More of those trying English words

I recently wrote of the difficulties the English language poses with words that are similar, but have meanings that are so different. Since I do many a crossword puzzle, I come across words that remind me of this fact, but also encourage me to go find a dictionary. As I noted earlier, I like words that I actually might use or hear someone use in a conversation and am not too keen on words that only share how smart the speaker is or who would like to seem.

Here are a few more sets of words to ponder.

Divine and divine: The noun divine can mean godlike or sacred and it can also mean lovely or handsome. Yet, the verb divine means to surmise or guess the solution to a problem.

Seer, sere, sear: Homonyms anyone? Three similar words with different meanings. Seer is a prophet, while sere means dry or arid as in a desert. And, not to be outdone, sear means to char as in a steak.

Prescribe and proscribe: Another pairing where one letter changes the nature. Prescribe means to order, as in a doctor ordering a prescription. Proscribe means to forbid.

Vain, vane, vein: More homonyms. Vain conjures up a Carly Simon song meaning arrogant. Vane usually refers to a weather vane, but is a broad blade attached to a rotating axis. Vein of course is the vessel to return the blood to the heart, but could also mean a distinctive quality.

Prosaic and mosaic: The former is often confused with the latter, but prosaic means commonplace. Mosaic is not commonplace meaning artistic or painted glass placed into a stone setting.

Precede and proceed: They sound similar, but precede means to go before. Proceed means to begin. You should proceed, before someone precedes you.

That is enough confusion for one day. So, when Simon sings, “you’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you,” you will know how to spell it.

Life’s Little Instruction Book – an old gift

On my first Father’s Day many years ago, my wife gave me “Life’s Little Instruction Book” compiled by H. Jackson Browne, Jr. I was leafing through it today as it lay on an upstairs table near my computer. Here are few of the 511 pearls of wisdom that can be found therein.

#454 – Show respect for everyone that works for a living, regardless of how trivial their job.

#276 – Patronize local merchants even if it costs a little more.

#186 – Be insatiably curious. Ask “why” a lot.

#158 – Pray not for things, but for wisdom and courage.

#107 – Smile a lot. It costs nothing and is beyond the price.

#246 – Wave at children on school’s buses.

#426 – Share the credit.

#375 – Take charge of your attitude. Don’t let someone else choose it for you.

#127 – Wear the most audacious of underwear under the most solemn business attire.

#58 – Always accept an outstretched hand.

Many of the above are not among the usual instructions. The first two remind me of what we need to do more of in today’s pandemic. Of course, the more startling one is my favorite about “audacious underwear.”

It reminds me of the a staid company I worked for, where the very dignified manager of a department had an “underwear optional” day for the troops. Going commando was never so much fun.

The last one is hard, but should not be. Why don’t we want to accept help? After 9/11, America’s approval ratings were at its highest. Other countries wanted to help, but we did not accept it very well. That was unwise.

The one I gravitate to the most and often advise is a variation of don’t cede your power to someone else. Take charge of your attitude. You are not offended, if you do not take offense.

Bloom where you are planted

Bloom where you are planted. I read this phrase from an article that cited it as advice the author’s mother gave her. Sometimes, we go places where we must. Maybe you are a trailing spouse or the child of a family whose breadwinning parent moves a lot. Maybe the better job offer you get is in another place. So, you go and get replanted.

Now, the path forward is up to you. You can cry, bitch and moan. If you are young, you can throw a tantrum. If you are old, you can become colder or invest only in your work and less in the community. Or, you can bloom. You can look at the opportunity to make the most of the situation. You can invest with water, sunshine and effort and bloom.

My wife will lament about how good certain former neighborhoods were. After she does this, I say it was nice because you were in it. You made it nicer. You welcomed people to our home and made new friends. You invested in the neighborhood and bloomed. And, we (and they) bloomed as well.

Although our kids have moved away, with one return exception since COVID-19 altered his travel plans to teach abroad, we had a house that welcomed our kids’ friends. As a result, we seemed to have a constant state of flux with all the guests that came to play and hang-out. Neither of us would have it any other way. Hearing your children and their friends laughing is the greatest sound any parent can hear.

