English Grammar in Ruins

 

The great statesman had no idea what he had started.

It’s that rascal Winston Churchill’s fault. When he was criticized for ending a sentence in a preposition, he called it nonsense “up with which I will not put.”  He had a point. The rule against putting a preposition at the end of a sentence was silly. But sometimes traditions should be kept, because once they’re relaxed all hell can break loose.

Which is what has happened. Crimes of grammar nowadays are everywhere. My husband thinks I’m obsessive about it and maybe he’s right. I do have a lot of idiosyncrasies he puts up with. I mean, I have a lot of idiosyncrasies up with which he puts.

I keep having to correct his grocery list entries. I write notes. “Honey, ketchup is standard spelling; catsup is no longer commonly used except in a few specified regions (which don’t include ours). And Quaker Oats is capitalized because it is a brand name. Generic “oatmeal” is lower case. Also, mayonnaise has two n’s.” And so on. I put my lists next to his Quaker Oats* at the breakfast table. (*Note initial caps.)

I can’t help myself. I have a degree in journalism with a minor in English. Frank should be glad I wasn’t an English major, it would be even worse. I have no peace. Our language is constantly being abused and misused. For example, I see “it’s” as a possessive all the time. No no no! “It’s” is a contraction of “it is.” The possessive form has no apostrophe. “It’s well known that a cat likes to lick its fur,” is a purrfect example of correct usage. (I hope someone noticed the misspelling of perfect.) No one gets “it’s” and “its” right anymore, except for women in their seventies who studied English. Who knows, maybe someday “it’s” will be changed to “its” and vice versa. God forbid.

And all because of Churchill. He saved the free world, but with one little quip he set in motion the collapse of English grammar.

P.S. Note that “no one” is two words.  

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The downside of blogging


I love blogging, but I wish there was a more pleasant-sounding word for it. Blog rhymes with bog, smog, slog, sog and other unappetizing things. It also rhymes with fog, which is lovely, but the unsavory words that rhyme with blog far outnumber the beautiful.

Take bog, a swamp-like morass, a place where you might encounter an alligator or a huge poisonous snake or the Creature From the Black Lagoon. Or you can get bogged down, in paperwork or odious chores. And how about smog, the scourge of modern civilization, hanging over the land in ugly yellow-brown tones and ruining lungs. And there’s clog, as in to cause to be backed up: a clogged toilet, yuk. People slog, as in plodding or struggling, perhaps to get across a bog. Which gets us to sogged. You would probably get sogged crossing a bog. And there might be a hog in the bog. You never know. Hogs are worthy animals, don’t get me wrong, but they’re not terribly attractive. 

Oops, I almost forgot flog. I’ll leave you to decide whether to spin the punishment or pleasure connotation of that word. Some people enjoy being flogged, but it’s not my cup of tea.

We have to take the good with the bad. I enjoy blogging immensely so I’ll just put up with the way it sounds. I’ll simply keep on slogging through my blog, enjoying every minute, and reminding myself that it also rhymes with dog, one of my most beloved things in life, and with eggnog, a joy of the holidays.

CHEERS!


“Blog” is derived from “weblog,” coined in 1997. It developed into the first digital diary allowing readers to add comments to others’ blogs.

My beautiful spirit name

Wachiwi, dancing girl

Many spirit names, especially Native American, are lovely poetic word pictures. Hiawassee means meadow; Suwanee, echo; Hehewuti, warrior mother. My spirit name is Patsy. Go ahead, laugh.

Plain old Patsy was my childhood name, before I grew up and became Pat: professional, successful, competent, yadda yadda. I reclaimed Patsy recently, inspired during a powerful presentation about Native American spirit names at a monthly women’s meeting called Moon Circle, itself a poetic word picture. When I was a child in Silicon Valley—long, long ago when it was still called Santa Clara Valley and covered with orchards and fields of mustard grass and cross-crossed by a tangle of natural creeks—I was Patsy, petite and fair-skinned, with Scandinavian-white hair. I spent my days wandering the valley with my dog Smokie, following creeks, climbing trees, walking atop fences, foot-racing unknown kids who were wandering like me. I ran faster than any boy. When I came upon a playground with a tetherball, I played whoever was there and usually won. If it was empty I played by myself, just to see how fast I could wrap the ball around the pole. I ran up long steep hills, alone except for Smokie, to see how fast and far I could go.

I wandered from glory to glory. I wasn’t afraid of the dark or anything else. I didn’t feel alone because the Valley was always with me.

