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.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Help, help, I'm being objectified!

Recently, someone directed me to an article on The Vagenda, a fantastically named feminist blog. It's an okay blog, but a thread in the comments for one of the articles stirred up a conflict that's been living inside of me a while.
The conflict is over objectification. In the thread, the subject of burlesque came up, and how it's sickening. Terrible for women. Anti-feminist. How these "seemingly emancipated" women are just displaying "a clingy, needy desire to be adored."
Yeah, I just don't see it. I don't understand feminists who think there's something wrong with a woman choosing to show off her bits in whatever way she deems fit. Aren't they our bodies and our choices? Isn't it just a wee bit condescending to tell us "no, dear, you only think you enjoy the thing that you enjoy - you just aren't smart enough to know it's bad for you"? 
And what it all comes down to is that I just don't get this whole feminist notion of "objectification." What is, objectification, exactly, and who gets to say what it is and isn't? Isn't it possible to respect a woman as a human and drool over her tasty bits at the same time? Yeah, we've got minds and hearts and needs and ambitions, but we've got bodies too, same as men. Humans can see both the physical and the non-physical, right at the same time. We're multi-taskers like that.
Which leads me to something I wrote some months ago and promptly lost. Here it is for you, in all it's dated glory.
February's GQ features a wonderfully scantily-clad Michelle Williams, showing off some curves. She's not exactly real-people sized. If you saw her in person, she might be thinner than the thinnest person you know. But in this photo, her lines are soft and round. Her stomach pooches out a tiny bit, and her thighs appear capable of supporting her weight.
On the cover of Women's Health, Elizabeth Banks stands on legs like knitting needles with an impossibly flat belly; the only part of her protruding are her perfect tennis ball breasts recklessly defying gravity.
 I'm too cute and bubbly for gravity
In the women's magazines, girls are whittled down to nothing flat. Contorted to show off the latest fashion or exercises to torture an already tortured form. 
In men's magazines like Esquire and Maxim, women lounge on sofas, smile and flirt, curves on top of curves.
In women's magazines, articles tell us what she's wearing and how she got so majestically skeletal. 
Somewhere, in somebody's attic, a painting of
Olivia Wilde is growing morbidly obese
Esquire tells us what she does with her day, how she's funny and reads Don Delillo (and how it's sexy that she reads Don Delillo) and her opinions on Important Things.
When people blame men and their objectifying eyes for our body issues and society's unrealistic expectations of beauty, I wonder whose magazines they're looking at. 
Personally, I'd rather see my daughter in burlesque.
Showing a sexy lady's skin seductively peeking out of a lace teddy isn't exploitation. Showing pictures of Dakota Fanning and Selena Gomez surrounded by headlines about how to get your man's rocks off? 
I don't know, man. Looking at Cosmo makes me wonder how much better off we are than our grandmas. Looking at burlesque girls - dead sexy women with curves like mine - I feel like there's hope for us yet.

On a related note, does it hurt Orlando Bloom personally or mankind as a whole that he was featured in bondage at some point in every one of the Pirates movies? 
Are we even sure this guy isn't a woman?
It's just a thing I think about.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Is it okay to hate hate?