I chose the investment word not to mix metaphors, but to encourage folks to invest time and energy in their new place. It is like marriage – if you invest in your spouse, it will make the marriage last. If you don’t, the marriage, or in this case, your time in the new community will suffer.

So, it is up to you. Bloom where you are planted. Make the most of any situation. How you react to any change is truly the greatest power you have. Don’t cede that power. Bloom.

Why is the English language so difficult?

In one of life’s ironies, the citizens of the United States speak an Americanized version of the English language, yet so few Americans bother to learn a second language. It has been argued that English is one of the most difficult languages to learn, yet because of the exploration of the English and the success of two large English speaking economies, people feel the need to learn it.

I inherited from my mother a love of Crossword and other word (and number) puzzles. As I wait for my computer to boot up, I will pick up a pocket dictionary close by and just leaf through it, testing myself on words that I may use or need. I do not prefer to know arcane words, as using them will be more pretentious than communicative. There are some editorial writers who prefer to show how smart they are rather than make the reader understand what they are saying.

But, why does English have to be so difficult? Here a few case in points.

Ingenious vs. Ingenuous – the first word means clever or resourceful, while the second word means naive or artless. Only one letter divides an insult from a compliment.

Impunity vs. Impugn – the first word means free from harm or punishment, while the second word means to challenge as false or questionable.

Reproach vs. Rapprochement – the first word means to blame or rebuke, while the second word means an establishing of friendly relations.

Glib vs. Glum – while these words sound like they are similar, the first word means fluent or a good talker of banter, while the latter means gloomy. I have often said glib is one word that means the opposite of what you think.

Curate vs. Curator vs. Curative – the first word means a clergyman helping a vicar, while the second word means a manager of a museum, while the third means having the power to cure or offer remedy.

While I was compiling these words, I was reminded of the great college and NBA basketball player David Robinson. Robinson attended the Naval Academy and served his country after his graduation. A very smart man embodied this 6’11” basketball player. When a reporter asked him why he was good at blocking shots, he said he did not want others driving the lane with “impunity.” The reporters had to go find a dictionary.

What are some of your favorite, confusing English words? Before I leave, my wife and I watch the show “Law and Order – Special Victims Unit.” At the introduction to the show, the narrator mentions the special unit that handles crimes that are “heinous.” Now that is a word that means what it sounds like.

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum – a reprise

Since we all need a dose of humor these days, the following is a repeat of a post I wrote seven years ago.

With due credit to Zero Mostel, I borrowed the title from one of his funniest movies to share some of my, my family and my friends’ more comical moments which you might find amusing. In some, I conducted the act, where others I witnessed. I hope you will enjoy and laugh with me, as I laughed the hardest on a few that I did.

1. Always have a spare quarter – In high school, I was fortunate enough to play on a good baseball team in a pretty competitive conference of large schools around the city. Where I grew up, there was a large river that had numerous toll bridges. Returning from an afternoon baseball game still in uniform, I was driving with a couple of teammates as we approached the toll booth. None of us had a quarter for the toll. As we debated our action strategy, we noticed the car in front of us included some of our teammates. Just before I got out of the car to ask them for the toll money, their door opened and one came back to ask us if we had any quarters, of which they had none as well. We had to ask a toll keeper for leniency as we begged our way through. Yet, we had to say, “you’re not going to believe this, but we don’t have any money either.”

2. Dueling Air Guitars – Before Rock Band, doing air guitar in public was usually not seen. It was something you did in front of the mirror. Keeping with the baseball theme, I was at bat in practice when two of my good friends who teased me for being a head-banger (hard rock fan) decided to have some fun. With one in right field and one in center field, they did one leg up, hopping air guitars toward each other passing in right-center field. Another friend who was pitching had to turn around to see why I was hysterical with laughter. My hitting was not strong during this at bat as a result.

