Archive for March, 2012

The web of lies

Today I remembered something that happened when I was away on my gap year that was really awkward at the time and now just seems sooo stupid. It’s about the inability to say, ‘Ok, I’ve got stuff to do so I’ll just see you another day. Bye!’

I was on my gap year. I was 19. I was teaching in some of the local schools in the town where I lived. I was also running the town newspaper with a friend.
One day, I was working on an article for the newspaper deadline when the door bell went. It was one of my older students, I think she was about 14. I think her name was Jeanine. She wanted to come and just hang out. So I said, “Yeh, great. I’ve got to go out in about half an hour but stay until then.” I didn’t have anywhere to go but I thought that would just make her realise it was only a half hour visit.

The half an hour went by, we had a cup of tea, talked about whatever… and she didn’t leave. I looked at my watch and said brightly, “O, is that the time?! I’ve got to go out now,” implying that it was time for her to go.

Her response? “O ok, where do you need to go?”

“I’m meeting Lucy (the friend I ran the newspaper with), she’s back from a trip out of town so I’ve got to go and meet her to help her with her bags.” All lies. She wasn’t due back until the next day. And she only had one bag.

Her response? “O great, I like Lucy. I’ll come with you.”

Ok, so now I’ve got nothing. I’ve got no reason to say, no don’t come with me, cause all I’m doing is meeting a friend. Dammit, I should have said I had an important newspaper-related meeting with the town mayor or something.

I get my bag and we leave the house and we’re walking in the general direction of the drop off point I said I was going to. I’m walking really slowly. My brain is in overdrive. How can I get out of this? We’re going to arrive at said location and no-one’s going to be there.

“I just need to pop into the shop,” I say on the way, desperately trying to buy time. I pointlessly buy a bunch of bananas and then sure enough, we’re on our way again. Then suddenly, I come up with something.

“O wait! I’ve just remembered she said she was going to call me when she got in as she doesn’t definitely know what time she’ll be here. Save me waiting for ages for her. I guess I’ll go back home then.” We’re near Jeanine’s house and I’m hoping she’ll say ‘ok, I’ll go this way home, see you at school tomorrow!’ But no! Is this the most thick skinned child ever? She just says, “OK, we’ll go back to yours then.” I nod meekly and we turn around.

When we get back to the house I realise I’m back at square 1. Nothing has been achieved. So I try the next get-out-of-jail card in my pack. I make a fake phone call. That’s right. “I’ll just give her a quick call,” I say.

I go into the next room, pick up the phone and have a loud conversation which goes something like this – “Hi Lucy! Yeh, are you on your way back? O ok, you’re almost here? Great! And they’ve invited you for lunch, have they? And I’m invited? That sounds lovely. O yeh I know, the big house on the other side of town. Great, that’ll be nice, just a nice little quiet gathering. Lovely, see you in ten!”

So I grab my bag and tell Jeanine I’ve been invited for lunch so I quickly need to go out. She offers to walk with me. Dammit. Will this never end?! So we walk all the way there and thankfully, my fake lunch invite was at a house in a little compound so I just said a hurried goodbye outside the compound and ran to the house. I did actually knock on the door and invite myself in, explaining the situation and stayed for lunch anyway!

And almost missed that deadline I was trying to reach when she first turned up!

A reader’s requests

Today I’m going to take a little look at words or phrases one reader told me they get annoyed by. (I’m always open to requests, if you feel something needs proper examination. It’s like a service I can provide for the frustrated vocabulary-user.)

The first of these, I am definitely guilty of. It’s “to be honest…” or “if I’m being honest…” Which is a bit of a suspicious pretext to give your sentence. Like, ‘It doesn’t matter if I’m telling the truth the rest of the time, or if you think I’m telling the truth. No, that doesn’t matter. I just need you to know that I’m being honest, now.’ It also sounds a bit archaic, like you’re about to make a statement of great wisdom which might be similar to “To be or not to be.”

“To be honest… is a good thing to be.”