One of my Facebook friends recently posted about her mixed feelings on waiting on a customer who was covered in swastika tattoos. A back and forth ensued in which some folks said that it wasn't fair to make assumptions about the man - maybe he'd repented but kept the tats as a reminder; maybe he was Buddhist; maybe he had been forced to get the tats. Other people said that the symbol is inexorably tied to the Nazis and that a person who wears one is essentially embracing evil.
It took me back to my days working retail. I once carded a kid for a tobacco product, and he tried to prove he was of age by showing me his giant - nipples to navel - swastika tattoo (which was, as an aside, clearly a prison tat, which made sense because he also offered up the fact that he'd just left prison as proof he was 18). I asked the guy to close his shirt, which he wouldn't, and then the other girl I was working with kicked him out. The whole time this encounter is going on, he's telling us how this was an ancient symbol of good luck and doesn't necessarily make you a Nazi. I remember his friends dragging him out of the store as he shouted over his shoulder "I'm not a bad person!" 
For what it's worth, the guy gave me a vibe so evil that I'd wanted him out of the store before I even saw the tat. 
Anyway, the prison tat kid was right. The swastika is a very ancient symbol - according to Wikipedia, it appears in examples of proto-writing going back to the Neolithic era. It's very commonly found on artifacts from ancient India, and it is from Sanskrit that we get the word swastika which means, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, being fortunate. It has been used as a lucky charm in Western society, a holy symbol in several Eastern and Western religions, a character in languages like Chinese and Japanese, a decoration in ancient Native American motifs, an emblem on coins such as those produced in 6th century Greece, and even a corporate logo in pre-WWII Ireland. 
So there's nothing inherently evil or violent about the symbol. The Nazis adopted it because they felt it was the symbol of the mythical Aryan race that supposedly had origins in Ancient India. 
All that being said, there's barely a shadow of a doubt that the nipples-to-navel kid wasn't a Buddhist. My Facebook friend essentially said the same of her swastika-covered customer. The swastikas associated with all those other faiths and cultures aren't all identical to the Nazi swastika - the arms are often fatter, thinner, curved, or set at a different angle. Many have designs in or around them. If you had a real, non-Nazi need to get swastika'ed, you could pretty easily come up with a design that didn't scream "I'm a Nazi and I'm okay."
In my opinion, proudly displaying a swastika tat is a tacit endorsement of everything the Nazis stood for; and more than that, it's a warning. Nazis didn't think that people like me and the folks I love deserved to live, and it's in my best interest to limit my interaction with them as much as possible. Honestly, the reason I asked the swastika kid to close his shirt rather than kicking him out of the store myself was that I was afraid. My coworker was Jewish, and it was her Jewish father who owned the store. And when my coworker told the guy she was Jewish, all I could think was that there was a hate crime coming on. I'm actually kind of surprised that the guy didn't retaliate.
What do you think, dear readers? If a swastika-sporter showed up in your place of business, would you serve them with a smile? Would you be wary? Would you give them the benefit of the doubt? 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

If moonshine don't kill me I'll live til I die

Apparently I've been away a week. Oops. I'm sure I've been off having fun and wild adventures. So wild I don't remember them. I do remember the dream I had during my epic nap today in which evil Jehovah's Witnesses were trying to kill people from my church for exposing their plot to spread MS by convincing first cousins to marry each other. Man, my dreams are stupid.
So I'd like to lead into this story with a charming story about one of my aged relatives urinating in one of his bottles of bootleg beer to keep his sons from drinking it. I'd like to, but upon trying to relay it, I realize that the charming part is the charming Irish accent that the teller impersonates. Which doesn't come across in blog form. Your loss.
This post is about moonshine, homemade liquor. The term comes from England, where once moonshine referred to any job one did at night. The info comes from Stuff You Should Know, one of the super cool podcasts produced by
Bootlegging is so called because bootleggers allegedly used to hide the booze in their boots. I highly doubt this was the preferred way of transporting the good stuff - it's not particularly efficient. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, this was related to the fact that folks used to conceal weapons in their boots, which are a much more practical things to stick in one's boot. Although it certainly wouldn't be comfortable.
Bootlegging didn't start with the prohibition, as it turns out. It actually began to come into its own around the American revolution - liquor was legal, but taxed. Folks had just fought a whole war to stop paying taxes, and they were kind of grumpy about the fact that the new government were expecting them to do just that. So grumpy that many of them took over the city of Pittsburgh in what came to be called The Whiskey Rebellion. It was one of George Washington's first big domestic challenges as president. Washington also delivered his first presidential pardon to get a leader of the rebellion off the hook. He probably figured he'd killed a whole lot of redcoats to not pay taxes, and his only punishment was becoming the first president, so he should share the mercy. 
So moonshine was traditionally made of corn mash and tastes, according to the guys on the podcasts, "having your throat ripped out by God." Which, because I'm an idiot, makes me totally want to try it. Moonshine differs from bourbon, also made from corn mash, because it's not aged - bourbon is aged for years in charred barrels, which give it that brown color. Moonshine is clear and goes right from the bathtub to the mason jar.
Actually, bathtub gin is a different thing, in that it's gin and not whiskey. it is not, according to Wikipedia, made in bathtub. It's just that the bottles they use to make it were so big they had to be filled from the bathtub, rather than the sink. 
Interesting moonshine fact: moonshine actually gave rise to NASCAR. Bootleggers got quite skilled at outrunning the cops in small, cheaper cars through the mountains of Appalachia. Some got so good that they decided to make a sport of it. Interestingly, though modifying a stock car is illegal in NASCAR, it was common among bootleggers. In fact, the first winner of a NASCAR race was disqualified when it was discovered he'd modified the car he used in the race. Because he'd been using it to bootleg moonshine the previous week.
There's a hundred bottles of beer in this cupboard, and I pissed in one. /charming Irish accent.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Fiddle me that

