Thursday, March 31, 2011

Use the right word, please

Sometimes of a winter's night when the wind is in the trees, when the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, when the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, I like to curl up in a big chair in front of a dying midnight fire and read my computer's built-in dictionary on my laptop. But then, doesn't everyone?

My dictionary - and maybe yours too! - has a feature called "The Right Word." The purpose of this feature, I'm guessing, is twofold: first, to help you use the word that will best convey your exact meaning, and, second, to stop you from using odd words which are unrelated to what you are trying to say.

This is not an automated feature like Spell Check. My computer, even its dictionary, doesn't yet know in advance what I am writing about, after all. No, this feature appears after the definition of selected words you've looked up. For example, I recently looked up the word "nonsense." I don't remember why I looked that word up. It's one of the few I know how to spell, so that wasn't it. Perhaps I wanted to make sure of the meaning and to verify it wasn't a breed of pig or something. Like Yorkshire, you know? Anyway, after the dictionary gave the various uninspiring definitions for "nonsense", they continued beyond that normal ending and inflicted a list of other words upon my half-asleep brain.

I know you are excited to find out what some of these words are, so I made this post about it. May I continue? I quote now so I can get this right:


"If you write or speak in an obscure, senseless, or unintelligible manner, you'll probably be accused of producing NONSENSE. Nonsense is the most general of these nouns and may refer to behavior as well as what is said, e.g., 'the demonstrators were told in no uncertain terms to stop this nonsense or leave the room.' "

Now I am wondering about what the geek looks like who makes up these inane example sentences in the dictionary and where the ideas for them come from. See, I wouldn't had even let the demonstrators stay in the room even if they DID stop their nonsense. Just on general principles. Well, at least the choice of example gives us a clue about the dictionary example-writing geek: he was in University at Berkeley in 1969. Please don't go away yet, because the next example-word is better than this "most general of these nouns." Hereafter, I am going to add exclamation points after the feature alternative words, just to make them stand out. My view is that they are mostly all interjections, anyway. K?


"Twaddle refers to silly, empty utterances from people who know nothing about a subject but who write or talk about it anyway, e.g., 'I was sick of her twaddle about the dangers of electomagnetic fields.'"

Here I will freely admit I wouldn't have been able to use TWADDLE in a sentence before I read this. I would have guessed it was an obscene insult of some kind. (e.g.) GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE YOU STUPID TWADDLE! But it isn't. Still, if you say this word in front of my sister, I will coldcock you. Just saying.


"(short for 'bunkum') applies to an utterance that strikes the popular fancy even though it is lacking in worth or substance, e.g., 'the speech, which received enthusiastic applause, was pure bunk.' "

Well, I never. I DID know that it wasn't a place people keep their money for safekeeping, but I was leaning more in the direction of a bed for soldiers. I sure didn't know about "bunkum" because that has never been one of my utterances. The last time I heard the word BUNK was at a rodeo. Actually, it wasn't a word, but rather an odd sound that was heard when the bull stepped on the prone cowboy's .... ummm... "lower abdominal area."


"Poppycock applies to nonsense that is full of complex, confused, or cliched ideas, e.g., 'the report was a strange combination of logical thinking and outright poppycock.' "

Picture an accent mark over the e in "cliched" by the way. I can't remember using poppycock much in my normal daily utterances, except maybe to ask someone to pass the popcorn-nuts-brittle fat-snack of the same name that you can buy at Walmart. Or maybe Walgreen's. Something "Wal". E.g., "If you eat all the damn poppycock, I'll make you go to school on Saturday. Don't be a (Yorkshire) pig!"


"Bull is a slang term for deceitful and often boastful writing or speech, e.g., 'he gave them a line of bull.' "

Now, that one I DO utter sometimes. Especially when I am watching Obama give a speech on the TV. Actually, I use the word as an exuberant rebuttal, but I think it still counts as a correct usage utterance instance.


"Perhaps the most insulting of these terms is DRIVEL, which implies a steady flow of inane, idle, or nonsensical speech or writing similar to what might be expected from a very young child or an idiot."

