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.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Guess what day it is

If a space alien walked into the average business office on a Wednesday, they'd probably wonder what the big deal with humping was and why, if it's so great, it can only be done once a week. 
The Oxford English Dictionary website places the first instance of "hump day" in a 1959 issue of the Long Beach Press Telegram: "The high light of any Hump Day... That's the day the patrol is half over, when the rest of the way is downhill."
I find it strange how we all seem to count down the minutes to Friday from the minute we arrive on Monday. I like my weekends as much as the next guy, but I don't think gulag inmates are as preoccupied with escape as office workers seem to be. And the way time sprints by, I feel like a tool when I find myself wishing the minutes of my life away. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Drop dead

In Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut poised to kill Kilgore Trout, a character who showed up in many of his books as a stand-in for Vonnegut himself. But Vonnegut didn't kill Kilgore Trout. He said life, even fictional life, has value, and it isn't right to simply throw a life away for the sake of a story. 
Other authors don't share Vonnegut's view.
Agatha Christie hated Hercule Poirot. She called him a "detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep." People loved Poirot, however, and so Christie was stuck with him. He appeared, according to Wikipedia, in 33 of her novels, one play, and over 50 short stories. In a case of art imitating life imitating art, she even had a recurring character in her novels called  Ariadne Oliver, a murder mystery author who hated her own famous creation, the fictional detective Sven Hjerson.
Yo, dog, we heard you like outdated memes.
Christie hated Poirot so much that she murdered him in 1945. That's when she wrote Curtain, in which Poirot dies from poisoning. She knew better than to release the story then - that detestable, bombastic little creep was a detestable, bombastic little cash cow for Christie. She only released the story a few months before her death in 1970. Poirot received a front page obituary in the New York times - the only obit for a fictional character they ever ran.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle didn't wait so long to murder his greatest creation. From the start, Doyle thought that the Sherlock stories were beneath him. He had written other novels, novels he considered far better that the novels and short stories of the great Holmes, but it was Holmes his readers clamored for. Doyle killed off Holmes in 1893, saying "I have been much blamed for doing that gentleman to death, but I hold that it was not murder, but justifiable homicide in self-defense, since, if I had not killed him, he would certainly have killed me."
The readers would have none of that, and Sherlock came out of hiding ten years later, admitting he'd faked his own death. That wily bastard.

Poor Pooh. Not only is he a tubby idiot with a case of type II diabetes in his very near future, but his creator hated him. Milne was an author of books for grownups, and he didn't think much of the little stories he wrote for his son Christopher Robin. They were charming little vignettes that brought his son's toys to life... until they were published. That's when Milne went from accomplished author and playwright to that guy who writes about teddy bears. 
But Milne's hatred of Pooh was nothing compared to that of his son, who once said "It seemed to me almost that my father has got to where he was by climbing upon my infant shoulders, that he had filched from me my good name and had left me with the empty fame of being his son."
Funny - Milne didn't really like Pooh, wasn't particularly close to his son, and rather disliked children in general. And yet...

At least we can take solace in the fact that Milne didn't murder Pooh as far as we know... although he's probably on a collision course with a coronary pretty soon - if he doesn't die of stupid first.

Wall Street Journal
The Popcultist

Thursday, July 23, 2015

That word: I do not think it means what you think it means

This, Yahoo! is deeply eager to tell me, has been an explosive one in the pop Tweetosphere. If you were having trouble following it, here's a recap.
So Nicki Manaj, upset that she didn't get more VMA nominations, tweeted that only skinny people women got nominated which obviously Taylor Swift took personally, tweeting that Minaj shouldn't pit women against each other, and then Katy Perry chimed in that the real injustice was that Rihanna didn't get nominated for her music video.
So in summary:

Nicki Manaj...

Somebody keep that heifer away from the cake
...famous for singing about the shape and size of her ass, claims that she got too few nominations because of fat shaming.
Feminist Taylor Swift...

...took her to task for pitting women against each other, despite the fact that the song for which she was nominated, Bad Blood, disses Katy Perry...

Perry, who thrills her legions of tween fans with songs about getting blackout drunk and screwing strangers, says that a nomination should have gone to Rihanna...
Well I'm empowered.
...for a song called Bitch Better Have My Money.

Yay feminism?

Meanwhile the four of them put together could fit inside one of my pant legs with room to spare.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ain't fiendship beautiful?

