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, April 30, 2015

Ableism Part 2: Happy pills

Eczema is a common condition characterized by itchy, burning rashes. The condition can be a transient annoyance, but in some people it be excruciating, disfiguring, and can lead to lots of health problems caused by skin that's constantly open and raw. 
Now back in the day, if you or your kid had eczema, the treatment options could be pretty unpleasant. To keep kids with severe eczema from clawing their own skin off, parents sometimes had to put splints onto their arms or tie them to their beds. Treatment options like bleach baths, urine therapy (exactly what it sounds like), and cod liver oil were somewhat effective, if you didn't mind smelling like bleach, fish, and urine.
Nowadays, folks have a lot more options. Treatments range from over-the-counter topicals to prescription medications - some of which have ugly side effects and should only be used in the most severe cases. While some folks choose to manage their symptoms naturally, some choose the pharmaceutical options. 
Nobody ever says "Eczema drugs? Why in my day we just strapped kids to the bed and pissed on 'em. And they liked it." Nobody ever tells eczema sufferers that they're weak or foolish for choosing to treat their condition with medication. People pretty much accept that the decision is best left to the patient and their doctor.
Depression is a common condition characterized by persistent and overwhelming feelings of sadness and despair. The condition can be mild and transient, but in some people it can be excruciating, can lead to other medical conditions, and can even be deadly. 
Now back in the day, if you or your kid had depression, you often did your best to hide it and suffer in silence. It wasn't just because of the stigma, but it was that the treatments made urine therapy look like a day at the water park. Locking people in restraints for days, strapping them to chairs and spinning them until they passed out, intentionally induced insulin comas, lobotomies, and drugs that did permanent physical and mental damage were common.
Nowadays, folks have a lot more options. Treatments range from over-the-counter supplements to light therapy to medications - some of which have ugly side effects and should only be used in the most severe cases. While some folks choose to manage their symptoms naturally, some people have symptoms so severe that medication is the only sane option.

And yet people always say it's a weakness to treat depression with "happy pills." They always talk about how people should man up and deal with their problems the old fashioned way. When you tell people about your psych meds, everybody and their monkey will try to tell you that your doctor has no idea what she's doing, that meds are not the answer. People who have never had to live with severe depression insist neither you, nor your doctor is qualified to decide how to treat your illness; people who know nothing about depression are obviously the experts.

Monday, April 27, 2015


I had a dream the other night that I went blind. Since I couldn't drive, I needed Jeremy to drive me, but when I told my boss I'd need to change my schedule to accommodate Jeremy's, my boss was livid. All this despite the fact that it would be completely impossible for me to do my job without my eyesight. 
It reminded me of the scene in Kafka's Metamorphosis where Gregor's boss comes to yell at him to get out of bed and get to work. Despite the fact it's pretty hard to do your job when you're a bug.
I literally had a Kafkaesque nightmare.

Got me thinking about authors with stories or styles so memorable that they got their own eponym:

  • George Orwell - Orwellian: Adjective describing a society in which an all-powerful authority uses lies and brutality to subjugate the freedom of the people.
  • Charles Dickens - Dickensian: Adjective describing stories involving in which people suffer in poverty and poor social conditions; usually involving urchins. 
  • Lord Byron - Byronic hero: A broody, defiant protagonist generally bent on revenge. 
  • Frank Capra - Capracorn: A word some critics once used to describe hokey movies full of good people and uplifting messages. Horrors.

... and some authors who should have gotten their own words:

  • Mark Twain - Twainy: Prone to folksy antics that just happen to also serve as scathing social commentary.
  • Stephen King - King Bachman: Sovereign leader of authors so prolific they need to pretend they are two people (Richard Bachman was an alter-ego created by Stephen King, whose publishers had deemed him too prolific for his own good).   
  • Virgil - Vergilize: To rewrite a famous epic poem, but with a different guy and in Latin. 
  • Chaucer - Chaucey: Prone to writing old time-y stories so filthy that they'll be sanitized for schoolchildrens' protection 600 years later. 
  • Edgar Allen Poe - Poetic: (emphasis on the first syllable) Describes a world in which everything is terrible and then you die of rabies
  • Oscar Wilde - Oscardist: One who can be that hilarious while looking this fabulous: 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Crying shame

