What are words for

14 07 2015

Go pound sand.”

I don’t get it. I mean, I understand it’s a way of telling someone to take a flying leap, buzz off, fuck off, beat it, but why bother with such a dull (in both senses of the word) epithet? “Go fly a kite” isn’t the sharpest retort one could fire off, but at least it has the bite of the k and the t to make it sound a little nastier than it is.

It’s rounded and bland, and “pound sand” is just, pffft, it’s the verbal equivalent of punching a pillow when angry: the jab dissipates into a mound of mush.

If you don’t want to swear (really?), “beat it” works perfectly well: the two syllables go up and down in short order, a sharp point aimed dead at the target. Crack!

Yeah, that’s what a rebuff should sound like.

Okay, other phrases oot and aboot online: “no more fucks to give” and “because fuck you”.

I like both of these formulations, mostly because I like the attitude contained therein, but, like the aforementioned “batshit crazy”, bemoan their overuse.

“Just sayin'” was okay in small—teeny—doses, but it’s been fire-hosed everywhere online. “Fixed that for you” could, sometimes, be clever, but mostly it’s just tired and kinda jerky.

There are words and phrases which I like very much and think deserve wider use—but, like the hipster who only loves the songs no one listens to, I fear that were these terms to spread, the thrill of them would be gone.

So I guess that’s a way of sayin’ keep sayin’ “just sayin'”: better a phrase I don’t much care for than one I do flattened across the cyberverse.

Just, stop with the whole pound sand thing, okay?


And I said shit

1 01 2015

In terms of -shit ipithets, there’s:

  • bullshit (the old standby)
  • horseshit (which I prefer to bullshit, tho’ BS works better than HS)
  • chickenshit (not used nearly often enough; I tend to use “candy ass” instead)
  • batshit (I particularly liked this term, tho’ stopped using it during the “batshit crazy” overload, which seems to have abated somewhat)
  • apeshit

Aaaand, what else? Charlie Pierce refers to “gobshites”, which I think could be included here, but this can’t exhaust the category of -shit suffixed derogations, can it?

I mean, there are the surging “shitheel” and “shitbag” (fine terms—alas, heading/already into overuse), but those are prefixed terms; what other suffixed ones?

“Pigshit”, maybe, tho’ I think that’s pushing it.

What is it that sends one kind of -shit into a jeer, while others remain mere descriptors of a particular creatures leavings? Why not “ratshit” or “yakshit” or “hipposhit”? “Weaselshit” or “camelshit” or why not “chupacabrashit?”

I’d guess there are more -shits out there, embedded in other languages and cultures, which haven’t yet percolated their way into English, or into the English that I run into on a regular basis.

Yeah, there’s probably a website out there somewhere which chronicles this, um, shit, but sometimes it’s nice to just shoot the. . . shit, without getting all academic about it.

Or maybe I’m just too much of a lazy shit to look it up.

What are words for

1 05 2014

I like Charlie Pierce.

I like his laugh on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, and even more so, I like his writing on his Politics blog at the Esquire site.

He can be too much sometimes, but as someone who is rather constantly afraid of her own too-muchness, I appreciate his own constant willingness to lay it out there.

I don’t agree with his take on everything and sometimes roll my eyes at the repetitious “zombie-eyed granny starver” (Paul Ryan) and “goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to manage their midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin” (Scott Walker), tho’ I do admit to smirking at “Our Magic Lady of the Dolphins” (Peggy Noonan).

But this is a guy who has fun writing, and who’s always willing to toss out bits of verbal absurdity, to whit “up with which I will not put”. (See most recent deployment of this phrase here.)

I don’t know why that so delights me, but it does. That’s enough.

And yes, I got a kick out it even before my brain began turning into hash.

Catching Witches

18 07 2012

I don’t write poems anymore.

I don’t know why I stopped, don’t consider this a writer’s block, don’t know if I’ll ever write poems again.

The words always come, if not always right away, but how they come? That’s beyond me. I try to be good and pay attention when they do come, not to let them tumble out and away, but I can be careless, so careless with the words.

