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.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Brain Drain

NPR told me today that an electric eel is not an eel, it's a fish. A horned toad is not a toad, it's a lizard. A mountain goat isn't a goat but a sheep. Additional research tells me that the King Cobra isn't a cobra belongs to a genus of its own. Sperm whales are also not giant sperms. More appropriately, their heads aren't full of sperm; however sailors thought the substance inside their heads was sperm, hence the name.
This close-up of a glass sculpture at the Columbus Art Mueseum
has nothing to do with anything.
Also, I have met quite a few ladybugs and let me tell you, they're no ladies.

On a completely unrelated note, one of my coworkers has embarked on a truly brave endeavor - she's reading all the Modern Library's Top 100 Books of the 20th Century. Seeing as I'm such a follower, I'm now doing the same. She's far braver than I though, as she started at the beginning with Ulysses. I decided to start at the end with The Magnificent Ambersons. I'd never heard of it before, but it's quite good, and has the added benefit of not sailing over my head as James Joyce tends to do.
What am I missing, by the way? I've tried reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and to the best of my understanding, it's a collection of words that occasionally pertain to a boy at a boarding school. Can anybody tell me what I'm missing?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

All Aboard

A couple weeks back, Jeremy and I went with some friends to a bad movie night at a theater in Columbus. As with any event that involves ironic enjoyment of things, the place was crawling with hipsters. Now, I know what you're thinking: my friends and I were enjoying things ironically - doesn't that make us hipsters? The answer is no. In order to be a hipster, one has to be hip, and there is no risk of that among our crowd.
And we noticed something. Everyone around us was dressed like Halloween costume versions of us. Superhero and cartoon character and and sci-fi t-shirts, brightly colored Converse sneakers, blue jeans that have been out of style since before we bought them. The difference between them and us was that we've always dressed this way (we dressed this way, in fact, before it was cool). At first we were like "hey! It's our people!" And then they were like "I can tell you are not wearing that X-Men t-shirt ironically. Attack!"
When I was a kid, geek was an insult. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, geek, which came to be associated in teen slang with socially awkward technophiles around 1983, used to refer to a circus or sideshow freak. This might come from the word geck, for a simpleton or idiot (so kind of the opposite of what it means today). This may have come from an old Germanic onomatopoeia geck, meaning to croak or cackle.
It's ironic that the thing that people mocked geeks for is the thing that brought them to the top. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates grew up to become the bosses of us all, and now we're like, one whole rung up on the food chain. Now the comic books we got mocked for loving are all over the big screen, half the costumes at the Halloween store are wizard-themed, and stars from Cameron Diaz to Katie Perry are claiming to have been geeks as kids (please. You know Katie Perry and her friends set geeks on fire and threw them in dumpsters. Not in high school, either. Last week. For reals. I read it in Star).
I miss something about the days before the geeks inherited the earth. I miss the organic nature of geek-dom. When I discovered Star Trek TNG, I was the only kid in my class who watched it. I persued brainy stuff not because my friends were, but because that interested me. At my all-girls high school, I never met another comic book lover. That's how it used to be for geeks. You became a geek organically - you didn't just buy a package.
That's what I don't like about the geek sub-culture coming out of its parents' basement, so to speak. It used to be all about what you love, and now it's a little bit about what marketers want you to love. For instance, a couple years ago, Geeks all started loving bacon. has a wide variety of bacon products - from bacon wallets to bacon flavored candy to (I kid you not) bacon magnetic poetry. I mean, I love me some bacon, but what the hell does bacon have to do with being a geek? I suspect ThinkGeek did a marketing survey, found out that geeks are statistically likely to enjoy bacon, and decided to capitalize off of it by telling us that geeks love bacon? Why do we all worship duct tape now? That's got nothing to do with being a geek either. 
I don't know what my point is. Other than to say that I was a geek before geeks were cool. Also, geeks aren't cool.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