It's not just that Nero wasn't playing the fiddle while Rome burned. There was no fiddling, no one-man poetry slam, not even a little jig, according the The Book of General Ignorance by John Lloyd and John Hitchinson. I'm a filthy, rotten liar. 
Seems that when the fire started, he wasn't even in Rome, he was on vacation about 35 miles away. When news of the fire reached him, he went back to Rome to coordinate efforts to get the fire back under control.
It would seem that enemies started the rumor; they wanted people to believe that Nero started the fire and that he partied while the deed went down.
It's amazing how many lies like that one end up being reported as historical fact. For instance, most of us learned that Rasputin was nearly death-proof. According to many history books, he failed to die after being tricked into drinking poisoned wine and eating poisoned cakes; survived several gunshot wounds; lived through being beaten with clubs; was chained up, wrapped in a carpet, and thrown into the frozen river - dying from drowning only after he had broken free of his chains and escaped the carpet. An autopsy at the time even confirmed it. However, it's probable that this entire account was a fabrication on the part of his killer, Prince Felix Yusupov. The thinking is that Rasputin died of a gunshot wound to the head, and that all the other business was something Yusupov made up to make his actions look justified - certainly he'd done the world a favor by killing someone who was, apparently, too evil to die. In fact, the whole business about his death is fishy... Yusupov's account changed a bunch of times, they were never able to pin down just how many times Rasputin had been shot, and by what weapons. According to Wikipedia (and the more legitimate publications listed in the citations section), there's a decent pile of evidence that Yusupov was acting in collusion with the British Secret Intelligence Bureau. Dude.
Another framed historical figure was Marie Antoinette. She never said "let them eat cake." Again, according to The Book of General Ignorance, the phrase "had been in use in print as an illustration of aristocratic decadence since at least 1760."
Catherine the Great, according to and, was not killed while getting it on with her horse. She and the horse had a loving, consensual relationship, but the horse's enemies accused him of killing the love of his life to further their own political ends. Actually, Catherine was accused of being into the kinky stuff with her barnyard friends throughout her life, and it was likely just an attempt by her enemies to discredit her or make her look insane - there's no evidence at all that she did the deed with her steed. 
But back to our buddy Nero for a moment. He may not have been playing a pretty ditty while burning down a city, but he did have some interesting hobbies. Seems he was something of a drag queen - he loved to sing, dance, and act while dressed as a lady. Also, he had his mom killed and liked orgies. But who doesn't? Have their moms killed, I mean.

By the way, remember how last week I said that fiddles and violins are the same, and that it's the playing style that differs? I wasn't able to articulate what that difference was, but a few days ago a friend did that for me: a violin sings while a fiddle dances. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Speaking of...

This one time I'm sitting in my room, it's late, and I'm trying to make a 3 dimensional model of a DNA helix for Honors Biology. Naturally, instead, I'm playing with my action figures.
Strong Guy, whom I mentioned yesterday, was fighting Darkwing Duck.

Blundering Duck based on Maxwell Smart
Deformed Mutant based on Deformed Kewpie Doll
Who will win??

Darkwing's all "Suck Gas, evildoer," even though I'd lost the gas gun ages ago (not that it ever did any good anyway).
And Strong Guy goes, "No, Wise Guy's my brother. I'm Strong Guy."
And Darkwing's like, "I didn't call you a wise guy."
And Strong Guy's all, "I had to come up with a clever quip to hide my mountains of pain and that's what came up."
So then Darkwing says, "I usually go with 'Let's get dangerous.' The old standby."
Guido's like, "You don't have a cousin named Howard, do you?"
And Darkwing, quickly changing the subject, asks, "Sometimes I also like to say, 'I am the terror that flaps in the night. I am the double-helix that's really hard to make out of packing peanuts and coat hangers. I am Darkwiiiiiing Duck!'"
Guido says, "Hey, that's kind of cool. Let me try: I am the strong guy that thwaps you in your brain. Imma use my Power Punch  action on your shit."
Then Guido delivers his  Power Punch  to a supine Darkwing. And Darkwing explodes. I kid you not in the least. Guido hits Darkwing right on his solar plexus, Darkwing's hollow body cracks open, and little bits of Darkwing go flying everywhere. I never found his right hand.
It was pretty much the awesomest thing ever.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