You can’t be careless in poetry; poetry is care for words, care in words, care for the quick-step and sidle, the long breathless pause and the swoon and swoop out over the water.

I would like that back, but here is one I wrote before the poetry went away. I may have posted it before, but if so, well, I like it enough to post it again.

Catching Witches

Washed down
the river
you will be
again into
the hands
of God.
if your lungs are
than your faith,
you will be
on this earth,
still alive,
but dead

There was no agenda when I wrote this, just the sound, and the impossibility.

What are words for?

14 06 2012


Been seein’ that word a lot lately. Orthogonal.

But what does it mean?!

Given the context in which it tends to be used (“this may be orthogonal to the conversation. . .”) my sense was:

  • indirectly related
  • related in some obscenely complicated manner in which it at first doesn’t appear to be related but with in time will be reveled to be directly related
  • perpendicular
  • coming out of nowhere but in fact crossing into the realm of whatever’s being discussed
  • origamically folded in geometric shapes
  • related in some origamically folded & geometrically shaped way

And then I remembered: dictionary! And thus I checked the very large third edition (1971) of Webster’s International Dictionary on top of a file cabinet at my day job (had to stand on a stool to be able to peer down and not just across) and discovered:

1orthogonal adj: lying or intersecting at right angels: RECTANGULAR, RIGHT-ANGLED. . . 2a: mutually perpendicular. . . b: completely independent

2orthogonal n: an imaginary line at right angles to wave crests in oceanography

So there it is! Some of my [more sober] guesses were correct, which is nice, but I also like that I now have the image of origamically-folded geometric shapes bobbing on the waves.

Anyway, I’m not quite sure from where this little wave (!) of usage of the term comes.  What is it that leads an obscure phrase of bit of academic jargon—and, again, I’m not against jargon!—off of the bench and on to the field?

Paradigm, peripatetic—I’ve talked about this before—why do some words or phrases bob up? Why do they sink? (An answer to the latter question would be particularly helpful, as I would like to term “meme” to sink lifeless to the ocean floor. I fuckin’ hate that word.)

“Metrics” also gets tossed about, as does “deploy”, and there was this one other academic concept which I thought of earlier but have since forgotten, and there are far too many people who toss around the word “genetic” as if it were interchangeable with “biology” and/or “fixity”. It is not.

Then there are the terms which arise from one corner of the culture and soon colonize the entire petri dish: clutching at pearls, get off my lawn, batshit crazy, and, perhaps, Overton window. There was one gent on Rod Dreher’s old BeliefNet blog who was fond of the phrase “bar-the-door-Katie”—which, I agree, is a fine phrase, but one best used sparingly. He did not.

I have regretfully (!!) given up the phrase “batshit crazy” because it has, in its ubiquity, lost its bite. Perhaps I’ll be able to resurrect it one day as a conscious bit of retro-retrieval (dandy! peachy! groovy!), but, in the meantime, I’ll have to content myself by watching these odd lexical bits float up from the depths and try to barnacle themselves to the good ship Pop Culture.

What are words/If you don’t really mean them

3 01 2012

Hippy nude yer. Or something.

Anyway, words. Specifically: home in/hone in. Every so often a new word or phrase creeps into the (more-or-less mass) media, hangs out for awhile, then fades back into either occasional use or goes away completely.

Remember paradigm and paradigm shift? Still around, but less ubiquitous. It also was yanked out of Kuhn and made to apply to shifts which were, in Kuhnian terms, decidedly not paradigmatic, but that’s how it goes when jargon moves the mainstream.

I also recall peregrination—a fine word—and one which now resides mainly in dictionaries.

Unpack and problematize both wandered out of the academy for awhile, but are now safely tucked back inside. And every so often someone pulls epistemology out of her sleeve, but then one gets caught up in questions of the existence of the sleeve and is it even possible even to pull knowledge out of clothing and, well, you see why epistemology prefers to hide out in back corridors of academia.