You may be spelling your name wrong

I have never said this to anyone's face before, because how do you tell someone, "Hey dude, you're spelling your name wrong"? Well just like that, I suppose. But we must admit it's awkward for everyone.
Jeremy and I are the Brockways. We are not the Brockway's. If Loki were married, he and his wife (or husband - he kind of gives me a big gay bear vibe) would be the McLardasses not the McLardass' or the McLardass's. Likewise, if Puck were a single father of two demonic children, they'd be the Von Douchebags, not the Von Douchebag's. (Where's the mom, you ask? How the hell would I know? It's not like I sit around thinking up fantasy lives and ridiculous last names for my cats. That would just be pathetic.)
In fact, in the case of nouns, proper or otherwise, apostrophes are never ever used to make plurals. Possessives, yes. Plurals, no. That means, Mr. Coffee Shop Owner, you do not sell smoothie's, you sell smoothies. Unless, of course, you're selling something that belongs to a smoothie, in which case, you're missing a word.
And no, it does not matter whether the word ends with a vowel. I'm looking at you, Panini's. You may have placed my french fries in my sandwich where they belong, but unless you're selling me sandwiches that belong to another sandwich, you're spelling your name wrong. 
Also, I just learned Panini's is a local chain that sells paninis (the Italian word for sandwich) and thus you may well have no idea what I'm talking about. Well, they make delicious sandwiches with french fries in them and they spell their name wrong. Ironically, Panini is also the name of an ancient Sanskrit grammarian etymologically unrelated to the sandwich.
It is possible that I carry a Sharpie around to correct such errors when I find them. I'm pretty sure it's not graffiti if by changing it, you make it correct.
In summation, before you order those address labels for the Christmas card list, remember that you aren't the Smith's or the Jablonski's or the Lipshits'; you're also probably not the Smiths or the Jablonskis or the Lipshits. But whatever your last name, I assure you it's not spelled with an apostrophe.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sociology of poverty

Granted, I'm not an expert on this subject. I dropped out of school before I could finish my Sociology of Poverty class. It wasn't entirely because we had to create a grocery list for people living below the poverty line and it turned out I had a lower food budget than the members of the family in my assignment. But that was certainly a factor.
Anyway, people always want to know why the poor don't just pick themselves up and get out of the ghetto. Go to school, apply themselves and work hard and get a better life. They don't realize that poverty is like quicksand. You try to kick and thrash your way out of quicksand and you only end up sinking deeper, and while it's not impossible to find a vine and drag yourself out, it's not exactly child's play either.
When you're poor, you're so weighed down by your own baggage that you can't remember what it was like to live without debt, if you ever did. If you can cover all your bills for the month, that's a red-letter month. 
I was born to relative privilege and the fact that my parents both had college degrees raised my odds of going to college myself considerably. Yet at 24 I found myself living next door to a drug dealer (or possibly someone with a lot of sketchy looking friends who liked to visit for five minutes at a time), fending off the nutter who accosted me for money every other night, and getting myself on a first name basis with the bill collectors. It was a brief encounter with something only akin to poverty, but it was enough. I had a college degree, a great resume, and I was a damn good worker, but there just weren't jobs. There weren't jobs in my field, there weren't jobs in anything tangentially related to my field. What jobs I did apply to always told me how great my cover letter looked, how impressive my resume was, how they'd call me back. It was a couple years before someone finally did.
I remember sobbing as bill collectors berated me, telling me I was lazy and a liar. I remember what it was like to have debilitating mental and physical health problems and being unable to afford to treat them. I remember the clumps of hair that fell out every time I showered, the result of stress at whatever low-pay, hellish job I was working.
You can only get called names by a bill collector, berated by your boss, and scorned by the upper crust so long before you start to believe they're as worthless as they say you are. I had a support system. We had families who loved and believed in us. Who bought us groceries without our having to ask and who promised we weren't horrible people. Not everybody has that.
The ghetto is like quicksand. Skill game parlors and cash til payday loan places spring up through cracks in the cement and lottery ads glow on every billboard. TV commercials promise debt relief, great rates on furniture rental, get rich quick schemes; all of which serve only to dig you deeper into debt.
That technical school they advertise on TV has so many hidden fees that you're bankrupt before the semester's out. If you manage to finish, you go out on your first interview and find that fancy degree's worth less than the paper it's printed on.
The corner grocery store charges twice what the nice one in the suburbs does, but you've got no way to get there, or no time. Every payday, scammers and snake oil salesman crawl out of the woodwork and promise an end to all your troubles. You get burned once or twice, you get swindled for what little you got and you learn not to trust anybody who offers you a better life.
You put your head down and you give up trying and you're sure there's no hope. So you go to work. You clean out the grease traps. You ignore your health problems and you beg for overtime. You try to raise your kids for something better, but you don't even know what that something better looks like.
Sometimes, through some magical combination of aptitude, luck, self-esteem, and hard work, somebody gets out, and that's great for them. They deserve their success. But not everybody has that magic combination. Not everybody finds a way. It's not because they're dumb or lazy or bad or dishonest, it's because everything around them is set up to help them fail, and breaking free is more than just a matter of will.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

