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, September 28, 2014

The Motherlands: Chester

Last year Jeremy and I had the incredible fortune to visit England and Ireland. When I finished college, the farthest I'd ever been away from home was Northern Virginia, and though I'd dreamed of going there all my life, I don't think I really believed it possible until we touched down in Dublin. It seems impossible to describe the feeling of visiting a place that had previously only existed in books, but my face hurts from smiling just thinking about it, so maybe that's all the description needed.
I should point out that it turns out I am a terribly nervous traveler and was abjectly terrified and homesick the entire time we were there, but as it turns out it is completely possible to be enchanted beyond imagining while simultaneously feeling physically ill with the desire to be home.
I guess I'll start by talking about Jeremy's and my favorite city, Chester, a lovely and ancient city on the border with Wales. The historical sites in the city are incredible, particularly to a couple of kids whose apartment is probably younger than any of Chester's McDonald's restaurants. 
The historical highlights of the town include a partially unearthed Roman amphitheater (the non-unearthed portion is under a slightly younger ancient historical structure, because that's just how England rolls), Roman baths, and one of the most complete Roman city walls in England.
Ah, the Internet. Where you don't have to have a slide projector to bore your
loved ones with your vacation photos
It's super cool that Chester has all this Roman stuff, because Chester's name comes from the Latin word castra, which means settlement. That wouldn't be terribly exciting, given how much of our language does come from Latin. However, castra is one of the very few words to find its way into English directly from Latin.
See, the Romans conquered England a couple thousand years ago and apparently didn't hang out with the natives too much. The Romans and the natives were pretty intent on murdering each other, which kind of puts a damper on cultural exchange. So even though the Romans stuck around several hundred years, they left, and left nothing behind but a few words, some cities, and a whole lot of corpses. Castra was one of the handful of words that stuck, and it survives in the name of every city with chester, cheshire, caster, or shire in its name.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Prescriptive linguistics is a HARD limit*

I've mentioned prescriptive linguistics here a few times, but I don't know that I've ever defined it. Linguistic prescriptivism is the philosophy that there should be immutable rules governing the language we speak, that there is a right way and a wrong way to use language, and that failure to follow these rules is a character flaw. I think people assume that all English majors are prescriptivists, and most of us probably start out this way. But a close study of the language makes it difficult, maybe impossible, to hold on to that philosophy. 

See, without a certain amount of elasticity, language doesn't exist. Without neologisms, we'd be stuck trying to communicate in a language that never progressed past rock and fire. And in fact, elasticity is one of the defining characteristics of the English language.
You see England got conquered. A lot. And each time it was conquered, the language stretched as words from another new language got crammed in. That's one of the reasons English has so many words that mean exactly the same thing. The Germanic tribes gave us the word cow, the Norse gave us bull, the French gave us beef, and now folks learning the English language are paying the price.
And part of the reason our grammar is so complicated and confusing. For instance, the word whom. In Latin, the direct object in a sentence ended in the letter m. For whatever reason, the French followed that rule for some, but not all direct objects. In English there are only a tiny handful of words that follow that rule (whom and him are the only ones I can think of off the top of my head), and there's no reason for them to. Latin had to use a special ending to indicate a direct object because they didn't have prepositions. We've got prepositions like to and for to indicate that a given noun is the object of the verb, so the m is just there for show. Linguistic prescriptivists cleave to this totally pointless rule, but those who don't follow it are doing English a favor, really, by stripping off the dead weight. 
English never stopped evolving, and the English language is so much richer for it. So when you think about it, it's the people who change the rules who are honoring the true essence of the language.

* Oddly enough, this is a quotation from 50 Shades of Grey. In between the pyrotechnic orgasms, the lavish displays of wealth (money porn), and endless filler, Ana and Christian have running debates over vocabulary and grammar. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Reading things I should be ashamed of

No, it's not 50 Shades again. I'm reading If I Stay, a young adult tear jerker that I'm going to choose to believe isn't some cynical ploy to divest tweens of their babysitting money.
The narrator just told about a funeral she'd gone to, a rocker atheist cynic who had a crazy religious church funeral where they played Wind Beneath My Wings (does that count as a spoiler?)
Then I was really crying, because I was thinking of a religious funeral I went to, of a good friend. Her loved ones chose to take her death as an excuse to witness for Christ; though they never took her life as a call to behave like Christ.
I heard an interview where Eric Idle claimed Always Look on the Bright Side of Life was the most requested secular song at funerals.