There are others, which I can’t think of offhand. Oh, Look, is currently quite popular among opiners, mainly as a way to say I am done talking about this and/or I am [no longer] willing to explain why I believe this. I think this augers the return of Listen as a stylistic alternative.

Now, about home in/hone in. The correct term is home in, as in, nearing a target or center or, y’know, home, but about half of the time I see the term the word hone is incorrectly substituted.

Hone: to sharpen,  make ready, as in, hone a sword or honing one’s rhetorical skills. Not to lock on target.

Yes, this is a simply matter of wrong word use, based on a spelling error.


I’m half a word snob. I try to avoid split infinitives, irregardless, and journaling; distinguish between disinterested and uninterested; prefer the original term empathic to its more recent commonalization as empathetic; anguish over repeatedly confusing compose and comprise; and try very hard to use the correct version of lie and lay. On the other hand, I’m not opposed to neologisms on principle (although some in practice), understand that usage changes (e.g. Let’s do lunch), do not disdain all cliches, enjoy playing around with words in casual circumstances (see: commonalization) and quite like that English is a scavenger language.


Hone is its own word, with its own meaning. Given that there is no necessary, absolute, and eternal meaning to hone, could we please please pretty please try to uphold its definition as is?

We already have the term you’re looking for: Home in.

Thank you.

What are words for?

6 08 2011

A few words about words:

Privilege. I have used this word, and will continue to do so in the context of “privileges and liberties” and “privileges and/versus rights” and “privileged information”.

I have also used in terms of “skin privilege”, as in I, as a white chick, have skin privilege: I don’t have to think about skin color/race because, through no effort of my own, I have, in this country, the default skin color.  There are things I don’t have to worry about because I’m white.

The term, in other words, can do some real work; unfortunately, it can also do some real damage.

What was meant at one point to lead to greater understanding now gets in the way of that understanding. It has become a term of opprobrium, an insult to be hurled at anyone who hasn’t had the worst of everything and therefore can contribute nothing to understanding anything.

It shuts people down, and, as a general matter, I don’t see the point of that.

I do see the point of trying to prod folk into critical (self-)reflection, to encourage people to be mind-ful of what in their lives was unearned and, perhaps, to then gain some perspective on what was earned. It’s not about individuals versus structures, but about individuals within structures, how individuals move structures and structures move individuals and the multivarious ontological and practical implications.

Good times.

Wielders of the privilege weapon, however, too often try to guilt the individual for the existence of the structure itself, that someone who’s rich is responsible for the class system, that the individual man is responsible for patriarchy or each straight person wholly owns heteronormativity (yet another word which should be confined to the academy), or that ablism is the fault of every person who’s able-bodied and ageism, each and every young whippersnapper out there.

How is this helpful to anyone? What role does such shaming have in creating a more thoughtful people or a more equal society?

The ends may not justify the means, but they should inform them.

Triggered/trigger-warning: This is not a term I’ve used, although I have some sympathy for those who do.

There are some topics which are known to set off intense reactions in those who read or hear them; knowing this, some people choose to offer a warning before diving into those topics. That’s a decent thing to do.

Now, perhaps I don’t do this because I’m not decent—entirely possible—or maybe it’s because I don’t know what’s going to set people off. And because I don’t know where to set the line I prefer not to set one at all.

I’m going to write what I write, and while (with some notable exceptions) I don’t intend to offend, I know I’m going to, regardless. If I worry too much about that offense, I may end up not writing, and I’d rather write and offend (and apologize, if necessary) than not-write so as to not-offend.

I don’t know if that’s better or worse than those who append a TW before a topic; it’s a choice and a preference, nothing more.

Swearing: You may have noticed I do not restrain myself in this area.

The best argument I’ve heard against swearing (thank you, Ms. G, my high school English teacher) was that it wasn’t creative (although, with all respect to Ms. G, I have heard some mighty creative curse constructions). Even that, however, was not and has not been enough to stop me from littering my blog and speech with blue words.