Over the years my name got whittled down to Pat. At my jobs there were often other Pats and Patsys, and to minimize confusion we would designate who would be called what. I was a pushover and usually agreed to be the Pat. In my thirties, my professional success-focused businesswoman stage, a female colleague told me Patsy was a frivolous name, no one would take me seriously, I would never be a vice president. From then on I always used Pat.

Patsy had disappeared, buried under promotions to management, long hours at work, and endless meetings. (But never vice president.)

Now I’m retired and Patsy’s spirit has reawakened in me, after a long sleep. In my memories and my heart of hearts, I’m still that creek follower, dog lover, tree climber, fence walker, tetherball warrior, swift runner, valley wanderer, playground haunter.  

Patsy is derived from Patricia, which means noble and is rooted in ruling class families of ancient Rome. To me, Patsy is the wild, untamed version of Patricia. Works for me. This time I’m keeping it forever, throughout the eternity of the Great Spirit.

Don’t mess with seniors.

I’ve arrived. I’m a bonafide senior citizen. And I find that many people make false assumptions about me because of my gray hair. OMG, some even assume I’m not computer literate!    

Recently at a department store the clerk was updating the mailing list. He asked the young woman ahead of me in line, “What’s your email address?” When my turn came, he asked, “Do you have email?” I’m sure my gray hair caused the difference in the questions. But I have gray hair and email. Surprise, sonny! 

When I cycle, young people on the trail say things to me like “You’re awesome!” They mean well, but being singled out just because I’m cycling makes me feel absolutely ancient. Maybe they think it’s an amazing feat just to get my decrepit old body up on the bike.

The biggest fallacy is that I’m feeble-minded, memory-challenged, easy prey. A while back some checkers at my neighborhood grocery store stopped giving change when I swiped for cash over purchase. “I swiped my card for twenty over,” I’d  say when I got only a receipt. They quickly reopened the register and got my cash.

It happened with more checkers, and more often with the same checkers, as my hair turned grayer. Many of my senior friends were dealing with the same thing.  

“What’s the world coming to?” I wondered. Then I realized I had changed, not the world. I had aged. The scammers are always there, and started in on me because they thought I wouldn’t remember what happened seconds ago. But just who has the memory problem? They couldn’t even recall they’d tried me before, and hadn’t gotten away with a single twenty. 

They don’t get it. My friends and I are worldly and wise. Sure, some seniors lose life savings to Ponzi schemes and such, but not my crowd. Our brain cells are fine-tuned, our synapses fire robustly. Not only that, we’re the world’s fastest growing population and there’s power in numbers. So don’t mess with us. If you do, you are going down.


This commentary originally aired as a KQED Public Radio Perspective.

Affirmative Prayer for Today’s World

Thank you, God, for my own team of angels—hidden in the wings (no pun intended), ready to appear swiftly, 24-7-365, and help me with my obscure digital devices.


My angels are the tech-savvy men and women who answer technical help phone lines whenever I need assistance (quite often). I could not function in this high-tech world without these cherished angels. I can hear their voices, sweet and clear and strong, though I cannot see them. But I know these beings are angels because of the other-worldly vibration in the background of the phone line, as like the beating of wings, and occasional soft harp music when I’m on hold.  

My first angel appeared in days of olde, when I got high-speed internet. AT&T sent me a mysterious router thingy to set up myself. Were they kidding? After hours of lonely, futile struggle to connect it, I gave up and called the technical help line. I no longer had to walk alone! An angel disguised in the soothing voice of a young man came on the line to be my unfailing guide for three solid hours. He led me as I looked on the tops and backs of modems and hard drives and other things for specs in unreadable microscopic type, and crawled around on the floor with a flashlight testing phone jacks. Praise God, at midnight we finally found a good connection. To this day my router is located in the kitchen next to the toaster. 

My first sweet Verizon angel led me through updating my iPhone software using the USB port on my PC. I didn’t have Wi-Fi. With the patience of Job, my angel led me through infinite, complex, anti-intuitive steps. She left me only during the hours-long download and with great comfort I sensed her hovering near me all the while, just a phone call away.

When I purchased a new PC from Best Buy I added a year of Geek Squad technical support to my angel team. They’re always nearby, closer than breathing, nearer than hands and feet. I renew every year, and plan to do so for eternity.

Through my tech angels God gives me all the guidance I could possibly need, and to spare. At times I have a deep longing to see my angels, but I know deep in my heart I must wait. Here on earth I can see only the telephone through which I make contact with them. But I know with certainty it will happen, when we finally lay down our earthly garments and float up to the iCloud. We’ll all have a meetup, and then we shall see face to face. 