As if being poor wasn't bad enough

According to a study conducted by The Salvation Army earlier this year, 27% of Americans think that the poor are lazy. 
From this, I can only conclude that 27% of Americans are so busy counting their money that they don't have time to think.
I mean, have they never looked inside the kitchen at McDonald's? Passed a moment to think about the home health aide who wipes their ailing mothers' bottoms? Tried to imagine just what a hotel cleaning lady does all day?
I have a good job. I work hard at my job, and I worked hard to get it. But I got my first job before high school, worked as many of three jobs to help put myself through college, and spent quite a few years after college cursing my choice of major. Over all that time, I had a rich sampling of the sort of jobs those lazy poor people work. Sort of like that lady who wrote Nickeled and Dimed, only not on purpose.
I've never been to hell, but I have a hard time imagining it is hotter, or smells worse than a fast food kitchen. When I was an assistant manager at a local chain of burger places, I saw people literally beg for overtime. I literally begged for overtime. Because the managers who make up the schedules are sadists, or possibly pissed off because they're managers at fast food places,  people were regularly scheduled to work until 2 and then come back in at 9. Think hard work and bootstrap-pulling pays off? My place didn't hire from within. They thought you wouldn't manage your employees well if you used to not be their boss or some bull. That's not uncommon in food service. Food service workers are nameless, faceless, and disposable. It doesn't matter if your milkshakes make the angels sing - you put cheese on the wrong side of the bun when your boss is having a bad day, you're over. 
No seriously, I had a general manager berate me for five minutes over my cheese placement skills, then for another 15 minutes for apparently not being appropriately humbled by her cheese-related tough love. Do you know what makes your employees respect you? Not being reduced to tears over cheese in the middle of the kitchen during lunch rush. 
That wasn't unusual. It was Tuesday. That's reality for people in fast food. And they beg for extra shifts. They go home, they scrub off the grease, they try to spend a minute with their kids, and then they go to their second job and pray the car doesn't break down, or your kid's asthma doesn't wind them up in the emergency room again before payday (kids in poverty are three times more likely to die from asthma attacks and many times more likely to be hospitalized for them).
Direct care workers spend their days cleaning up every manner of bodily fluid. Some get kicked, bit, hit, spit on, and threatened on a daily basis. I loved working with kids with disabilities, but I still have scars from scratches and bites. At the facility where I worked, you could get "mandatoried." That meant if a third shifter called off, your boss could tell you that you must work a second shift or you're fired. Mind you, if you fall asleep during your enforced third shift, you're written up, possibly fired.
When I worked at the adult group home, someone threatened to murder, rape, or beat me up at least three times a week. I ended up in the ER twice - once from getting beaten up and once after a client's suicide attempt resulted in my getting blood in an open cut on my arm. 
That's reality for people in direct care. And they beg for extra shifts. They leave work and hope nobody decides to follow through on a threat to slit their throat (and to be fair, they rarely do). They go home and they do their best to stop seeing the bloody sheets every time they close their eyes. No seriously. Any time I think my job is hard, I remember the day that I foiled a suicide attempt, got bled on, went to the ER, went back to work, spent hours cleaning up the blood, and got told off by my boss for getting bled on. I was apparently not supposed to attempt first aid in the case of bloody suicide attempt. Silly me.
And there are people who spend their whole goddamn lives working like this. I've seen grandmothers work 18 hour shifts just to pay the bills. I've seen people pass out from heat or exhaustion. You think the poor are lazy? Switch jobs with them for a day and find out just how lazy they are.

And why don't they just pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get out of the ghetto? More on that tomorrow.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

This needs posted

Around here, cars need washed, dogs want pet, and cats need sprayed in the face because they're scratching my new effing couch.
I didn't find out that this was wrong until I got my current job and folks started telling me that cars don't, in fact, need washed. Not that they aren't dirty - they need washing or need to be washed, but "needs washed" is wrong. Hilarious and absurdly wrong, to people outside of the Midwest, apparently. Though I can't for the life of me figure out why.
Also, there's a new V8 commercial claiming that the taste of V8 is "indescribable." Is there any way to describe V8 other than "cold tomato soup with too much salt"? Perhaps "watered down ketchup with too much salt"? I guess "virgin Bloody Mary" or "thing that invariably makes your hangover worse" if you're feeling fanciful. No seriously. I'm pretty sure that whoever started that "V8 cures your hangover" rumor was some kind of teetotaler who wanted to punish people for drinking.
Teetotaler, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, dates from 1834 and probably comes from something like "totally sober with a capital-T." 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Bad Movie Monday: Operation Endgame