I’m trying to think what it might really mean. Does it have a meaning or is it actually quite redundant when you examine it properly? If I say, “I’m really upset about that,” does it because more serious or important or meaningful if I say, “To be honest, I’m really upset about that”? You know, I don’t think it does mean anything apart from “To be honest,” which is to say that the rest of my words and speech are said in frivolity, they might be true, they might not be, you’ll never know… whatever.

“Don’t get me wrong.” That’s another one. Firstly it’s grammatically clumsy. It obviously means, “Don’t misunderstand me” or “Don’t perceive me wrong,” so why am I saying ‘get’? And also, how can you tell someone not to misunderstand you? If you are about to say something which doesn’t have a clear meaning or could be misunderstood, surely you should explain what you are trying to say, not just tell the listener, don’t misunderstand me but e.g. you look awful today. They’re obviously going to misunderstand you unless you explain what you really mean.

“At the end of the day.” Where did this concept of ‘a day’ start? “At the end of the day, we’re all going to die,” people say, or something similar. It makes it sound really doom-and-gloom-y. Like there’s going to be an apocalypse at 9pm, everyone, get ready, because “at the end of the day, we’re all going to die.” Even if it doesn’t literally mean, ‘the day’ it just means ‘at some point’, it’s still not quite right, because we’re not all going to die en masse, are we? If I were to make a law correcting this sentence, I would decree that people must say ‘at the end of each person’s life, they will die,’ which is a lot more accurate. Another way it is commonly used is in e.g. concluding an argument, with “at the end of the day, it’s not a problem.” But it is a problem now? It actually means, ‘in conclusion’, doesn’t it? There must be a better way of saying ‘in conclusion’ without saying ‘at the end of the day,’ which is quite silly, when you think about it?

Another phrase I use all the time has just occured to me, “By the way.” By the where? The way? Where’s the way? And why are we by it when really what you mean is ‘also’ or ‘as an aside’. How silly. “By the way.”

The thing with names

As a person who’s always thinking about words and how they sound, I quite naturally think about how names sound together.

Let’s say there’s a couple and they’ve got quite rhymey names, like John and Jean, or something. I’m not too keen but it’s kind of ok. It’s when they start having children that’s the problem. The first child they call James, so that’s ok, he’s also rhymey. John, Jean, James. So they’ve got a nice little cutesy family unit, all beginning with J. Then they have another child and call him Colin. No! No, you can’t do that! By the divine laws of naming, you’re not allowed! Because now Colin is total reject. It’s like you’ve said to him, ‘We’re all best friends and really close and a great little family with our J names and you, you’re the extra, you don’t fit in, Colin.’

I know a family who the father and mother are ‘G’ and ‘O’ and the child is ‘O’. So their names are GOO. And the dad is a bit out of things cause he’s the G. This family’s names upset me.

In my family, we’ve all got different first letters and different last letters. So that’s fine. If all the family have the same sound at the end, apart from one, it’s a bit mean, but not as bad. Like Hannah, Sarah, Gemma… and Bob.

Also if just two people in the family have the same letter, I feel it creates a closer relationship between them, to the exclusion of everyone else. So if there’s a Jane, Bill, Emma and Julie. Jane and Julie are a bit closer to each other than in their relationships with the others, because of their name closeness.

That’s mental isn’t it? Is this the ramblings of a demented woman with word-OCD? I realise that obviously, people’s relationships aren’t based on the matchiness (yes, that’s right, matchiness) of their names, but I can’t help noticing it and thinking about it!

Ok, I think today I’m coming across like a psychopath. Hmm. Will try to appear more normal again tomorrow.

Can I have a word?

OK, today is a first for The Adventures of Danda and Yaya, a guest blog! A reader, known mysteriously as ‘The Rambler’ had the following to get off their chest, so I’ll hand over to them now. (Feel free to send in a guest blog too, if you wish, and I’ll put it up).

