Historical Illiteracy Insults My Intelligence

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Language evolves.  For instance, the word “conversation” used to have a sexual connotation while “intercourse” meant something more like conversation.  Let’s be glad the censors aren’t industrious enough to try banning older books with “intercourse” in them.

Unfortunately, the public doesn’t understand how language changes.  Meanings sometimes shift over time; occasionally, such developments happen suddenly.

Soon after September 11, 2001, Americans came to associate the term “ground zero” with the World Trade Center site.  If you say ground zero to almost any American, that’s all that will come to their mind.  The earlier definition was erased: the spot where an atomic or nuclear weapon hits the earth.

But the greatest travesty emerges when the public, in effect, censors old works because they use the term “ground zero” in an “inappropriate” way.  Entire works of art and other cultural products become nothing more than incomprehensible anachronisms as a couple of historical chapters are forgotten.  I’m sure quite a few Japanese (should) take issue with this revision of history and public memory, as should anyone who ever had to “duck and cover.”

But I’m not here to write about Hiroshima and Nagasaki…

I bring you a song from 1986 that was commonly played at Christmastime until “ground zero” took on its new meaning.  Now we don’t hear the song as much.  You’d think that people could tell from the context that the song isn’t about the 9-11 attack site.

On the other hand, I once knew a guy who thought the song “Jesus He Knows Me” by Genesis was a great religious tune because it featured the word “Jesus.”  So one probably can’t realistically expect people to pay attention to anything more than a keyword or two.

Anyway, the video is below.  Since stores will be putting up their Christmas decorations in a few weeks, let’s have some Cold War holiday fun.

Pen Pals Insult My Intelligence

A small United States Postal Service truck see...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To make something unpalatable to a sixth grader, assign it as homework.

My teacher didn’t quite realize this and decided to match all of her students with pen pals from far far away… but not far enough away to make the exercise interesting.  This was back before email had caught on, so we were using good old fashioned pen and paper.  And the first letter or two counted towards our grade.

To make matters worse, we wrote the initial letter before knowing who we were being matched with.  So, technically, we weren’t even writing to anyone. That’s always a good start.

And then someone finally did the pairing.  I don’t know what logic they used but I ended up with a basketball player.  That’s all I remember about her because she sent pictures of herself in uniform.  (This was with her first letter.)  Brilliant idea.  I had a baseball card collection a long time back but I was no athlete and no fan of watching sports.  And, generally speaking, I probably would have never chosen to befriend this girl.   She just wasn’t my type.

I don’t remember whether my teacher required us to write a second letter.  However, I do remember that I never wrote again after the requirement ended.   My teacher’s attempt to inspire regular writing might have worked better if someone in charge had known how to match pen pals effectively.

It would never have occurred to me that the person on the other side was expecting another reply.  I don’t know what she and her classmates were told about this whole pen pal thing, but hopefully our level of excitement hadn’t been misrepresented.  In any case, she eventually sent me a “why haven’t you written?” letter.  I don’t remember any details but I didn’t respond.  No one ever asked me if I wanted a pen pal and, since I was twelve and only understood the exercise as a homework assignment, I couldn’t understand why someone would be so into interacting sporadically with someone they had never met, have nothing in common with, and likely would never meet.

And then I received another letter from her in 11th or 12th grade.  With another picture, again in basketball uniform and with enormous hair.  If she was insinuating “look at this hot woman you missed out on,” I didn’t catch it.  Perhaps it’s because she still wasn’t my type.

And then she finished high school and became a porn star.

Just kidding.  I never heard from or about her again and I can’t say I’m disappointed.  It probably helps that I don’t have a personal Facebook account.  And I would love to leave you with a warm and fuzzy moral to this story but I don’t feel like it today.  So here’s what I’ve got:

Once upon a time, you could ignore “friends” you had never met and get away with it without encountering much creepiness.  Those were the good old days.

Job Applications Insult My Intelligence

application time

(Photo credit: Mouse)

People like to ask me what’s cooking with my job search.  Unfortunately, I’m the one who’s cooking.  It’s to be expected in this economy.

And even more so because I have a Ph.D.

We all know that you have to arouse an employer’s hunger when you’re applying for jobs.  Employers seek specific entrees and they often spell out the required and preferred ingredients.

However, things change a little when your education is Piled Higher and Deeper because no one knows what to do with your ingredients.  When I apply for jobs, I present a recipe for myself that should taste good to employers.  Employers, in turn, have envisioned their own recipe for a Ph.D. like me.

Therefore, I offer two dueling recipes to you today: theirs (in red) and the one I wish I could submit to employers in its entirety (in blue).

Ingredients:

An extra decade of sitting passively in class.  (This makes the entree stale.)

One year of coursework beyond a Master’s and ten sticks of buttery independent work

Barely one speck of discernable skills

Three heaping tablespoons each of long term planning, research, writing, foreign language, oral communication, teaching, intercultural competence, technology, instructional design, etc.