Speaking of neologisms, there have been several in recent years devoted to the various subtle flavors of friendship.
A few:

  • Frienemy: A friend whom one pretends to like, but actually rather hates. AKA: half of most people's Facebook friends list.
  • Friend Zone: "The 'friend zone' is like the penalty box of dating... Once a girl decides you’re her friend, it’s game over. You’ve become a complete non-sexual entity in her eyes...” according to Ryan Reynolds' character in Just Friends. Some say this term is for mysoginists bitter about being rejected, but I think this lady will tell you the condition is not gender-specific:

  • Breast Friends: A friendship shared between breast cancer survivors. Recorded by The Rice University Neologisms Database in 2008.
  • BFF, Bestie: One's best friend forever.
  • Bro: Manly BFF.
  • Bromance: An intimate but entirely platonic friendship between two men. I love this term and this concept. I've always thought it must be so lonely to be a dude and have to tone down your affections for fear of seeming gay. Now there's the bromance and it's adorable.

  •  Intercepted Wave: When you wave to someone you know, but someone else thinks you're waving at them - great bane of the socially awkward. 
  • China plate: Cockney rhyming slang for mate
I'ma bear!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Science doesn't lie

Some scientists, on the other hand...
A little while back, a study was published "proving" that dark chocolate could actually help you lose weight. Shape Magazine reported this finding in its June issue with the headline Why You Must Eat Chocolate Daily. You may not be shocked to learn that the study is bogus; the author of the study meant it to be. John Bohannon, who published the study in International Archives of Medicine was working with two German journalists who wanted to expose some junk science. The study was real, but the research had intentionally massive flaws that any decent journal would have caught right away. International Archives of Medicine is not any decent journal. In fact, it's one in a sea of so-called "vanity" journals - ones where you can get pretty much anything published if you're willing to pay for the privilege. Kind of like those Who's Who of American High School Students books. Maggie Simpson and Edna Krabappel, both Simpsons characters, have studies published in this sort of journal. Dr. Peter Vamplew managed to publish a groundbreaking study titled Get Me Off Your Fucking Mailing List, the entire body of which was Get me off your fucking mailing list over and over and over.
While the pranks are funny, the implications are not. Bunk science can kill, and not just the people who buy into it. Bunk science may actually be endangering entire species.
For instance, several species of shark. You know how sharks don't get cancer, and taking shark fin nutritional supplements will also make you immune to cancer (in much the same way that eating chicken causes you to grow feathers)? Well, it turns out that whole cancer thing is a myth - sharks totally do get cancer, but that fact doesn't seem to drive down demand, and as a result fishermen are catching sharks, lopping off their fins, and throwing them back in the water to die slowly and painfully. Now many species of shark are endangered or critically endangered, and while shark fin soup is largely to blame, the supplement industry certainly doesn't help.
Also, Venus fly traps. It is a well known fact that Venus fly traps don't get cancer, and that drinking an elixir made from it makes you cancer-proof, in much the same way that eating salads turns you into the Hulk. Seems people are poaching the plants like crazy from the only place they grow wild, putting the species at risk. 
Know what's insane? We have this moronic law that vitamin and supplement companies can make whatever ludicrous claims about the health benefits of their product, yet they can't claim their product is made from Venus fly traps if it isn't. Grr.
I have no shark pics, but please enjoy this cuttlefish carousel creature.
No word yet on whether cuttlefish get cancer. Eating them does, however, totally give you
the ability to evade predators by squirting ink at them.


Take a moment to remember the five soldiers who came home from war only to be senselessly murdered here at home. 
Take a moment to remember U.S. Navy Petty Officer Randall Smith, who died Saturday morning from injuries received. He was from Paulding County, Ohio, and lived in Georgia. He loved baseball, riding bikes with his three daughters, and occasionally texted Britney Spears lyrics to his friends, apropos of nothing. 
Take time to remember Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Sullivan, who served two tours in Iraq, earning two Purple Hearts and a Combat Action Medal. Sullivan, "Gunny" to his friends, had the chance to jump a fence and run to safety, but instead he ran into the fire to protect the wounded. 
Spare a thought for Marine Corps Sgt. Carson Holmquist from Wisconsin. He came home to his wife Jasmine and son Wyatt in 2014 after two tours in Afghanistan. He loved to hunt, fish, and play football.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Skip Wells, just 21, was texting his girlfriend that he couldn't wait to see her again a few minutes before the shooting. He felt the military was his calling - and it was certainly in his blood. His grandpa had served in the Air Force, his mother and grandmother in the Navy. Wells played the clarinet in his high school marching band, enjoyed Civil War reenactments, flag football, and Nerf guns. 
Marine Corps Staff Sergeant David Wyatt was only a few minutes away from his home in Hixson Tennessee, where he lived with his wife and two kids. After he came home from his two tours, he was known for spending time talking and listening to wounded vets and fellow soldiers with PTSD. One of those men, Matt Bein, described him as the kind of guy who would literally give you the last dollar in his wallet.
These men were in the military because at some point they decided that their country was more important than their own lives, and every one of them was a hero. We owe them our gratitude. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The fatty effect