As a feminist and a comic book fangirl I know I'm supposed to be mad that Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans called the character Black Widow a slut and a whore. But dude, they made a clearly not serious comment while clearly slap-happy as hell from a punishing junket schedule. I think it's really dumb and tone-deaf to use the words they used, but is saying the word slut the same as slut-shaming? I don't know. 
Maybe my opinion's informed by the many conversations I've had with other fankids discussing the sex lives and anatomy of super heroes of both genders (I mean, who hasn't pondered the nature of the Thing's thing?). I've said worse. Sure, I haven't said worse while on a press junket in an interview that children would see. I'm not a movie star that children look up to. Wash Chris Evans' and Jeremy Renner's mouths out with soap and send them to bed without supper... but I feel like feminist fangirls have bigger fish to fry. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Fonzarelli Connection

In an episode of Happy Days I vaguely remember, the Fonz takes a disliking to a dude in a wheelchair and decides to fight him. To make it a fair fight, Fonzie hops in a wheelchair himself. Later, Richie tells Fonzie that this would not have been a fair fight, because Fonzie had the option of getting back out. Then Mr. Cunningham solved a murder mystery while dressed as a priest. 

Apparently, Gwyneth Paltrow and the rest of the rich people taking on the food stamp challenge missed that episode. With the food stamp challenge, some rich liberal tries to feed herself on just $30 a week, the amount the average SNAP recipient gets, and then whines about how hard it was. 
While Paltrow's attempt is great for comic relief, it, like all the other games where rich people play at being poor, just misses the point.
What do you even do with that many limes?
Props on warding off scurvy, I guess.
Poverty is not a science fair project. It reminds me of a book I read some years back, Nickeled and Dimed. In that book, an upper-middle class woman, Barbara Ehrenreich, made a ton of money by writing a book about the year she pretended she was poor. She fannied about from crappy job to crappy job, making painfully naive observations, talking about how shockingly civilized poor people were, and concluding that -gasp!- being poor is hard. Poverty isn't insufficient lime money. Poverty is the bile-churning stomach drop when you realize the engine's not gonna turn over. It's the jagged humiliation of the bill collectors coming after you at work. It's when you hurt so bad you can't get up the stairs but can't afford your meds, or to even go to the doctor for a prescription. It's the roiling self-loathing of being sure you did something to dig this hole, but that nothing you can do will get you back out. That this is your life now. Conservatives grouse about designer bags and financial priorities, but I gotta tell you, when you're pretty sure you're never gonna be better off than you are right now, sometimes you give in to the temptation to escape into a manicure you can't afford. 
And even though all that's from personal experience, I was only playing at real poverty too. I had a stable job and lots of family members who wouldn't dream of letting me starve to death or sleep on the street. And my mental health situation made it seem way worse than it was. Though I do deserve props for not giving up after half a week of limited lime access.  

Funny, but I think in the end this post is gonna change just about as many minds as Paltrow's four-day ordeal because anyone with a mind should be able to suss out that being poor isn't fun. I can't imagine there's anybody who really thinks poverty's a cake-walk despite all evidence to the contrary; I think people are gonna believe the narrative that supports their world view. 

Oh and by the way, chances are pretty good the bag's a knock-off. The manicure was bartered. And that expensive phone isn't a bad deal when it's a phone, camera, television, GPS, watch, alarm clock, and e-reader.

Saturday, April 18, 2015


By the by, when I write posts about Christianity taking other cultures' traditions, I'm not bashing Christianity. Catholic literally means something like all-embracing, and I like to think that the adoption of pagan rituals and traditions was more about including everybody than stealing from anybody. I think it's really neat how, when we participate in modern holidays, we're honoring the same traditions that people from every corner of the globe have been honoring since probably a thousand years before Christ. 
Yes, I do plan to post every single picture I took at Stonehenge. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Ableism, Part 1

I read a blog post a couple of months back on "ableist language," specifically, using disability metaphors like "crippled by debt" or "you'd have to be insane." In the post, the author takes issue with people using words like crazy, insane, lunatic, and psycho.
As a person with a mental illness, I don't object to the first three words at all; to me, those words are so far removed from the words we use to describe mental illness. And my objection to psycho is covered here (and also kind of here).  
But I want to talk about some terms people don't think they're using in an insulting way. These are clinical terms that people use to describe harmless personality quirks, unintentionally trivializing diseases that are anything but trivial. 

