Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Love of Words

Sup? I don't like to say I hate anything (hate is such a strong word), but I really do dislike lazy language and the mispronunciation of words like "supposebly", or incorrect grammar such as "I seen him on the other side of the road." Whenever you see news stories of people in harrowing circumstances, sure enough an eye witness can be counted on to say "I seen...".

Another pet peeve is the over-use of the word "like". "I, like, saw him, like, on the other side of the, like, road. Like." I even prefer 'umm' and 'ahh' over 'like'. But that wasn't a complete sentence, was it? I'm not perfect either; I certainly don't have an English degree, and I often hum and haw over how to write a phrase or a sentence, using spellcheck more than I'm willing to admit. But at least I make an effort to say it or spell it correctly. This is why I consider people lazy when can't take the time to do the same.

The fact of the matter is that language is not a static thing; it changes as we become more global, and continue to evolve. Those poor dictionary people are always having to remove this word, or add that word, and how frustrating is that? They have to contend with those who argue that this word should be put to rest and that one should never be removed.

As for the addition of words, “As soon as we see the word used without explanation or translation or gloss, we consider it a naturalized citizen of the English language,” says Peter Sokolowski, an editor-at-large for Merriam-Webster. “If somebody is using it to convey a specific idea and that idea is successfully conveyed in that word, it’s ready to go in the dictionary.”

Recently included words in the Merriam-Webster dictionary are edamame and pescatarian (if you don't know them, look them up!). Here is a new word that intrigues me: mondegreen. A mondegreen describes a word that is mistaken for other words, the most common examples found in song lyrics. "Kiss This Guy" is one of the more famous mondegreens. From Jimi Hendrix's song "Purple Haze", the actual phrase was "'scuse me, while I kiss the sky." The word mondegreen comes from an old Scottish ballad in which the lyric “laid him on the green” has been confused over time with “Lady Mondegreen.” Fascinating, no? Well it is to me!

Every year there are publicized lists of new words and words that have become passé and are subsequently removed. The only dictionary that doesn't actually remove words is the Oxford English Dictionary, which has more than 650,000 words and growing.

But a lot of kids especially don't care much for ordinary, boring words so they make their own or shorten the existing ones. The internet and texting (which was caught by my spell check because it isn't considered a verb or even a word!) has made this even more prevalent as they create more and more shorthand words and phrases so they don't have to type or spell too much. "What's up?"morphed into "Whassup?" and now it's simply "Sup?" I use that kind of shorthand too, such as "brb" for "be right back" or "lol" for "laughing out loud".

Another phenomenon is words being used for something other than their original meaning. Words with more than one meaning are called "homographs", but I'm not sure if there is a different word that describes what I mean. I've used one right here in this blog: kid. I remember back when we started to use "kid" instead of "child". A "kid", as many young people may not know, is a baby goat. But the misuse of that word started before my generation. A 70's expression was "mint" for something that was "cool" or "neat". Now it's "sick" or "dope", both of which have a different definition than what they are used for these days. Does somebody have a word for that?

I think I'm going to commit myself to reading more about words and language, since it fascinates me so much. Maybe it'll make me less grumpy next time I hear someone say "I seen him, like, on the other side, like, of the, like, street. He was, like, sick."


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Backyard Therapy

I've been spending the last two weeks in battle with computer viruses on my laptop. I have no idea how they got there and I'm doing everything to stop them from recurring, but so far they are winning. The other half of my online time I spend removing unwanted new members from my songwriting forum...they sign up so that they can paste their spam all over my forum for Cialis and Viagra and the like. I've finally figured out how to stop them from registering fully so I can catch them before they start spamming, but I still wake up each morning to about 5 new registrations from these spam idiots. It makes me think, what kind of people would spend all of THEIR time trying to infect my computer or mess up my little, innocent songwriting forum? Really, don't they have something better to do?

It's amazing how all of the decent people in the world can be so overrun by a handful of thugs who just want to entertain themselves, for the most part. Or make some dirty money. I end up spending more time protecting myself from these guys than I do actually writing and doing something productive. That's the real crime.

