BEST FRIENDS FOR AN AFTERNOON – Marilyn Armstrong

It has nothing to do with hooking up or any other kind of sex. It has to do with becoming the closest of friends with a complete stranger for one afternoon, then never seeing him or her again.

One year, about 30 years ago, I was visiting friends in Montreal. I was poor, didn’t have a reliable car, so I took the bus from New York to Montreal. It was a five-hour ride. I figured I’d sleep most of it, but instead, I found myself seated next to an Indian (from India) medical student who was studying medicine at McGill University. He had just been visiting friends in New York and it was time to go back to studying.

He explained that he was on a scholarship from India and the deal was, he would study, become a doctor, then go back to India and do three years of work there to compensate the government. But, he said, he wasn’t going back.

I was surprised. “But you took the money,” I pointed out. “Don’t you feel you owe them something?” He sighed.

“India is so big,” he said. “So poor. There is very little I could do there that would mean anything. But I could do some great work here in Canada. Research work that might save many people and not just for three years. Maybe for a hundred years.”

He then talked about India’s relationship with Great Britain. “Mostly, everyone hates the British, but they gave us one thing for which we will always be grateful.”

I raised both eyebrows (I can’t raise just one, sorry) and looked at him.

“English,” he said. “Before the British, we spoke hundreds of languages. In each valley, the villages had their own language. Across the nation, we couldn’t talk to each other. Then along came the English and suddenly, we could communicate. For that, we are grateful. It may not be our best language, but it the one everyone speaks.”

After that — getting a look at India I had never seen before — I passed along all of my current issues including trying to get a Jewish divorce in Israel while living in New York, a process so complicated that even 32 years later, I get a headache thinking about it. Not to mention the nasty piece of work who,  for hard-to-fathom reasons, I had married. And children. Mine. His. Ours. As well as the big ocean between us.

Greyhound bus terminal

The two of us never even exchanged names. When we parted at the bus station in Montreal, we had no thought of ever meeting again.

We were best friends for one afternoon on a long bus ride between cities. And three decades later, I still remember it.

THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND A WORD I WOOF – Marilyn Armstrong

Today we vacuumed the living room and changed the sofa covers. We moved all the things out of the way, including the step stool Bonnie uses to get up on the sofa. Some hours later, I was doing something on the computer and Bonnie was barking and whining at me. She barks a lot anyway, but she never whines.

It was too early for dinner — even for her — so I finally asked her “What’s the matter? What do you want?”

She walked over to her step stool and walked back and BARKED at me.

I put the stool back where it belongs and she happily jumped up on the sofa. I could almost hear her saying, “Those dumb two legs. They never understand a word I say!”

WORDS AND WILDLIFE – Marilyn Armstrong

I have no doubt my dogs think. They don’t have as long a memory as people and I don’t think they get into nostalgia or reminiscing, but they plan. They will work together to accomplish a particular goal. Like opening a gate, dismembering a toy, or opening a door. No doubt they would hunt together too. Dogs are pack animals.

They communicate. One will get up, walk to another. They look at each other, then both of them go and wake a third dog. After which all three go out to bark at something only they can see — or ramble into the kitchen to remind us they need dinner. I suspect they believe we won’t remember to feed them unless they remind us.

300-gibbs-sofa-dog-13122016_002

What forms do their thoughts take? It isn’t words. Even though they can understand some words when we use them, I doubt that’s how they form ideas. So they must think using other senses. How much is visual? Do they think in sound and scent? They know what they want. They can be remarkably clever and creative in getting what they want,  but how do they plan without using language?

Now and again, I try to “think” without words. I always fail. Inevitably, anything in my head comes with narration and subtexts.

Dolphins and whales talk to each other in their own language, or so we believe. Apes can be taught to communicate with humans using sign language, but it’s not their native form of communication. The words we use are species-specific. More to the point, human-specific. Although we can teach other creatures to understand and sometimes even use our words, it’s not normal for them. They are bright enough to “get it,” but if not taught, they would be perfectly content to think in the manner that comes naturally to them.

People need words. It’s not only how we communicate. It’s basic to our understanding of the world. It’s how we categorize objects and ideas — and remember.

In the human world, ideas and concepts don’t exist without words. Language has the hooks on which we hang everything, real and conceptual. We are the only species who need a spoken language and absolutely the only creature who writes. Along with our 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 our thumbs would save us.

LOVING WORDS AND KNOWING HOW TO USE THEM – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #51


If people find typos or grammatical, punctuation, spelling, or usage errors in your posts, do you welcome having them pointed out to you, or do you resent it.

As a blogger do you let people know about such mistakes or do you just let them go?


There was a time when I was the aggravated editor at large. However, in recent months, my typo count has risen so high that there are often more typos, missed words, wrong parts of sentences which belong elsewhere, I do not feel I have any authority to speak on the subject.