Idle says he wrote it, by the way, because the end of Life of Brian was too depressing. So, you know, jaunty musical number.
Not a bad way to be rung out as far as it goes, but I'm a fan of this one.

I chose this vid because the official video is awful, and also because it's awesome to watch a bunch of guys in hideous coats try to pogo and sing at the same time (spoiler alert: they fail).
What about you? What will they play at your funeral? 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Well huh.

Can you guess the speaker of the Sociology professor's favorite quotation? "The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect to their elders... they contradict their parents, chatter before company... and are tyrants over their teachers."
Sociology professors love this quotation because it demonstrates something weird we humans tend to do - to forever see the younger generations as horrible and getting worse, and certain to bring about the downfall of society. See, this quotation, which easily have come from pretty much any pundit on Fox News this morning comes from none other than Plato.
At least that's what I thought when I looked it up online just now. Turns out, it's not from Plato at all. And it's all Stephen Fry's fault.
He kind of dresses like a sociology professor

You see, Stephen Fry hosts the most British show on television, a celebrity quiz show called QI. On QI, Fry asks his panel of hilariously British cohorts questions that everyone on earth knows the answer to...

...and then informs the entire world that they're wrong, while smugly grinning like the cat who ate the canary.
Seen here wearing the canary
If you ever want to spend an hour being confused and wrong, you can catch the latest few seasons on Hulu.
Back to the quotation I bet you thought I'd forgotten about: even though it's been attributed to Plato by news publications all over the planet, including the New York Times and The Chicago Herald, it wasn't written by Plato, or Socrates, or Sam the Eagle, or a Fox News Host.

The research team at QI that the quotation came from the dissertation of Kenneth John Freeman, an Oxford student who, in 1907, used those words to summarize what folks were saying of the youth during Plato's time. On the one hand, this Freeman guy kinda got screwed. On the other hand, Plato's one of the most revered intellects of all time, so having people mistake your writing for his has to be a bit of an ego boost.
A few other facts that might make you feel like Stephen Fry is somewhere in England, wearing a bad tie and mocking you:

  • The city with the highest crime rate in the world is Vatican City. 
  • The driest place on earth is Antarctica, parts of which haven't seen rain in millions of years.
  • Two thirds of the world's population has never seen snow. Lucky bastards.
  • The largest thing a blue whale can swallow is a grapefruit.
  • Nero did not fiddle while Rome burned. Actually, he handled the containment effort quite capably. 
  • The Inca measured time based on how long it took to cook a potato.

Sources for most of the facts above can be found in The Book of General Ignorance by John Lloyd (one of the show's creators) and John Hitchinson. Or by watching QI.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Bands born from books

They Might Be Giants: Don Quixote
Actually, the band took their name from a film of the same name. The film stars George C. Scott who plays a millionaire living under the delusion that he is a modern-day Sherlock Holmes. The giants in the title are the windmills that Don Quixote believed to be giants. "Of course," Scott's character remarks, "he carried it a bit too far. He thought that every windmill was a giant. That's insane. But... if we never looked at things and thought of what they might be, why, we'd all still be out there in the tall grass with the apes."

Jeremy and my wedding song. Just in case you weren't aware we were geeks.

The Airborne Toxic Event: Don DeLillo's White Noise:
The book is about some neuritic insufferable intellectuals, and then a chemical spill happens and the media calls it an "airborne toxic event." Frontman Mikel Jollett (according to Wikipedia), says that the event in the novel gives the protagonist a life-changing awakening to his own mortality. Jolett says that the band came to be after a life-threatening event. No word yet on whether the band members are neurotic insufferable intellectuals.

The Doors: Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception:
According to Paste Magazine, The Doors picked the name because the book is about Huxley's experiments with mescaline. The title of the book, in turn, was a reference to a quotation from William Blake: "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite."
The Doors: The band who invented emo
REM: The Dictionary:
Yep, this band's name was picked at random from the dictionary. Funny story... back when I was 13 or so, our local pop station, Power 108, played It's the End of the World as We Know It on a continuous loop for 24 straight hours to announce the coming of 107.9 The End. When I was 20, the station switched formats again, and naturally played the song for another 24 straight hours. This song perfectly bookends my adolescence, which has become a big haze of angst, mosh pits, and singers who all sound slightly constipated. It was the first music that was really mine.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Armchair Revolution

In the wake of Ferguson, there's been a bunch of talk on social and other media about hash tag activism, which some would classify as slactivism
Many have dismissed hash tag activism as pointless; as a way to feel like you're doing something without actually doing anything. And while it's true that some hash tag campaigns have been pointless and utterly impotent (#BringBackOurGirls, in my opinion), I am not sure hash tags and other forms of social media "activism" are as sneer-quote worthy as they sometimes seem.

