News-headline-newspapersWe made the news again! The gypsy moths made it a week ago, but this week … the town water is polluted! So exciting! And here we are, outside of town and we have our own well water. Our water is fine, though who know how much the flushing of the city  tanks is going to affect water pressure all over the area.

Oh, update. They fixed it. So you can drink the water again. Yay.

And now, to the main event:


How many languages do you speak?

Define speak. Fluently? I speak English. American English. Regionally northeast U.S.A. with strong overtones of New York and Boston.

I used to speak Hebrew with a grating American accent. The accent was bad enough to make people say “Speak English, please!” I am living proof that being musical and having natural aptitude for languages are not the same skill set.

I still can speak Hebrew a little, but I understand a lot more than I can speak. I also understand a good deal of spoken French (all those years of schooling had some effect, however minimal), but when I try to speak, Hebrew comes out. My language buffers are insufficient and need a serious upgrade.

What are some words that just make you smile? 

Wicked which, in New England, means “great, terrific, fabulous.” Wicked good is about as good as it gets.

wicked definition

If you were the original architect of one existing building, which building would you select?

I think I’d go with the Boston Statehouse, which is very similar to the Capitol building in D.C. Same architect, same general design, but the one in Washington is much larger. I rather like our comparatively intimate edifice. Once, when I was new in Boston, Garry took me in, introduced me to one of the “old guard” people who worked there … and I got the absolutely best tour of the building you could imagine. And a lot of anecdotes to go with it.

Bill Weld was governor then and I remember Garry asking “is Himself in? I’d like him to meet my friend.” Sadly, The Honorable Governor Weld was not in attendance that day. I would have like to meet him. I’m told he was a big Pink Floyd fan.

Would you rather have telepathy or telekinesis?

Actually, I’ll hold out for teleportation. I want to take my whole body to other places. I can walk to the kitchen and get a coke without special powers, but getting myself across the ocean to Switzerland, England, France … or Australia?  That might need a more powerful magic.

Barring teleportation, I want to be a full-fledged superhero … or a powerful wizard. Or both, please.

As for telepathy? I hate eavesdropping.

What Do You Call a Group of…?

Things you always wanted know and didn’t know where to look? Here’s the answer!

Science-Based Life

There is just no way you are not going to find this interesting. Below is a (semi) complete list of what you would call various groups of animals.

I absolutely love the Victorian flair. An exaltation of larks? A shiver of sharks? Fantastic.

Feel free to break these out in conversation. “Science is the poetry of reality”, after all.


Apes A shrewdness
Asses A pace
Badgers A cete
Bats A colony
Bears A sloth, sleuth
Buffalo A gang, an obstinacy (I suspect these refer to old world buffalo; use “herd” for American bison)
Cats A clowder, a pounce; for kittens…A kindle, litter, an intrigue
Cattle A drove, herd
Deer A herd, bevy (refers only to roe deer)
Dogs A litter (young), pack (wild), cowardice (of curs); specific to hounds…A cry, mute, pack, kennel
Elephants A herd
Elk A gang
Ferrets A business
Fox A leash, skulk, earth
Giraffes A…

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Learning (or, in my case, trying to learn) another language provided high entertainment for those around me.

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

I had no idea that Too-son and Tucson were the same place. Or that ep-ee-TOME was epitome. I remember those two examples well because of the extreme amusement they caused around me. I was all of 8-years-old. Adults weren’t as nice to kids back then as they are now.

language school

I was much more entertaining in Israel. I am sure that my fumbling attempts to learn the language, having caused extreme hilarity, probably played a part in my never actually learning Hebrew.

My first big discovery — very early in my life in Jerusalem — was that Zion (Zy-un) means penis. Properly in Hebrew, it’s tzee-own. So if you say (fondly) that Israel is the Land of Zion, using your good American pronunciation, you will reduce Israelis within earshot to tears of laughter. They can be a rough crowd.

To add another layer of problems over the difficulty in just getting the words out through my teeth which were clearly not designed for all those gutturals, many words in Hebrew are very much like one another, yet have hugely different meanings. Sha-ah is an hour. Shan-nah is a year. So there you are saying “My Hebrew isn’t all that good, I’ve only been here for two hours.”

After a while, I mostly spoke English and used Hebrew words as needed when I could fine no English equivalent. Eventually, I came home to where almost everyone could be expected to understand most of what I said. Without laughing at me.

You might ponder this when you meet immigrants who are trying to learn English. I mention this only because, having been on the other side of this experience, a little 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. Just a thought.


Ignoring the minor detail that they aren’t words, but semi-English local dialect, “shoulda” “coulda” “woulda” perfectly describe the essence of the rapidly disappearing subjunctive tense — or as some modern grammarians prefer it, mood.

All romance languages lavishly employ the subjunctive because it lets a verb indicate more than action (as verbs are wont to do). It includes a feeling about those actions. Longing, perhaps. Uncertainty. Hesitancy. Hope. Sometimes, it indicates “a hypothetical state or a state contrary to reality, such as a wish, a desire, or an imaginary situation.”  Which is something difficult to express if you don’t have a grip on the subjunctive thing.

Consider that a generous use of the subjunctive mood or tense can raise literature from the mundane to an art form. Wait, isn’t it supposed to be an art form?

In one of my favorite songs, Rod Stewart says “You are my heart, you are my soul. You’ll be my breath should I grow old.”

I love that he used the subjunctive to indicate the uncertainty of the future, that maybe he would not grow old, but IF he does, she will be his breath. That’s elegant. That’s subjunctive. He does not say “when I grow old.” He could have, but specifically chose to leave the matter up in the air, quivering with possibility. Saying so much by choosing this word rather than the other one.


