Category Archives: Language

Heretoforward March

“Lymph, v.:  to walk with a lisp.”

One of my favorite people asked me half-jokingly if “heretoforward” was a word. When she used it, I understood it in context.

My short answer to the question? Yes, because it conveyed meaning.

Is it proper? Who cares?

I added it to my dictionaries to ensure I use it in the future without being reminded of some arbitrary rule.

“Heretofore” is a ‘real’ word. It supposedly means ‘before now,’ or ‘previously.’

If that stupid word is a ‘real’ word, then so too is ‘heretoforward.’ English is stuffed with ridiculous words, thousands of them, most of them orphans.

It reminds me of the word ‘overmorrow,’ which means ‘the day after tomorrow.’ It’s a good word, one that shouldn’t have fallen out of favor. If we’re going to use logic, let’s take a hard look at some of the rules we take for granted, especially those which make it hard for regular people to immediately understand how our language can be used. I didn’t put the word ‘properly’ in that last sentence because ‘proper’ is a unicorn.

Regarding language, I am not a perfectionist and certainly not a purist. I like language that breaks things and evolves rapidly. If you search the ‘language’ or ‘grammar’ tags of my blog, I’ll probably irritate you with my consistent message: language exists in its present form because we politely agree that it does. It really is that simple.

You can accuse me of laziness all you want. Heretoforward, it won’t bother me. I’ll be over here doing whatever I want with the language. I won’t stray too far because I’m not writing “A Clockwork Orange.” The point is to convey meaning. If I can do that while causing the purists’ hair to stand on end, even better.

Since I’m helping someone new learn a bit of Spanish, I find myself reminding her that English is a bastard language and trying to impose its arbitrary rules on other languages is a recipe for disgust.

P.S. Commenting to tell me how stupid I am wastes your time, not mine. Ha!

Language Belongs To All Of Us

“If we have to guess or spell words phonetically in order to be able to say them properly, why don’t we just change the spelling to be phonetic in the first place?”

I’m a better-than-average speller, but I despise the way our language makes people uncomfortable when using it. Most peoole use only 800 or so distinct words in a day. And most communication is verbal. One of my biggest pleasures is trashing the expectations of those who disagree. We all abuse the language in our own way. It belongs to all of us, to use and misuse as we wish.

Earlier, I witnessed a needless haranguing over language. I intervened jokingly. The self-appointed expert asked me something to exert dominance. I replied in Spanish. “I wasn’t talking in Spanish and I don’t understand it.” I laughed. “No, but he does, so who is the asshole now?”

I intended to write more, but I slipped and fell off my soapbox.

Don’t Forget Your Staplefortis!

Thanks to my friend Marilyn, I had to add the word ‘staplefortis’ to my editors and dictionaries.

Y’all better hope my dictionary isn’t the only one that survives as a repository for the English language after the next catastrophe. Since I disrespect the alleged sanctity and correctness of language, my dictionaries aren’t standard. I laugh when I scan through some of my nonsense: today, ‘dicktionary’ made me laugh. I also recall laughing when the popup, “Dicktionary added to Dictionary” occurred.

Marilyn’s mirthful dad often implied that a ‘staplefortis’ was a difficult-to-find part of the car under the hood (because imaginary is indeed hard to get your hands on), but I’ve managed to sneak it into several work-related things – and to also use it to connote, “Comedy through mundane goofiness.” When Marilyn first told me about her dad telling people to check the staplefortis under the hood, it evokes some of the madness my own dad enjoyed. His brand wasn’t safe, though. I’ve taken that sense of humor myself, except in my case I would undoubtedly send someone an invoice and bill them for a new staplefortis. If you can get people to buy milk and drink it, anything is possible. (Except buying an actual extended car warranty. If you don’t believe me, call someone and ask if you can buy one. 50-50% change your call will end if you do.)

