Assay means “attempt.” When you say “I’m going to assay that climb,” you’re going to try to do it. There is, within the context of the word, a sense of insecurity. That you will try but not necessarily succeed. Subjunctive, sort of. English is not a subjunctive language. We don’t have the tenses to get it right.
Everything feels a been subjunctive these days. Getting up from a chair … can I do it without pushing is one hand? When I get up, will I fall back down? I still tend to load up my hands with whatever I think I need to take with me only to realize I have to put at least half of it down because I need one hand to push me out of the sofa. Oh those joys of aging!
It was supposed to snow today. So far, it hasn’t done anything at all, though the sky is a leaden gray that says more about rain than snow. But it’s definitely getting colder as the day goes on. Usually, days get warmer. This isn’t on of those days. So maybe we will get something, though sleet, snow, rain — or a delicious mix of all three is yet to be decided.
Regardless, in 48 hours, spring will come back. Or so the weather guys promised.
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.
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.
How many times have I heard that line in a movie or a book. Inevitably, it’s either a man talking to a woman — dominant to less dominant — or a “queen” dowager speaking to her underlings. There’s such a quality of superiority in that expression, the ultimate “I know so you have to listen to me because I KNOW.”
With #METOO in progress — and with Our Elected Master deciding the one thing America has never needed except after winning a war — the last time was 1991 after George Bush purportedly won the Gulf War. Whether we “won” that is a moot point, but at least it was supposedly a “victory.” I know there hasn’t been one since then because I would remember it. One of the great things about this country is that we have never needed to display our military might that way.
If a gigantic asteroid were barreling toward impact with our planet, you can bet there would be at least a few members of Congress who would insist on leaving it alone, either because they would see it as a warning shot from the Almighty or because a mining company with a savvy team of lobbyists had laid claim to the big rock.
We do display our military might in other ways of course — like invasions, engulfing, stealing natural resources — not to mention sometimes killing off entire populations. Mostly, though, we’ve skipped marching our soldiers and our tanks and rockets around for entertainment. We’ve never needed to do that.
“But, ” says that man who somehow, and I swear I will never understand how, became our elected president, “I insist. I want to see all my soldiers marching in neat lines. I want to see tanks and rockets and missiles all shiny. And I’m going to have a special uniform with lots of gold braid and maybe a really fancy hat and I insist that everyone salute me. Do you think I could insist everyone call me ‘Your Majesty’?”
He looks around and does not see how everyone’s face is red and hidden in their hands. Our national shame is blustering again.
And then, there’s … “I don’t want to go to a fancy restaurant. There’s never any place to park and I have to wear heels and stockings. The waiter acts like Lord of the Manor where I don’t live,” I say.
“But I insist,” says my date. Not my guy. I already know this before the date begins. I’ve never been involved with anyone who used those words in a conversation with me. I come from a family with a big mean daddy who always insisted. He insisted when he was completely wrong and had no idea what he was talking — but just to confuse us, he also insisted when he was right. It was remarkably difficult to tell the difference.
I’m pretty sure where at least one chunk of my cynicism comes from. Erratic parents are the worst. When they are knowledgeable sometimes and completely ass-backward the rest of the time. You don’t know what to believe. If you are me, ultimately, you don’t believe anything without three kinds of proof.
The harder they insist, the more I am inclined to resist.
You can reason with me. You can prove your point with facts and if you also make me laugh, I will not only agree with you, but I will love you for it. I will listen to your point of view as long as you aren’t stuffing it up my nose, calling me names, or behaving like an asshole.
Just don’t insist.
Unless the house is burning down and you know the only way out. Then, feel free to insist.
Here we are in February already and it is time for another Pick a Word themed photo challenge. Maybe you will find the choice of today’s words stimulating, maybe too challenging, but in case you decide to join the challenge, I will be happy to look at your entries whether it is interpretation of one, several or all of the given words: innate, protuberant, rectangular, interspersed, and fluorescent.
A while back, Marilyn wrote a piece using the word chutzpah. This is a word I’ve always badly mangled when I try to say it. It’s just a word, what the heck? That was my take for many years until Robin Williams and Billy Crystal gave me a proper public whupping for butchering the pronunciation of chutzpah. I don’t try to say it in public anymore. It’s a word. I respect it because it carries its own meanings and images.
