Friday, December 14, 2012

Grammar Yammer

John Simon, the pugnacious and astute grammarian, writes: Is anything more parlous than the state of our beloved mother tongue? Well, not mine actually [Simon was was born in Yugoslavia], but at any rate stepmother tongue. It may be a kind of haughtiness, but I wince whenever I encounter an offense against grammar, spelling or pronunciation. If only it weren't considered bad manners to correct someone else's speech or writing, things would still be bearable; but nowadays, instead of thanks, you might get a punch in the nose. 

In no way do I put myself in the same class as Simon (well, except maybe the pugnacious part!). However, I do believe our language is being dumbed-down on a daily basis, *ANGAS. Read on to discover a few of the latest language missteps I've come across.

I read the following in a monthly magazine: "When children start learning about [blank] at an early age they better understand ... ." Does this mean "children darn well better understand!" or, "children understand better"

Another article in the same publication stated, "The average professor's salary is ... ," I couldn't help but wonder what the above-average professor's salary might be!

An item in our local newspaper touting a new ethnic restaurant stated, "... the menu was built around ... recipes for street food he'd picked up while visiting [a foreign country]." I immediately thought of this restaurant owner literally picking food scraps off the street and crafting recipes from them! 

How about this one? In the same paper, a reporter wrote about a neighborhood burglary: "...some items she knew belonged to her neighbor, in tow." Poor neighbor, robbed and then towed! 

A recent review of a local medical office states the practice was "...established in 1968 and has been in business until now." I interpreted that statement to mean the business had closed. Not so. 

                      ...all I know about grammar is its power.
                                     ~Joan Didion, author

If I broach friends with word and sentence twists such as these, their sometimes dismissive comment is, "Well, you know what the writer meant."

True enough. Although, because my mind will have veered toward focusing on what I deem an oddly worded statement, it may take some time to get back into the swing of what I'm reading. 

Oh, about that word "broach." Have any of you noticed how often "broach" is used when the speaker is referring to a brooch, a pin for a woman's blouse or jacket? Actually, after polling a few friends, I've come to understand that this pronunciation is regional (as is adding an "s" to toward and anyway).  

How many times have you heard people say something is not their "forte" and pronounce it as "for-tay"? This mispronunciation has become so wide-spread that it's almost an acceptable variation. The fact is there are two "fortes" in English, each with a different pronunciation. Forte/for-tay means "strong" or "loud" and is usually used in a musical context. Forte/fort means "strong point" or "strength." 

Fortuitous originally meant accidental. Due to incorrect but common usage, a second definition of "lucky" is now in our dictionaries. 

A story about a returning veteran and his wife stated they attended "...a recent friend's wedding." Is the person a fairly new friend of the couple or do you suppose the author meant the wedding was recent? 

                   Words are the currency of human discourse
                                                ~Anu Garg
There seems to be a huge misunderstanding about the proper use of quotation marks (speaking here of double quote marks). They are appropriate when using nicknames and jargon (or slang), when referring to an artistic work, or to indicate irony. They should not be used as emphasis. 

When I see quote marks used as emphasis in signage it's as though the advertiser is saying, "Well, not really. Just joking." 

With photo and story, an article in today's paper told of an Oregon man who won $5,000 a week forever. A picture of the lucky winner shows him holding a large sign stating this fact. Publisher's Clearing House chose to put quotation marks around the word "forever."

One final gripe. Why do business advertisements often state, "Free Gift"? Isn't a gift always free?

A dear and compassionate friend of mine often says she feels "badly" about something or other. Actually, her sense of touch is just fine—she means she feels "bad" about ... whatever it is. We two laugh about word foibles such as these. Our friendship is such that we understand we can correct or question each other at any time about word usage, spelling or grammar. We both learn something and never feel we have been on the receiving end of a "lesson," or that we have come off as a pedant. 

I am aware of many of my own language missteps and work to correct them, yet I know errors continue to pop up. As I've asked before, please do not hesitate to set me straight or to discuss those errors! If you know me at all, you know I want to learn, I want to understand. 