OCD: People use this to mean fastidious or even clean as if, the desire to wipe down your kitchen counters is somehow the same as suffering from a debilitating disease. OCD is, in the words of this Cracked article, "an incapacitating, isolating disease that makes you afraid of your own mind." Just like it would be horribly inappropriate and insensitive to say "I'm so stage-4 lung cancer" every time you have a little cough, it's inappropriate and insensitive to say "I'm so OCD" when you feel compelled to wash your hands before dinner. And yes, I have totally been guilty of this one in the past (although in my defense, I was once diagnosed with OCD when some god-awful school shrink decided crippling anxiety and suicidal depression weren't interesting enough).
This scene makes me instantly burst into tears.
Anyone who has ever lived with a serious chronic illness
understands this moment far too well. 
Bipolar: People use this to mean prone to mood swings and man, I'd give anything to just be prone to mood swings. And actually, the whole mood swing thing isn't particularly accurate -while people with bipolar sometimes shift between mania and depression rapidly, it's very common for manic or depressive episodes to last months. Mischaracterizing the disease that way makes it seem like bipolar disorder is way less serious than it is. If we habitually trivialize bipolar disorder by equating it with a tendency to get emotional, then we start to trivialize people with bipolar disorder too, seeing their behavior as drama rather than as a really serious and very life-threatening disease.
ADD: People use it to mean having trouble paying attention sometimes when it's actually way more serious than that. How often do you hear people gripe about how in their day, the nuns just beat the crap out of children who didn't pay attention and now we just give them zombie pills. But as this article does a great job of illustrating, ADD is about way more than inability to concentrate. In fact, people with ADD can be really good at concentrating... just not necessarily on the thing they're trying desperately to concentrate on. 

Every single thing that comes in the front door gets written directly on the whiteboard in bold, underlined red letters, no matter what it is, and no matter what has to be erased in order for it to fit. 
As such, if we're in the middle of some particularly important mental task, and our eye should happen to light upon... a doorknob, for instance, it's like someone burst into the room, clad in pink feathers and heralded by trumpets, screaming HEY LOOK EVERYONE, IT'S A DOORKNOB! LOOK AT IT! LOOK! IT OPENS THE DOOR IF YOU TURN IT! ...It's like living in a soft rain of post-it notes. 
People with ADD don't have the filters needed to learn and focus, and diagnosing them is the first step toward helping them to develop filters, learn coping strategies. Early intervention can lead to greater achievement in school and life. So while the kid who got the crap beat out of him by nuns for misbehaving maybe learned to sit still but maybe also grew up to do a crappy menial job when, with maybe therapy and medication, she could have grown up to be a doctor. So characterizing it as just an inability to pay attention can rob kids of a way brighter future. 

Taking pictures of doorknobs is for crazies.
Taking 8 pictures of this same drawer knob - totally sane.
Man, it's not even a good picture. Or a particularly interesting knob.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Farewell to Meat

One summer, my best friend and I visited Put-in-Bay - a tiny island with all the booziness of Key West's main drag without any of the views, culture, or attractive people. 
So the first night, we hit the bars and there's all these women with Mardi Gras beads around their necks. And despite the fact that we were grown adults, we somehow had no idea how they got there. Eventually, we found that they were being sold at all the tourist shops. That mystery solved, we got to drinking. Fast forward to the end of the evening, we're stumbling home, and two guys gave us the old "show us your tiiiiits!" (be still my beating heart). 
J and I were nowhere near drunk enough to comply, but nowhere near sober enough to give them the finger and continue on our staggering way. "Why would we do that?" one of us asked.
They replied that they'd give us some shiny beads if we did their bidding, but J and I were unconvinced. And rather than, say, giving them the finger and staggering onward, we explained to them quite patiently, that there would be no reason for us to do that, since you could buy these beads at the store. That's when they started trying to haggle. We were not sold, and went home beadless.
Slate's Lexicon Valley podcast dedicated a recent episode to the etymology of the word carnival. It's commonly held that the term comes from the Latin caro for meat or flesh and vale for farewell. Carnival typically kicks off Lent, the Christian time of fasting and sacrifice. For many Catholics, this often includes giving up meat on at least some days, so went Lent begins, you say goodbye to meat.
But that's a lie. Most sources, including, say that the term actually comes from caro and levare, Latin for raise or remove. But scholars have recently questioned that. Seems that there was a goddess in Roman mythology called Carna, whom the podcast refers to as the goddess of pork and beans. Carna's feast, which was held in spring, was celebrated with the eating of fatty meats. So carnival celebrations may be another example of Christianity appropriating the traditions of other faiths.
I prefer "farewell to meat."