On finding healing in unexpected places

I was going to write a post about acronyms, and I probably still will at some point, but I suddenly got sidetracked by comic books. As anyone who knows me knows, that happens about ten times a day. I love comic books. I don't read monthly issues anymore, and only occasionally pick up a graphic novel these days (and no, a graphic novel is not the same thing as a comic book - we'll discuss in more detail later). 
But as a kid, I was comic book obsessed. Like to a worrisome degree. That happened a lot when I was a kid, still does from time to time. But comic books were bigger than anything I'd been obsessed with before, or have since, and they lasted. I read from the time I was 12 until my comic shop closed when I was in college, and at one point I was reading just about every comic with an X in the title regularly. 
This was my comic shop once.
Kinda my lifeline back then.
It wasn't just the comics, actually, come to think on it. It was the place. I was a pariah at school, drowning in my first real bout of clinical depression, but the guys at the comic book store actually seemed to think I was cool the way I was. And I really felt like they were the only thing I had. I have a hard time imagining how I would have gotten through it without that in my life.
Anyway, I think, and I've probably said this before, that the reason the X-Men so resonated with me is that I felt just like them. I felt like I was born different, born an absolute and irrevocable freak, and so were they. 

I'm probably totally not allowed to use this.
Look at it as free publicity?

X-Factor issue #87 helped me understand myself - begin to understand what I was going through, realize other people might be going through the same. And that's kind of a huge thing. When you've got depression, especially when you don't know what depression really is, you're pretty sure you're the only person on earth who feels like you do, and that's terrifying. But then... the members of X-Factor went to a shrink.
So they'd just been through some traumatic thing or another, and they were all ordered to undergo counseling. The issue, written by the fantastic Peter David, was meant to show the meat of the characters, really explain why they were who they were, and I found myself in each one.
Wolfsbane was a a freaking wolf lady who couldn't hide her mutation in the least (because apparently Nightcrawler was too much of a douche to share the magical make-mutant-look-normal device). The session revealed she didn't have a good sense of self, she felt like an observer without control. She was looking for an identity for herself, and she was lost. 
Strong Guy was in pain.He says that when people know you're hurting, they either pity you, or they eat you alive. He said that was the lesson he'd learned from his childhood. And he can't stand the pity, so he pretends he's fine, makes jokes to cover it up, but he's in constant physical agony. Because getting hit by a bus made his powers manifest and he got really giant and his muscles blew up and he didn't know how to release the kinetic energy so he got all deformed. That last part didn't happen to me.
Multiple Man grew up on a farm with his parents' dead bodies for company. That didn't happen to me either. But he felt alone all the time, and that did happen to me. He said the reason he jokes around and acts like a giant child most of the time is that he'll "do anything for attention... because it reminds me I'm alive, and it gets people to notice me. And when people notice me... it helps to make sure I'm not alone." 
Havok was the team leader. Strong and capable and nowhere near as annoying as his brother Cyclops (my observation, not his). But Cyclops was the leader of the X-Men, and Alex felt forever in his shadow. My sister was a straight A student. She was pretty. She wasn't fat. She knew how to operate a tube of lipstick. And she didn't sit around reading comic books and plotting her own demise all day. I realize now she had her demons, but then, seeing me next to her just made me feel more defective.
So that was me. The first therapy I ever got. And it didn't cure me, and it didn't even make a dent in the overwhelming depression and loneliness, but it gave me hope. Made me feel a little less like a freak and a little more like a mutant. I mean, not that that's exactly a good thing. Plus I didn't get powers. You want to know how pissed I was when I hit puberty and my powers didn't manifest? Pretty pissed. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Fiddle me this

