CONJURING MAGIC WORDS – TURNING LATIN TO SORT OF ENGLISH

I WOULD CONJURE MAGIC, BUT …
NO LATIN ALLOWED


I hadn’t thought about it. To be honest, my eyes have seen it. My brain has skimmed over it. Whoosh. Away it went with no thought given to its meaning. I do know what a couple of “Latin as part of English” shortcuts supposedly mean.

“Illegitimi non carborumdum” — which I believed (and lots of other people also believe) translates to: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down,” from the mock-Latin word, illegitimatus, or bastard, and carborundum, an ancient brand of abrasive stone. But apparently, it’s not “real” Latin. Who speaks “real Latin” anyway? Whatever Latin you speak, it ain’t the real deal. Whoever speaks Latin speaks a reconstruction of it based on what we know from old writings. No native speakers hanging around in this century.

But QED? From this morning’s Boston Globe’s Theresa Hanafin, comes this bright light for the day:


The Question of the Day from The Old Farmer’s Almanac is: What does the abbreviation “QED” stand for? It’s Latin — quod erat demonstrandum — and means “that which was to be demonstrated.” It’s often used at the end of math proofs or philosophical treatises where the writer reaches a conclusion. Sort of a “ta-da!” I always thought it stood for “Quick, eat the doughnuts,” which has been very helpful over the years.”


What does this have to do with anything?

Well, since I cannot find any conjurable magic (is that a word?), the closest I’ve got are those little Latin sayings we drop into our English language. When I was first working as a tech writer in the U.S., having been working in Israel as a tech writer for five or six years, I encountered an actual English-language editor. My editors in Israel had been a lovely French woman who had excellent English, but sometimes her editorial decisions were a bit … continental. I had a great Russian guy and some of his editorial decisions were … unique.

This was the first time I got to fight over my words in my native tongue with another New York native.

ARTWORK: Evil Squirrel’s Nest

She was fixated on never using a Latin expression if there was an equivalent English word for the same thing. Should she come upon “etcetera” she would always change it to “and so on.”

“We do not speak Latin in this department,” she would announce. To this day, when I’m editing anyone else’s work — Garry or one of the other writers on our “team” and I see an etcetera looming, I can hear her voice carrying over the television or audiobook:


WE DO NOT SPEAK LATIN IN THIS DEPARTMENT.


I am forced to change it to “and so on” and occasionally, to something more obscure like “moreover.” Can’t use “ad infinitum” either … a sad waste of clever language skills.


Ad infinitum is a Latin phrase meaning “to infinity” or “forevermore”. Description: In context, it usually means “continue forever, without limit” and this can be used to describe a non-terminating process, a non-terminating repeating process, or a set of instructions to be repeated “forever,” among other uses.


It’s amazing how a single determined editor can fix something in your brain forever, even when you have long since passed a point where you need instructions.

Thus if you are doing any conjuring today, please do it without Latin. We don’t speak Latin here.

A SHITTY LEGACY – TOM CURLEY  

Every president leaves a legacy. It’s a big deal. How will history remember the president? How will history remember his administration? For Lincoln, it was the Civil War and ending slavery.

For Herbert Hoover, it was the Depression.

For FDR, it was The New Deal.

You get the point. So, what will the legacy of the current occupant of the Oval Office be? Will it be that an ignorant, moronic, racist, misogynistic, narcissistic, senile asshole should probably not be the President?

Well, sure, that’s a given. But I think his legacy will be even more than just the obvious. He will be remembered for something far more profound.

The President of The United States gave the mainstream media a great gift. A gift they never could have gotten on their own. Newspapers, cable news, network news — especially network news — finally got something they could never have gotten any other way!

This is the best gift ever!

What was it?


The President made it OK to say shit on national TV. Watching it happen was a wondrous event.


The story was that SCROTUS described countries like Haiti and African countries as “Shitholes” in front of a bunch of Congressmen. The story exploded, like every other stupid thing he does. But this story was different. Something new happened. I was wandering thru the news channels as it happened.  And it was awesome. It was adorable. It was like watching a child speak for the first time.

Haiti is a shithole!

Initially, everyone was hesitant. They all didn’t say shithole, they said “The S-word”. And all the chyrons, the lower thirds, all said “S#@THOLES”.

All the cable news anchors fell all over each other saying how much it disturbed them to have to say a word they don’t want to say because it’s so vile. So they said “The S-Word” And they said The “S-Word” as often as they could.

And then, as the evening wore on, I noticed something. The lower thirds suddenly said “SHITHOLE”.

Wow, I thought. And then like a puppy opening his or her eyes for the first time and seeing a new world, it happened.

Wow, this place is a shithole

Suddenly Rachel Maddow and all the others on TV took the leap. “The President said Shithole!” they all declared! And the flood gates opened up.

By the next day everybody was on the ‘shit-bandwagon’. Every headline had some play on the word shit.

There was not a “S##THOLE” anywhere to be found!

I realize at this point that many of you might not understand why I think this is so important. It has to do with the media. I know what I’m talking about because I’ve been in the media for over 40 years.