It's time for another installment of Bad Movie Monday! Today's bad movie: Operation: Endgame. If you know me in person, chances are I've forced you to watch this movie (because I hate you), so you can probably skip this post.
If you love ultraviolence (and who doesn't?) and don't so much care if a movie has a discernible plot (and who does?) this movie is your dream come true. Starring a British actor whose American accent is inexplicably more convincing than his English accent; an American actress who inexplicably has phone sex with a Russian accent; and Australian actress Emilie de Ravin speaking in a Southern accent that is as adorable as it is obviously fake.
This is basically a conglomeration of A-minus list celebrities murdering each other with office supplies for reasons that never really become apparent. Particularly pointless is Zach Galifianakis, dressed like "a bearded tampon." I have watched this movie maybe a dozen times (because I hate me), and I still have not figured out what the point of this character is, nor why he is in a haz-mat suit.
With one-liners like "Well I'm still drunk, so it can't be the DTs," Rob Corddry of The Daily Show fame steals the show. Although Ving Rhames does utter the line "You're about as smooth as a three-month old bikini wax," and is described as "a black MacGuyver but without the fancy mullet."
I first watched this movie because of my bizarre and possibly unhealthy fascination with Joe Anderson, the guy who looks like a corpse in a bad suit. I rewatched this movie a dozen times because misery loves company and I wanted all my friends to have to suffer the way I did (because I hate them).
Here's the trailer.

In the spirit of the many inexplicable things in the movie, this YouTube clip is titled "Black guy gets owned by paper shredder!" I'd say that this is by far the most creative bit of ultraviolence I've ever seen. Please, if you are squeamish about people being killed by paper shredders, do not watch this clip.
This movie, by the way, was created by the people behind Donnie Darko. Endgame is by far the better movie. I still have plans to sue Jake Gyllenhaal for the time I wasted watching that one. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Irreconcilable Differences: A Play in One Act

Kludge (noun): A messy fix, often unsustainable in the long term. Primarily computer programming slang. This kludge stops the error message from popping up, but doesn't prevent the error condition from occurring.
Kludgy (adjective): Having to with sloppy computer fixes - also may refer to section of code containing multiple kludges. 
Uncertain origin, though there are many fanciful guesses peppering the Internet. May be related to a Germanic word, klug, meaning clever; contrariwise, could be related to the Scots word kludge for public toilet.

Brigid: Hey Monkey, I could use your help. I want to write a blog post on the word kludge.
Jeremy: It's a good word.
Brigid: So, would this be a good analogy for kludge? Let's say your doorbell breaks, but you really need a doorbell right now. So you staple a rubber chicken over the broken doorbell, so people can squeak it when the want in. Then, when the chicken turns out not to do the trick, you cut a hole in its belly and stick a jingle bell in there. And then when you get an actual replacement doorbell, instead of taking the whole rubber-chicken-jingle-bell contraption down, you just glue the new doorbell on over it.
Jeremy: I guess so, sure.
Brigid: You're not laughing.
Jeremy: Oh, is it supposed to be funny?
Brigid: Of course it's funny, there's a rubber chicken.
Jeremy: Okay, sure.
Brigid: You're still not laughing.
Jeremy: It's just... well...
Brigid: YOU don't think rubber chickens are funny, do you?
Jeremy: They're not that funny.
Brigid: [sobbing] I thought I knew you.
Jeremy: I mean, I guess if you've got a rubber chicken as part of a sight gag or something, sure, in the right context it could be funny. But just using the words rubber chicken doesn't make something funny.
Brigid: Blasphemy! Rubber chickens in sight gags are hilarious. Rubber chickens in conversation are slightly, slightly less so.
Jeremy: They're really not.
Brigid: I want a divorce. You are not the man I thought you were.
Jeremy: I suppose that's fair.
Brigid: Hey, you think it would be funny if, instead of just using the rubber chicken thing, I presented the post in the form of the conversation we just had?
Jeremy: Not really, no.
Brigid: Why don't you ever support me?
Jeremy: Because I kinda hate you.
Brigid: Can't argue with that.
Proof that rubber chickens are the definition of comedy:

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ahoy hoy!

What Thomas Edison invention do English speakers use every day, according to John Lloyd and John Mitchinson, authors of The Book of General Ignorance? The word hello
That may be a slight exaggeration, according to other sources I've consulted, but only slight.
You see, Thomas Edison wanted a word to use as a greeting while he was testing Alexander Graham Bell's telephone prototype. While Bell preferred the far more whimsical ahoy hoy, Edison felt that hello was easier to understand from a distance.
While The Book of General Ignorance hasn't convinced me that Edison coined the term, he does seem to be responsible for hello being the standard telephone greeting. Before that, telephone operators greeted callers with Who are you?, which seems an awfully rude way to greet someone.
Eventually, after hello became the most accepted form of telephone greeting, telephone operators came to be known as hello girls. According to General Ignorance, the first recorded use of name tags bearing the phrase Hello my name is... was at an 1880 telephone operators' convention.
This is not to say that hello was an entirely new invention. Variations on hello have been around a long time, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. There was hallo, originally used on ships to urge folk along, funny because it comes from the word holla, which was a command to stop. This led to halloo, a word meaning to shout. Hallo, in turn, gave rise to holler. This all came full circle in the early 2000s with the slang word holla, a form of greeting based on the word holler.