I recently learned the meaning of the term The Halo Effect. It's a cognitive bias wherein people form an opinion about a person based on one or two relatively superficial qualities. It's why pretty people tend to be better liked - why people with symmetrical faces are likelier to get jobs than people with asymmetrical ones.
Sorry, sweetie
This explains so much about my life as a curvy girl. People make some weird assumptions when you're a "friend of fried chicken."
People at the gym treat you like you're beneath contempt. I never understood how people could judge me worthless without knowing a thing about me. Turns out it's the halo effect - I'm fat, which they think is a bad thing, so I must also be a bad, unlovable, disgusting person. 
Gym rats who are kinder look at us with pity. We're fat, which is undesirable, which means we also must be miserable. They couldn't love a fatty, so we must be unloved and unlovable. 
Then there are the folks who want to offer you totally unsolicited diet and exercise, because we're fat, so we must also be too stupid to feed ourselves. What really sucks is that a whole lot of the time, the nutrition advice is wrong, but I'm not gonna argue, because I have no desire to make this humiliating conversation go on longer. And anyway, I'm fat, so I must have no idea what I'm talking about. 
So there. The halo effect. The reason I can't wallow around in a permanent fat suit in peace. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Modern times

Perhaps lately you've heard the term doxxing. Doxxing, sometimes spelled doxing is short for "dropping docs," and it refers to revealing private information about an enemy, including things like phone number, address, employer, or email address. In recent months, the practice has been used extensively against women involved in the Gamer Gate debate. Take Felicia Day, erstwhile slayerette and America's most adorable ginger. Felicia Day's sin? Admitting online that she was afraid to express her opinions publicly for fear of being harassed, stalked, and threatened. She was doxxed within an hour.

You may have heard of some more recent doxxing victims, though you might not know their names. When Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman attempted to buy a wedding cake from Sweet Cakes, a bakery in Oregon, they received instead a quote from Leviticus and were kicked to the curb. The couple sued the owners of Sweet Cakes, as this kind of discrimination is explicitly forbidden by Oregon law. 
Now many will have you believe that the Cryer-Bowmans are big crybabies who made absurd claims about pain and suffering because of a simple cake. The good Christians at Sweet Cakes were the real victims here.
Except the pain and suffering wasn't over the cake. It was over the fact that the owners of Sweet Cakes disclosed the women's address, phone number, and personal email address on their public Facebook page. The harassment and death threats soon followed, both against the women and their two foster children. Which prompted the state to warn the women that they could lose their 2 foster children if they couldn't protect them from the threats brought about by the case. 
While the Cryer-Bowmans did nothing more than file a completely valid lawsuit, the owners of Sweet Cakes went on a cross-country tour, smearing the Cryer-Bowmans on every news program that would have them. With every press appearance, phone calls and death threats followed, all thanks to the information published online by the plaintiffs in the case. The Cryer-Bowmans only asked to be left alone. 
So no, the Cryer-Bowmans did not receive their six-figure verdict because they were denied a cake. They received the money because of the pain caused by the reign of terror brought down upon them for filing a completely legitimate lawsuit.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Meanwhile, in young adult land