                                 A man's grammar, like Caeser's wife,
should not only be pure,
but above suspicion of impurity
~Edgar Allan Poe

*And Nobody Gives a S _ _ _!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pausing On My Autumn Road

For decades, I have voiced my dislike of the fall season. It seemed autumn and her riotous colors were taunting me; my rational mind knew those gaudy hues would rapidly fade, shrivel and die. I loved spring the best—the greening of hope and then the birth of new growth and the herald of new beginnings—something to look forward to.           

In the last 10 years I have begun to appreciate the colors and the vibrancy of autumn. I have noticed the sun’s oblique rays give me subtle new perspectives, and autumn’s shadows, soft and cool, often place a gauzy haze over imperfections. 


as summer's light wanes

she slips reluctantly
into autumn

gunmetal gray skies, harbinger
of dark afternoons, 
bring sadness, anxiety

it’s the letting go

of leaves and of birdsong—
all that beauty

yet each year she chooses

to adapt and becomes
even more seasoned

In truth, spring and summer are so blatant in broadcasting their talents it is sometimes overwhelming—difficult to absorb the fecundity and tiring to be in continual awe. Now, far into the autumn of my life…

…I glance at the curve to come

turn away from the final bend
choose to revel in
slanted sunlight’s glint

I pause on this autumn road 

to touch, sense and savor
sweet honest subtle changes

I bask in the warmth of orange
delight in the soft fall
of loved one’s words

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth
find reserves of strength that will endure
as long as life lasts.
~Rachel Carson


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"Thank you for being my friend"

A few weeks ago my brother sent me a link to a San Francisco Chronicle essay written by Jon Carroll. "A little something about friendship" is well worth reading in its entirety. 

A particular statement caught my eye, as it rang so true: "... one of the advantages of getting old: people stand the test of time, and you're pretty sure by this point that they genuinely have your best interests at heart." 

I heartily agree with this comment. In fact, many decades passed before insecurity (masked by aloofness) dropped away, allowing me to understand the priceless value of being a friend, of having a friend. I have become more open and honest with others and in doing so, something magnificent has happened. My circle of dear and true friends has enlarged; my life seems more blessed than ever.

At the end of the e-mail linking Carroll's article, my brother wrote, "Thank you for being my friend." I am quite certain this note went on to many other dear and loyal friends of his; even so, tears came when I read those heartfelt words

By action, word and deed I know my brother cares deeply about me and I’m certain he is aware of the respect, pride and love I have for him. To know one is also considered "friend" is an added gift. 

A friend is one who know you as you are,
understands where you have been,
accepts what you have become, 
and still, gently allows you to grow. 




Monday, August 27, 2012

Regret & Loneliness

I regret, I regret

Thinking about one particular person I’ve known most of my life. This is someone with whom I’ve shared a full range of feelings and an exquisite number of amazing adventures; a brilliant person who has, at every opportunity, taken life by its literal and figurative horns.

He has an enthusiasm for life and the ability to mold events so that the outcomes appear almost mythic and the telling of those stories endures from one generation to the next.

As dear and close as this friend is to me, over the many decades we’ve known each other he seldom voiced an iota of insecurity, a hint of hesitance or a shadow of personal regret. Until two years ago.

Thinking about the two times he has commented, briefly, almost off-the-cuff, yet with deep sincerity, that he wished he had been more understanding of and kind to his father, who died 10 years ago at age 84. He begins with “I regret…” and in one or two sentences this son chastises himself, stopping his words before tears form.

Although fairly reticent in areas of the heart, I know the father took great pride in his son and his accomplishments.

Thinking about the many times when I was in the presence of this man and his father as they verbally sparred—the younger one driving home contentious points more often than the older. No name-calling, no physicality or fisticuffs—never that. It was ideas and concepts which were debated.