I’m sure you’ve heard “Can I have a word?” before and you know what it’s a prelude to: you’re going to getting a telling off something you’ve done wrong. But here’s a less well-known phrase, which I will explain more fully as I go on.

Dixeris egregie notum si callida verbum
Reddiderit iunctura novum (Horace, 65BC-8BC)

I can see a few of you nodding your heads but for those who don’t know it translates to:
“You will have written exceptionally well if, by skilful arrangement of your words, you have made an ordinary one seem original”. All should become clear. Read on…

Have you ever read a book and come across words you don’t know the meaning of? I have – many times actually. Does that mean my vocabulary is bad or that the author’s is just very good? (Or are they just using a Thesaurus?) For some years now I have kept a notebook in which I write words I could not explain to someone else at the time I read them. I had imagined I might pick up a few words, to expand my own vocabulary, by those somewhat more erudite than myself. I never imagined how full that notebook would become in the space of just a few years.

However, sometimes you just wish authors had used a word you could understand. For instance there is an Irish travel writer, whose books I do enjoy, who tends to use a number of words not in everyday use. Maybe that’s part of being an author. I don’t know about you but reading of carmine, mellifluously & cordillera had me heading to the dictionary. Now, I know what they mean but will I ever use them myself – probably not. As words are about communication why not use a more common word. Some may feel good when they use more unusual words but they’re certainly not communicating very well are they? Here are some more examples from my notebook (which recently acquired its 700th entry):

1. In just the first 10 pages of a biography of Robert Louis Stevenson there were the following: picayune, panglossian, adumbrated, epigone, catopric & gallimaufry and, by the end of the book, (I’m not joking) just over another 100 I didn’t know! Hands up who got those six meanings right. If you’re interested you’ll have gone and looked them up but….. somehow I doubt it.
2. A biography of Whistler produced: peremptory, lucubrations, orpiment, alembic, cozened & another 50.
3. A book on the history of Liverpool gave me: autarky, chevroth, diorama, hegemonic, miscegenation, propinquity & many more.
4. Even the Daily Mail, over the past 12 months, came up with a few: pemmican, contumely, egregious, nary, palimpsest.

A word which I’ve come across a few times now, in different books, is sesquipedalian. (Pronounced sess-kwipi-day-lee-an). Any ideas?

It means tending to use long words or polysyllabic (dictionary.com). Do I detect the teensiest bit of irony there? Slip that one into your next conversation with friends and see how they marvel at your great knowledge! (Example: “I was talking with Bill/Sue the other day and he/she was just so sesquipedalian”; perhaps slip in a “like”, “boss” or “init” to sound a bit more streetwise).

Can I have a word? It looks like the authors’ answer is “Yes, you can and you can have lots of them and you won’t know what they all mean and some of them might be quite long!” (Unless you look them up in a dictionary these writers are not actually communicating with you are they? If you don’t understand what they’re saying what’s the point of using them?)

What’s going on here? Let me think (or contemplate, or cogitate, or ponder, or reflect) ….. I think that they think that writing like this is going to make people think they’re clever because they’re using big or unusual words. Now I’m not against a bit of improving your knowledge (otherwise I wouldn’t have that notebook would I?) or proposing that everyone should read elementary level books but I shouldn’t be having to stop and check words every few pages. That’s not communication – is it?

Let me put it another way – the legal speed limit, for a car, on the road in this country is 70mph and suppose there is a car which can reach 200mph what’s the point of that extra 130mph? You can’t use it. These writers may have a literary Ferrari, in terms of their word knowledge, but I reckon most of us are probably still a way short of the literary equivalent of the 70mph so… please can I have an ordinary word?

Perhaps it’s worth remembering the words of Samuel Johnson: “Don’t, Sir, accustom yourself to use big words for little matters” (from Boswell, Life of Johnson p.471). Well said, or should I say excellently elucidated!