Back in May, Elliot Rodger posted a YouTube diatribe about how he couldn't get laid and then went out and killed six people. In the aftermath, women began to tell stories about sexual violence with the hash tag #yesallwomen

Critics called the campaign pointless - obviously, Rodger had problems that went way beyond getting laid and anyway, half the victims were dudes. And that's fair. But I think right then was as good a time as any to start a national conversation about just how many women have been harmed in some way by men who felt they were entitled to sex. Is it going to prevent future shooting sprees. Highly unlikely. But now a lot more men are aware what their moms, wives, sisters, and daughters face. And now a lot more women know they're not facing it alone. It's not gonna change the world, but for a time, it did change the national dialog.
Perhaps the stupidist social media campaign in the history of stupid is the ALS ice bucket challenge. This campaign, started in July of this year, has people posting YouTube videos of themselves dumping a bucket of ice on their head to raise money for ALS research. Because you were supposed to donate money OR dump a bucket of ice water on your head... only apparently rich people felt left out so they donated money AND dumped a bucket of ice water, so basically, half the country spent the summer being doused in ice water. Because the Internet. 
It's the dumbest thing like, ever. It doesn't even make sense. Why ice? Why ALS? Why do we care what celebrities dump on their heads?
Because money. According to the ALS, they've received over $100 million in the past year, compared to $2.8 million during the same period last year. Critics have blasted the vanity of it - Willard Foxton of the Daily Telegraph calls it "a middle-class wet t-shirt contest for armchair clictivists." 
But then, the last fund-raising event I went to featured videotaped horse races and auctioned off, among other things, an unholy purple chinchilla vest. Is that really less stupid than being doused in a bucket of ice water? I suspect the event raised a lot less than $100 million, and probably involved considerably more than the roughly $0 overhead cost of the Ice Bucket Challenge. 

... come to think of it, I really hate fancy benefits for Good Causes. I gotta put on girl clothes and make conversation with strangers and eat finger foods that definitely did not come from the freezer case at Costco. Can I ice-bucket challenge my way out of all fancy charity things? Because I'm in.
But I digress. There've been a couple other hash tag campaigns I thought were more meaningful than they got credit for. L
ike #IGottheTalk:
Now a bunch of white people who had no reason to know about "the talk" know about "the talk." And all it took was some typing and clicking. 
(Incidentally, my dad gave me "the talk" when I got my license. He is very cautious.) 

I am also impressed with #IfTheyGunnedMeDown
The media has been passively vilifying African Americans for ages, and they've been getting away with it because until now, the media decided for us what we were allowed to see. Every day people finally have the power to call them out on it.

I donate money to causes and volunteer at stuff and all of that, but honestly, I think where I do the most good is here at this keyboard. I can handle a soup ladle all right, but writing's what I do best. And because of the Internet, I don't have to beg publishers to give me a voice. I try to be more activist than slacktivist and usually succeed, but I suspect I do more good slacking than I do acting.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Just so we're clear

This morning, an NPR story on football player Adrian Peterson reported that Peterson had been indicted for "spanking" his child. 
All the conversation I'd heard about the incident had made it sound as if Peterson was under intense scrutiny because of another NFL violence scandal. That this was maybe a case of a parent disciplining their child a little too much and a huge deal being made out of it. Based on sound bites from folks like Charles Barkley, it sounded like the whole thing was a referendum on the right of a parent to spank his child.

Just so we're clear: this is not a case about spanking. This isn't a case about discipline; this isn't a case about "cultural differences"; this isn't a case about the kinds of corporal punishments that good parents give to their children all the time.
After Adrian Peterson's four year old son misbehaved, Peterson got a stick off a tree. He removed his son's pants. By his own admission, he hit the child in the back, buttocks, legs, and scrotum at least 15 times (though he says he doesn't know for sure because he did not count). In a statement, Peterson "deeply regrets" the boy's "unintentional" injuries, but didn't express the same regret to the boy's mother: In a text message to the kid's mom, Peterson said, "Got him in the nuts once I noticed... I felt so bad, but I'm all tearing that butt up when needed!" [emphasis mine, obviously]
In addition to the injuries Peterson himself admitted to, doctors also found bruises and abrasions on the boys hands, head, and ankles - and it should be noted that hitting a child with a dirty stick so hard that it breaks the skin creates a serious infection risk. Two doctors in the state of Texas (not exactly bleeding heart central) agreed that these injuries were excessive and consistent with abuse. A Texas grand jury agreed.