There are a lot of things the media can and can’t do, or should or shouldn’t do. But there is one thing that they absolutely can’t do. And that is they can’t say dirty words. To be more specific “The Seven Dirty Words”.

The seven dirty words? What’s that? Well, the words are from a George Carlin routine from around 1972.

The bit was about words you can’t say on radio or TV and the words were: “Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits.”

The record was played on a Pacifica radio station in NYC, WBAI. That lead to the FCC fining the station.

And that lead to a Supreme Court case. “FCC vs Pacifica Foundation.” It was a big first amendment case and what came out if it was a decision that the FCC couldn’t limit your first amendment rights, but they were OK banning the seven dirty words on mainstream media.

And that is a big thing if you work in the mainstream media. Many anchors have been fired for accidentally saying “fuck” on the air. It was instant death, you were gone. Period. And you have no idea how media people talk, especially  off the air.

I worked for the ABC Radio Network in the early 1970’s, WCBS FM in the late 1970’s and CBS News until today and I always marveled at how some news announcers could go thru an entire newscast hitting the mute button on their mike to yell at someone in between doing the actual newscast.

ANCHOR: In the news today, Vietnam peace talks have stalled, more after this.
MUTED ANCHOR: What the fuck??! Who ate my fucking Goddamn yogurt! You all know that’s my motherfucking yogurt!
ME: (talking in announcer’s ear) We’re back in 3,2,1, cue.
ANCHOR: Moving on to sports, here’s Howard Cosell.
MUTED ANCHOR: God fucking damn it! This is the third time this month my motherfucking yogurt is gone! I will find you, you cocksucker  and I will FUCK YOU UP!!

I know you think I’m making this up. And I also know for a fact that as Garry is reading this, he is rolling on the floor laughing.

My point is, this is a milestone. On January 11th, the year of our lord 2018, a miraculous thing happened. Trump overturned FCC vs Pacifica. The mainstream media got to say one of the Sacred Seven Dirty Words.

Broadcasters are loving it! Now that the precedent is broken, where can we all go next? Oh right — there are still six more dirty words!

So, to sum up this president’s legacy:

  • A shithead decided to run for president.
  • A bunch of shitheads decided to vote for him.
  • A bunch of other shitheads decided that there was no difference between him and the other shithead running for president, so they voted for a third shithead.
  • And half the country didn’t give enough of a shit to vote at all.

You can’t make this shit up. But at least we can say shit now! Thank God, because the president is doing his damnedest to turn this country into a real shithole.

We are all in such deep shit. On top of everything else,  we’re going to need 7 new dirty words.

THE COMPASS

Hebrew works differently than English and the only language very similar to it is — unsurprisingly — Arabic.

Hebrew uses root words and then twists them into various shapes to form adjectives, nouns, verbs, and other word forms that all, in some way take their original meaning from that root.

The word in Hebrew for “compass” means — as it does in English — a device that points you in a direction. But it also means the direction “North” and by mental rhyming, it also means “conscience.”

Because a compass points you north as your consciences points you in the “right direction.”

A logical language.

YIDDISH: THE LANGUAGE I WISH I’D LEARNED – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I grew up in a bilingual household. Everyone spoke both English and Yiddish. Both my parents and both my grandparents. It was spoken all the time in my home.

My grandfather actually spoke and read four languages, Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew and English. My grandmother spoke Russian and Yiddish in addition to English but not Hebrew.

My dad spoke German, Yiddish, some French and English. He had a knack for languages. At one point in his life he got into studying ancient cultures. He decided to learn the dead language Sanskrit, so he could read some ancient texts in the original. This is one of the things that most impressed me about my dad. His boundless curiosity, his drive and his perseverance. How many people would actually do that? How many people would even want to.

As an aside. In the 1930’s, my father didn’t like the way the wood floors were laid when he was building his house in Connecticut. They were laid with pegs, not nails, an old-fashioned technique. So he learned how to correctly lay the floor boards and redid it himself.

Anyway, my mom just spoke English and Yiddish, but a lot of conversations between the ‘grown ups’ in my family, were conducted in Yiddish. Unfortunately, no one tried to help me learn the language. In fact, they used it primarily to talk ‘over my head’ about things they didn’t want me to know about.

Me and my parents when I was about 8 years old

Early on I figured out when they were talking about my bedtime. One of the only phrases I learned in Yiddish is “I don’t want to go to bed”. It’s a pity that I never learned to speak a language that I heard every day growing up.

For years I didn’t even realize that Yiddish was a separate language. I was often confused about which words were English and which were Yiddish. For example, there is a large, spurting fountain or aerator near my house in Connecticut. My grandfather always referred to it as the “Shpritz vasser” or spraying water in Yiddish. I thought that was its English name and was surprised when no one knew what I was talking about when I used the phrase.

The Yiddish newspaper my grandfather always read

My mother always used the Yiddish word for tush or butt, “tuchas.” Again, I thought this was an American word and I used it all the time. My friends thought I was crazy.

I thought they were ignorant.

Yiddish is not a very useful language to know these days, but I think it would have been wonderful to have grown up speaking it, like everyone else in my family. It might even have helped me master other languages at school.