Blogging is good for your health.

Maybe you think the above title is a mistake, that I meant to say jogging. Nope. I mean blogging. You’re getting healthier if you laugh while you blog. 

Everyone knows jogging is good for your health. It strengthens muscles, improves cardiovascular fitness, helps maintain weight…yadda yadda yadda. As long as you don’t ruin your knees.

But how in the world can blogging be good for your health? The answer is endorphins. When you laugh you increase the number of these “feel-good” hormones in your system. The trick is you need to write humor. I write a lot of it. At least my friends tell me my stuff is funny. My blog posts make me laugh, which is the important part. Writing humor increases your health only if you laugh at your own jokes like I do.

Two young bloggers ramp up their endorphin counts.

When I’m at my PC blogging, sometimes I laugh so much that my husband thinks someone is in my office with me. It’s very therapeutic for me because I’ve suffered from depression nearly all of my life. I won’t go into the details, which I’ve been boring my friends with for years, but some very dark things lurk in my family background: suicide, heroin addiction, crime, hellacious accidents, alcoholism, permanent estrangement…the list goes on, but as a public service I’ll stop here.

So when I write about campaigning for a tooth fairy who comes to seniors, or becoming a Victoria’s Secret reject because my bra band size is larger than their max 38 inches,  or trying to meditate at home with Judge Judy’s obnoxious voice blaring from the TV, I’m manufacturing endorphins. These happy brain chemicals also relieve pain.

In a scientific test conducted at Oxford, participants’ arms were wrapped tightly in a blood-pressure cuff and tightness was increased gradually. Some participants watched 15 minutes of comedy, and they were able to withstand 10 percent more pain than participants who didn’t watch comedy. There’s also a bonding effect in an endorphin rush that is important in our social lives, believed to be like grooming for certain highly social animals such as monkeys. Endorphins also reduce stress and create a positive feeling in the body.

So next time someone tells you laughter is good for your health, don’t laugh. It’s true. And it doesn’t ruin your knees.

Truth in Blogging, a hot issue

Relax.


I worked as a newspaper reporter some years ago, and I always told the truth. It wasn’t until I started blogging that I had to start lying. I had no choice. Honest.

At heart I’m a very truthful person. As a reporter I was committed wholeheartedly to Truth in Journalism. I support Truth in Advertising. But I haven’t been able to keep it honest when it comes to Truth in Blogging. 

It’s not my fault. I run into dilemmas. The problem is I’m writing blog posts about myself and my family and friends, and people who know us are reading them, and I have to be careful. I literally have to walk on eggs. Embattled Female Drivers (posted Feb. 18) is a perfect example. I identified my protagonist as a former boyfriend named Bob. In my post “Bob” freaked out in the car and bullied and climbed the seats and shouted and panicked at everything that the female driver, who was me, did.

The truth is that “Bob” is really my husband, Frank. When I wrote it I was afraid Frank would get angry if someone who knew us told him he was featured in an unflattering light in my blog. That’s the only way he’d find out because he never reads my blog. The post got a lot of laughs at “Bob’s” expense and Frank might not have found it funny if I’d used his name.

I tell the truth now because no one is interested in anything about the post anymore. It’s in the past. But while I was writing it I became concerned about upsetting him, especially when I remembered that Phyllis Diller’s ex-husband Sherwood, who she called Fang, sued her for $250,000 for denigration. Of course Frank would never sue me. Not in a million-zillion years. But why take the chance?

This is just one of many examples of the fine line I have to walk as a blogger, even more so with humor involved. The post, though, was very funny. See for yourself. You can click on my blog archives and read it. Just don’t tell Bob about it. I mean Frank. I’m calling Frank “Bob” all the time now. Frank’s beginning to suspect I’m having an affair. What a silly idea. I don’t have time, I’m too busy blogging.

Photos should be truthful too. The photo of me on the About page of my blog is pretty recent, taken a mere five years ago. That’s not so old. I worked for a public relations firm once and the photo the CEO put in newsletters and press releases was 20 years out of date. He was barely recognizable. Shame on him! All of us in the publications department felt dishonest every time we sent one out. But I basically look the same today as I do in my blog photo, taken ten years ago. I mean five years ago (oops). I’m a little chubbier is all. I’ve put on some weight in the last ten years, I mean five years. Also, since I started blogging my nose has grown a little longer.


Scripture: Thou shall not lie, unless you must to prevent troubles that could arise from your blog post. ~Exodus 20.2-17 (9th Commandment)

Chocolate: Happiness is an unexpected piece of chocolate. ~Anonymous