These days, people often use words or phrases without understanding their origin or meaning. I hear political aspirants, celebrities, athletes and civic leaders say things that make me scratch my head and run back to my dictionary. Words! They can be powerful tools used correctly. They can be dangerous used in ignorance.
I grew up in a home full of books. Including dictionaries. Big ones and pocket dictionaries. My parents insisted on using proper language and crisp diction. Street slang guaranteed a head slap or a smack. My two brothers and I were warned about using prejudicial clichés. Since my head has never been properly wrapped, I’ve been guilty of violating those warnings because of my warped sense of humor.
Marilyn warns people that I have toys in the attic. True. Some of the toys are very old.
A friend and I were trading insults the other day. I snapped at him with, “That’s white of you”. His smile said everything. Words! You gotta know who, when, and where to use them.
Way back in olden times, I was 19 years old and worked in a department Store in Hempstead, New York. I was the only goy working in the children’s shoe department. I was waiting on a customer who drove me bonkers. I couldn’t take it anymore and told the parent he was a schmuck.
The manager quietly called me into the stockroom, explained what schmuck meant and asked me never to use it again — even if the customers were jerks. I think he was smiling although reprimanding me. It was a word I’d often heard used in friendly banter, but I didn’t know its origin or meaning. It was just a word. What was the big deal? I was 19 and knew everything! I used big words, “20 dollar” words to impress people. People often complimented me, saying I spoke very well. I didn’t understand the veiled insult behind many of those compliments.
After all, they were just words.
John Wayne, of all people, once commented on words and ethics. It was movie dialogue but still reverberates a half century later. In the 1961 film, “The Comancheros,” Texas Ranger “Big Jake” Cutter (John Wayne) is lecturing his younger sidekick, Monsieur Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman). Regret asks Big Jake to spin a lie to his superiors to alleviate a problem. Big Jake refuses. Regret doesn’t understand, saying they are just “words.”
Big Jake, with that iconic Wayne frown, says softly, “Just words?? Words, MON-soor, are what men live by. You musta had a poor upbringing.” Regret looks puzzled, not fully grasping the ethical code of this rough and ready Texas Ranger. It’s a sublime moment and perfect for the young 1960’s when youth was defying the older generation’s moral code.
I recalled the scene years later in an interview with John Wayne. He smiled, shaking his head because he was in the middle of on-going national dissent against the Vietnam War. Wayne was one of the most visible and vocal “hawks” in the Vietnam controversy. He had been ridiculed by strident protesters at a Harvard University gathering earlier that day.
“Words, dammit,” Wayne looked at me, angry and sad. “My words! No damn Hollywood script. I have as much right as those damn college kids.” Wayne was fuming. The Hollywood legend collected himself as I redirected the conversation to my time as a Marine. I had enlisted in 1959, fired up by the “Sands of Iwo Jima.”
“Words. Good words,” I said to Wayne who smiled broadly.
Today, words are often tossed around loosely on social media with little regard to truth or the repercussions of ill-advised words. We have a president who uses words without thought in a daily barrage of tweets. Our media is engaged in a daily war of words, ignoring crucial issues facing our nation and world. Those of us of a certain age shake our heads as we watch young people immersed in tweets rather than direct conversation with friends in the same room. Words have become an endangered species.
I remember the good old days when me and friends went face to face with verbal jousts like “Your Mother wears combat boots!”
Lately I’ve been reading posts focusing on how civilization is disintegrating because of technology. How we’ve lost our privacy, obviously because of social networking. The prevalence of fake news on the Internet that so many morons take seriously has had a lethal impact on our lives. We worry that the loss of language and relationship skills by people who living on mobile phones will eliminate intimacy. And finally, my personal favorite paranoid fear, that mobile phones are scrambling everyone’s’ brains and are secretly responsible for the epidemic of worldwide stupidity.
It should only be that simple.
I’m not convinced we had any privacy to lose. Unless you were a recluse alone in a cave, you live with and near other people. Who know all about us. A lot more than we wish they did. You sneeze while your neighbors says “gesundheit.” Have a fight with your spouse and everyone knows every detail the following morning.