As an observer, it appeared to me the father enjoyed this type of repartee. He’d usually call a halt to the banter by sitting back, folding his arms, shaking his head and letting a small smile cross his face. He’d “connected” with his son in a way that felt comfortable for him.

My friend feels he could have been more loving toward his father, more understanding of the older man’s quirks and more forgiving of his social blunders. That may be true, although I have no doubt the old man knew his son loved him. And yes, maybe there could have been more times when each said to the other “I love you.”

Looking back, I have this to regret, that too often
when I loved, I did not say so.
                                               ~David Grayson

I, too, regret so many, many things I have done—or not done, said—or not said. 

Thinking about regret and why we humans have the ability to experience this painful emotion, I’ve come to the conclusion it’s an evolutionary necessity. By that I mean, most everyone does things they later regret, and for most of us, we learn—over and over again, we learn—and I like to think we are better people for the lessons brought about by the regret.

There’s no turning back life’s clock, there’s only moving forward and remembering the lessons we’ve learned and if we’re very lucky, we have the opportunity to apologize. If we can’t do that due to death or some other fracturing occurrence, we’re left with making good use of the lessons learned in our School of Life.  

Accept life, and you must accept regret. 

~Henri F. Amiel

Lonely and Ignored          

These two words, “lonely” and “ignored” kept circling through my mind last evening and were at the forefront of what kept me awake and restless all night long. Thinking, thinking, thinking.

Thinking about “lonely” and a time more than two decades past.

“I feel so lonely…” were the words a beloved young friend voiced in one of our infrequent phone conversations. Four words uttered to someone he trusted to understand the angst coursing through his body.

I wanted so much to say just the right thing, just the right words to bring him out of the dark doldrums he seemed to be in. My recollection is that we talked for less than 10 minutes and at the close of our conversation he thanked me for listening…and caring.  

In the end, I had no sage, life-altering words because I had not experienced “lonely”—I simply offered an open, non-judgmental heart.

Lonesome is very different. I’ve been lonesome; wishing for conversation and companionship of friends or family. These times are self-induced as I have the option of making contact, or not.

Thinking about where I am in my life; how I’ve never before used the word “lonely” to describe my own feelings.

Lonely is a feeling we can have in the most crowded room or at the most intimate dinner party.  Lonely crawls into bed with us even when we are fortunate enough to be sharing that bed with our lover; even when friends and family are ready and willing to listen and interact.

Thinking about the choices I’ve made and am free to make and how fortunate I am and … and… when did I open the door to “Lonely”?

“Lonely” has been doing her best to garner a spot on shoulders already sagging from decades of carrying around Ms. Guilt’s fat ass. Some shoulder-shrugging may be in order!

Thinking about kicking Ms. Lonely to the curb (I still have much to deal with regarding Ms. Guilt. In time, in time…).

To transform the emptiness of loneliness, to the fullness 
of aloneness. Ah, that is the secret of life.
~Sunita Khosla

Thinking about feeling ignored.

It’s happened before, of course—the being ignored part.  At times, that’s been in my favor. For example, when I’ve overstepped some previously unrecognized “boundary” and by ignoring my faux pas  the Universe has protected me from my own oafishness.

What’s new this time is the feeling of being ignored, the sense of being ignored, put aside; superfluous even when I attempt to be an involved part of the conversation and wish to be thought of as a welcome addition to a gathering; when my opinions aren’t given any acknowledgment,  much less credence. Also, this past week I’ve been feeling ignored as I waited on tenterhooks for a response from a loved one.

Thinking about whether I truly am being ignored… or am I simply focusing too much on self? Am I focusing on the day to day fluctuations in the lives of family and friends in a way that translates into something personal and visceral; something that essentially exposes my own frustrations, vulnerabilities and insecurities?

It's possible the reality of feeling lonely and often ignored or set aside is simply the next uncharted, unexpected path for me. 

No matter how we might wish otherwise, this aging business isn't necessarily graceful...but it certain is eye-opening!

The more sand that has escaped 
from the hourglass of our life,
the clearer we should see through it.

~Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)