My, that IS insulting. All this time I thought it was something one did with a basketball or that which comes out of one's nose in the winter. When I found out what it really meant, however, my thoughts immediately connected the word with someone who blogs from a dank dark cave. My head even started nodding involuntarily when I made the connection.

I don't know about you, but I was left unsatisfied — like when you have just eaten a big Chinese dinner? Surely, I thought to myself (often I think to myself when the road is a ribbon of moonlight) there must be many more words they could have included in this list. ¿Que, no? Please picture another accent mark over the e again. Odd that I know the proper key combination to make an upside-down question mark, but have never learned to make those little useless accents that foreigners are so fond of. This I also thought to myself, though, rather than actually making an utterance. Here's some of mine that quickly come to mind, that Berkeley Boy left out:

(Please note that some of these are vaguely British-sounding. It isn't really my fault because I have been hanging around with some of them for the past 3 years, and I caught some of that.)

BLARNEY ! (sorry, that was kind of lame)
GAHbuj (New York pronunciation of "garbage")
BS!!!!!!!!! (This also has something to do with a bull.)

I can imagine Shakespeare saying CODSWALLOP!!!!! but being laughed at when he said it.

¿Can you think of any more words that mean NONSENSE!!!! ??????

Please tell me if you know of more examples. Just don't look them up. (That would be BILGE!!!!)

Try to use them in a sentence if you can. Don't just utter the word by itself.

Extra points if you can show me where Dickens used such a word (other than HUMBUG! !)

"BAH" Doesn't count.

Note to self: don't say "stuff and nonsense" ever. It sounds like Aint Bee on Mayberry RFD. Or Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies. In fact, don't even say "nonsense" anymore.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dharmachakra: Life as a Wheel

You can blame Lidian for this post. She's the one who made the comment in the previous post which made me want to talk about personality and life-purpose some more. (As if Google would see any authority in a link from THIS sorry blog, right? Go visit her anyway. And comment on her posts. Harass her. That's a jest - do NOT harass Lidian. She is an introverted writer who lives in a Cabin in the woods. Wood. In the Yukon. Whatever.)

In my last post, I ridiculously put forth the notion that all of us fit into one of only three personality types. That was hogwash, of course; there are only two. All people are either Homer Simpson or Mr. Burns. Those who are gullible - clueless - and those who prey upon the gullible - assholes and politicians. Wait, those last two words mean the same thing. Sorry.

Seriously, though. If I may be serious. Ok, I will ease into the serious part slowly.

In my closely-guarded MUPPET system of human personality classification, there emerge, remnants of Mt. Olympus, superior beings who see it as their mission on earth to interpret the world around them - who even try to make sense out of life. These people are insane (of course) and they make me sick. As proof of its sense of humor, the Creator made me one. Thanks a lot.

Though my intentions were benevolent, I lied in my previous post when I said sculptors and painters and dancers and musicians were "Craftsmen-Artists". All artists are actually "Interpreters." So are photographers, those lazy painters among us. And ...YES!... so are introverted writers.

There are no extraverted writers. Not good ones, anyway. There are only introverted, tortured souls who write in solitude from inside a whiskey bottle. Or whisky bottle, if your name is Dylan Thomas. Ok, William Shakespeare was an extravert, but his writing was crap, right?

From their Poe-esque demented dispair in their lonely behind-in-the-rent garrets, they stare vacantly through the thick cigarette smoke and type at 2 a.m. with two fingers on old black Remingtons. No self-respecting introverted writers ever seem to learn to touch-type. And in their tragic liquor- and tobacco-shortened lives, they interpret the human condition.

As for me, I don't drink whiskey OR whisky, and I stopped smoking eons ago. My black 1938 Remington is retired to a dusty closet in the basement, replaced by a computer keyboard. Worse, I touch-type. But then, we all know I am not Dylan Thomas, either. "Interpreter-Lite," that's me.

If you've read this far down, hoping I'm about to devulge the meaning of life in the last part of the post, you should probably stop reading right now and go ask for your money back. I think I DO know why we are here on this earth. It isn't to be lawyers or politicians or telemarketers, just in case you thought that. The best advice this little doggie can give you is to find some sort of work that is congruent with your own personality and then grapple courageously from day to day. Find your passion. Something you care about. Let that passion provide your motivation.