Gossip is the meat and potatoes of human relationships. Call it networking or whatever you like: we talk about each other all the time. Privacy is an illusion. It was an illusion a couple of hundred years ago.
The big difference now is you can use your computer or phone to tell total strangers everywhere in the world all your personal business. Be grateful that most of them could care less about you and your personal nonsense.
Revealing everything to everyone is a choice. Voluntary. No one makes you do it, yet so many people feel the need to expose everything. Publicly. We care a lot less about privacy than we say we do. Maybe we want to protect our bank accounts and credit cards, but otherwise? How much do you care who knows what’s going on in your life?
As herd animals, we are nosy. How lucky that knowing our neighbors’ business doesn’t require technology, just eyes and ears. For broadcast purposes, a mouth works as well any other device.
OLD PEOPLE DON’T USE MODERN TECHNOLOGY — NOT
Is technology more important to young people than old people? I am told “we” resist new technology. I recall thinking along the same lines when I was young and stupid. Young people underestimate their elders.
People my age have not rejected technology. Rather, we embrace it with enthusiasm. Technology has impacted us more than any other age group. Computers give us access to the world, let us to remain actively in touch with scattered friends and family. It helps us know what people are thinking. Digital cameras with auto-focus compensate for aging eyes. Miniaturization makes more powerful hearing aids so that people who would be condemned to silence can remain part of the world. Pacemakers prolong life; instrumented surgeries provide solutions to what were insoluble medical problems.
Technology has saved us from early death and from losing touch.
We can watch movies whenever we want. Old ones. New ones. We can see them in on huge screens at home with better sound and cheap snacks … plus a convenient “pause” button. Virtually everyone has a cell phone, use electronic calendars and a wide range of applications to do everything from post-processing photographs to balancing bank accounts. My generation consumes technology voraciously, hungrily.
Unlike our kids, we don’t take it for granted. We didn’t always have it. We remember the old days and despite nostalgic memes, most of us are glad we don’t live there.
We can’t all repair a computer, but neither can the kids. They merely know how to use them. My granddaughter was using a computer when she was three, but she has no idea how it works. Most of her friends are equally ignorant. For them, technology is not a miracle. They don’t need to understand it. They feel about technology the way we felt about electricity. Turn it on.
Does it work? Good.
No? Call the repair person. Or grandma.
CONVERSATION – THE LOST ART
I wonder how kids who don’t have conversations will manage to have relationships. Not that we were perfect, but at least we knew how to talk. The ubiquitous availability of social networking gives kids the illusion of having lots of friends … yet many of them have no real friends.
I don’t want anyone to give up their electronic goodies … but it would be nice if there were more direct communication, human to human. I have watched groups of teens sit around in a room, but instead of talking, they send texts to one another. Yikes.
All of us have gotten a bit lazy about relationships. We send an email when we should pick up the phone. We pick up the phone when we should make a visit. Nothing electronic that can replace a hug. Just a thought to ponder as you enter a new year.
STUPID IS AS STUPID WAS AND EVER WILL BE
Stupid people were always stupid. They always will be. People who believe nonsensical rumors have always existed. And there have always been nonsensical rumors for them to believe. Remember: before we had Internet rumors, we had plenty of regular, old-fashioned rumors. They didn’t travel as fast as they do on the Internet, but they got the job done.
The problem isn’t computers. It’s people.
THE GOOD OLD DAYS WEREN’T SO GREAT
The good old days weren’t all that terrific. There were good things (especially if you were white and well-off), but plenty of bad stuff, too … and we never took care of much of that business.
Ugly stuff. Institutionalized racism. A gap between classes even worse than now. Real oppression of women. If you think we don’t get a fair shake now, you would never have survived growing up in the 1950s. Help wanted ads in newspapers were divided by sex. We had to wear skirts to school, even in the dead of winter.
We’re going through a rough period. I am counting on it coming to a natural end in the foreseeable future — like, during my lifetime. We have a lot of unfinished issues. The wheel has rolled around and now, we ARE going to deal with them.
The basics of human nature hasn’t fundamentally changed. We have a kind of cruel savagery embedded in our DNA. I doubt anything will erase it. Will we evolve to the point where we are truly civilized? I don’t know. I hope so.