Just so we are clear, this isn't about whether Peterson spanked his child or whooped his child or disciplined his child. This isn't about whether parents have the right to spank, whoop, or discipline their children. This isn't a referendum on parenting choices, Peterson's yours, or your parents'. This is about whether it is ever okay to remove a toddler's pants and hit him repeatedly in the back, legs, and scrotum with a stick. 


Monday, September 15, 2014

Stop everything! I'm a blogger and I have an opinion!

I read this opinion piece from by some lady called Ruth Graham, who is, I'm certain, a total blast at parties. The article, titled Against YA, begins with "read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you're reading is written for children," and it just gets more self-importantly snooty from there. "At the risk," she says, "sounding snobbish and joyless and old... we are better than this." 
As I'm reading this, I'm already formulating an indignant mental defense of young adult literature, until suddenly it occurs to me... that's a really dumb thing to even have an opinion about. Who the hell is this lady, and what difference does it make to her whether I'm reading Harry Potter or Hamlet (because I couldn't possibly read both)? Does she live in some alternate universe where appreciating the majesty of Ulysses can end world hunger or cure cancer? Perhaps our enjoyment of The Hunger Games will cause society to plummet into a dystopian nightmare on par with the dystopian nightmare portrayed in The Hunger Games
I suspect that Graham isn't so much upset that other people fail to read literature with big words and Socially Redeeming Value. I suspect it's more that she wants everybody to know that she does read literature with big words and Socially Redeeming Value, and this makes her better than those of us who choose to read things we enjoy (because God knows that people who enjoy The Fault in Our Stars are totally incapable of also appreciating the scathing social commentary of White Noise). I can't do surgery; I can't end world hunger; I can't boil an egg without first consulting my mother, but god damn it, I can deconstruct the splendid landscape of ee cummings' poetry! I'm the best!
A further rant on this lady's rant: she says that juvenile literature is bad because there's a lack of moral ambiguity and the endings are too emotionally satisfying. Clearly, she needs to finish the Huger Games trilogy. The entire last book is a jangling string of uncertainties and moral ambiguities, and if you show me a person who found the ending of the series satisfying, I'll show you someone who only pretended to have finished the series.

But I digress - I was on the subject of intellectual snobs who think their snobbery is some kind of virtue. Like this twit:
The guy who wrote this caption is a good speller, but a bad grammarian.

So, our income should be tied directly to our spelling ability? In that case, I am due for a big-time raise. And I'm just saying... back in my burger flipping days, by the time I'd got about 50 hours into my 60+ hour work week, I was lucky if I managed not to deep fry my face - stringing letters together to make words would have been asking a lot. Spelling words well doesn't make you a good person. It doesn't make you a good friend or good boss or good funds manager. It makes you good at crossword puzzles. Congrats on that. 
I don't understand why so many educated folk are so insecure that they need to highlight insignificant faults of people they don't even know. That's the sort of thing kindergarten bullies do. So while these geniuses may have the spelling intelligence of a god, their behavior only proves that they have the emotional intelligence of a toddler.

I mean, do I go crazy over misspelled signage? Sure. Do I sometimes carry a Sharpie around in my purse so I can fix wayward apostrophes? Of course I do. Will I argue passionately that this is not graffiti, but a public service? Obviously. This does not make me a better person. This makes me a crazy person. This is not braggable. This does not entitle me to make more money than people who are sane enough to say "although that is written incorrectly, the author's meaning is clear - I cannot purchase fries today."

Related Reading on snooty snobbery (and your daily dose of squee)
Albatross etymology not included
Not smooberry
All your diction dripping with disdain

Friday, September 12, 2014

Who's got the button

Recently I read an article about the famous 1961 Milgram experiment. Seems a sick bastard called Stanley Milgram designed an experiment wherein people were ordered to deliver increasingly powerful electric shocks to some poor schlub they could hear but couldn't see. The study was to see if ordinary people would deliver what they believed to be lethal doses of electricity because someone in a white coat told them to.
Over half of them did. 
The study has been repeated with slightly different parameters by scientists and news outlets repeatedly and yielded similar results.
This, obviously, has deeply disturbing implications. Perhaps most dire among them is that there are still people who believe that a scientist will give you access to a murder button. 
Explains why this guy still has a job

Okay you freaking kill joy, it's not really a murder button. Apparently, scientific ethics prohibit modern researchers from making the test subjects think they're murdering someone. Now they're only 150 imaginary volts while the test subject pleads for mercy, rather than 450. So they're only being fooled into believing that scientists have given them a torture button. 