It was Marilyn’s dad who also popularized ‘keg of buttholes,’ so I’m still waiting to see if the Dept. of The Interior might construct a statue of him to commemorate this fine phrase. I’m impressed how often ‘keg of buttholes’ can dispense both levity and clarity to a description. Especially in official work documents. Did it produce an odor? Yes, like a keg of buttholes might. No one leaves that sentence without a striking mental image.

I hope you keep your staplefortis maintained.

Mundane goofiness can be the most sublime because we can experience it in incremental bits throughout the day. Most of our lives are lived in the in-between moments anyway.

A Keg Of Buttholes

Marilyn asked me to memorialize one of her beloved Dad’s favorite sayings.

I told her I was making supper and she said she was about to go shower.

“I smell like a keg of buttholes,” she wrote, citing her dad, who was a poet in the truest sense of the word.

It is impossible to imagine what a keg of buttholes might smell like without immediately arriving at a conclusion.

Though he’s now departed, let’s remember his contribution to the English language by incorporating, “Smells like a keg of buttholes” into our vocabulary.

Are You Happy? (There’s a Joke In Here Just For you!)


P.J. O’Rourke said, “Don’t send funny greeting cards on birthdays or at Christmas. Save them for funerals, when their cheery effect is needed.”


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Instead of “Hello,” or “How are you?” why not ask this question instead: “Are you happy?” If someone calls you out for it, tell them you recently adjusted your medications. Only brave souls and people who would be awesome at parties will linger after that justification.

The obvious “is happiness the goal of life” nonsense aside, anything that catches a person’s ear beats the usual boring salutation. (Even yodeling, if you like that sort of thing. Just don’t take lessons if the instructor accepts coupons for his tutelage.)

Those who know me hear me say “Terrible!” frequently when someone asks, “How are you?” I often get a genuine laugh from it, especially if I ham it up in tone or volume. Hell, to be honest, I usually laugh first. It’s a spoiler alert at that point. Indeed, many people don’t notice the content of my response. That’s okay. It’s unreasonable to expect most people to notice anything unusual in the scope of an otherwise fill-in-the-blank moment. There’s probably a generalized indictment of society in there somewhere – but you won’t see me making it. (And not just because I detest the word “indictment.” Put the ‘dite’ in there, already.) We’re busy people, on the way to do essential things and argue on the internet about things that don’t affect us in any meaningful way.

By way of experiment, you should try it for yourself. “Terrible!” should be your response. Make it exaggerated. Enough people will laugh for you to be able to say, “I made you laugh.”

Only a real asshole resents a laugh.
Lucky for us, most of them work retail.

(I wrote the above quote as a marketing ploy. It seems to be accurate, much in the same way that no matter how many times you nibble on someone’s ear, it is always one time too few.)

Also, if my day, year, or life is temporarily or permanently terrible, it’s unwise to unload that fact onto others needlessly. You’re supposed to save those moments to inflict on your close personal friends and family. That’s what they get for staying inside your orbit. If you read that without realizing it was peckishly funny, you need to switch to decaffeinated coffee.

If you’re feeling adventurous, use “Not hello” in place of “Goodbye” and “Not goodbye” for “Hello.” Other languages have words that mean both “goodbye” and “hello.” If you’re a fan of the phrase, “Good day” can mean both in modern English, even if no one will immediately understand it in both contexts.

If none of those methods suit you, I propose that all your salutations use ONLY consonants. (Sorry, Finland.) If you think that would be hard to do, imagine the inhabitants of Papua New Guinea, which has 820 living languages.

If you don’t believe words can work magic and light your mind with fire, consider this: “The problem with sex in the movies is that the popcorn usually spills.”

Since I always work this joke into these conversations, you can also adopt one I stole from a comedian. He says, “DiGiorno,” like the pizza brand, to say both “hello” and “goodbye.” Though the joke is old now, I still laugh most of the time when I use it. I said “DiGiorno” to a doctor this morning, much to my amusement. I’m not sure what he thought I said, but he replied, “Same to you!” with a grin. I’m hoping that it worked itself into his subconscious, and he later opted for pizza for lunch.