Judy Parkinson's From Hue & Cry to Humble Pie tells me this about the expression to fiddle while Rome burns: the expression, which means to do nothing in a crisis, is a reference to the behavior of one Nero Claudius Caesar during, appropriately, the burning of Rome. Apparently, Nero sat up in a tower, playing a lyre and reciting his own poetry while the fire raged. Which isn't fiddling at all. They lied to me through cliche. Uncool, man, uncool.
I wasn't able to determine how fiddle came to mean mess around with, although if I had to guess, I'd say it comes from that. Although it could also be a shortening of the 16th century expression fiddle faddle - faddle is an obsolete term that meant trifle. Or it could just refer to the thing you do with your hands when you're playing the fiddle. 
You know the difference between a fiddle and a violin? Pretty much nothing. According to, a fiddle can be any member of the viol or violin family, but it's most commonly just a violin. The distinction comes from the tradition the player's playing in.  
Know what else? Fiddle comes to us by way of German, and they're not totally sure, but it might go way back to Vitula, Roman goddess of joy and victory.
Violin is a diminutive of viola, which comes to us by way of Latin and might go way back to... wait for it... Vitula, Roman goddess of joy and victory.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Things that are Wrong

Polyamory, as the old t-shirt says, is wrong.
Polyamory is the practice or lifestyle of loving more than one person with the consent of all parties involved. People who are polyamorous might be involved in a relationship with multiple people, or might be involved in multiple relationships. It's not the same as cheating, because one of the defining features of polyamory is total honesty with all partners. 
And it's wrong. Well, the term is, anyway. You see, poly comes from Greek and amory from Latin. So it would be either polyphilia or multiamory.
But that's not the only thing that's wrong, according to Everything You Know About English is Wrong by Bill Brohaugh. 
The idea that a dialogue can only be between two people is wrong. The thing is, you've got the word monologue, which is a speech by one person, from the Greek monologus, meaning speaking alone. Dialogue is from the Greek dialogos, meaning conversation, and it's related to the Greek word dialogesthai which comes from the words legein for speak and dia for across. People think since mono refers to one, dia must refer to two. But nope. Across. Who knew.
In computer-ese, it's called dialog, as in dialog box. It's very confusing to keep switching back and forth.
Also, at work, we capitalize the word Support when we're referring to the Customer Support department, and Help when we're referring to our documentation (as in "See the Help for more information"). Now I try to capitalize those words whenever I use them, when I'm using them as proper nouns. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

From the Latin secretus - set apart, withdrawn, hidden

People tell me secrets. Friends and acquaintances, some, but strangers way more often than you'd think. Like people I've just met. Like people I sat down next to on the bus five minutes ago. Some people just get told secrets; maybe it's something in our faces or the color of our hair. I've got a few friends in the same boat. One's an OB/GYN. Poor thing. At least most people refrain from telling me the secrets of their cooches. Most. Not all.
I don't know why people tell me secrets. Much time as I spend talking, you'd think they couldn't get a secret in edgewise, but I have to stop to breathe sometimes, and that's when they come up. I guess I'm honored. I guess I'm touched. I try my ass off to live up to the responsibility. To listen and empathize and remember and not look at people differently or judge them (or at least make it obvious if I'm judging them).
They tell me they had an affair, or they tell me what it was like finding out their wife had an affair. They tell me about their mental illnesses and their addictions and suicide attempts and the people who have hurt them, and the people they've hurt. 
But often, it seems, they tell me about rape. You know the statistic about how 1 in 4 women have been raped, how hard it is to believe it's that many? It's that many. I listen and empathize and ask permission to hug (trust me on this one - never attack hug a trauma victim). And it's not just women. There don't seem to be reliable statistics on men being raped; it's so under-reported that you'd be tempted to think it doesn't happen. But there are more than a few. I can't imagine what that's like - to have something horrible happen to you, but keep it a secret because society thinks it's a punchline. 
You try not to think about it too hard, empathize too much. You keep hearing those stories and before too long you stop wanting to live on this planet anymore. You see men on the street and you think "That guy might be a rapist," or "That woman might be a child molester." It's gotten so, while my heart breaks for people, I don't feel that moral outrage anymore, and that terrifies me sometimes.
People lie their secrets sometimes too. Sometimes I can tell but probably mostly I can't. That's terrifying too. You're listening to someone telling their secret and it suddenly occurs to you've been a sucker before and you might be a sucker now. But you chase the thought away because if they've got to lie, it's because they've got secrets too big and heavy to tell, and I can't imagine living with that kind of burden.
I'm not complaining - I guess I'm lucky to be hearing about it and not living it. And I'm not even sure why I'm writing this. I guess this is just me whispering into the reeds that the king has horse's ears.