Fifteen tons of unbearable intellectual snobbery

Five gallons of experience keeping my “snobby” opinions to myself (when I’m not blogging)

Zero personality. None whatsoever.

Zero personality. None whatsoever.

100,000 British Pounds of excessive salary expectations because of the high wages professors make in comparison

Two British Pounds of recognition that many college teachers need food stamps to survive  (Sprinkle with one iota of understanding that a British Pound is not a unit of measurement plus a hint of irony.)

Immeasurable dedication to the major he completed the degree in… because no one finishes the degree otherwise

Too many years of work invested to quit before finishing the degree… even though I had become weary of the whole thing.  Mix that with 250 kilograms of endurance (one kilogram for each page of the dissertation)

27 pints of writing incompetence because he didn’t major in English

A sprinkle of wishes that people knew you don’t have to complete a particular college major to develop the skills it certifies.  For example, one can improve one’s writing by completing a 250-page dissertation and composing written feedback to students, plus emails and classroom materials, etc.

8 liters of slow-paced anti-deadline serum

A half dozen baking sheets of homework, every night, corrected and returned to students plus a dose of rapidly graded tests and essays.  And several lesson plans each week.

Less than a pinch of interest in trying anything new

Solid chocolate block of disgust for the old rinsed under a steady stream of warm eagerness for the new

Teaspoon of concentrated Love Of Old extracted from his insatiable desire to return to the ivory tower

Nothing sour or spicy (because speaking ill of former employers kills your job application)

20,000 packages of bloviating yeast because these educated folk explain everything on and on and on and on and on

20,000 packages of bloviating yeast because people don’t automatically understand how a Ph.D. qualifies me for a job.  Applications don’t rise unless you can connect your qualifications to the position.  If I had a BA in the preferred major, I wouldn’t have to explain and I would probably lack the writing skills to do so.

One million dollars worth of sterling credentials that should have allowed him to find a job anywhere he wanted, plus three cups of laziness

A dozen daily complaints that everyone assumes a Ph.D. makes it easier to get hired… and then they refuse to hire me because of it.  (Sear these on a grill first.)

Cooking Directions:

Place immediately in circular file for all eternity!

Insert behind desk and savor the aroma!

Um… no, that’s not what I meant by “savor the aroma.”  I meant that I would have a positive impact on the people around me.  Yeah, that’s it.

Email Greetings Insult My Intelligence

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I’m unemployed and, as you can probably imagine, I spend a fair amount of time on my job search.  Looking for a job isn’t always as thrilling as people usually make it out to be.  In today’s digital age, the pitfalls are greater than ever before.

Back before the dawn of online communications, people would check the newspaper want ads or go to agencies in person or do whatever else was popular back then.  I wouldn’t know.  But these days, one must often apply by email and this can be tricky.  For example, a job advertisement might look something like this:

We are looking for a new employee with the standard set of qualifications.  To apply, please send a resume and cover letter to Terry J. Squawchawk at tjsquawchawk@hippocraticfunicular.samba.com

Since I’m addressing a specific person, I now have to devise an appropriate greeting for my email.  In the old days, I imagine that people could just say “Dear Sir or Madam” on those occasions when they were required to submit a letter.   Because advertisers paid newspapers by the word or letter, a contact person’s name was presumably not published unless it was absolutely necessary.  Consequently, applicants could also choose to address their letters to the HR department.

Life was simpler back then.

These days I have to know whether Terry J. Squawchawk is a man or woman because “Dear Sir or Madam” would be offensive.  And since one can’t always learn someone’s gender online, one must sometimes devise creative solutions.  Here are a few alternative salutations I’ve considered:

Dear Bodacious One,

O Captain My Captain,

Hey you!

To the boss of my dreams,

Yo bitch!

Hail Terry, full of grace,

To whom it may concern,

Hey hey Terry J!

Moo!

Your Majesty,

Hail to the Chief!

Oompa loompa doompety doo – I’ve got an application for you,

If you have any better ideas, please let me know.  Appropriate email greetings are critical and I don’t want to mess things up.

Bad Timing Insults My Intelligence

greek god

(Photo credit: giopuo)

A writer’s inspiration can strike at any time.  Fortunately, one can bring a pen and paper almost anywhere.  Well, I suppose you shouldn’t scribble notes at 65 mph on the highway.

However, I rarely need to use a highway.

On the other hand, I can’t avoid showering.  After I make my daily decision not to offend the vigilantes of cleanliness, I constantly come up with ideas for this blog.  How inconvenient!  Pen and paper don’t exactly work in a wet environment.

I conclude from this that I share a trait with numerous distinguished writers: the ability to productively commune with the Greek gods.  It’s just me and my body in the shower (and some soap too) and I draw strength from observing the divinity manifested in me.

And now it’s time to ruin my comedic timing.  You see, this is where most writers would put a self-deprecating joke about being fat, ancient, or not so well endowed in certain bodily regions.  We don’t go for that kind of predictable humor here at Bumblepuppies.

That means you’re going to have to do without a final punchline from me today.  I’m sorry.

