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A Chance to Think

Serena Rainey thinks out loud on language, politics, art, and culture -- putting life in context as much as we can.

Updated: 2015-09-16T22:18:21.288-07:00


Let's Wordjam again like we did last spring


It's easy this time.Women is plural. Woman is singular. The part that's spelled differently is the second syllable while the part that's pronounced differently is the first syllable. It's OK; it doesn't make sense. It's something we just commit to memory.Man is singular. Men is plural.Woman means female person. It used to be Wifman. I am Wifman.Man means person.The old Proto-Germanic word for male is Wer. Werman sounds a lot like Wifman. It might have sounded too close and annoyed people who were trying to talk while washing clothes in a stream or steering a ship or sawing wood, so they started to say other things to be clearer.Man therefore means person, humanity, and adult male human being. It seems unfair, but would you prefer to go around saying, "Not a werman, a wifman. He was talking to a strange wifman. I said...."?Lord is short for Laefgeard. It means bread guardian. Lady means Laefdaeg. That is, bread kneader. Long ago, it wasn't the poor who made and guarded food and the rich who flew to the islands to watch the sunrise. It was the rich who made and guarded lots of food and the poor who rafted to the islands to search for food there.Soon, Lord and Lady meant landowner. Owning food wasn't enough anymore. Most of the poor had that.Master and Mistress mean major person and major female person. They also meant owner, boss. Mistress became Mrs. and Miss, which were interchangeable in the 18th Century. Master became Mr. Originally, when a man referred to the woman he admired as his mistress, he meant he would never touch her. She was his faroff ideal. He did things to impress her. And she was married -- he was a single man. Bachelorhood was a low rank of knighthood. A bachelor admired a mistress, the owner of his heart, and proved himself. When he graduated he married someone else. He was expected to be chaste during all that bachelor adventuring. Over the years and centuries the meaning nearly reversed.Hussy is short for Huswif -- housewife. Husband comes from Husbond -- owner of the house. A man had to have a stable living situation to get married. And that might very well be more literal than anyone liked, if the stable was the only solid roof on the croft.Knave just means boy. Girl means growing, and used to mean anyone, male or female, between around eight and fifteen. Maid was once unisex too -- long, long ago. It meant someone old enough to marry but usually not yet married. It comes from the word for marriage, the root of match, mate, meet, and many more words that sound like them. Maiden meant a small girl, and somewhere along the way the two words switched. Maiden became the term for a virgin, a woman never married, and maid meant a little girl. Since children served in homes before looking for spouses (the people who never served also didn't choose their own spouses), maid came to mean a servant woman, knave a servant man. Page means child and now means a messenger or office assistant, for the same reason.What has happened to way back when? What has happened to then? What has happened, if I may clarify, to than?Then is not the same word as than. In some places they aren't even pronounced the same way. Than rhymes with man. Then rhymes with ten, which means that if you are west of the Great Divide or south of the Mason-Dixon Line it also rhymes with thin and tin -- it just does. We like it that way.If you had been here then you would know there is nothing more annoying than people from back east telling you to say then their way.Suddenly the Internet has filled up with the use of than by itself. "I walked into a party and saw nothing than gossip." "He is nothing than a friend." "I don't know what to say than it's over between he and I". Stop saying that. Please.It should be, "nothing other than gossip", or, "nothing but gossip" or, "nothing more than gossip". "He is nothing more than a friend." "He is nothing but a friend." "He is but a friend." "I don't know what to say other than that it's over between him and me."I guess that's all, man. I have nothing more to add to that tonight.[...]