3. Community Plays are dangerous – On a double date with a girl I really liked, we decided to go to a community play. Since it was in a church hall, they had these choral risers in place to create an amphitheater affect.We sat with fold out chairs in the back row about three feet off the ground. After a wine and cheese intermission, we re-seated with wine containers still in hand. As I tilted back and drank mine, I noticed my date was going forward. Actually, it was me going backwards as one of my chair legs was off the riser and I was falling. What became one of the loudest booms, everyone (including the actors) turned to see the big tall guy on the floor splattered on a folded up chair. Fortunately, the play had not restarted and even more so, I was not hurt. But, it sure was funny. I did get a another date, but we went to a safer venue.

4. Joseph, David what’s in a name? – When my boys were little they roomed together. We would always read a story to them and one of the books we read from was filled with biblical tales and songs. On one night, I left the book downstairs and decided to sing one of the songs from memory. You may recall the song, “Only a Boy Named David” telling the tale of his slaying of Goliath. Well in this case, I mixed biblical names and began “Only a Boy Named Joseph…..” After a couple of verses, my youngest boy who was about four, said “but… Dad, I ..thought…his… name…was…David?” to which we all burst out laughing.

5. Jumping on a bed can be dangerous – In another bed time reading incident, I decided to hurl my body onto my youngest son’s bed which was about a foot away from the wall. Unfortunately, my momentum carried me off the bed and down the foot crevice between bed and wall. Mom came hustling in to see what all the racket was as Dad was stuck trying to pry himself loose. Needless to say, sleep time was delayed due to the laughter which ensued.

6. You won’t believe what your son is doing – My oldest son is a climber and we have had some scary moments because of it. This was not one of them. My wife called me at work to tell me my son (hers too, but he was mine now) had climbed to the top of a forty-foot magnolia tree and in front of all of the neighborhood girls was peeing off the tree. She described it as a rainbow of urine. My wife was giggling so hard, she could not tell him to come down for a few minutes. And, just to have an extra witness, his Godmother was there as well.

7. Same son, another climbing incident – In our first house, there were built-in floor to ceiling bookshelves in the children’s bedroom by the door. Downstairs one evening, we heard this clump, clump, clump and went up to investigate. When we peeked in the room, we at first could not find him. On closer notice, we saw behind the door, he had thrown off the books and was sitting at the very top shelf with a big grin on his face swinging his legs.

8. We may not be permitted back in this store – At a local furniture store, my youngest son needed to go as my wife and I were looking for furniture. So, I walked him into the restroom and when he decided he wanted to go by himself, I checked making sure that no one was in there So, I walked outside and stood guard. For some reason, he decided the elevated wall urinal was a toilet and proceeded to do a number 2 in it. When I peeked in, I quickly grabbed him to take him to the toilet. Unfortunately, the missiles were flying so we plopped, plopped, plopped on our way to the toilet. After cleaning him up and making sure he was with his Mom, I said I will be a few minutes and told her about my new mission to clean up. That was some expensive furniture.

9. One word can make a difference – Back in the 1990’s, my company took pride in being a forerunner in offering mobile mammograms for our female employees. We were into wellness in a big way. As an aside, out of 9,000 screenings, there were 11 breast cancers detected that were caught early enough. I mention this as I was talking with someone on my team who led our wellness efforts. It was October and I made the point that we need a big push since it was “Breast Awareness Month.” My friend and colleague in her best dead pan voice, said BTG it’s “Breast Cancer Awareness Month.”

10.  Reading can make you sleepy – When my daughter was little, we read voraciously, sometimes three and four books a night. I used to lie beside her as we read so she could see the pictures, but Dad had a bad habit of falling asleep after a couple of books. I would awaken to her pushing me “Daddy wake up, I need to go to sleep.” After that I had to sit on the floor to stay awake. She banned me from reading lying down.

11. The Red Cardinals are different – My daughter used to have about 30 stuffed animals in her room. She named them all, usually with very interesting, whimsical names as she was pretty creative and well read. Yet, all were given female names. One day, my brother-in-law gave her a red cardinal. She proceeded with her normal naming convention. It hit me a few seconds later and I started grinning. She asked why I was smiling and I asked her a question I knew she knew the answer to. What color are the female cardinals? She started laughing and said I need a new name for this guy.