I took French through junior high and high school and I loved it. But I was better at reading than speaking. This is common because of the way languages are taught in America. I spent time in France as an adult and got a little better at speaking and understanding the language. But I could never really carry on an intelligent conversation.

I always regretted not being fluent in at least one other language. I’m surprised that my family didn’t want to pass down the tradition of speaking Yiddish. But they obviously didn’t care. That’s really a shame – for me.

SUBTLE AND NOT SO SUBTLE – POETRY

National Poetry Month, Rich Paschall


There seems to be a day, a week or even a month for just about everything.  It is quite interesting the types of things for which mayors, governors and even presidents are willing to present a proclamation.  Did you miss One Cent Day April 1st?  No joke, it is a day to commemorate the history of the penny.  I guess it is not worth much anymore.

Certainly you did not miss out on the fact that April 1 is also Sourdough Bread Day.  No Foolin’!  The stuff has been around a long time.  I guess it deserves an entire day, especially when you consider some of the other things that get a day.  Perhaps I should make a point to buy some, or not.

Poetry gets all of April.   That’s seems fair when you consider the vast amount of poetry in the world that most students try to avoid reading.  Maybe it is as good a month as any to push this literary format to the front of the classroom, library, den, coffee-house or wherever you might find verse lurking in the shadows.

The celebration of a poetry month was introduced in 1996 as a way to increase awareness of the genre in the United States.  President Clinton issued a Proclamation on April 1 of that year, declaring “National Poetry Month offers us a welcome opportunity to celebrate not only the unsurpassed body of literature produced by our poets in the past, but also the vitality and diversity of voices reflected in the works of today’s American poetry.”

As libraries, classrooms and bookstores put up posters of famous poets and feature collections of poetry, consider how much poetry you know?  You don’t think you know any?  How many song lyrics do you know by heart?  I guess you know a lot of poetry after all.

In the 1970’s I would turn over album covers (you know, the cardboard sleeve that records came in) in order to see if the lyrics were printed on the back.  There seemed to me to be a lot of thoughtful lyrics on a variety of social and emotional issues.  I loved reading the poetry as much as hearing the music.

When I was in graduate school, I took a class in Poetry Writing.  I thought I was good at it and wanted to see if I could learn some tricks to writing better poetry.  I learned there are no real tricks.  Either you are good at it and are willing to spend time working on it, or you are not so good and do not want to invest the time in a genre that is only pushed forward one month a year.

My professor of poetry writing did not like my first effort for the class.  I thought it was the kind of thing he wanted, apparently not.

Subtle Sounds

They hang softly in the distance.
They tell of something somewhere,
but not here.

They reveal that life goes on,
while deafening silence moves in to share my space.

Like seasons, they run in cycles.
Just as Spring moves to Summer and beyond,
sounds move to silence and beyond.

They have come to my life. 
I know they are there,
yet I can only see
and not hear.

Don’t bother to analyze it.  I am not sure what it means either, and I wrote it.  Of course that was 35 years ago, but I do recall the professor’s disdain. By the end of class I was able to write something he liked.  I believe he never realized the work was as much a commentary of his class and usual criticisms of poems, as it was the fulfillment of an assignment. Since April 2nd is Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Day, I suggest you go grab a PB&J sandwich and enjoy the following.

Word War

The mood is tense.
Words are fighting for meaning.
These stressed soldiers cry out
but are not understood.

General Vague evaluates the conflict.
The consonants are not alliterating,
the end words not rhyming,
and the images “not working.”

Major Disaster declares the stanzas hopeless.
The transitions are lost,
the punctuation missing,
and the verse running free.

Private Joke laughs to himself.
He sees the experts
with no answers.

THINKING ABOUT THINKING

I have no doubt my dogs think. They have a short-term version of planning and will work together to accomplish a goal. Like opening a gate — or dismembering a toy. Surely they would hunt together if they had something to hunt. Dogs are, after all, pack animals.

They communicate. We watch them. They sit silently staring into each other’s eyes. Then they get up, together, and go out to bark, or to the kitchen to remind us they need to eat, now please. I suspect they believe we won’t remember to feed them unless they remind us.

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What forms do their thoughts take? They don’t use words. Even though they understand some words if we use them, I doubt that’s how they form ideas. So they must employ their other senses. How much is visual? Do they also think in sound and scent? It’s obvious they know what they want. They can be remarkably clever and creative in getting it … but how can they plan with no words?

Now and again, I try to “think” without words. I always fail. Inevitably, anything in my head comes with narration, conversation, and a lot of subtext.

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Dolphins and whales talk to each other in some version of language, but words used human-style is apparently species-specific. We can teach other creatures to understand and sometimes even use words, but it’s unnatural for them. Only people need words. It’s not only how we communicate, it’s inherent to our understanding of our world. It’s the way we categorize everything, remember anything.

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Ideas and concepts can’t exist without words. Language has the hooks on which we hang everything, real and conceptual. We are the only species that needs a spoken language and the only one that writes. Along with the opposable thumb, it’s how we rule the earth.

If we were to lose our languages, we would probably lose it all. I don’t think thumbs would save us.