The Maglothin Precept: Given the choice between ethical accountability for those in charge or choosing a scapegoat, the janitor inevitably loses his job.
NSFW. Contains language about language.
*Yes, I know how to spell ‘grammar,’ but that’s the point.
The world is a small place sometimes. It’s hard to gauge where my ideas might reach. In places where people don’t know me, my ideas seem plausible. In others, people point to what I’ve written as a short-hand to get their point across. They write, “This,” with a link, or “This reminds me of you.” To be fair, many people also tell me I’m a moron, but with a lesser frequency that I would have otherwise expected to be the case.
When I write about people having the freedom to take back their own languages and use and abuse them as they see fit, most of the response is overwhelmingly positive. There is indeed a time and place for exacting language – and that time and place is normally one which doesn’t require our presence, much less enthusiasm, for it. The responsibility for language’s needless complexity does not fall upon the average user.
On one of my alter-ego projects, someone wrote me. She was irritated at a few of her well-meaning and passive-aggressive friends and family, some of whom apparently rejoice in being grammar police. She told me that several of her friends and family were afraid to post anything and sometimes say anything, anticipating the overzealous criticism. She had tried ignoring them, politely asking them to stop and finally, in a last-ditch effort, she started lashing out at them. She saw some of my craziness on someone’s blog and decided to offer me a chance to weigh in.
My appeals to tell those who think English is a fixed target should go jump in a frozen lake struck a chord with her. She said she had never thought of Standard English as a formal and shared means to learn a dialect that no one learned at home – or that spoken language drives the language no matter how many cries of anguish we hear from those invested in “correct English.”
“I need a way to get my point across, even with a sledgehammer, if necessary. What do you recommend?” she wrote.
“Well, if you’re all adults, I recommend avoiding behavior which invites more contempt. They’re not going to change, that much is obvious. It’s not a ‘you’ issue, not really. They need to gain esteem by policing other people. You can’t fix them, so you need to focus their attention away from you.” So far, so good, as I wrote back.
“First, it’s important that you politely tell each person who has been a pain in your rear to please stop and that further trolling is unwelcome. Then, each time one of your friends, family, or acquaintances pulls their grammar nonsense, send them this,” I wrote:
<To the grammar police: You put the ‘dick’ in ‘dicktionary.’ Regards, Don’t Care >
I told her to write it every time someone pulled out their bag of tactics on her – after they ignored one more final polite request to please stop. If they responded with anger, write the same thing, over and over. If they tried to police her in person, I told her to say it out loud, even in awkward social situations. I pointed out that her social faux pas was no greater than theirs, that of policing other adults in trivial matters.
“If that doesn’t work, let me know.” I wished her well and told her to follow through every time her hackles went up. I reminded her that it was senseless for her to get upset and to instead transfer that irritation back those being jerks. I warned that it would take time. She told me that a few of her friends and family had been torturing her for years and that a few weeks of concerted effort would be better than living the rest of her life under the thumb of a bunch of control freaks.
Several days later, she wrote me and told me that at first it really bothered her to be discourteous. After a few times, though, she got invested in the reaction. She had one last hold-out, though, a family member who tended to lash out about any topic, whether it be politics, religion, grammar, or how to fold towels in the guest bathroom.
I asked her to send me the name of the family member so that I could get a picture from their social media. After she did so, I told her to check her email and follow the instructions and to only follow them if the person torturing her didn’t heed one last polite request to please stop bothering her.
Over a week later, she wrote back, to tell me that it had worked beyond belief.
Her family member had become irate and sent an email and social media messenger blast to all their mutual friends and family, accusing her of lashing out without reason. Her family member didn’t stop to realize that it provided the victim with a list of everyone affected. She wrote back to all of them, asking them to let her know if they were interested in knowing the real story. Most did and after reading her explanation were completely on board. Almost all agreed that it would be better for everyone to ignore what they perceived as errors – and to certainly not condone those who continued to be jerks after politely being asked to step away or to bother someone else who had no objection.
The picture attached to this post is what she emailed, after begging and politely requesting relief at least a dozen times…
P.S. It’s important that anyone reading this understand that at each stage I insist that the first course of action is to respond with politeness and courtesy, even if the person making your life a living hades is beyond redemption.
P.P.S. I didn’t invent the word ‘dicktionary.’
The Brown / Hat Conundrum
As you comment to tell me that what I’ve said is stupid,
remember that you decided to waste a precious sliver of
your finite life to denigrate me or my opinion.
People angrily comment when they either recognize the
truth in a contrary opinion or they are insecure about
their own tenuous hold on the world. Lashing out at
another for expression is a self-accusation and an
acknowledgment that your beliefs don’t sustain scrutiny.
The more you resist this truth, the greater your disappointment will be.
It is an immutable law that the universe within you will seldom be recognized by those who know you best.
Worse than hearing about another person’s views is the blathering many men exhibit when boasting about how rare they prefer their meat -as if superiority or bragging rights are somehow conferred based on the observable blood volume of what’s being consumed.
Liking raw or rare meat is a bias based on arbitrary and variable individual human preference and therefore is covered by the “Food Opinion Edict.” (Summarized as, “All food is opinion.”)
Note: I’d rather lick the toilet in a bus station bathroom at noon on Saturday than eat under-cooked flesh.
Apostrophonies: a word to describe those dedicated to the linguistic contortions of logic and denial to justify the continued existence of the apostrophe.