12. Missing child in the house – We used to have a Golden Retriever who liked to sleep on the oriental rug under our dining room table. It caught a nice sun in the afternoon and when it was cold it was very cozy. One day, we could not find my youngest son and looked everywhere. The doors had the dead bolt locks on, so he had to be in the house. After several minutes of frantic looking, we found him under the dining room table laying close to the dog, sound asleep. This is more “awwww” than “ha ha”  but I thought it would be good to close with that one.

Thanks for reading. Life is funny, so remember to laugh at yourself. If you are not laughing, you might be alone in your silence. And, don’t take yourself too seriously or one day you may find yourself cleaning up poop in a furniture store restroom. God has a sense of humor. Please feel free to share any comical moments that these stories may cause you to remember.

Two great talents, two big hearts pass away

Rightfully so, the passing of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a huge loss for our country. Her diminutive stature belied the large intellect and courage to fight battles, first for herself, and then for women and the disenfranchised.

There are several stories whose theme is around the only woman in the room, be it the first female rocket scientist, Mary Sherman Morgan, or the first black female NASA mathematician, Katherine G. Johnson. Ginsburg was often one of only a scant few women in the room, be it Harvard or Columbia law schools or when she first joined the Supreme Court following Sandra Day O’Connor. Being told you do not belong, either directly or implicitly, requires a courageous heart.

Ginsburg was unable to get a job with a law firm since she was a female and a mother. Her husband, Marty was quickly able to gain employment as a tax attorney, but his very learned wife could not. So, she taught law. So, when she finally tried an appellate case regarding gender discrimination, very few knew the constitutional law as well as she. She knew the documented discrimination that existed in the law and what had to be changed. And, her track record on gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court was excellent, losing only one case. The movie “On the basis of sex,” starring Felicity Jones, is an excellent drama telling her story.

Yesterday, another person passed away, who will not be as known to non-football fans, but his supreme talent was only exceeded by his heart. His name was Gale Sayers and for seven years, was one of the most exciting football players to watch as his ability to stop, start, change direction and run kept defenses at bay. He was the youngest player to be inducted in the NFL Hall of Fame at the time. Yet, his heart may be what people will remember most.

When he joined the Chicago Bears in the mid-1960s, the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act had only recently been passed. The African-American Sayers befriended a white ball player named Brian Piccolo. They became friends, teasing each other often while competing for the same position. They both made the team and were roommates on the road.

But, the story unfolds later that Piccolo gets cancer and is dying. Sayers and his wife were by the Piccolos’ side the whole way. When Sayers was given an award for a courageous comeback after an injury, in his speech, he told the audience of the courage of his friend Brian Piccolo. He said “I love Brian Piccolo. And, I hope you will love him, too.” He then asked for their prayers for God to love Brian as well.

The story is captured in the excellent movie “Brian’s Song,” starring James Caan and Billy Dee Williams. I wrote a post a while back which I will link to below, which said “Brian’s Song” was the first movie where a man was allowed to openly cry. Truth be told, I am tearing up as a type this.

Let’s remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gale Sayers. Both are national treasures

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/brians-song-the-first-movie-where-men-could-watch-and-cry/

Big Stone Gap – a quick read about an eccentric mountain town and a self-proclaimed spinster

If you are unfamiliar with “Big Stone Gap,” the book is about a real town in the Virginia mountains written by Adriana Trigiani. There was also a movie called “Big Stone Gap” made about the book starring Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson, Whoopi Goldberg, John Benjamin Hickey and Jenna Elfman. Plus, you may remember a true story included in the book, when Elizabeth Taylor, while visiting with her Senate candidate husband John Warner, choked on a chicken bone in the town at a welcome dinner in the late 1970s.

The book revolves around the main character, a thirty-five year old pharmacist named Ave Maria Mulligan. Her mother was born in Italy, so the name is not as unusual as it sounds, but is still not common. The pharmacy was owned by her stern father who had passed away years ago. Her mother has just passed away when the book picks up. Another key character is a mining friend named Jack MacChesney, who goes by Jack Mac. Judd and Wilson play the lead characters in the movie which was co-written and directed by the author.