Matriarchy, patriarchy, patronization, matronization and the matrix


I hear a lot of complaints about patriarchy. Since I willingly belong to an arguably patriarchal organization of some repute, I respond with a few years' thinking.Patriarchy is leadership by fathers. Matriarchy is leadership by mothers. We must make some important distinctions. Matriarchy isn't feminism, egalitarianism, equality, equity or misandry, or even sisterhood.Patriarchy isn't masculism, complementarianism, elitism, inequality, inequity, iniquity, misogyny or even brotherhood.I knew you were going to say I was making it too complicated, but the reason one must at times make things complicated is to find all the knots at once so as to undo them and straighten the whole thread together, to make things plainer.Feminism is the belief that women are good and smart and should have rights under law. Masculism is the belief that men are good and smart and should have rights under law. The two are not contradictory, only complementary, and in reasonable quantities both make a lot of sense. In unreasonable quantities both can be absolute insanity and can lead to cruelty and loss for the most helpless people.Egalitarianism is the rule of leveling everyone, giving boys and girls the same opportunities, letting the children of the poor study with the children of the rich, taxing the wealthy to support the needy, and trying to make people's lives pretty much as equal as possible. Complementarianism is the belief that equity can be achieved by treating different things differently, as author Tom Robbins put it. A complementarian would give boys and girls different classrooms designed for their different traits to blossom, feeling that a mixed-sex schoolroom would favor one or the other depending on its design. Complementarians see males and females as having necessarily different lives because they are different, but would want to find ways to give them equal fulfillment and respect, through different, complementary, jobs and rewards. Elitism is the belief that some people are inherently more capable of good and smart actions and should be given the best of everything accordingly, to ensure that decisions are in the hands of the smartest, most virtuous persons at all times, and to prevent a seizure of power by others. These three value systems are in conflict with one another necessarily. Our American foundation of egalitarianism decides this conflict for us in most areas. However, elitism turns up here and there even now.Equality means having equal value, but it is used as a substitute-word for equity. Equity is equal treatment and reward for work etc. The demand for equality is actually a demand for equity. Inequality is the lack of equality and inequity is the lack of equity. Iniquity is unconnected. It is a word for wrongdoing. Iniquity can be equitable or inequitable. It depends on the iniquity.Misogyny is the opposite of philogyny. Misogyny is hatred of females. Philogyny is love of females. Misandry is hatred of males. Philandry is love of males. Philanthropy is love of people. Misanthropy is hatred of people. Arthropods are crawling little cold-blooded critters. They have nothing to do with this. Anthropology is the study of how people live everywhere else, and the habit of going to live among different people and ask them about their private business all the time and then leave. It's got nothing to do with apologetics, which in turn have nothing to do with being apologetic. We're talking about anthropology, matriarchy and patriarchy today. At least I am. Join me awhile.A myth among the modern Western feminist activist or student is that the earliest societies were thousands-of-years-old idealistic, peaceable, prosperous, nature-nurturing identical matriarchies, crushed by advancing male armies imposing cruel, militarily-established patriarchies that stand to this day keeping women from being happy or free anywhere, but that women slowly become conscious and open their eyes and overthrow the patriarchalist oppressors and rebuild those perfect matriarchal communities and live happily ever afte[...]

Pour these wordjams over your consciousness and see whether anything is altered.