After years of watching the apostrophe debate ebb and flow, I’m voting that we eliminate it. Most of our communication occurs verbally and we’ve survived centuries without needing to wave our arms when an apostrophe is needed.
The grammar brigade can gnash their teeth in protest as they make the tired argument that tradition trumps utility or that our collective language will lose some of its elegance. It’s snobbery to decry nonstandard usage and it bemoans the history of every single change to our language.
Elimination of the apostrophe isn’t a capitulation to the myth of uneducated misuse or modern texting; it’s an overdue necessity. Our language has continuously evolved, and usage determines its structure. We have no arbiter of official usage; “Standard English” is a myth perpetuated by those whose livelihood depends on it, comprising a cabal of dusty minds looking backward.
To make matters worse, many people don’t realize we have a verb to describe the insertion of an apostrophe: apostrophize. Or ‘apostrophise,’ if you’re in the country in which our language was birthed.
One can make subtle arguments regarding those instances when an apostrophe MIGHT reduce vagueness, but if this is your argument, you can’t turn a blind eye toward the other 3 dozen ways in which English contains aberrant structures which inhibit clear understanding.
Contractions, plurals, plural possessives, apostrophes-of-omission, and all other usages have exceptions which don’t further the objective of language or increase its beauty.
Like it or not, we can literally change the language in any manner we see fit. We’ll either rid ourselves of the apostrophe or worsen its usage as people struggle against its ongoing and needless usage in our language.
The apostrophe should get its coat and make a graceful exit before we kick it in the seat of the pants.
Purists might miss it but I’m certain they’ll find another rallying cry of illogic to focus on. Those insisting on tradition always do.
Please remember that I love language but despise the focus on mechanics. Language should not be an obstacle to expression.
P.S. Remember that I’m not advocating for a free-for-all in regards to all rules, so please cook up a better point about what I am NOT saying.
After reading a friend’s post about the perplexity of inattention for an artist, especially in this golden age of social media, I began to wonder whether a precise word exists for the sensation she was attempting to describe. I volunteered to create a word to encompass the described melancholy or resigned sensation, regardless of which method of expression the artist chooses.
Before going off on a wordy tangent, here’s my paraphrasing of what she was describing:
“…the untethered feeling a creative person gets when they see that an acquaintance shows deep interest in the happenings in some far-flung place or in the life of a distant stranger, acreage they’ll never traverse or people he or she will never meet and whose trajectory may as well be that of an alien star, often regarding some mundane subject, while turning a blind eye toward their expression, one which germinates in their own backyard…”
I think writers and artists might be the most prone to experience this detachment.
It’s ridiculously easy to share what others have created, to choose words and media designed to urge us toward an emotional reaction. Creating anything is an invitation to criticism; honest artists often share themselves.
Prophets are seldom appreciated in their own communities. Authors, painters, and musicians tend to be ignored until they become substantial; proximity stymies allure. “Familiarity breeds contempt” is a cliché with truth. We tend to need an outsider to tell us what we already know or we will reject the truth from those around us.
So many creative minds experience disconnectedness prior to recognition and when it comes, those same people comprising his or her initial disinterested audience clamor for reciprocity. It’s easy to overlook the fact that all those we find valuable once started with small voices, drawing, singing, writing and acting in small places. (And most of the time were labeled as eccentric or untalented.)
The biggest surprises come from the strangest places.
Doors to familiar houses seldom open to new rooms.
This is a modified version of a post I wrote in September of last year. It struck a chord in many places – and not all were harmonious.
I think we should adopt the word “Karl” as a code word to indicate that we love someone deeply, even as we live flawed lives. Whether we like to admit it or not, even when we are comfortable with people, ‘love’ is a catch in our throats, often reluctant to escape.
“Sling Blade” is an iconic movie. Each time I watch it, I see it from a different point of view, and not only because I am not quite the same person as the last time I watched it. As tragic as it is, it is evocative of a life of connections that I would cherish.
After Doyle kicks Karl out of the house, Linda drives up as Karl is shuffling away. “You light him up in his eyes, I’ve seen it. He wouldn’t know what to do without ye….” Karl tells Linda, referring to her son Frank. Linda calls out, “Karl?” as he leaves.
When Karl leaves Frank his books, the sum total of everything he holds to be valuable in life; inside is a bookmark with the words “You will be happy” written on it. As Karl walks away, Frank turns to the trees and shouts, “Karl?”
Karl knocks on Vaughan’s door and hands him all the money he has in the world when the door opens. He tells Vaughan that he would be a good daddy to Frank and that he won’t be judged for who he is. “That boy lives inside of his own heart. It’s an awful big place….” Karl says and ambles away. Vaughan calls out, “Karl?”
Of course, Doyle looks up off-screen at Karl as he raises the sharpened lawnmower blade to kill him: “Karl?” Doyle asks, after talking calmly with Karl about being killed by him.
The last spoken word in the movie by Doyle, Vaughan, Frank, and Linda is the same: “Karl…?”
As broken as Karl’s life was, he managed to touch each of those people’s souls by his words and presence. In response, each one was powerless to respond at the same level with Karl.
I think we should agree to use “Karl?” as a code word in our daily lives. Using it would be a signal that conveys our deep understanding of who and what the person with whom we are speaking means to us.
Some words are like knives passing our lips, even when coated with the warmest regard and sincerity.
Honesty is a sharp weapon and truth is a hard master. Even in love.
“Karl,” I whisper to you all.