Without giving too much of the plot away, Ave Maria is an avid book reader and her best friend is Iva Lou (played by Elfman), the woman who drives the bookmobile into the library-less town once a week. Iva Lou is unmarried as well, but she encourages Ave Maria to be more like she is with her healthy libido. Ave Maria also has a big heart and busy calendar as she is one of the two EMTs in the area, directs a regional theater performance about the town, and is best friends with the very creative high school band director named Theodore (played by Hickey).

Her mother taught her Italian as a shared hobby her husband did not know about. Ave Maria felt her relationship was always strained with her father and the book reveals how she discovers why this was the case. And, as an important context to the story, her mother was an expert seamstress and did pro bono work for band uniforms, prom dresses, and wedding dresses in this relatively poor mining town. This goodwill endeared her too many including Jack Mac.

If you love small towns, the book will hit home with its local flair. Goldberg plays Fleeta, a pro wrestling loving clerk at the pharmacy. You will learn who the gossips are and why very few stories are private. You will love the eccentricity and become frustrated with the stubbornness of some of the characters, including Ave Maria, who stiff-arms suitors.

You will treasure and be proud of Ave Maria standing up for the disenfranchised, like a young heavy-set teen named Pearl who gets picked on and others in need of work. She is also friends with her customers and delivers medicines to those who cannot get out. You will like Ave Maria, as do the town residents, but she will frustrate you as well, like a sibling or good friend sometimes do.

If you have not read it, give it look. It is a quick read. It won’t solve world hunger, but it is a nice distraction, which we all need. Let me know what you think.

Shut the front door – common ground can be found

I am not sure when it happened, but “shut the front door” became a funny euphemism for a more colorful saying. I have witnessed it being offered up as an excited way to say the person cannot believe what has just been uttered. I will leave you to your own devices to substitute the more colorful metaphor.

So, with this in mind, please feel free to utter “shut the front door” on these truthful events or comments:

– Novak Djokovic, the top-seeded men’s tennis player in this year’s U.S. Open, was disqualified after accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball during his match. On occasion, tennis players are prone to slam a ball with their racquet when they hit a bad shot. Djokovic hits the ball harder than almost anyone on the planet. The good news is the judge is alright and Djokovic was concerned and contrite after he did it, he apologized afterwards and spoke of his poor judgment later. Common ground after an unfortunate incident.

– Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an American hero, especially for her groundbreaking work for women’s rights. She had a colorful and exemplary career, and her love of opera is renowned. Apparently, she and her conservative justice Antonin Scalia both loved opera, so attended performances together. Common ground can be found if we look for it. Note, it is reported she was allowed to participate in a few operas in full costume, but only in a non-singing background role.

– Joe Biden and John McCain were friends. McCain was renowned for his Senate trips to visit troops or improve relationships abroad. Given McCain’s POW status for five years, where McCain refused to be released unless others were, he was against torture and maltreatment of prisoners of war. Biden accompanied McCain on these trips, along with a few other Senators, and mutual respect and friendship blossomed. Again, common ground can be found if we look for it.

– I read Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi used to write letters to each other. During 1909-10, “Gandhi solicited permission to redistribute Tolstoy’s writings among Indians, and Tolstoy in turn was pleased that his ideas were being put into practice. This collection of letters gives the reader an insight into this meeting of two great minds,” per GoodReads. Going one step further, Martin Luther King was inspired by Gandhi’s civil disobedience approach. Common ground over standing up to disenfranchisement.

Shut the front door. Common ground can be found in the unlikeliest of places. I did not mention the line judge’s name, as fans of Djokovic have been less kind. Yet, unlike an infamous politician, he recognized his mistake and made up for it and told his fans to cool their jets.