Now, if I give a formal presentation, I don’t swear. If I prepare an article for publication, I don’t swear. Professional situations? Ixnay on the ursecay.  I try very hard not to swear around little kids (let ’em learn these words from the older kids, the way I did), or, for that matter, around people who I know are offended by swearing—especially if I’m a guest.

But this blog ain’t a formal presentation: it’s a cyber-conversation, and in conversation, I tend to lay down the low language.

I’m not proud of this, and I periodically try to clean it up—but more for aesthetics than morality.

Goddess forbid I’d let morality get in the way of my rampages. . . .

Put down that weapon

10 01 2011

I don’t know Jared Loughner.

I don’t know his politics. I don’t know his mental state. I don’t know his background, his personality, his history of drug or alcohol use, or his genetic profile.

I don’t even know that he killed six people and shot twelve others, although, given the evidence reported thus far, it appears likely.

It appears likely that Jared Loughner is an assassin.

But that’s just one piece of this murderous political puzzle, isn’t it? Some have examined his online postings and concluded that he was widely read or maybe just trying to impress people with works he couldn’t understand; one woman Tweeted that when she knew him he was left-wing; some speculate on the influence of the anti-semitic American Renaissance or conspiracist David Wynn Miller; Andrew Sprung labels him a “sui generis make-your-own reality psychotic”.

Many others have noticed have noticed that this occurred in a poisonous political atmosphere, wherein Senate candidates talk about “Second Amendment remedies” and elected members of Congress call President Obama an “enemy of humanity”.

And the half-guv, of course, has her part to play, both in refudiating any role her noxious metaphors may have contributed to that atmosphere, and to serve as a rally point for those who insist that no one even consider politicizing these killings.

Sticks and stones may break my bones/but words may never hurt me.

What rot, for in what other media do we perform politics but in words? Of course words matter!

You don’t need to delve into the ontological dimensions of the speech-act to grasp that this is the primary way we relate to one another—that our language itself is a marker of our species. We are not only linguistic creatures, but we would not be who we are without language. And we would not have politics without language, without words.

Of course words matter.

That’s not all that matters. Loughner was able to purchase a semi-automatic weapon (which would have been illegal under a law which expired in 2004)  and carry it on his person, concealed, with no permit whatsoever.

Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.

True—in this case, Jared Loughner used a semi-automatic gun to kill six people.

Don’t suppose we should politicize casual access to deadly weaponry, either.

But Loughner was nuts, right? Suspended from school, scaring the hell out of his college classmates, a sui generis psychotic—can’t blame rhetoric and guns on this crazy man, could we?

I’m not trained in either psychology or psychiatry, and if I were, I hope I’d be disciplined enough not to diagnose someone I only read about in a newspaper. But I do have my own history of mental illness, and I do know how what I once called a “bad brew” of chemistry and history lead to acts of self-destruction great and small. I never tried to hurt anyone else, but it was very important to me that I hurt myself. And no, I didn’t consider myself crazy.

It made sense to me not only that I would kill myself, but that I should kill myself.

This decades-long belief didn’t come from nowhere: it came from the reactions of people around me to my erratic behavior, from romantic notions of the successful suicide, from my own constant intake of movies and books and television shows about depression and suicide, from The Thorn Birds (long story), and, of course, from my own depression and personality.

I was the one making the attempts, and I was the one who worked out the rather elaborate moral justification for my suicide, but I got help from the society around me.

No, society didn’t know it was helping me—I don’t blame society for my troubles—but it gave me the pieces I needed to construct a an overwhelming and destructive narrative of my life. It all made so much sense, then.

I don’t know what, if anything, makes sense to Jared Loughner. All I have are a very few inadequate pieces—violent rhetoric, weapon, possible mental illness—but enough to know that, even if this wasn’t a conspiracy, it certainly wasn’t sui generis, either.

h/t Daily Dish, Huffington Post, New York Times

What you say? I’m just askin’ (pt I)

29 08 2010

When do words and acts become being?