I was never a good proofreader, even when I was much younger, but now it’s wildly out of control. If I change keyboards? I go from bad to “What IS that word?” I make typos so bad the spellchecker doesn’t recognize the word at all.

I admit that I go and change really badly typoed words in comments because WordPress doesn’t even give us 10 seconds to go back and change it. I read through typos. Of course, I do. I am the typo queen.

I do NOT have the same attitude towards poor grammar, though. The inability of even adults to recognize the difference between shorthand for Facebook or whatever they are using these days and language. Or, for that matter, the difference between an adjective and an adverb because they don’t know the difference between a verb and a noun. If you listen to sportscasters, you’ll know why. They don’t use adverbs. Ever. It isn’t stylistic. It’s pure ignorance.

It isn’t necessarily their fault. Our educational system is sorely lacking. They don’t teach grammar in public schools. If you don’t pick it up by reading book, how COULD you learn it?

And oh lord, PUNCTUATION. I swear everyone makes it up as they go along. My personal favorite is the    ,,,.    between what might be clauses, but isn’t a clause the guy who drops down the chimney with toys? No? 

People our age often leave out the subject of the sentence because we forgot to type it. But the younger ones? What’s their excuse? A good friend is (actually, now WAS) a college English professor. Every once in awhile, he’d show us what students turn in as essays. They truly do not know the difference between LOLWFOMA, TY, BRB, and what we used to call English. I don’t think we are setting a good example, either.

The other thing is that many young people have never read a book. Personally, I listen to audiobooks rather than reading, but I did read thousands of books before I moved to audio. So if my eyes are tired, they earned it.

One busy wall

Neither parents nor teachers forced them to read. Anyway, what with owning every electronic device ever made, what motivation do they have to read? You have to get them reading when they are young before they get hooked in electronics.

We spend millions on electronic devices that are outdated in six months — and don’t put any effort into convincing kids to read. Owen’s deal (from ME) when he was young was before he got an allowance or his bicycle, he had to turn in a book report — to me — every week. I didn’t care what he read, whether it was easy or difficult, but it had to be a BOOK.

Vineyard art – the second painting is the one from the book I gave to Owen.

Thus he fell in love with Stephen King, a love that still lingers, TinTin, Hardy Boys, and all of Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventures. He also loved anything with great illustrations and can take very excellent pictures when he remembers to have a camera — which is rare and rather frustrating. He has talent, but he works 50 hours a week or more, so I suppose that’s a bit limiting.

“How to Live With a Conniving Cat” was a favorite. When we summered on the Vineyard, we bought one of the original paintings done for that book. It was a piece of luck because the painter died while the exhibit was up. His family came and took all his paintings home. They refused to sell any of them. We have the only one that isn’t family-owned.

That was back “in the day” when we went to galleries and bought stuff! You know. Two salaries? Those WERE the days.

I gave the painting to Owen for his birthday. He really, really wanted it. Turns out, he also likes art. Kids like what they learn to like. If you don’t teach them, they don’t get it. Schools are only a piece of education. The rest comes from their home environment.

And yes, there still ARE libraries and they are still FREE. What’s more, there are art galleries in all kinds of places. You don’t have to buy things to go and look. And, oh yes. Museums!


P.S. I don’t have a problem with typos being pointed out, or for that matter, entirely missing words or pieces of paragraphs, or duplicated words. I have always worked best with an editor! I’d correct them myself if I noticed them.

ICONIC, YET SOMEHOW TOTALLY AWESOME – Marilyn Armstrong

“We are broadcasting,” said the crew from ESPN, “from the iconic top of the Green Monster in iconic Fenway Park,” by which they were referring to the broadcast booth set on top of the tall green wall in the stadium’s left field., a.k.a, the left field wall.

Fenway might even be iconic if by that you mean the “oldest baseball stadium in the U.S.,” but I don’t think iconic means that. This was the actual moment I realized I never wanted to hear anyone say “iconic” about anything again. Ever. I’d had it with the word.

Even when it’s relevant. Even if it is spelled correctly and regardless of context. The world has become overly iconic and used to mean anything and everything which essentially means it means nothing.


Anything which means everything means nothing.
That includes “iconic.” Especially “iconic.”

Because everything can’t be iconic. It’s an oxymoron.

Word overuse started as a TV phenomenon and has continued with a lot of help from social media. It started with … I don’t know … cool?  Groovy?

It gathered energy with “awesome” and “totally awesome.” Is there a difference? If “awesome” means “striking awe into a viewer,” how is “totally awesome” more awesome than one, single “awesome”?

Meanwhile, word overuse went in hysterical overdrive when all female persons who were remotely well-known became a “Diva.”

Now, the word is iconic.

What happened to the rest of the language? Surely there are other synonyms which could be used?

Suggested alternatives include:

Those are more than enough words to give one reason to ponder word usage. I have a “thing” wherein I won’t intentionally use the same word or even two versions of the same word in one paragraph. I sometimes do it accidentally, but if I notice, I’ll go back and change a word.