Big letdown, eh?

Jo Coudert (in "Advice from a Failure") wrote that our lives sometimes seem to follow the format for a theatrical play: in the first act, the protagonist is chased up a tree; in the second act, people throw stones up at him as he cowers on a limb; and in the final act he finds a way down out of the tree.

The only thing is (she writes) is that we have come to the theater late, or dozed off, and we've missed the first act. We know we're up a tree, all of us - hell, people are throwing rocks at us! - but we don't know why we're up there or why we are being stoned. So we go through our lives trying hard to learn why we are here and what we did wrong to deserve what we are getting, and, in any respite of the slings and arrows being thrown at us, we earnestly try to find our way down out of the tree.

May you find your own purpose in life, and may that knowledge lead you, finally, to peace.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Which one are you? No, really...

Have any of you ever checked out your personality profile? It seems to be all the rage now - at least there are tests all over the internet. You've got your Carl Jung and your Myers-Briggs. You have engrams and colors and... more.

Save your time - I've narrowed them all down into one condensed version for you. I call it the Max Unfailing Personality Profile Estimating Technique (MUPPET). You can forget about all your Introverted Thinking and ENTP The Mastermind and all that. The way I figure it, there are only three types of basic personality types in this world: Homer Simpson, Ned Flanders and Mr. Burns. Which is to say "Clueless", "Religious" and "Asshole".

Kidding. Rewinding.

My three REAL base personality types are "Investigator-Planners", "Craftsmen-Artists" and "Helper-Savers".

In the first group you have all the Scientists, Inventors, Planners, Engineers, Architects and what not - people who generally use their brains to make their living. Even Walmart managers are in this bin.

In the second group are the people who are only happy when their hands are making something. Machinists. Potters. Sculptors. Woodworkers. Surgeons. Maybe not surgeons.

In the last group are your Bishop Tutus, Ned Flanderses and Mother Theresas, of course, but also counselors, schoolteachers, crossing guards and homeless-shelter organizers. And surgeons, probably. And paramedics (unless they were just unemployed and needed to cross-train.)

Painters and dancers and photographers and musicians fall into the "Interpreter" personality type. Wait. There is no such type.

Four. FOUR personality types.

Never mind.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tales of the worldwide influenza pandemic of 1918

Over 50 million died, worldwide. Close to 700,000 of these were in the United States. I'm told 700,000 is more than all the deaths, military and civilian in WWI. I don't know if that is true.

This story is taken from a U.S. Government website (Public Health Service) which chronicles the pandemic; part of the site consists of letters of reminiscences of that terrible time, written by the descendants of some of the victims and survivors.

I have a friend who has been reading about this 1918 "Spanish Flu" pandemic, and my interest was sparked by her. Hence this post.

The following story is about a Native American family in South Dakota in 1918, primarily about Sadie Afraid of His Horses-Janis as told by her descendent Vanessa Short Bull.

Sadie Afraid of His Horses-Janis

Sadie Afraid of His Horses Janis

Storyteller: Vanessa Short Bull

Location: Nebraska and South Dakota

This is the story of the 1918 flu pandemic as told by my 97-year-old grandmother, Sadie Afraid of His Horses–Janis. Sadie′s father, Frank Afraid of His Horses, is the son of Young Man Afraid of His Horses*; both men were influential Sioux leaders.

In September 1918, Sadie′s grandmother, Nancy Poor Elk– Red Cloud (wife of Jack Red Cloud) went with her family to Alliance, Nebraska to pick potatoes. The journey from Pine Ridge, South Dakota to Alliance was a five-day journey by wagon. “Spud Pickin” was an economic venture for the Indians on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation; it was a way to earn money and to buy food for the winter. The members of Nancy′s family who made this trip were: her son, Charles Red Cloud, his wife, and their three children (Charlie, Susie and Lucy); her daughter, Susie Red Cloud–Hand and her husband Joe Hand; daughter-in-law, Alice Red Cloud and her son, Melvin; mother-in-law, Sallie Black Bear; grandson, Edgar Red Cloud; and my grandmother Sadie and her parents Lucy and Frank, and Sadie′s siblings Zona and Paul.