We’ve been dumping parts of speech for a while now. Americans seem to feel we need to just get on with it. Stupid grammar, it just gets in the way of spitting out what you mean. We don’t need no stinkin’ adverbs. Or tenses, for that matter. Let’s just go with the present and ignore everything else. Simple, direct. Eventually, we can eliminate pronouns, too.

If you ever listen to sports on TV or radio, you’ll notice they speak their own version of English. Adverbs have been banished. These highly paid professionals don’t know an adverb from their elbow, a noun from nose hair, or a complete sentence from a sandwich. Nor do they care.

I am in a subjunctive mood today. Wistfully contemplating the resurgence of language as art.


Un nouveau langage, par Rich Paschall

What if you could wake up tomorrow and be able to speak a new language?  Suppose you did not have to work at it at all.  There would be no boring repetition of words and phrases.  You would not have to study rules of grammar.  You would not have to learn to conjugate.  You would not take home lessons to write out.  The language would just be there at your command.  Your speech would be fluent and your understanding clear.  What language would you choose?

My best guess is that most people would consider a language of their ancestors.  If they came from Poland, then Polish might be their first choice.  In a city like Chicago, with a large population of Polish immigrants and descendants, this would make perfect sense.  If you have a relative that speaks the language, wouldn’t you be pleased to speak to them in their own language?  Your Polish grandmother would be so proud, and you, of course, would take great joy in this.

My elementary school was largely populated by kids of Irish descendent.  The Irish priests and an Irish American Bishop, who was also pastor, of course attracted a large student body made up of blond and red-haired children.  I can not say I ever heard any Gaelic, however.  I suppose some spoke it.  Many had a brogue so thick, I could not understand them.  Still, I can not say I was interested in knowing Irish language.

For much of my life, I lived in a German American neighborhood.  My maternal grandmother spoke German and would sometimes gossip (I thought it was gossip, anyway) with other old German-speaking neighbors.  The parish we lived in after the grade school years, was largely German American.  It was started by German immigrants who built the church.  For decades there was a mass in German.  I thought it would be cool to know this language, especially years later.  I was encouraged to take Latin in high school.

This proved to be a big disappointment as we grew up and took part in German fests.  There was Mai Fest and Oktoberfest and Rosenmontag and more feasts then you can imagine.  We learned songs in German and sang along at dances, festivals and anywhere a band was playing.  Unfortunately, my conversation was limited to Guten Tag, Auf Wiedersehen und zwei Bier bitte!

Sprechen sie Deutsch?

Sprechen sie Deutsch?

Years later as many Hispanic groups arrived and there were many more Spanish speakers, it seemed to me that learning Spanish would make far more sense.  The old Germans I knew were dying out, my grandmother was gone and I had less occasion to speak German.

Clearly, there would be a large Spanish population from Puerto Rico, Mexico and a variety of Spanish-speaking countries.  I have neighbors from Guatemala nearby.  There are ethnic restaurants all around and in the summer, Spanish music fills the air in our area of the city.  There are so many cultures I could learn if I knew this one language, it seemed like a logical choice.

What is the second language of your community?  Is there even a second language?  Perhaps you are in an area where you only hear English and there is no immigrant population or descendants to pass along another language.  Even if this is so, would it not be great to learn another language and travel to countries where this language is spoken.

In recent years, the desire to automatically know German, Spanish or even Polish have given way to another.  While all of the above would be interesting and certainly useful, not just if I travelled to countries where these languages were spoken, but even right here in our local communities.  I still have a different interest in a language I would never have thought to learn just a decade ago.  Friendship has become the determining factor.

My previous job brought in interns from other countries, particularly France.  As a result I made a number of friends from France and even got to know other friends and family members of these co-workers.  It was not just that I learned some of the culture.  Yes, we went to French restaurants and talked about their local communities.  Of course, we talked French politics and sports.  Indeed I learned about the regions that were home to many of my young French colleagues.  But in the process, something important happened.

This way?

This way?

Now one of my best friends in the world is a Frenchman.  We have gone on many adventures here and in Europe.  I have visited his home and the home of his parents.  We have visited all across Alsace.  For six years, France has been on my vacation list.  It turns out that the language I would like to know tomorrow when I wake up is French.  It is not about the neighborhood I live in, the ancestors I have, or the neighbors that have recently moved in.  It is not about my grandmother.  It is not about a particular parish.  It is not about countries I may someday visit.

The language I would like to know is all about my friends.  In fact, it is about one of my best friends, and it does not matter that he is fluent in English.  My friends and community are all French and I wish I could more fully participate in our adventures whenever we meet.  Is there a better reason than friendship to know another language?


Take That, Rosetta!

If you could wake up tomorrow and be fluent in any language you don’t currently speak, which would it be? Why? What’s the first thing you do with your new linguistic skills?

French, because there are so many books I want to read in the original language that were written in French. I studied it in school, but over the years, lost it to Hebrew and the erosion of time. I’d love to read the Angelique books that have never been translated … and reread the others that were translated so poorly. French poetry, Dumas (Pere et Fils) … the original romantic adventure series. All written in French.

Movies! Understanding without subtitles.

Poetry! Classics! Baudelaire, Voltaire, Balzac.


Actually, I would like to have a Babel fish. The one Douglas Adams invented.

Just stick it in your ear and all the languages of the entire universe are yours to understand. No language barriers exist. No tongue is impenetrable.

That would be the trick!


This was a silly prompt. Ask a silly question, get a silly answer. I like this one so much, I tried to read it out loud and by the end, was laughing too hard to continuing talking. So, without further ado …

The happy Quitter!


When I read today’s daily prompt I thought about an oldie but goodie and found it to be the perfect reply:

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