And speaking of crime, recently there has been a spike in violence between gang members in places close to where I live. Every morning when I wake up and turn on the news, there has been another overnight shooting. I hate to admit it, but as far as I'm concerned if they are all shooting each other I don't care, but if an innocent person gets caught in the middle, that's a different story. And of course, ultimately I'd prefer they just go somewhere else...but that doesn't really solve anything either, does it?

You can't help but think the whole universe is going to pot sometimes when you hear nothing but depressing news, and your laptop keeps coming up with new viruses. So today I put on my old jeans and a sweatshirt and I headed outside into the back yard. I thought "Enough of this, I'm going to hit the dirt." And so I did.

I pulled out my garden tools and my plastic bucket and took a look around. Oh boy. Lots to do. Where to start? I chose the beginning of one of the flower beds and figured I'd just go until some part of my body gave out. It's always a guarantee that's going to happen. Interesting things transpire when you're in the back yard. The first character I met up with was the crow...in the last couple of years whenever I'm out there clearing the weeds or planting something new, he always shows up and waits for me to go off somewhere else before he jumps into the fresh dirt and picks around for worms. At least I think he's the same crow.  He has a look, you know? I recognize him. And he's not particularly afraid of me, just cautious.

Then I heard the persistent "click, click, click" of a hummingbird. It took me awhile to see him, but I think he was actually pissed off at the crow so he hovered around and made his point, and then flew off to somewhere, still clicking.

Bit by bit, I got some of the flower beds cleared out. There's a lot of dead stuff out there this year because we've had a pretty cold winter compared to most years. But it felt good, and my whole attitude started to change. I think gardening, or even just puttering around in the yard, does that. It makes life seem a little simpler somehow.

I think the spammers and the computer hackers and gang members should all spend a little time outdoors doing some yard work. Maybe they'll see that there's more to life than making other people's lives miserable, or killing them. That's what they could be sentenced to when they get caught for their various crimes: hours and hours, weeks and weeks, months and months of gardening.

They'd have to start from scratch and make a vegetable garden or take a little plot and create a succession of beautiful blooms over at least three seasons. They could donate their vegetables to the local food bank and bring the flowers to patients in hospitals. They'd have to get up at the crack of dawn and weed. It's good for the soul.

Maybe I'm expecting too much. But getting out in the garden always does a lot for me, so I think it could do a lot for people who have nothing better to do than make the world miserable. Thank goodness for spring and a little backyard therapy.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

Every morning when I rise, I turn on the TV and my computer, scour the latest news stories and find more depressing news about the economy. I imagine a lot of people do the same thing as I do, especially if they are out of work, or their livelihood is being threatened in some way. We are looking for a little drop of hope in a sea of gloom. But in some ways, we are also drawn to the negative economic drama with a morbid curiosity, almost like some are drawn to tabloids and the latest gossip around the water cooler. There is something in human beings that makes us this way.

I was in a conversation with another person the other day; we both threw dramatic economic stories or statistics back and forth between ourselves with almost a kind of morbid glee. In the end, we laughed and she drove away and I walked back into the house, both with smiles on our faces. In spite of the misery, we love the drama.

Have you ever seen that American television series "Cops"? I am ashamed to say that I have, although not recently. It's another one of those reality-type series where they follow police officers as they deal with all kinds of miserable people. A lot of them are domestic disputes, quite often somebody is drunk and people are brawling and it's like watching a train wreck. It's the lowest of the low for these people, they all appear to have serious problems like alcoholism and abuse issues, some of them are small time crooks, behind on their payments or out of work and certainly down on their luck. And it's a TV series. Imagine that.

So we say that we want to hear good economic news, and I know that on one level we do. But on the other, we want to watch Bernie Madoff, the guy who created one of the largest ponzi schemes in history, go down and go down hard. We want to see the big, bad companies fail because we resent their blatant opulence and fat wallets. But if they do fail, it hits our wallets.

Here in Canada, we are somewhat smug because our banks have managed to weather the storm so far. Most of the time we hate the banks, but at this point in time we are holding them up with pride. What a contradiction we are. Rush Limbaugh says he wants President Obama to fail. 'Is he crazy?' we ask. Yet there are many here in Canada who want Prime Minister Harper to fail too, simply because they can't stand the guy. I can't stand the guy either, but failure is not an option.

