the crash had no idea what they were doing, and didn't care that they were creating a beast; but in their defense, they had no clue what the monster was capable of.

In the 50s and 60s, Cold War. You've got space aliens and their crazy futuristic weapons. They are an evil and unseen other, and all we know is that they want to change our whole way of life or destroy us trying. What's interesting to watch is the way the terror was so close to the surface. Look at The Monsters are Due on Maple Street. If you haven't seen it, there's this street, and everybody's stuff starts turning on and off. Everybody loses power; some people get power back, some don't. Some people's cars work and others' don't. Some people have water and some don't. Everybody freaks the frick out. Finger pointing, fighting, violence, everybody terrified that their neighbor is something they're not. Turns out, spoiler alert, there are aliens turning stuff on and off as a sociological experiment. What I found weird about the episode is that I can't imagine people today reacting the same way. Actually, if the same thing happened today, a bunch of white folks would probably join together in solidarity against the nearest person of Arab descent. I'm not trying to be flip here. And that's what haunts my nightmares.

I should probably come up with more than two examples, but it's sleepy time. Perhaps there will be a part II.

Another photo courtesy of the obscenely talented Andrew Tobias Line.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

You probably think this blog is about you

I mentioned Pearl Jam's Jeremy a few entries back, and how back in my teen years, I was convinced this song was about me.
But what's it about? The lyrics don't tell us, exactly, just that it's about a very troubled kid who did something shocking and violent. It's the video that tells the story of a boy who, tortured by neglectful parents and mocking schoolmates, shoots himself in front of a classroom full of kids. I was thinking about that, because the song was made so long before the video, I wondered if the song wasn't about something else entirely, you know? 
Except that the great sage Wikipedia tells us that the song is, in fact, based on a true story about a boy named Jeremy who walked into school and shot himself in front of a classroom full of kids.

Here's some other songs that may or may not be about what we think they're about. Most of this came from VH1 shows, backed up by Wikipedia.
You're So Vain: So, early on, Carly Simon told a reporter that this song was about men in general, not a specific man. Still, rumors have always abounded as to who it was that was so vain. When you think about it, that's the ultimate act of passive aggression. It's brilliant really. People say passive aggressive like it's a bad thing. Not true. In this case, it's art.
So Carly Simon has teased and hinted at the subject of the song over the years. At one point, some dude paid $50,000 at a charity auction for the privilege of learning the subject of the song, but was sworn to secrecy. Simon also says that the subject of the song has an A, an E, and an R in his/her name, and that you can hear the name if you play one cut of the track backwards or something like that. 40 years and people still care. Me, not so much.
Safety Dance: I heard on a VH1 special that this song was about this one time, when the Men Without Hats were out dancing, and someone told them they weren't allowed to dance and that this was for their own safety. I have had the same line of bull pulled on me, this one time when I was dancing on the table at Denny's at 5am. 
Hotel California: When I was a kid, I always thought this song was so pleasant and pretty, until I listened to the lyrics and got a little freaked out. At some point, somebody explained to me that it was about drugs, and that made sense. Kind of. Actually, the song is about California. The members of The Eagles have said that it's about the destructive excesses of the culture of the California music industry, and in some ways, just California in the 1970s. What I love about this - this song is both metaphor and not. It is about California, which is a metaphor for California. That rocks. 
And here's an added bonus because, okay, you know how sometimes you figure out exactly the right comeback as soon as it's too late? Not Don Henley. This is taken directly from Wikipedia:

In a 2009 interview, Plain Dealer music critic John Soeder asked Don Henley this about the lyrics:
On "Hotel California," you sing: "So I called up the captain / 'Please bring me my wine' / He said, 'We haven't had that spirit here since 1969.'" I realize I'm probably not the first to bring this to your attention, but wine isn't a spirit. Wine is fermented; spirits are distilled. Do you regret that lyric?
Henley responded,
"Thanks for the tutorial and, no, you're not the first to bring this to my attention—and you're not the first to completely misinterpret the lyric and miss the metaphor. Believe me, I've consumed enough alcoholic beverages in my time to know how they are made and what the proper nomenclature is. But that line in the song has little or nothing to do with alcoholic beverages. It's a sociopolitical statement. My only regret would be having to explain it in detail to you, which would defeat the purpose of using literary devices in songwriting and lower the discussion to some silly and irrelevant argument about chemical processes.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


I heard an interview with Deborah Fallows, who recently wrote a book called Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons on Life, Love, and Language. It's recently been brought to my attention that it's pretty foolish to make sweeping generalizations about the people in a country that is home to over a billion people - and it would be especially foolish for me. So the author may or may not have a leg to stand on when she says that generally, Mandarin speakers don't say things like please and thank you to their loved ones. She says please and thank you and such are formal words, and would feel cold and stiff if you spoke them to your dad, for instance. She says that, for example, if my mom asks if I want a drink, the English speaker might say "Oh, no thank you, I just had something to drink." A Mandarin speaker, according to the author, would probably say something that would translate to something like "don't want."
I do feel qualified to make sweeping generalizations about the South - I've spent time enough to learn that well-mannered kids are supposed to call grown-ups sir and ma'am, even if those sirs and ma'ams are your parents. At first, I found that off-puttingly formal, but I grew to kind of like it after a while. So much I adopted it when I was working in the group home - I tried to use words of respect to remind myself to respect the people with whom I worked. Most of whom, in retrospect, found it off-puttingly formal.
I've been thinking a lot about the vocabulary of politeness since I heard that interview. As a writer, and even when it comes to public speaking, I'm all about omitting needless words. They gum up the language, obscure meaning, and waste time that could be better spent more substantively. Where does politeness fall in there? Do I really need to preface my McDonald's order with "May I please"?
In the case of McDonald's, the polite words aren't just there as filler. When I worked in food service, I hated how some people treated us like sub-humans whose only purpose in life is to produce food, and to do so entirely without error, or God help you. (If you take nothing else away from your post, take this: the person who just served you cold fries is a human being with an income near the poverty line who probably isn't personally responsible for your fries being cold anyway).
But what about when the person you're may I pleasing isn't a McDonald's cashier. Why do I ask Jeremy "Will you please pass the salt," when I could express my meaning just as effectively by saying "salt"? If we were all to stop saying please and thank you to the people with whom we're familiar, would our worlds be any different? What if parents stopped making their kids say please except around strangers? Maybe we say please and thank you to our loved ones just to stay in the habit, so we don't forget to use them when strangers offer us beverages?
I'd experiment, but it would seem rude.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Word Nerd deeply apologizes for the lack of posts and will get back on track tomorrow. For now, still recovering from Girls' Weekend with the in-laws. Full belly, empty wallet :)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Goodwill toward men

I noticed the other day that someone who is thrifty is the opposite of spendthrift. Weird, right? So I looked it up, and thrift used to mean wealth, so a spendthrift is somebody who spends their wealth. 
Another thing like that - bride and bridegroom. I find that one funny because historically, the men were in charge of the relationship, so you'd think that he'd be more than an accessory at the wedding, ya know? I'm probably reading too much into it, but reading too much into stuff is kind of my thing.
Then there's the fact that ravel and unravel mean the same thing. How the heck did that happen? And flammable means the same thing as inflammable, which is just silly.
Sorry this post isn't particularly inspired. I've been tired.