It's about time for another wordjam.You may or may not go to church. If you are Catholic, the correct rendering of that sentence is, "You must go to Mass." If not, the correct recasting is, "You should enroll in RCIA ASAP."But we're going to be easy on you and just wordjam for now. You are in your church. There may be an altar. If someone has Dissociative Identity Disorder, there may also be some alters, and if someone has bought clothes that didn't fit, there may be alterations as well. But there is probably an altar.Altar comes from the Latin altare, meaning a place for burning sacrificial offerings. Alter comes from Latin as well, from alter, meaning "other".It's hard to learn words by sight without poring over them, but pouring over them won't help, because they'll just get soggy from whatever you're pouring. Pore is a noun and verb. Pore (n.) means a tiny opening or orifice, and one obvious example is where you sweat. That makes a nice memory trick: To pore over something is to look steadily at it or read it carefully. You could sweat over your studies if you really pore over them.To pour something is to cause it to flow down, as the sky pours rain, but don't get confused by the idea of sweat pouring out of your brow during Dead Week. Imagine the U in pour as the raincatcher at the end of the roof drain line. It spills over the top and pours rain to the ground.If this is taxing your consciousness, don't go unconscious, but don't be excessively conscientious about it either; it's a matter of grammar, not of conscience.Conscious, conscientious and conscience are pronounced similarly and spelled similarly and come from the same place. It's tricky, but worthwhile, to remember the difference.Conscious means aware, having sensory impressions, thinking, noticing and perceiving things. The opposite is unconscious. Consciousness is the opposite of unconsciousness.Conscience is the moral sensibility, the sense of right and wrong, that which hurts after one does wrong; it is what psychopaths lack and the rest of us struggle with all day and night.Conscientiousness is the quality of paying a great attention to detail, to every issue, and worrying endlessly about what is right. Someone with too little conscientiousness is a burden on others, annoying, careless, and mean, while someone with too much conscientiousness is slow to get things done, obsessive, fretful, as likely as not to annoy people with unnecessary apologies and efforts to smooth what isn't ruffled -- too much worry. The key is to develop the right amount of conscientiousness.Some draftees are conscientious objectors, whose consciences will not allow them to kill. A draftee who tries to get out of combat as a conscious objector will make little headway.Whether or not this serves as a wether for you, it won't help you predict the weather.Whether is from Old English hwether and means either, in either case, and is used to introduce a clause about unknown facts: "She is a good singer, whether because she practices or because she inherited it." "Whether it rains or not I'm going now." "Go find out whether the show is on." "I wasn't sure whether he was here." "I don't care whether he's here or not, I'm going."Weather is from the Old English weder and means the meteorological conditions anywhere or everywhere, to wait out a rough period, to wear down as by wind, rain, sun and sleet, and a kind of slope.Wether is from weder, also Old English, and means what it meant many a century ago: a gelded male sheep. Flocks of sheep are often guided by bellwethers, wethers with bells on their collars.[...]

Oh, the Irony of It All.


Sarcasm is America's first language.
Sitcom writers have studied sarcasm and irony so closely that if you don't understand every detail of the life experiences of fictional characters, you can't keep track of what the live studio audience is laughing about.
Phoebe says, "Don't get all testosteroney", and Chandler looks perplexed and a little didactic as he often does, and says, "The real San Francisco treat, by the way." What does that mean? It's not just a play on words. To get it requires sharing the writers' ideas of the intended main viewership's attitudes toward everything they are expected to associate with testosterone, San Francisco, 1970's TV commercials for convenience foods, convenience foods themselves, spacey semi-alternative people such as we are to think Phoebe represents, the attempt to invent words, and fairly straight but perfectly open-minded people such as Chandler is supposed to represent, and possibly other culture mileposts. And most viewers do. But it depends on sarcasm. Chandler is saying, "It would be ridiculous to use the word testosteroney, it would be ridiculous to be very serious and professorial about TV commercials or convenience foods, especially from our childhoods, and it would be ridiculous to try to understand Phoebe."
All sarcasm and irony can express are infinite grades of , "it would be ridiculous...." In the wash of absurdity we choke under daily, that is an indispensable statement.
But it states the problem. We know there is a problem with absurdity. We seek solutions, as people with a problem always do.
Sarcasm can never offer a solution.
So don't abandon irony.
But never depend on it. Every time someone says, "It would be ridiculous," ask what would be true. Help the sarcasts (real word) finish their sentences.
Until next time, think clearly.