As quoted by Tobin Harshaw in The NYTimes’ The Opinionator, Sister Toldjah:

The little secret that is not really a secret except in the closed-minded world of the left is that most conservatives don’t “hate” gay people. Apparently, because most conservatives don’t support gay marriage and don’t support gays openly serving in the military, they “hate” them. This is “hate” – in spite of the fact that most conservatives also do not support polygamy nor any other type of “alternative” marriage, nor do they support women serving on the front lines in war. It’s an issue of not wanting to tamper with the existing social structure of the two parent man/woman family, and not wanting to create an atmosphere of great uncomfortableness in the military between those who are openly gay and those who aren’t. We’ve seen the disastrous results of the left’s tampering in the social arena for decades now, and we’re opposed to signing onto anything else they have to offer on that front.

A commentor, Ralph Dempsey agreed:

I am so sick of being called a ‘homophobe’ just because I oppose gay marriage and want to keep homosexuals out of the military. The liberal Left is trying to play the same game they play with the race card. Sincere, honest, loving, genuine people oppose two men or two women attacking the sanctity of those in heterosexual marriages. That is not bigoted any more than people who opposed interracial marriages were racist. Over 85% of the country during the early 60’s did not want Black men trying to procure white women – were all these people racist? Give me a break. We should be free to oppose minority lifestyles without being labelled as haters.


I do like that Mr Dempsey made manifest what is so often implied: Why should the majority suffer any consequences for opposing (oppressing?) minorities?

(And yes, I also like the comparison to views about interracial marriage in the 1960s, when ‘Over 85% of the country did not want Black men trying to procure white women’ didn’t necessarily mean those people were racist. I see. Would you accept sexist?)

As much as I’d like to play around all day with the scary-Negro-carrying-off-white-women image, I do think the more significant issue is the one of doing and being: At what point can your actions—your words, your deeds, your opinions—point to something about you and your character?

Nobody wants to be a bigot, but, it seems, many people wish to speak and act in a bigoted manner.

My first reaction is thus: There are two kinds of tolerance: that of the superior for the inferior, and that of equals for equals. As long as gays and lesbians (and bisexuals! don’t forget us bisexuals!) and anyone else cast in the role of Those People are treated as lesser, then those with the superiority complex may justly be called out for the bigotry of that superiority.

If you seek to deny others what you enjoy yourself, then you may be justly called out for the injustice of that denial.

If you seek to justify this injustice, then you may justly be called a bigot.

You want to be able to speak and act in a bigoted manner, but you don’t want to be called a bigot.

It’s really quite simple: If you don’t want to be called a bigot, then quit acting like one.


A fine conclusion (and one which sentiment I’ve almost certainly stolen from others), and certainly a satisfying shortcut through bullshit.

But, alas, in so shortcutting the deeper question is both highlighted and skirted: what are the dots between what you do and who you are?

And what are in those dots, anyway? Stay tuned. . . .

Friday poem (Friday!): Little Fugue

2 04 2010

Anxious and scattered; words keep running away from me.

I need to write—and yes, need is the correct word.

A physical need, like that for air or water? No. But I feel it, physically, if I’m not doing the one thing I know I can do.

And then it builds, of course: I can’t pull my mind together, which means I can’t string words together, which exacerbates the entropy.

Chicken-egg-chicken—doesn’t matter which came first; my sternum contracts, regardless.

I wasn’t sure what to pick: a poem which reflects my skittering, or something to distract me from it. Picked up this one, then that, then came across this poem by Frank Bidart.

Not quite sure why I set this one aside; the poem itself seems incomplete to me, in need of one or two more goings-over to get it right.

And yet I set is aside, and yet I’m using it this week. Something is right about this.

Little Fugue

at birth you were handed a ticket

beneath every journey the ticket to this
journey in one direction

or say the body

is a conveyor belt, moving in one direction
slower or swifter than sight

at birth

you were handed a ticket, indecipherable
rectangle forgotten in your pocket

or say you stand upon a moving walkway

as if all you fear
is losing your

balance moving in one direction

beneath every journey the ticket to this
journey in one direction