Dictionaries Insult My Intelligence

Patty, the Boobs

This person might be a boob. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was originally going to write a post about stupid people called “Boobs Insult My Intelligence.” However, a funny thing happened on my way to the publish button.

I went to dictionary.com to make sure I was using the word “boob” correctly; I rarely, if ever, hear the word used with its “stupid person” definition.  It turns out that my usage was correct but I discovered that dictionaries have apparently gone through some inappropriate sensitivity training.

According to every dictionary on that website, the reference to female anatomy is listed as the second definition or lower.  (Reminder: the first definition a dictionary lists is supposed to be the word’s most typical usage.)  The first definition for “boob” is always something to the effect of “a stupid person.”

That can’t be right.  If you ask 100 people to define  “boob,” “stupid person” will not enter their minds immediately.

But there’s more!

Etymologically, “boob” originates from “booby.”  Once again, the first definition given for booby is “stupid person.”  In the dictionary based on the 2013 Random House, this other meaning also appears in the first entry for “booby” (and the anatomical slang doesn’t appear until the second entry):

a gannet of the genus Sula,  having a bright bill, bright feet, or both: some are endangered.

The Collins English Dictionary tells us that “booby” can refer to a stupid person, but here are the other two definitions:

2- ( Brit ) the losing player in a game

3- Compare gannet any of several tropical marine birds of the genus Sula : family Sulidae, order Pelecaniformes  (pelicans, cormorants, etc). They have a straight stout bill and the plumage is white with darker markings

English: Red-footed Booby (Sula sula) on the G...

Red-footed Booby (Sula sula) on the Galapagos Islands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Collins does not mention anatomy at all.

I realize that “boob” and “booby” are not appropriate terms to use in everyday conversation when referencing a woman’s body… and rightly so.  Still, I find it odd that the most commonly used definition of these words is buried under much less prevalent meanings.  And that’s when the anatomical reference didn’t completely disappear from the dictionary’s listings.

It’s now time for the moral of the story.   Actually, I have three of them for you:

1- You can’t remove an offensive word from the language by removing it from the dictionary.  The word becomes conspicuous through its absence and people will talk about it when they normally wouldn’t.  For example: me, right now.

2- You can’t remove an offensive word from people’s minds by prohibiting its use in polite conversation.  Although I’m writing this post as a serious observation about dictionaries, I’m sure my constant use of the word “boob” will attract substantial snickering… as will the first picture in this post.

3- Dictionaries can be fascinating even when they insult your intelligence… unless you’re a boob.

Writing Rules Insult My Intelligence

If you read my blog regularly, you know that I like to participate in the weekly writing challenges that WordPress sponsors.  This week, they want bloggers to eliminate all unnecessary verbiage from some old writing, thereby enlivening it.

They’ve centered the challenge around a classic piece of writing advice and I would never say anything negative about the folks who will choose whether I’ll become freshly pressed one day.  However, I also want to have fun.  With that in mind, I present a new version of my longest post to date: “The New ‘Teen Spirit’ Insults My Intelligence.”  I based the original on an observation I’d had: how interesting that we have an iconic song about teenagers that starts with the words “load up on guns and bring your friends.”  The original post integrated the song’s complete lyrics to discuss school shootings and irresponsible sexual behavior.  This time, the condensed style will amplify the message… in a manner of speaking.

Caveman writing

Me write like caveman. Me write good. (Image credit: PositiveDope)

They asked us to “be brutal,” so here we go:

Shooter: Me loser.  Me find friends.  We get guns.

Shooter: Horny girl stupid.  Me no like horny girl.  She no use condom.  Boyfriends stupid too.  Want “entertainment.”

Shooter: Life hard.  People give me hard time.  Me no deserve.

Shooter: Me horny too.  Me want horny girl. Me no need condom.

Horny Girl:  Me no loser.  Me get laid before 40.  Boys stupid.

Boys: We stupid.  We popular.  We no happy.

Shooter: We attack.  They sad.

Boys: Entertain us.  Now.  Always.

Sick boy: Me see nurse.  Balls hurt.

Teacher: Me no like kids.  Me want drink.

Narrator: Shooter shoots.  Shooter tackled.  Shooter crushed.

Shooter: Waaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Horny girl: Me no like sex no more.  Me no stop.

Sick boy (to nurse): Me sick.

Nurse: You be OK.

Sick boy: Me sick.  ME SICK!!!!!!!

Nurse: You be OK, me think.  Maybe you die.

Horny girl: Me stupid.  Me not important.  Guidance counselors suck.

Sick boy: Me miss childhood.

Community: Old people innocent.

Community: We no worry.  Kurt Cobain not sick.

Community: Culture sick.

Community: No can stop shootings.

Community: Why no stop shootings?

Community: We low.  No way up.

Community: No can ruin life.

Community: All teenagers stupid.

Moral of the story #1: Cavemen aren’t always entertaining.

Moral of the story #2: There’s more to writing than conveying meaning efficiently.  Do what best addresses your unique audience and purpose in a given situation.  Don’t go overboard with concision.