Why you need a foreign language or twelve


Is it going to be English? Not if the English-speaking countries don't start remembering what words mean long enough to communicate. Will it be Spanish? Maybe. Arabic? Could be. Mandarin Chinese? Perhaps, but Westerners would have a hard time learning it. Or will some dark horse run out and take the blue ribbon? Everyone wants to know what the last language alive will be.But why should we let any of them die? Four hundred languages lived side-by-side in the Americas five hundred years ago. A thousand years ago, Europe and Western Asia were equally polyglot. Africa, too, has many tongues, each unique, irreplaceable. Eastern Asia and the Pacific have their hundreds and the Southern Sea has its own indigenous languages as well. Listen to one next time you watch a travel show. Listen beyond the voice-over, to the beat, the thrums and trills of another way of making sense, and tell me if you're hooked. I dance to language. I slip it through my fingers like a harp string when I go to sleep and feel it vibrate against my hand like a drum skin when I wake. Never throw away a language. If you don't have room for the whole thing, cut a piece and stitch it into a quilt with your old one; use it as a patch. Take at least a hundred words. Take a way of ordering words, it doesn't take up any room. Learn the African language Shona or Xosa, Luganda or that big crazy-quilt, Swahili. Learn the European tongues: Magyar, Euskari, Italian, Finnish, Polish, Irish, Welsh, Catalan. Pick up something from Asia: Why not Vietnamese or Thai, Hmong or Tibetan or any bit of the patchwork that is India. How about some Hindi? Keep a bit of real early America alive in your head -- study Hopi, Apache, Inuit, Cherokee, which has an alphabet of its own, or Creek. Maybe you'll fall in love with something else: Maori or Tagalog, Incan or Samoan or Hawaiian....There are three thousand languages officially living, but they die for lack of a home.Learning new ways of doing things and remembering words are two of the ways neuroscientists say you can prevent Alzheimer's before it starts, and slow it or even reverse it once it sets in. Learning a language fills both those needs.Additionally, a language is a way of perceiving the world. In French, there are two ways of saying, "I love you." One means something like "I like you." The other means "I adore you." Neither would mean the same thing with the formal/plural "you".If you want to say you like someone and want it to be clear you aren't in love, you say, "I like you plenty." Spanish is similar. The meaning of liking and loving people thus has specific degrees and kinds, each with a name. In Spanish, animals' legs aren't legs. The parts of animals have animal words to describe them, unlike human appendages. In English, we accept animals as part of the family, with the same names and the same limbs; they are almost our relatives. But in Spanish, animals are little like us. One doesn't even use the same hand position to indicate the height of a human, of an animal and of an inanimate object. The language reflects, affects and maintains the unique cultural attitude to other creatures.In Hmong, there are no plurals nor verb tenses. Context tells the hearer whether the speaker sees a house now, saw one at another time, expects to see one under other conditions, sees the house, rather than a house, or a few houses. In that language, to leave the context out is to leave the hearer out of the picture. When a language dies, a way of thinking dies, and with it, a whole world.Pick one up today. Keep it alive. It just might do the same for your brain -- and your heart.[...]

Wordjam II


I've heard it one time too many and can't listen another time without saying something.
Please don't confuse "flaunt" with "flout". To flaunt something is to show it off. If you flaunt my advice you are proud of it. If you flout it, I can't do anything for you.
It's easy. "Flaunt" puts a thing "on" and wears it proudly. "Flout" throws it "out" in disdain, and ignores it.
I know languages change and grow. But they also change and die. If English dies, we have no replacement. Most Americans don't speak Spanish today. Business Spanish doesn't count. It can't translate Dante. It can only do business. Arabic is the tongue of a very different way of thinking. To learn it would challenge almost all of us. Mandarin, even more so. I would love to switch America to a Celtic language, but since it's this hard just to hold onto a scrap of memory of what English sounded like when words all meant different things, I have little hope of getting gum-snapping strangers across counters to want to learn the declensions of Gaelic nouns and their exceptions.
So we must cling to this life raft we have, battered as it may be, this raft of words tied together by straggling strands of grammar in this storm.
Strand One: Parts of speech are different. The noun (name) is a person, place or, broadly defined, thing. I will tell you all the words I know. Here the nouns are bold.
The verb (word) tells of a deed or action. Don't go out in the street where the cars speed and you can't see where they come from.
The adjective (attributive) describes. Long hours and monotonous work are terrible for one's mental state.
The adverb (added word) describes a verb or adjective. it's a kind of second-generation adjective. It doesn't have to end in -ly and not every word ending in -ly is one. Finally, we meet again.
The article (thing) is what tells people which one you mean. That man said to the cashier that he wanted a bag for these socks.
The particle (little bit) fills in where words no longer change forms. the verb to do has become an interrogative particle and an auxiliary (helping) negative particle. Do you know what an interrogative particle is? It's just a little word that helps make a question. Does that help? Don't hesitate to say something if you still don't understand. Do is also an emphatic particle. You may not think you know what emphatic means, but I think you do.
Will, which really means "want", has become our future particle. Would is the past tense of will. Verbs have tenses. That means we hold them in different positions, toward the past, present, future and beyond. Nouns go in cases. Shall is the real future particle but we hardly ever use it anymore because it preserved a distinction between what we intended and what we just expected, and that was depressing. Should is the past tense of shall. Pull it back into the present and it becomes shall again.
Shall we discuss grammar further someday?
I think I would like that.