Recently, a teen told Tumblr what she thought about John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars. She wrote that he was a creep whose social media presence is "equivalent to that dad of a kid in your friend group who always volunteers to 'supervise' the pool parties and scoots his lawn chair close to all the girls."
She stops just an eyelash short of calling Green a child molester, but it's pretty obvious what she's saying. Green certainly knew what she was saying and responded on Tumblr that "throwing that kind of accusation around is sick and libelous and most importantly damages the discourse around the actual sexual abuse of children. When you use accusations of pedophilia as a way of insulting people whose work you don't like, you trivialize abuse." He goes on for a bit, but ends his comments by saying "sending hate to people who say this stuff is counter-productive and only continues the outrage cycle, so please don’t abuse anyone. Thanks."
To me, it seems a pretty civil and well-reasoned response. But this writer at the Huffington Post thinks John Green is way out of line for defending himself, as are the other YA authors who responded with kind words about John Green (without, notably, attacking or even directly mentioning the original poster). 
The Huffington Post author said that Green and the other YA authors had "publicly shamed" the original poster for expressing herself. They were "victim blaming" and this was evidence of "rape culture." 
Hold the feminism phone, sunshine. That's some fancy rhetoric you're regurgitating there, but you seem to be a little confused as to what those expressions mean.
I don't want to pick too much on the Huffington Post author, on account of she's a teen herself. But it seems to me like her arguments, and the terms she's throwing around, are part of a disturbing trend that's robbing these terms of their meaning.
"Victim blaming" is when folks treat victims of rape and other sexually abusive behavior as if they've done something to deserve what happened. Accusing women of "asking to be raped" because of the way they're dressed. Claiming it's okay to rape a woman because she was drunk at the time. That sort of thing. But the term doesn't apply in this case - John Green, as far as we know, has never interacted with his accuser in any way, and the author doesn't seem to have any basis for her accusation, other than the fact she thinks he's "creepy." Finding someone creepy does not make you a victim. Seems to me that if there's a victim here, it's John Green, who has been wrongfully if indirectly accused of something there's no evidence he did.
"Shaming" refers to bashing a person for choices that don't hurt anybody and aren't any of the shamers' business. People who say cruel things about plus-sized people are body shaming. People who bash women for expressing their sexuality in a way they find acceptable are slut shaming. But not all criticism is shaming. The original poster chose to verbally attack John Green, and she chose to do it online for all the world to see. John Green held her accountable in what seems to me a civil and appropriate way. It seems to me that Green held her accountable for her choice in the gentlest way possible.

Especially considering if you said those words about my dad, I would punch you in the god damn face. Yes, literally. 

When we stretch terms like the ones the Huff Post author, they lose their meaning, like a rubber band stretched so far that it loses its original shape and size. If we shove things like defending one's self against rape accusations into the "victim blaming" category, then "victim blaming" becomes a useless term. Shaming is a real phenomenon that's causing real harm to real people. But when we lump holding people accountable for their actions in with the concept of "shaming," that term stops being useful or meaningful. We've already run the word "privilege" into the ground from overuse and misuse. These are important concepts and important words and phrases that describe real, powerful, and poisonous behavior. But the more freely we throw them around, the less power they have.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Earlier this year, neurologist David Sacks learned that he has terminal cancer and will be dead within a few months. 
In a recent Radiolab interview, he spoke of the moment of his diagnosis, of his overwhelming sadness at all the things he won't see or do. He says "One or two people have written to me, consoling me, and said, 'well, you know, we all die.'"
From this I can conclude that Oliver Sacks has both cancer and terrible taste in friends. And that his friends are very confused as to the definition of console.
I've seen a rash of articles lately, things not to say to people with infertility, things not to say to people with depression, things not to say to a hot tired farrier, and so forth. And it has made me realize that I am not alone in my penchant for saying exactly the wrong thing in these situations (especially the farrier thing - whew!). 
Thing is, there's no right thing to say when someone tells you something awful. We want to say words that make it better, but there are no such words, and so the things that spill out of our mouths serve only to make people feel trivialized. Generally while I'm casting about for the right thing to say, my mouth goes ahead and says something like "Hey, at least you won't have to live through another Transformers sequel, amiright?" 
A very dear friend died some years back. And I think the most consoling thing anyone could have said to me is something I'd never have the guts to say to someone coping with their own loss. "This never gets better. Oh, one day you'll learn to live around it; one day you'll be able to think of her without all the breath leaving your body. But this pain's with you forever. You will never be quite whole again. The world is forever dimmer, your life is forever poorer." Knowing I'd never forget her, knowing I'd never not miss her, that would have been the most comforting thing back then. 
Oh, and what shouldn't you say to a hot tired farrier? Among other things, "If you would just give each of the dogs a piece of hoof they will get out from under the horse and quit fighting." Good to know.