True story of a community health care provider 100 years ago

I have shared before stories about my maternal grandmother’s family. She grew up in southwest Georgia in a small community along with her thirteen siblings, with one passing at birth and another dying as a young adult. My grandmother shared that her Mama was the chief health provider in the community and would accompany the visiting doctor when he would make his rounds once a month.

The following two paragraphs were written by my third cousin based on interviews with his grandmother (a sister of my grandmother) and her brother who was the youngest of the surviving children. It is further evidence of their Mama’s health care role, using a very appropriate historical marker in one episode.

“There was a bad flu epidemic in 1918 and five of the children were in the bed with the flu at one time. People all around were dying, and my great uncle tells me he vividly remembers the hearse passing their home several times during this flu epidemic. The hearse was a glass enclosed carriage drawn by big white horses. My great grandmother was able to get her children well by using a home remedy of kerosene, turpentine and tallow. She made bibs, soaked them in the above mixture and placed them on the sick children. Also, they had cedar water buckets that were smaller at the top than bottom. They would fill the eight-to-ten- quart bucket with water and put a little fresh turpentine in it and drink it for colds.

Other home remedies included using the gland from a hog and placing it on the clothes line to dry out. When it dried, my great grandmother would boil the gland and remove the jell which was used for arthritis. She called this jell ‘pizzle grease.’ She did not understand or have the education to know why it worked, she only knew it did. Today this ‘pizzle grease’ is know as ACTH which is a polypeptide hormone of the anterior part of the pituitary gland that stimulates hormone production of the adrenal cortex and is used to treat arthritis.”

Let me add one more story that I have shared earlier. The youngest sibling noted above liked being a gymnast. When he was an adolescent, he was swinging his whole body over a single bar like the male gymnasts do. He fell and knocked out his front teeth. Mama asked him to sit down as she cleaned the teeth and boiled some water. Once boiled, she put a clean towel in the water and rinsed it with cold water. She said put this in your mouth as hot as you can stand it. This was to swell his gums. Once swollen, she jammed the cleaned teeth back into the gums and the teeth held.

These stories amaze me at her ingenuity and practicality. A couple of sidebars to this story, my great grandmother married when she was only fourteen, begetting fourteen children. My third cousin also writes the family survived the depression, as did many farmers, by growing their own crops, raising their own meat sources and making their own soaps. He noted they only bought sugar and coffee. They had no electricity using kerosene lamps and wood stoves (in a separate from the house kitchen). And, water was stored in two 66 2/3 gallon barrels they called Hogsheads, which sat in the covered walkway to the kitchen.

We should remember these stories when we complain the wi-fi is down or the power goes out. Please feel free to share your reactions and own stories in the comments.

Monday musings – insignificant or significant

Life offers many experiences from the insignificant to significant. Approaching my 62nd birthday, I can share that more than a few things people believe are significant are not really important. Conversely, little insignificant things may have been gateways into something more meaningful. As Robert Frost wrote, the road not taken has made all the difference.

The girl or boy you did not ask out, as your friends labeled the person too different, might have opened your eyes to wonderful experiences.

Being prevented by your parents from attending a party may be mortifying for a teen, but does not make that big a difference in the big scheme of things.

To this point, the most well-adjusted Hollywood couples, live away from the superficial Hollywood scene. They crave the reality, not perception.

Being genuine is far more important than being popular. Choosing to help or listen to someone with a problem, is far more important than being “liked.”

Changing your mind on a major decision may prove embarrassing, but it is usually for the best. Life events are worthy of as much introspection as possible. I have never regretted unwinding a major decision.

Saying “no” may be unpopular, but it is also more than fine to decline. People sometimes overcommit and end up letting people down.

Take the time to ask your older relatives about your heritage before it is too late. I still have unanswered questions, especially after doing research online. Knowing your lineage and history is gratifying, even if the history reveals some warts. Our kids love to speak of their roots.

Finally, one of the things my wife and I miss with the COVID-19 limitations is talking to people we encounter on our travels, near and far. A trip to Ireland was seasoned by chatting with Oola, who grew up in a corner of Belgium, very close to two other countries, eg. Take the time to talk to folks. It may make all the difference.