One of the things on my bucket list is to be on a ship that’s sinking. I’m going to run up to the Captain and ask him which lifeboat is the non-smoking one.

Back to the “Are you happy?” premise.

I think if you make eye contact and use it enough, you’ll eventually get an answer that is so honest that it surprises you. You might learn something about another person. For example, you might also learn that the person is nuts. But that’s something.

So, I ask you: Are you happy?

I’ll stop and listen either way. I’m hoping you are, and that ridiculous things like the one you’re reading can trigger a smile in your heart. That’s where you spend most of your day, anyway, listening to the narrative of your internal voice. Say “Not hello” to that voice and say something creative and ridiculous to those around you.

It’s 2020. Normal was evicted and displaced by whatever we choose to put there.

P.S. “The last thing I want to do is insult you. But it IS on the list.” – Anonymous

Oof

“Oof.”

Such a facile word, one rapid syllable. It is supposed to mean “expressing discomfort, surprise, or dismay.” Generally, it also is used to convey a gut-punch or calamity. A recent copyright dispute brought up the previous and singular connotation for the word.

As happens in life, the word transitioned for me without my recognizing it. It was an incremental change until the lever sprung, and it suddenly acquired a different meaning, much in the same way you peer into the eyes of someone you’ve known and see a depth that you’d skirted around unknowingly.

Oof: a sudden emotional reaction, usually characterized by intense pleasure or divination.

The word now carries a paralyzing and gossamer overtone for me.

I’ll ask you to whisper the word internally, in a quiet moment. Find a place, person, or time in your guarded heart of memories and say the word as you vividly remember it. If you pay homage sufficiently, you’ll be able to see “oof” in the same way.

The word is mine now.

It is shorthand for the unuttered but not unfelt contagion of bliss or glimpse of what lies beneath.

Potato-Peeled Heart

The title of this post popped into my head as I ran from work today. All of us have our struggles. I catch myself in surprise by the dusk in my head. Though I wasn’t consciously thinking about it, I’d walked across the parking lots and sidewalks in the rain, still wearing my mask. It was an absurd moment. “Lost in my thoughts” doesn’t begin to describe the floorless circumstance of my mind. If you’re lucky, you’ve had meditative moments of selflessness like that. In dense moments, they often save us from what streams in our heads.

Ricardo Arjona recently released another album. One of the songs, “El Amor Que Me Tenía,” among others, hit me like an anvil. I learned a lot of poetry and vocabulary from Arjona. He’s known for his turn of phrase. It fundamentally resonates with me. Musicians like him broke open the capacity in me to see beyond language. If Spanish were to become my primary language, I would devote myself to speaking like Ricardo Arjona writes his music, no matter how perplexed people become. I find myself wishing we spoke English the same way, too, but it is difficult to find anyone interested and willing to spend the day deconstructing the absurdity and content of what we say. (Yes, such a willingness is one of the things by which I evaluate a person. Those who demonstrate such an interest won’t ever be disappointed by circumstance.)

One of my co-workers from another department is an avid Arjona fan, too. He got excited when he realized that I had the new album. It amazes him that a gringo like me can appreciate such musicians’ subtle capture in his native language. I brought it, and though we don’t overlap many hours a week at work, I played it on the computer/jukebox I rebuilt at work. Today, my co-worker returned briefly to pick up something. He asked me to put “El Amor Que Me Tenía” on again. I did and increased the volume in the vast space to the point that the angels trembled. I left him there in the back of the room. As the song started, he sat and listened with the rapt attention of one enthralled. It’s rare to see another adult so rapturously engage with a song. When the song ended, he stayed seated for the next song. He emerged from the shadowy area in the back and looked reinvigorated. Whatever it is in that song, it found its way inside him. We now have a shorthand we can use to connect to that kind of music and message.

Whatever the moment with his immersion in the song was, it is a shame that we don’t have such moments several times a day. They ground us in our humanity, and in the parts of our lives we let slide from our grasp.
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P.S. “This amazing story was brought to you by me.”
(A line I felt obligated to steal from a winsome writer.)