Thoughts are very powerful things...and out-of-control thoughts are dangerous. The $65 Billion ponzi scheme that Bernie Madoff created all began with one thought. Think about it. So, as drawn to the drama as we are, we really have to start turning our thoughts around. We have to work hard at looking for the positive and finding a way out of this mess, not just personally, but as a country and as a planet because it's more obvious now than it has ever been that we are all in this together. A Buddhist will tell you that you must always pay attention to mind...that is the beginning and the end of everything.

Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts - The Buddha


Saturday, March 7, 2009

For A Weekend, I Am Rich

I am sitting alone at home at the moment, wistfully remembering last weekend and our annual retreat to Pacific Shores Resort and the AquaTerre Spa. We have been doing this for five years now, and every year I look forward to it more and more.

I wouldn't have thought of myself as a "spa" type a few years back. The spa, it seemed to me, was for rich people. Well, er, okay. It still is. But putting the cost aside, I always thought that the kind of people who went to spas were stinking rich snobs who would treat the experience like another ho hum day on the massage table.

If it was ever that way, it isn't anymore. The kind of women we see when we are up there are just like us, some younger, most middle-aged and older, who are escaping their daily routines for just a little while to indulge themselves in a delicious Swedish massage or pedicure, sit back in the lounge and turn their brains off while they sip on green tea and listen to that New Agey spa music that's always piped in.

Whether you're a working mother (or just working, or just a mother for that matter), a middle-aged woman like me in the sandwich years dealing with elderly parents and young adult children, or just someone trying a spa experience out for the first time, there is nothing that beats it. In the lounge where you wait before or between treatments, everyone is quietly smiling...there is a sense of peace and tranquility and to hell with everything and everyone else! This is ME time.

I travel up with the same four women every winter. We have known each other, some of us, for more than 20 years and most of us met through work and continued the friendship as we moved on to other jobs. We have seen each other through many life events; weddings, children, loss, hard times and wonderful times. And this one weekend we share once a year together is our chance to be away from all distractions and simply spend time on ourselves and each other. We usually each bring something for dinner for the first night. And lots of wine, of course!

This year, we stayed in a really nice, large unit where we each had our own beds, and one lucky person got the private room with the king-size bed and the soaker tub and fireplace. Next year by default, it's mine! I am going to have a party in there.

On Saturday morning we all rose to a light breakfast and got ready for our wonderful spa treatments. I had a Swedish massage for the first time. I've had massages before, but not Swedish...what distinguishes it is longer, connected strokes and a more gentle touch. I've had deep tissue massage before that left me feeling exhausted for days afterwards...not really something I would consider stress-relieving! But I loved the Swedish massage and would definitely do it again.

I have to admit, though, that I spent most of that hour telling myself to stop thinking and just enjoy the process...how annoying to suddenly find yourself worried about that ugly spot on your back, or having a ticklish foot attack. What is that music? Maybe I should consider producing some spa music. Are those energy-saving lightbulbs? Stop thinking Irene!

Before I knew it, the hour was up and I was back in the lounge with my green tea. Then a few moments later I was called in for my pedicure. There's something else I never used to do...I used to think that nail polish on toes was only for prima donnas. But now I'm right in the swing of choosing a new colour (this year it was a lovely rosey pink called Carpe Diem) and settling in while they rub and scrub and clip, polish and paint. With a Margarita in my hand, of course.

In the evening, well after a dinner that included a number of glasses of wine, we threw on our bathing suits, grabbed our white spa robes and took a little cup of blackberry port with us to the outdoor hot tub. That is where we were headed to in the picture above. Don't we look happy? And then before we knew it, it was Sunday morning, time to pack up and head home. How on earth did it go so quickly?

And now here I am a week later, already thinking about what kind of treatment I'm going to have next year and what I might make for dinner and how much fun we're going to have. Will it be a facial this time? Or maybe the Fiesta Margarita or the Hot Chocolate Kiss? Yum.

Every year for a weekend, I am rich.

IJ (oh yes, and a footnote to my pals...what happens at the spa, stays at the spa :-)