The Red Cloud family had just finished picking potatoes at the end of October 1918 when they were told of “a real bad sickness that was coming and that they should start for home.” They had just started to break camp when the middle-aged members of the family started to get sick with the flu. The family decided to stay encamped at Alliance until they got well enough to travel back home to Pine Ridge.

The oldest children in the group were Sadie′s sister, Zona, and first cousin Nancy, who were sent to town to get groceries and fuel. Nancy spoke very little English, so Aunt Alice, who could speak and write English, wrote the note for the groceries. Zona was sent along as the interpreter. Sadie, who was 7 years old at the time, was fearful watching her sister and her cousin depart for town. Adding to the tension was the fear that her family would die from the flu. Also, the train would stop in Alliance to bring home the bodies of the soldiers who had died in WWI. It was eerie for the child to watch the constant stream of wagons going to the graveyard everyday to bury the soldiers and those who had died from the flu.

The Red Cloud family was anxious to get home because they had received word that members of their family had died from the flu, too. So, they started out from Alliance with the grandmothers′ driving the wagons. Sadie remembers that this was ironic since her cousin Edgar was the one who had driven their elderly grandmother′s wagon on the way to Alliance, but now he lay ill in the back of the wagon box and their grandmother was driving the horses. The family got to Gering, Nebraska when it started to rain. The drizzling rain made the members of the family who were suffering from the flu get worse. “Thankfully”, says Sadie, “A farmer told them to camp at his farm till the rain stopped.” Seeing that the situation was becoming dire, Nancy took charge and told everyone to stay in their tents and she would bring them food and medicine. Everyone who got sick was placed in a tent of their own. Nancy boiled a big bucket of flat cedar tea which she took from tent-to-tent to fill their individual cups. She made certain they used their own cups and that there was no sharing of personal items like washbasins or utensils. Nancy “smugged” the tents with sweet grass so they could breath better and to ward-off evil spirits. Severe coughing would close off their throats, so she mixed a teaspoon of kerosene and sugar together and fed it to them. Sadie′s father, Frank, was delirious with fever. Nancy rubbed an “ointment” on his forehead.

All the members of the Red Cloud family survived. Sadie says they all had a good laugh later remembering the sugar and kerosene. She was also happy that from that point onward everyone received their own personal items like washbasins, combs, and dishes.

As they recovered, the family continued home to Pine Ridge. When they reached Chadron, Nebraska, they bought winter supplies: beans, flour, sugar, salt, bacon and more white kerosene. They finally reached home in early November. Frank was so happy to get home that he jumped off the wagon and headed for his log cabin, but fell in a heap, not realizing how weak he still was from the flu.

On November 11, 1918, Sadie′s brother Paul came running home from town yelling that the war had ended. Church bells rang, guns were being shot into the air, and there were shouts of joy everywhere. Sadie says “it was the best time because the war had ended and the Red Cloud family had survived a “bad sickness”.

In her desperation, my great-grandmother, Nancy, had applied the principals of quarantine, prevented cross-contamination, provided hydration and inhalation therapy, and used pharmacology to save her family. To this day, my grandmother Sadie has a medicine bag with flat cedar, sweet grass, bitter-root, and green tea. However, she says she′ll pass on the kerosene and sugar.

Despite her advanced years, Sadie never complains of being sick, treats her minor afflictions herself, and has a better memory than people less than half her age. Sadie says the only pain in her life is the offense line of her beloved Denver Broncos football team.

Red Cloud cousins and sister

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Catching up

Aunt Maizy and Uncle Lester enroute to the Easter Parade, 1953:

"Too Slow Possum" (1998)

"Rudolph was flying high, when, suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere..." (24 Dec. 2007)

They say Walt never fully recovered from the sordid Grumpy-Sleeping Beauty affair, and began dressing like Vincent Price. (1959)


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