How Do You Say

After decades of watching people, I can share an obvious secret with you.

People don’t work to learn another language because it exposes us to our ignorance. It’s not because they’re lazy. They are nervous or scared. If you find someone who doesn’t fear their ignorance being on display as it diminishes, keep that person in your life. They are rare. All of us start from complete ignorance for every language. When we already know one before starting a new one, what we think we know trips us like an endless bucket of banana peels.

If you are lucky enough to speak English as a first language, trust me when I tell you that you won the lottery without purchasing a ticket. Please do everything in your power to forgive others as they struggle with the mess we’ve made of our language. Please take a second and consider that they’re using another language. I know that the necessity of needing to speak or write another language ADDS pressure to those in that position and adds difficulty. Whether it is the case for you, I’m an idiot if a proverbial gun is to my head.

Also, if your accent is remotely like mine, you might sound a bit weird. As the old joke says, the last thing you want to hear your brain surgeon say is, “Y’all are going to be alright.” I’ve butchered so many words that I should have a Dexter spinoff. One thing some don’t know about me, though, is that language is a melody that excites me, and when I find myself forgetting what once was at my disposal, I feel a bit of loss.

For language, all any reasonable person is going to ask is that you try. It helps to be able to laugh at yourself. People learning other languages is a joy to witness. There’s no better comparison than observing a child conquer something complex; mastery soon seems inevitable. Laughter and self-observance is a considerable part of a good learning plan.

Yes, people don’t take the time, that’s true. With a couple of other people before, I proved to them that a person could learn a LOT of another language by just learning one word a day. Like all learning, words begin to associate, stick to another, and create grooves in your brain that you might even realize have formed, in the same way lyrics fall surprisingly from your lips. You’ll soon learn phrases, insults, and wit. Anyone lucky enough to hit the milestone of laughing at a joke that isn’t directly translatable experiences a deep satisfaction at having done so. For me, I will never forget the abstract joy of telling my Sarge/Lieutenant On the Edge of The Prairie joke in Spanish.

Most of us only use around 800 different words a day. I’m not talking about Tiffany or Jessica, who seems to rattle off 800 a minute. They only use four different words, and two of them are both the word “like.” Sorry, Tiffany.

Truthfully, it is not the words per se that create difficulty for us. It’s the connecting words and the ridiculous verb tenses we allow in our language. If you can overcome your initial fear, you can communicate a lot of information using words as a toddler does. You don’t need the word “sublime” in your vocabulary during a typical day – nor do you need to master the future perfect tense, subjunctive or otherwise, in either English or the language you are learning.

I know there are people out there who have always toyed with the idea of another language. If you learn nothing else from me, please hear this: if I can get to a decent level of mastery, anyone can. Even if you only remember a few words, those few words will push your mind outside of its normal limits.

Never

“I say never never.”
-Lynette, a wise person

This a variation on the premise of the Trump Rule: Damn near anything is possible, so stop thinking otherwise.

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I thought I’d keep this one short, so you can ponder the grammar and significance of reading “I say never never” multiple ways.

iii-xxiv-mmxx

In the midst of this torrent of surprise and unforeseen circumstance, some of us have found means to engage our sense of morbidness and humor simultaneously.

I’ve always been more extroverted and loud as a Spanish speaker. One of my catchphrases is catching on. No one means any disrespect.

In fact, because we are in the barrel of this thing together, we’ve earned a bit of leeway from outsiders.

I created a shorthand way to say, “Hey, we’re above ground and working when a steadily increasing number of people aren’t.”

In Spanish, it’s “Los muertos no caminan.”

It literally means, “the dead don’t walk.”

I use it as a greeting, as a reminder – and honestly, almost as a tentative prayer.

Not all of us are going to see the end of this spectacle. None of us will be unscathed.

But we’re still walking with a bit of either optimism or denial.

Above it all, we nod and smile as we say, “Los muertos no caminan.”

I hope to see us all on the other side of this.