Why legalizing drugs wouldn't increase drug abuse


In Amsterdam, according to Reason Magazine, psychedelic mushrooms sell in stores over the counter. Only one-twelfth of the city's people surveyed have even tried them and one in a few hundred has shroomed in a month, the article says.In parts of the USA, police and guards routinely kill civilians in drug raids, sometimes based on wrong addresses or bum steers. One recent victim was a 92-year-old woman.Drug abuse kills US citizens often, and usually early in life.Long ago, we lost the war on drugs; the drugs were making more sense than the war was.Drug abuse is a plummet into the pits of despair. It isn't funny. It isn't glamorous. It isn't a game. It kills children. I don't take it lightly at all and neither should you. So, what causes it? And what can stop it?People are living things, and when living things need something, they go out to find it. Warning young people that getting high will endanger them is like warning starving cats that the steaks they have found are two days past date and not cool enough. Talk away, but stand back and be ready for a disappointment.When heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, mushrooms, hashish, marijuana and alcohol were legal, over the counter, at any store that felt like stocking the items, for anyone with the small bit of money to buy them, abuse was rare, though use was common. Most people in 1900 had too much to look forward to to mess up their lives with dangerous chemicals.By 1932 many of these substances were illegal. Abuse was common. Crime over drugs had skyrocketed.Why? Americans had seen the countryside spill into the cities in search of work, families scatter, jobs turn more mechanical and less human, all for money -- money that one day had vanished. There was no going back, and little faith in tomorrow.Meanwhile, drugs were hard to hide, in their sweet thinners. They had to lose weight to fit in the shoe and in the floorboards. The condensed forms were less palatable and much less social but far easier to sell. And they were far easier to become addicted to and to die on.It started to take a certain type to be a successful drug salesperson. Your mother's friend down the street wasn't selling Mrs. Winslow's Syrup anymore, but you noticed cold-eyed men in alleyways whispering their pricess to passersby. These men didn't ask how your mother was. They just told you to get moving and keep your mouth shut.Prices rose fast. Stealing financed drugs. Murder covered the anonymity of the market. Despair drove people to try "harder" (more concentrated) substances in search of hope. Drugs made their own pressures and fears and users fell faster into deeper horrors as they struggled to feel like going on. Eventually we had the world we live in today. It's not over yet. Prohibition is still seeing what will happen if it tries a little harder.The prohibition forces are now pushing to ban tobacco. What will happen when they succeed? I would guess that tobacco will become dirtier. Filters will be a forgotten old quirk. Theft and murder will increase somewhat. Underground smokehouses will open everywhere. These will be enclosed and suffocation will become common. Innocent people will die at police hands during mistaken arrests.The answer to tobacco deaths is probably not prohibition. Perhaps the passing of time will wear tobacco out of existence. Generations that grew up smoking grow too old to enjoy taking risks. New generations don't want to smoke, aside from the odd fad, and those fade.The answer to alcohol deaths is probably not prohibition, either. It is likely to be a more mature approach. Cultures where parents give small children tastes of liquor, where learning to drink slowly is part of learning table etiquette, have few drunk drivers and few deaths from cirrhosis of the liver or alcohol poisoning. Alcohol is the food that's a drug, the drug that's a food. It takes an adult to handle it alone, but kids can learn to be adults ab[...]