There are few words in English for which there is no substitute. At least — not among adjectives. Maybe a few nouns are unique to a specific item but adjectives are slippery devils. Where there’s one, there’s another and another and another.

Arabic has more words than English. Officially, more than 12 million words, though I wonder how many of those words are obsolete or not in regular use. English is the next largest language with about 200,000 words in active use, excluding those which are currently obsolete. For the moment.


NOTE: Never count an obsolete word as completely “out.” Obsolete words have an odd way or slithering back into standard English without warning.

Meanwhile, 200,000 is a fair number of words. The next time the word “awesome” or “iconic” springs to your fingers or lips, contain yourself. As a personal favor, please find a different word. Any word.

Let’s make “emblematic” a hot new word. Even better, let’s use “seminal.”

THE OTHER SIDE OF IMMIGRATION – Marilyn Armstrong

Learning (or, in my case, trying to learn) another language was high entertainment.
Immigration isn’t easy, isn’t fun.
These days, it can also be life-threatening. 


In English, I rarely if ever used a word the wrong way. I was a serious reader very young and had a big passive vocabulary. By passive, I mean I knew a lot of words but had never used them in conversation. I knew what they meant and how to spell them, but not how they sounded.

I had no idea that Too-son and Tucson were one place. Or that ep-ee-TOME was really an epitome. I remember those two examples because of the hilarity they caused the adults in the area. I was all of 8, but adults were not all that nice to kids. They still aren’t.

My feeble attempts to properly learn Hebrew was even more entertaining. I am sure that my fumbling attempts to learn the language, having caused hysterical laughter, probably played a part in my never properly learning Hebrew. I was so embarrassed by my errors, it didn’t seem worth it, especially since everyone knew at least a little English.

My first big discovery which occurred during my second day in the country was that Zion (Zy-on) means penis. In Hebrew, the pronunciation is actually tzee-own. So if you say that Israel is the “Land of Zion” using your good American pronunciation, you will reduce Israelis to tears of laughter.

They can be a rough crowd.

To add another layer of problems over the difficulty of just getting the words out through my teeth (which were not designed for all those gutturals), many words in Hebrew are very similar to each other but have different meanings. For example, sha-ah is an hour. Shannah is a year. And there you stand saying, “My Hebrew isn’t good. I’ve only been here for two hours.”

After a while, I spoke English and used Hebrew words as needed. Eventually, more Hebrew found its way into my sentences, though complex ideas never made the cut. I could say simple stuff. I could buy groceries. Chat about the weather, as in, “It’s really hot.”

The alternative was “It’s raining hard,” because you only had two seasons: hot and wet.

Eventually, I got to a point where almost everyone could understand most of what I said, sometimes without laughing, but not with joy. My accent made their ears hurt and they preferred English. It was less painful.

You might consider this when you meet immigrants who are trying to learn English. I mention this because having been on the other side of this experience, a bit of kindness to people trying to work through a difficult life transition while learning a new language and culture can go a long way to make them feel less lonely, threatened, excluded, and generally miserable.

Scape-goating our immigrants is identical to scapegoating our grandparents. Unless we are Native Americans, we are all immigrants.

FOWC with Fandango — Scapegoat

SHARING MY WORLD – Marilyn Armstrong

Share Your World – Election Day 2018


Is there one post on your site that is really special to you?  

DON’T DRINK THE KOOL AID – THE JONESTOWN MASSACRE. You’ll see it again on the 18th which will be the 40th anniversary of the massacre. It’s a cautionary tale for our times.

MARILYN’S FAVORITE YEAR – 1969.  Because it really was my favorite year for a lot of reasons.

They aren’t my “best-selling” posts, but they are favorite for entirely different reasons.

How do you deal with negative people? 

Personally? My life is singularly free of negative people. Otherwise, patience and occasionally getting really mad. I have to admit, it depends on what I think will get the job (usually customer service) done. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter. No matter what you do, it won’t help.

What is the first thing you think of when you wake in the morning? 

How quickly can I get to the bathroom!

Would you rather be able to talk to the animals or speak all foreign languages? 

It would be really convenient to speak thousands of languages. On the other hand, there’s no point in talking “Dog.” They would still ignore me.

Bonnie and Gibbs

November is a month in which many people give thanks.  America (and other countries) celebrate an actual Thanksgiving Day. For example, Canada celebrates this in October.

What small thing happened today (or in the past few days) that you were grateful for?   

We put up the bird feeder yesterday and it’s more than half empty today. That’s like two pounds of seed gone in about three hours. Shocking how expensive bird seed is, by the way. For some reason, I figured it would be cheap. It isn’t cheap.

Nothing is cheap, not even birdseed.

I was surprised. I thought it would a few days for the birds to find the feeder, but there were easily a dozen Chickadees and they were flying by in groups looking for a place to land! There were some other small finches eating their hearts out. I didn’t have a camera and it was raining, which slowed down my shooting. It didn’t slow down the birds!