You ask why we eat greasy bacon-fat on the Kalends,
And why we mix beans with parched grain?
She’s an ancient goddess, nourished by familiar food,
No epicure to seek out alien dainties.
In ancient times the fish still swam unharmed,
And the oysters were safe in their shells.
Italy was unaware of Ionian heath-cocks,
And the cranes that enjoy Pigmy blood:
Only the feathers of the peacock pleased,
And the nations didn’t send us captive creatures.
Pigs were prized: men feasted on slaughtered swine:
The earth only yielded beans and hard grains.
They say that whoever eats these two foods together
At the Kalends, in this sixth month, will have sweet digestion.

Hey, wouldn't it be cool if I'd actually posted this 2 months ago when it was relevant? 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

High Hopes

The song Ghost of Tom Joad combines my two favorite things - books and Bruce. I mentioned the epic guitar breakdown starting around 5:20... what's epic about this isn't just that it's amazing, and it isn't just that Tom Morello is actually quite talented when not he's not screaming into the mic.*

What's epic is that it musically recreates a worker riot - the roiling of the crowd at 5:15, then the police sirens a few seconds later. The noise of the people rises against the sound of the sirens until around 6:30 - gunshots. Then chaos until around 7:00, and then we pick up where the breakdown began, with the voice of the people, right where they left off, not silenced. 
And that is The Grapes of Wrath summarized, really - the voice of the people must be heard and cannot be silenced by violence or oppression. As the book itself asks:
How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can't scare him – he has known a fear beyond every other.
*This sentence brought to you by the cranky old lady who wonders why kids these days want to listen to all that loud noise.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


I've seen a few news stories about states trying to further limit the foods people are allowed to purchase with food stamps. I think we've all made up our minds about whether poor people eating seafood is a threat to all America holds dear. 
However, I'm hoping maybe you'll consider changing the picture you've got in your head of food stamp recipients. I think we've all had the experience of being in line behind some expensively-dressed person buying a cartload of luxury foods with a SNAP card. It's kind of infuriating, so it sticks in your head; but is the lazy obese lady with the fancy mani-pedi and the armloads of lobster tails the true face of government food assistance?
Not unless she's way younger than she looks. A full 45% of SNAP recipients are kids, according to Another 8% are elderly, and another 10% are people under the age of 60 who have disabilities. 
Most recipients are white. 
Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for food assistance, and documented immigrants must live here for 5 years before becoming eligible. 
Obesity rates among people using SNAP are fairly close to obesity rates among people with similar economic situations living in similar areas, though studies differ on how close they are. 
About 40% of SNAP recipients live in a household with an income; the number would probably be higher, but households with incomes are the first to lose SNAP assistance when cuts are made - which means that every time we cut food stamp funding, we punish people for having jobs.
In addition, the average individual gets $133 worth of food (with 4% getting only $16 a month), which could keep you in crab legs and lobster tails for a day or two, but will leave you mighty hungry the remaining 28 days of the month. 
Look, I know your mind's probably made up on food assistance funding. But maybe, when you picture Ms. Obese Fancy Nails, picture half a dozen malnourished kids standing around her, and a grandma in a wheelchair nearby. Throw in a blind man and a woman with Down's Syndrome, and add a couple people scraping by on minimum wage while you're at it. Maybe if we all choose to see the whole picture, we can conduct the debate with more compassion and decorum. Maybe if we all choose to see people instead of stereotypes, we can reach some solutions that leave everybody happier and healthier. 