What is the World's Smallest Political Quiz?


(Copied from the Advocates for Self-Government)The World's MostPopular Political QuizHow the World's Smallest Political Quiz redefined politics, took over the Internet, impressed the experts, and made politics fun for more than 9 million peopleAfter taking the World's Smallest Political Quiz, the famous online test that instantly pinpoints your political ideology, no two people have exactly the same reaction.Consider Courtney, a self-described "young Republican." She took the Quiz and was surprised by the result. "I [scored] libertarian centrist," she said. "I really think I lean to the right, but apparently some aspect of my social liberalism has centered me. Interesting."For blogger Jessy, the Quiz confirmed what she already knew. The avowed liberal landed smack-dab in the liberal quadrant and said, "I could not agree more."Then there's Krzysztof -- nicknamed "Critto" -- from Poland. For him, the Quiz was exciting. "I am a libertarian, after taking the Quiz!" he said enthusiastically. "I love the World's Smallest Political Quiz, for it is cute, small, and very useful."Cute? Well, OK; let's not argue with a guy named Critto. Small? You bet. It takes less than two minutes to zip through. Useful? Absolutely, if the surge of people taking the Quiz is any proof.Every day, the Quiz is taken more than 5,000 times at the Web site of the Advocates for Self-Government ( That's over 200 times an hour, 24 hours a day. In fact, as of March 2007, the Quiz has been taken more than 9 million times. Why the enormous popularity -- especially when so many other political quizzes clutter up the Internet?Sharon Harris, president of the Advocates, has a theory. "The Quiz offers a more diverse way of looking at politics," she said. "It gives people a fast, accurate way of determining who agrees with them most."That "more diverse" insight is the key. Before the Quiz came along, politics was a two-way street. You were either liberal or conservative, and that was that.Enter David Nolan, an MIT political-science graduate. In 1969, Nolan realized that traditional political definitions didn't make sense. He observed that liberals usually supported personal liberty (they defended free speech), but opposed economic liberty (they liked high taxes and strict regulation of business). Conservatives were the opposite. They supported economic liberty (low taxes and minimal regulations), but opposed personal liberty (they applauded laws against pornography).So far, so good. But what about people who supported both personal and economic liberty? They didn't fit. Nether did people who opposed both personal and economic liberty.Nolan finally resolved the paradox. "I began to doodle around with the idea of trying to reduce the political universe to a graphical depiction," he told The Liberator magazine in 1996. "I thought, 'Maybe we can delineate this on some kind of map, using a two-axis graph.' "That was the breakthrough. Instead of looking at politics as a two-way line, Nolan designed a political chart that went in four directions -- high or low on economic issues, and high or low on personal issues.Conservatives and liberals fit in this new political spectrum. So did libertarians and statists, who Nolan added to the mix. Libertarians scored high/high on liberty issues; statists scored low/low. Later, centrists were added in the middle -- and the Nolan Chart, a new way of looking at politics, was born.In 1985, Marshall Fritz, founder of the Advocates for Self-Government, added 10 questions to the chart. He squeezed it all onto a business card-size handout, dubbed it the World's Smallest Political Quiz, and took it to a local print shop.The rest is history. Over the years, the nonpartisan Advocates distributed 7 million printed copies of the Quiz to help spread the word about libertarianism. In 1995, the Quiz made the jump to cyberspace w[...]



Animal-welfare supporters say the cage does strange things. Captive animals are much more likely to abuse, abandon and kill their young; hurt themselves; eat, vomit, then eat their vomit; obsessively groom themselves; fail to mate; fail to nest; and pace, rock, and scratch themselves all the time.