(Public service announcement: scientists will practically never give you a real torture button, meaning if someone in a white coat is trying to tell you otherwise, they're really only doing an experiment to find out how horrible a person you are. Or else they're not a real scientist, but a maniac in a lab coat and you actually are, in fact, torturing somebody).

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

We're buggin' out

Fun word fact from my friend Jenna:
A bug is an insect, but other Romantic languages have the term insect without it's synonym, bug. That's because the word bug comes from the ancient term for ghost or evil spirit. This is related to the Old English bugge for something that's terrifying. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, this is probably also related to the Scottish bogil, for goblin as well as Welsh bwg for ghost or goblin
Also probably related are bugaboo and bugbear, which are fantastic words I should use more often, generally meaning (according to Merriam-Webster) "an imaginary object of fear" or a thing we're more afraid of than we should be. Merriam-Webster also tells me that there used to be two other, similar words: buggybow and bugger bo. The fact that current dictionary words include twerk and selfie while buggybow and bugger bo languish almost makes me want to rethink my position on prescriptive linguistics. Then again, the Oxford English Dictionary did recently add wackadoo, and I really can't complain about that.
Bug may also be related to boogie man or bogeyman. Those may (though it's a bit of a reach), in turn, be related to puca, my favorite mythological creatures from Irish folklore, who either play tricks on you or murder you horribly, depending on whom you ask.
All of this suggests that whoever first started calling insects bugs felt roughly the same as our six-legged friends as I do.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Privilege and other dirty words

Back in olden times, "new money" was a really bad thing to be. Going back as far as the sixth century, working hard for one's money was shameful. For many centuries, the upper crust didn't consider it enough you had money - you had to have been born with it. If you weren't born to privilege, you didn't deserve to hang out with the upper crust. 
Enter Horatio Alger and the American Dream. By the way, can you name a single book that dude wrote? I totally can't. We all know who he is and what he's known for, and I don't know that anybody's laid eyes on one of his books in half a century. Or maybe I just don't spend a lot of time in the library. But I digress as usual. 
Anyhoodle, Horatio Alger completely flipped the script on privilege. Now being high-born is dirty and wealth only impresses people if you walked barefoot up a hill a hundred times a day to earn it. 
Which, I think, is why we react so viscerally to being accused of having privilege. 
Which is freaking ridiculous. Since I started writing this post, hundreds of kids in the developing world have died of starvation or malnutrition. Meanwhile, I live spitting distance from about a dozen all-you-can-eat restaurants. Did I work harder than those kids starving to death? Did I earn the right to not die of starvation? No; that's absurd. I'm privileged. 
Just lately, a whole bunch of white folks have got their panties in a wad over the term white privilege
We're not privileged, we insist, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. For instance, let's talk money. I worked really hard to get where I am today, money-wise. I overcame a lot. But does my hard work alone account for the huge gap between my annual household income and the average black family's household income? Can I honestly look at this chasm and not admit that it's possible that the deck was stacked just a little bit in my favor? 
And dude, school was an uphill battle for me. I damn well earned my college degree. But is it really possible to look at the quality of education in predominantly black schools compared with predominantly white schools and say that this definitely did not play a role in my getting into and making it through college?
I haven't always been the most law-abiding of citizens, at least when those laws are traffic related. In my wilder days I drove like an idiot and got pulled over. Like, a lot. Like possibly a dozen or more times within a couple years. Never had a cop search the car, never had a cop tell me to keep my hands in sight, never had a cop reach for his weapon when I made a sudden move. Statistics tell me that were my skin a different color, I'd have had a much different experience  
So can I really say that my skin color has absolutely nothing to do with my success in life? I don't like being called privileged. It makes me rankle every time. My life has not been sunshine and roses and I've worked my ass off to get where I am. But can I honestly look at the statistics and claim that I haven't been privileged? 
I think we need to stop telling people "check your privilege," because it is really just saying "Hey, get really defensive so that we can make this about you." 
I do think we need to start just telling ourselves to check our privilege. For instance, before we dismiss, out of hand, accounts of white cops needlessly killing black people, we might want to tell ourselves to check our privilege. Does our belief in the inherent benevolence of police officers stem from the fact that most of our own interactions with cops have been professional and above-board? Or is it possible that cops interact differently with different people (sort of like how my grandmother was a lovely, kind woman, as long as you didn't get her on the subject of the English).