My cat, on the other hand, is totally a shiftless drunken
layabout who eats seafood every day. Tragically
he refuses to let me give him a mani-pedi.
Also, I did not take this picture for this blog post; I just happen to have
a photo of Puck spooning with a bottle of booze on my computer.
I really gotta get out more.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division

Last post, I used the word yuppie. Which, delightfully, is built on an acronym for young urban professional
In general, you should be very suspicious when someone claims that a word is really an acronym, particularly when the term is older - acronyms don't really come into popular use until around World War II - in fact, the term acronym itself doesn't find its way into English until 1940. So, for instance, as satisfying as it is to think that posh stands for port out starboard home (supposedly a thing printed on rich people's boat tickets), it isn't so. Though they're unsure how the word posh came into existence, it emerged in 1830 as a slang term for money (this according to
A couple of other false acronyms, according to Mental Floss and Snopes:

  • Golf doesn't stand for gentlemen only, no ladies. it may be related to the Dutch kulf for club; could also be from the Scotts goul, meaning to hit or strike. Your first clue should probably be the fact that there is no n in golf, but there is, in fact, an f.
  • KISS does not stand for Knights in the Service of Satan, though KISS didn't do much to discourage the story - they were one of the many bands accused in the great Satanic cult scare, but were one of the few who didn't bother to deny the allegations. 
  • Fuck doesn't stand for for unlawful carnal knowledge, or Forbidden Under Charter of the King, or Fornication Under Consent of the King (and this king should really decide whether fucking is allowed or not). We're not sure where the word does come from, but I suspect that somebody invented the word and it was so much fun to say that someone decided it must be banned.
Some words you might not know are acronyms (also with info from Mental Floss):
  • Snafu: Military slang for situation normal, all fucked up. I have officially used "fuck" too many times to keep my PG-13 rating.
  • The base in base jumping: Base jumping is parachuting off of fixed objects, particularly buildings, antenna, span, or earth. 
  • The Smart of Smart Car: acronym of “Swatch Mercedes Art,” Swatch being the company that developed the car. Yes, that Swatch. 
The 80s: The decade when the country
simultaneously went totally blind

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A nightmare dressed like a daydream

There's this radio show called Dinner Party Download I've listened to a couple of times. It appears to be a primer for hipsters and yuppies looking to become more pretentious. Each episode includes a round table discussion in which a group of yupsters come together for a snooty-off, and in a recent broadcast, got their snooty on over Taylor Swift. Her fans will listen to anything, they opined, so the poor suckers who write her music for her shouldn't feel proud of themselves if their song is a hit.
Of course, they weren't aware that Swift writes all her own songs. Or that actually, her songs are really well crafted... this according to folks like rock goddess Stevie Nicks, who compares her songwriting ability to Elton John and Neil Diamond. Carly Simon and James Taylor have performed with Swift. Bruce Springsteen attended a recent show, surprised her backstage, and serenaded her with her own guitar. And Rolling Stone has said of her, "she’s one of the few genuine rock stars we’ve got these days, with a flawless ear for what makes a song click." Her hooks are catchy as hell, and she's got a voice like an angel singing lullabies to butterflies. I'm not saying she's not, you know, insufferable, I'm just saying that, when enumerating her flaws, lack of talent shouldn't be among them. 
There's no accounting for taste, but there is accounting for talent. So while it's totally fair not to like her, or to want to take an ice pick to your ears every time Love Story comes on the radio at Target, claiming she sucks without knowing anything about her just makes you look kind of ignorant.
You do not want to piss this girl off.
 This all it got me thinking about how so often, people choose music based more on the image they want to project of themselves than on what they actually think is good. I love hip hop so I can't listen to country. I love Patti Smith so I have to hate Taylor Swift. I own a tattoo shop so my shop only plays music where the singers scream unintelligibly over guitar riffs that are more distortion than melody even though all the screaming makes the process of getting a tattoo even less pleasant for the... but I digress as usual.And yet, the musicians we're so faithful to are listening to music we'd never stoop to listening to ourselves. The Nas track A Queens Story samples classical composer Chopin's √Čtude, Op. 10, No. 12 in C Minor. At least 20 hip hop artists have sampled In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins. The White Stripes did a kickass cover of Dolly Parton's Jolene, which is a freaking great song, whatever your opinion of country. Jack White produced a Loretta Lynn album. Hell, if Darryl "DMC" McDaniels and Sarah McLaughlin can make a record together, I think the rest of us can admit to getting the nigh irresistible urge to shake it whenever Shake It Off comes on.
Funny - Rage Against the Machine did a cover of Springsteen's Ghost of Tom Joad, and Bruce fans flipped out over how awful the cover is, how much Rage Against the Machine sucks. These fans think they're being faithful to the Boss, ignoring the fact that Bruce obviously thought enough of the band as to let them cover the song. In fact, he has performed the song with Rage guitarist Tom Morello live and on his latest album, and it's got one of the best guitar duets seriously in the history of rock and roll.