Sunday, June 13, 2010

"Oh Lord, Thy Sea Is So Great...And My Vocabulary Is So Small..."

Funny how some things stick with you.

At this point, I am tippy toe-ing up on the beginning of a seventh decade of life, liberty and the pursuit of a customer service representative whose accent I can come even close to navigating through and/or around and after all those years of exposure to, literally, millions of facts, figures and assorted life lessons provided by peers, parents and professors of one ilk or another, I find the oddest little items popping up out of the RAM from time to time.

This morning, it was a pearl of grammatical wisdom offered up in my seventh grade year by Miss Higgins/Mrs. Baker, the English teacher who went from maiden to married somewhere around midterm, in those days when it was statistically possible, even probable, that a woman was actually still a maiden, pre marriage.

Like any English teacher worth her educational salt, Miss H./Mrs. B was a stickler.

And, for some reason I can't discern, this particular stickle has stuck with me.

Upon hearing any one in the class use a common phrase that implied the activity of bringing offspring from infancy to adulthood, Miss H./Mrs. B. would rise slowly from her seat, purposefully and not just a little menacingly, a little like Godzilla rising up out of Tokyo Bay, smack her well worn ruler on the desk with percussive precision and, in a voice that seemed, at the time, like a cross between Mrs. Butterworth, Aunt Bee and that chick in The Exorcist, boom across the room, for one and all, her revisionist position on the aforementioned use of the aforementioned common phrase.

"You REAR RAISE pigs..."

Even then, we were all smart enough to appreciate that she was showing superior teacher chops by forcing us to hone our language skills.

Although, even then, I remember being tempted to counter her contention by offering up that since she had never been to one of my family's gatherings, she couldn't fully appreciate that there were times, that when it came to rearing and raising, both were reasonably applicable.

In hindsight, I realize that she really was an excellent educator.

Because she not only insisted on pounding on us until we got it right, but, also, nurtured in each of us any particular potential she might observe.

In my case, coming up with one smart ass punchline or another for pretty much everything.

Miss H./Mrs. B's stentorian sharing revisited me today when I read this little chicken nugget of "breaking news".

ATLANTA – The fast food-chain Wendy's has pulled a disco CD included in kids' meals because of racy lyrics in one of the songs.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that one of the songs on the Disco Fever CD was Donna Summer's "Last Dance." The song has two sets of lyrics. One version includes the words "so bad." But some heard the alternative lyrics "so horny" on the CD, which had been marked as safe for 3 years old and up.

The Atlanta-based chain announced on its website Saturday that it would continue to put three other CDs in the kids' meals. Those CDs include the songs "ABC" by Jackson 5 and "Celebration" by Kool & the Gang. The website said Wendy's is "no longer offering" the Disco Fever CD but doesn't mention the reason.

The path of least resistance, discussion wise, almost certainly leads into point-counterpoint about the sexual saturation of contemporary culture and what an ongoing struggle it is to provide children with the opportunity to actually have a childhood.

At least for those parents who still ongoingly struggle and havent simply conceded defeat to the onslaught of sensory salaciousness.

Yes. I'm showing off a little bit with the verbosity. But, just on the odd chance that Miss H./Mrs. B. is still around and/or might be reading this, I wanted her to know that her efforts to educate and/or illuminate weren't for naught.

It might also be said that getting one's parental panties in a knot over hearing Donna Summer sing "so horny" in a thirty year old disco song in this day and time is a little bit like making sure that the kids are very careful about playing with matches while Rome burns all around us.

Still, as Edmund Burke, the man historically known as the father of modern conservatism, once eloquently observed, "...all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing...".

So, the Wendy's folk deserve props for de-Donna-ing the kiddy meal.

Something better than nothing, as it were.

That said, I think Miss H./Mrs B., aggressive advocate of an accurate grasp of grammar would agree that in these times, in this culture, whether you're rearing or raising... ain't easy.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

If The Bird, Bird, Bird, The Bird's The Word...Then Why Can't We Tweet?"

There's probably nothing quite as reassuring as those who are in this world to protect us from ourselves.

The latest do-gooder is the standards editor from The New York Times.

(CNN) -- To anyone who uses Twitter, the word "tweet" is as natural as, well, a bird. But don't expect to see it in The New York Times.

"Someday, 'tweet' may be as common as 'e-mail,' " wrote Phil Corbett, the Times' standards editor, in a memo this week, according to The Awl. But, for now, Corbett has nixed further use of the word -- "outside of ornithological contexts," he wrote.

The Times will stop using the word because "tweet" isn't standard English, "and standard English is what we should use in news articles," Corbett said.

Corbett noted that not everyone uses the micro-blogging site and therefore may not be familiar with what a "tweet" is.

After all, The New York Times always uses words people are familiar with, like "louche" and "shibboleths."

So what will The New York Times be calling these Twitter updates now?

" 'Tweet' may be acceptable occasionally for special effect," Corbett said in the memo.

"But let's look for deft, English alternatives: use Twitter, post to or on Twitter, write on Twitter, a Twitter message, a Twitter update. Or, once you've established that Twitter is the medium, simply use 'say' or 'write.' "

I don't know about you but the first thing that popped into my mind as I was reading this story was that scene in the movie "The Paper" where Michael Keaton interviews for a job with the "big guys", the newspaper whose bow tied, suspendered, stick up the butt editor smugly reminds Keaton that "we cover the world".

The second thing that popped into my mind was my high school senior year journalism teacher, Mrs. Kiern.

And not because she had a stick up her butt, quite the contrary actually, but because I remember that she managed to teach us the fundamentals of good journalism while not coming off like a strident parent with, well, a stick up her butt. No easy task in the freewheeling days of the late 1960's as you might imagine.

I suspect two things about this guy with The NYT.

He didn't have a journalism teacher half as hip as Mary Kiern.

And I bet you my paycheck against yours that he wears either a bow tie or suspenders or both.

That said, it's probably only fair to give him the benefit of one doubt.

He is, however lamely the effort appears, trying to do his small part to stem the flow of the dumbing down of America.

Boy, you've chosen to tilt at quite a sizeable windmill, there, Phil.

In the spirit of good old American work togetherism, though, I'm ready to pitch in and offer up a few words/phrases that I think should be thrown on the bullshit bonfire on which word boy has thrown the troublesome term "tweet". Words and/or phrases that do nothing to either enlighten or inform us in any substantive way.

As for phrases...

At the end of the day.

Think outside the box.



You know.

My two cents.


My bad.

I could care less. (I once did a fun interview with Bill Cosby and he and I instantly shared a laugh about this one, because it's not only overused, but it's overused incorrectly. If what you mean is you could care less, what you REALLY mean is you COULDN'T care less...)

It is what it is.

As for words which neither enlighten or inform...



And, in tribute to Mary Kiern's teachings that brevity is no excuse for laziness...





I imagine there's going to be a lot of snickering around the water coolers at The New York Times for a few days.

And probably rightly so because, I mean come on, Phil, loosen the bow tie and live a little.

But I do appreciate the spirit of your intent.

After all, it's a herculean task, trying to keep the bar of literacy from hitting the ground in this culture.

So, nice try, dude.

Oh...forgot to include one word, probably the most useless of all.