Ten things I have learned

1. My tummy is never as big as I think it is (or rather, ‘hope’ as I look longingly at the last bit of cake).

2. Most people are a little bit bored by their jobs.

3. People like to shorten words (e.g. ‘goss’ or ‘probs’)

4. Taking a cold shower is horrible.

5. Steaming milk to make a cappuccino is a fine art.

6. Most people thrive off the drama in their lives that they moan about.

7. Walking makes you feel better.

8. Sometimes, discussing all your problems is the worst thing you can do.

9. Making your own chicken stock is more trouble than it’s worth.

10. If you can’t walk in them, don’t wear them.

O! And one more…

11. Denying the existence of the muffin top doesn’t mean it’s not there.

“Thanks Driver!”

“Thanks Driver!”

What is this about? I’ve always thought it was ridiculous. People getting off the bus, shouting their thanks by calling the driver by his job. Why just bus drivers? If I was in work and I made someone a coffee and they pottered off with it in their hands and said “Thanks Barista!” I definitely wouldn’t be impressed. It’s my job, not my name! I’m pleased to say that no-one has ever said that to me. I might try it actually, next time I’m in Paperchase, buying someone a birthday card or something, I’ll leave the shop whilst shouting brightly, “Thanks cashier!” I’m pretty sure that’d be really annoying. It’s kind of along the same lines as calling people ‘gays,’ like someone’s entire being can be summed up by one facet of their life or personality.

It’s totally nonsensical to specify, on a bus, who you’re grateful to. It’s not like if you were to just say ‘Thanks’, there might be some confusion as to who you were talking to, with fellow passengers thinking to themselves, “O, she must be talking to me because I was very helpful, sitting here in my seat looking out of the window, during her journey. Yeh, it’s definitely me she means.” You obviously mean the driver, he’s the only person that’s been helpful, by driving you, so just ‘Thanks’ is fine.

Phew, I’ve been thinking about that since I was about 12 when I used to get the bus home from school. It’s good to finally get it off my chest.

The smiking pope

Have you ever been caught up in an argument and said things you didn’t mean? I don’t mean the ‘I hate you’ type of thing. I mean literally saying things wrong. I don’t argue often but when I do, I sometimes get a bit mixed up with my words in the heat of the moment.

My most memorable occasion was when I was having an argument with someone, I forget who now, a friend maybe, which was probably going something like this:
“No, you said I was your best friend and now I just heard someone saying that you told them they were your best friend.” (Already you can see, I only argued when there was something really serious going on.)
“No, I was best friends with them but that was last week, because, right, you weren’t speaking to me then because I didn’t sit next to you in Biology.”
“Yeh, you didn’t sit next to me in Biology. I can’t believe that.” (Feeling a bit hard done by, evidently.)
“But that’s cause you told Charlotte that she was your best friend so I was in a bad mood.”
“No, I didn’t! I don’t even know where you got that from.”
“I read in yours and Charlotte’s letter book.” (A letter book, for those who don’t know, is just a book in which you and the other members of the letter book, each take the book home and write a letter. Its tends include subject matters such as boys or celebs you fancy, who you’re not speaking to, what your new favourite song is, etc.)

And now, for the grand finale. I’d obviously learned this phrase recently and had been waiting for an opportunity to use it.

“I don’t even have a letter book with Charlotte so that’s lies. Put that in your pope and smike it!”

There was a pause, I realised I’d got it wrong but it was too late now. I still had a point to prove so couldn’t laugh with said friend and make a joke. So I did the best thing I could in the situation.

“Yeah!” I said, meaningfully, then stormed off, turned a corner and burst out laughing. I never asked if the mistake was spotted but I’ve always remembered that moment where I was like, “O no, what do I do?” and just coming up with “Yeah!” and walking off.

In other news, I recently found out the origin of the word ‘artichoke’ (Blog no.3 ‘Artichoke and Celeriac’). It’s an Arabic word, which started out as ‘al-kharshuf’ and was introduced during the reign of Henry VIII. Fair enough, it’s a bit more of a legitimate word now, but I’m still never going to eat it.