Scientists found decades back that rats subjected to an ever-more-crowded home in captivity showed social changes.

First they fought more and took lousy care of the kids. Soon they killed their own kind more. Then gang rats started running from one section to the cage to another, across territories. These pubescent animals fought when they met another gang. The females watched the males tangle, then mated with the winners. When they had young they abandoned them. Some parts of the cage became rich in food and nest materials. Other parts became too poor to sustain life for long. The rich females grew a subculture that ran in small groups into the poor parts and back for no apparent reason. Males who refused to nest took food from mothers and children and moved on. A few males and females lined up along the darkest edge of the cage avoiding light. There they hung out all day and night, rarely sleeping, hardly eating, never mating or nesting, just chattering to no one in particular, grooming themselves to the point of self-harm. I used to be like that. These trends developed around the time the sexual deviance increased. Males mated with the dead, with the young, with everyone they could catch, male or female, family or not. Rape, sadism and fetishism increased drastically in the final stages. This is not typical wild rat behavior. Many females decided they had no interest in mating.

The experiment wound up with suicide and failure to thrive bringing the population down again. This study has often been held up as a warning against overpopulation. But is it really more a warning about captivity itself? Being pushed to the sides of the cage the rats can see the bars more clearly.

I have no patience at all with people who harm people and blame society. Humans have self-control in a way rodents don't.

The issue is, why are there so many people making such bad choices at so many ages just when we are supposed to have reached a safe, warm, aware stage in our culture's development? Maybe we have pushed ourselves or let someone push us right to the bars.

Those who react by hurting or killing their own kind, especially adult humans who kill children and youth, are to blame for their actions.

As for the rest of us, those struggling to make life in the cage worthwhile, how can we protect ourselves without making the cage any tighter? How can we shelter the young and the weak without shrinking our range even more?

Any thoughts?

Short story: I'm Glad I'm Socialized


I got up today eager for a day of painting and an hour or two working on my novel. I scarfed a bowl of bright cereal and ran for a bus. Oh, I could work at home, but the government says that I'm better off with people my own age.So I stood in a neat line outside the door of West Hometown Workplace, behind three chefs and a dogcatcher, who hates me and kept stepping on my foot. We are all the same age give or take a few months. I dared not look behind me to see where the warm breath in my hair came from, but I think it was my friend Julia, a soccer coach. I hoped I'd get a chance to talk to her after work.Next to my line I saw an artist I admire who is a year younger than I am. I couldn't talk to him; it would have been against the rules, and anyway, the workers in my line would have pestered me for months for talking to a younger person like a human being. That's just the way it is.Finally the bell sounded. A supervisor marched us through the door. Any show of eagerness would have meant a humiliating trip to the back of the line, so I plodded in step with the rest.First job was architecture. I had to go to remedial architecture because I don't have much skill at building design. There, the trainers talked to me as if I were a small cute animal begging at their door. "Can you hold a pencil?" Of course I can hold a pencil. What I can't do is make a skyscraper that can withstand an earthquake. Can I paint now? It would waste much less time.Well, bike repair, oil refining and business consulting were similar. In B.C. I tried to signal to my friend that I would meet her after lunch, but the supervisor caught me. I had to sit in the corridor and avoid any contact with others until the bell rang.Finally I got into single file with everyone my age and marched to the dining area. One man stumbled trying to tuck a loose shoelace in. The supervisor called him to the back of the line. Everyone laughed at him.Julia found me and sat with her head in her arms, shaking. She'd been mugged. It happens to her a lot. Once one person mugs you, the word gets out that you have money. She sat, crying, knowing she wouldn't get her money back. The worst of it was that she knew her next assignment: to spend half an hour molding plastics in a corner station with just two people, the men who had mugged her. I urged her to have them arrested. She said she had tried that. They always spent a day in an empty workspace and then returned to rob more co-workers. The sentence could not exceed that. I gave her my salad and brownie. It was just a couple of bites but it cheered her up.I had a bad muscle cramp. I toughed it out, wanting to skip the tangled process of getting permission to take one of my own painkillers. Julia and I had five minutes to hang out in the fenced lot before it was time to line up again. We talked as fast as we could, running back and forth for much-needed exercise."What are you painting?" She asked."A landscape. What are you doing?""I just met someone I think I like a lot. And I got a kitten...."The bell rang. We stood straight and still. The door swung. We marched.I went silently into the workspace for a job I dreaded: waiting tables and bussing. In this task, not only did I have no talent for the job, not only did a puzzled-faced short woman keep whispering that she hated me and would "get me" when I passed her -- no, I have no idea what her problem is -- but the supervisor was inexperienced and constantly gave what even I could often see for bad advice.I trudged in a straight line to astronomy and, just as I was finding some interesting constellations, the bell rang. I lined up and went to webhosting. I don't understand how to write code. Back to remedial with me. "Can you find letters on the keyboard? Do you know what the keyboard is?" Yes, I just don't absorb information about this topi[...]