Likewise, I overcame a lot of personal obstacles to get through school, but I also had a whole lot of teachers pushing, prodding, encouraging, going the extra mile to help me. Not to mention the fact that I was able to pay my college tuition thanks in part to things like the fact that my mom went to the same college I did - I've looked at her yearbook. It didn't exactly look like the rainbow coalition. What if I got my degree in part because I worked really hard and in part because I had advantages a lot of folks don't have.

What I'm saying is what if it's just possible that our experience isn't the only experience? What if our beliefs are drawn from a lifetime spent in the primary company of other people who look like us? What if we just acknowledged that our outcomes are the result of our actions and our privileges?  What if the fact that we worked hard to get where we are doesn't mean that everything is equal and fair?

What I'm saying is that we'd all be a lot happier not having to believe that America is a nation still far too often divided along color lines. But wishing doesn't make it so. Just as denying our privilege doesn't make change the fact that we have it.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Friday, September 5, 2014

Boys go to Jupiter

Well I just accidentally did something I usually only do at the dentist's office. No, I didn't wet myself in terror at the sight of a Novocain needle. I listened to five minutes of the John Tesh radio show (far more shameful than public pants peeing).
So John Tesh tells me that it turns out that Jeremy's complete lack of interest in the events of my day[1] is my fault.
See, according to Uncle Johnny, I shouldn't try to talk to Jeremy when he's texting because men are not good at multitasking. And Jeremy's lack of ovaries makes him not care about details[2] so I should skip the details of my stories and get to the point.
What I love about this Mars/Venus mumbo jumbo is that it takes this tiny crumb of scientific truth and tries to serve it up as a loaf of bread. Yep, it is true that most men are better unitaskers than most women. Nope, that has nothing to do with why my husband doesn't listen to me. 

Yep, most men, when presented with, say, seven different shades of the color blue, are unlikely to be able to be able to tell that there are seven different shades - to most men, all blue is blue. 
That does not have anything to do with my man not being interested in my day.[3]
I hate crap like this - this notion that men and women are so fundamentally different that we have to look at brain scans to fix our marriage problems. 
Communicating isn't nearly as complicated as people think. Take Jeremy and I: I talk, he pretends to listen, no problem. He can pretend to listen while texting (or pretend to listen while he pretends to text in the hope I'll take the hint and stop talking). He can pretend to listen while I recap all of my typographical trials and triumphs. He's pretending to listen right now, and I'm not even talking to him.
See? Easy. 
(Jeremy wishes to for me to clarify that he doesn't actually text. Or pretend to text. Notice he didn't dispute the whole "pretending to listen" thing.)

[1] To be fair, I'm a technical writer. The most thrilling part of my day involves getting Word to mother-freaking indent the appropriate number of spaces.
[2] This, despite the fact that he has just triumphantly pointed out a continuity error in this episode of Scrubs, wherein a sea lion named Betty is referred to as a harp seal several episodes later. Yep, he is a man who hates details.
[3] see [1]

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Another girls' weekend is on the books and summer is in the can. And it's a good thing we finally threw in the towel because I'm knocked out.
On the books can either refer to law books or financial books. I'm guessing that the phrase I used originated with the latter - in that it refers to the official end of something ongoing. 
In the can comes from the film industry: the "can" is a film canister - where movie film goes when you're done recording. The film industry also gives us that's a wrap - wrap may be an acronym for wind, reel, and print (but it probably isn't). I wonder if it refers to the act of winding the film to stick it in a can. 
You'd think, from the above, that wind up is from the film industry too, but the film industry wasn't a thing back in 1825 when the expression first appeared. And according to the Online Etymology Dictionarywind meaning to wrap is etymologically unrelated to wind, as in the thing that answers blow in.
Threw in the towel and knocked out both come boxing.
And that is all she wrote - referring, obviously, to me, and the fact I'm finished writing now. Or possibly to the song That's All She Wrote by Ernest Tubb, which is about a "dear john" letter. (A phrase that may have come from World War II, referring to a woman writing a breakup letter to her GI, telling him she was leaving him for some draft-dodging peacenik. Dude, that's cold.)  
Are all languages full of such cryptic idioms?