How to stop confusing words without memorizing the dictionary


It's happening more and more often. People who can fly planes, fix arteries and gain public office are saying "imply" for "infer" and "flaunt" when they want "flout". Why? I don't know. But I used to do worse things than that. Oh, I not only spent years sorting out "habilitate" and "habituate", no, I still struggle with "imminent", "immanent" and "eminent". At least I can tell "immolate" from "emulate", for which my role models must feel some gratitude. (Look it up if you don't believe it.)
But to the rescue comes the past. Under the bark of a word runs a grain of history. Its meaning is somewhere in that past. Whole teams, companies, labor to plot them for us. We pick up these records -- dictionaries -- and we find the story in the brackets.
To imply is to "fold in". The one adding a meaning implies it like a note concealed in a folded paper. Inference is different. It is from the Old French, from the Latin, "to bear in". It is to draw from evidence. One carries in one's inferences with the newspapers and leaves one's implications neatly tucked into the payment envelope, little tips. "Flaunt", though, hides its origins. Could it come from some corruption of "flavescent", "turning yellow"? All we can be sure of is that "flout" means "to scorn or disregard" and seems to have once been a French word, "flauter", to play the flute. A flautist flutes today, as does a flutist, the same thing. A flouter, though, flouts. She doesn't flaunt, except when she flaunts her contempt for society by flouting its laws. She waltzes off playing the flute at them all.
To habituate someone to your company, you may guide him to make a habit of visiting you. But if you don't want to manipulate, try just habilitating him to come and see you. That is, give him some gas money or let him know when you are available for company. Give him the ability, that is, from the Latin word for ability, "habilitas".
It is imminent that I start remembering what immanent means.
Here we go. The dictionary says, "existing or remaining within" (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, New Collegiate Edition 1976). The source? "In" is a Latin word that gives us our own word "in", and "manere" means "remain". It comes to us from as far away as the PIE "men", to remain, which has remained pretty much the same for at least a few thousand years.
Imminent is "in" and "minere", to project, from another word "men" that is also thousands of years old. And you were probably going to say this was confusing. We haven't even started on eminent yet.
Eminent: That's a "minere" combination too, but this time the first syllable is a shaved-down form of "ex", which means "out". The imminent projects in like the future looming over us, but the eminent project out like the noticeable, for they are the outstanding and the giants, the very famous, the unignorable ones. Not hard, was it?
So how about "immolate" and "emulate"? Well, OK. "Emulate" appears to be related to "imitate", and that is what it means, but not just to imitate. Doing impressions isn't emulation. It's imitating in hope of being more like someone, aspiring to be someone, walking in someone's footsteps.
"Immolate" was once "in" plus "mola", meal, that is milled grain. It's how people prepared sacrifices. They sprinkled grain on them. To immolate someone is to sacrifice him.
Please don't immolate anyone. Just emulate those you admire. And admire them for their eminence in good habits, ones worth flaunting.