There’s fun in words

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Literally. You can find fun in words. Like fungus. Maybe you know a guy, and he is fun, so you say he is a fun guy. And if his name is Gus, maybe you say he is one fun Gus.

As you know if you know what’s good for you, fungi rhymes with fun guy. Every time someone uses the other pronunciation that rhymes with fun jai, a dung beetle dies. And do you really want to live in a world without dung beetles? No, because once they are gone, we are in deep doo-doo.

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We eat fungi, which are both tasty and sometimes deadly. Fungi live on us and sometimes invade our toes.

Fun Guy: George, you’ve got some fungosity    going there on your toes.
George: You nailed it, Fun Guy. You’ve got onegood eye.

 

You also might have made a go of something fun like bowling blindfolded. Then you could say you made a fun go of it. And if you talked quickly, squeezing those last seven words together because you heard a loud yell after you threw the bowling ball, you would say you made a fungo of it, and it would be true. Or almost true if your bowling ball was just struck by someone’s foot three lanes over, because fungo is baseball talk for striking a ball thrown up in the air. And that means one of two things: you shouldn’t bowl blindfolded no matter how fun it is, or you need to work on your hook.

 

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The term fungo snuck into the baseball lexicon sometime in the 1880s, probably by climbing over the fence to watch the game. No one knows for sure, except for those people who think they know for sure. Like so many English nouns it has a second career as a verb. So, a person can fungo during practice, or have a coach who thinks fungoing is essential, which in my book is a fungoing coach.

If you think there’s a lot of fun in blindfolded bowling (and frankly, who doesn’t?), you probably think that there’s just as much of it in funambulism, aka tightrope walking. If etymology were done correctly, that fun in funambulism would derive from the word fun, or amusement. We would be left with a fun kind of ambulating, which is a four-syllable way of talking about simple two-syllable walking. However, the Romans lacked the kind of etymological skills that would truly benefit posterity because they spent too much time conquering and slaughtering barbarians to develop much of a sense of humor. In addition, they appeared too early in history to even know about the word fun. This is often true of people who show up too early at a party and then leave before the real party begins.

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Courtesy of Philip Bitnar

 

 

In what has to be the worst instance of word origin I’ve run across today, they borrowed that first syllable in funambulism from funis, Latin for rope. In one fell swoop, they cut the rope under my feet, so that instead of enjoying the fun of walking 50 stories high on a thin rope connected to two buildings on a windy day in the Windy City, I’m left trying to walk across a rope. Etymology is such a heartbreaker.

 

If I had more time, and trust me, you are going to be glad I don’t, I could write a ditty, a simple song, about etymology’s betrayals. Of course I would have to make it fun. I’m a positive person and very pro fun, so I would call it a profundity, but I don’t think anyone else would agree.

 

 

 

 

Learn another language – slam a door

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Courtesy of Patriiciiaa suga

Courtesy of Patriiciiaa suga

 

I taught myself to slam doors as a second language. I picked up a bit of it when I was a teenager, but I attained fluency after I got married.

 

By the time I said, “I do,” I had lived through almost thirty winters and considered myself a bona fide grown-up who dealt with problems in a calm and rational manner. Thankfully my husband thought I was calm and rational, too.

 

I also believed that my college education and years of reading books with big words allowed me to articulate my thoughts in a cogent and persuasive manner.

 

But after we each pulled tight our end of the knot at the wedding and began to live together, words failed me.

 

Since I was much too nice of a person to harbor ill will or feel irritated or hurt, whatever was bothering me was too petty to even mention, so I didn’t. Instead, I began to speak in slams.

 

Courtesy National Park Service

Courtesy National Park Service

One light slight slam of the cupboard or drawer meant I was chafed about something. To indicate that the problem needed more immediate attention, I slammed harder. Each slam and its intensity indicated my level of unhappiness or distress. Emergencies required a wall-shuddering large door slam.

 

Unlike English, door-slamming lacks subtlety. It consists mainly of nouns and adjectives: soft slam, lively bang, vigorous boom, and so on. The paucity of nouns is counterbalanced by comparative and superlative adjectives: the softest slam, a livelier bang, and the most vigorous boom of all.

 

In spite of these limitations, my husband learned to interpret his wife’s new language skills and use his words to coax me to use mine.

 

Me: Bang!

He: Is anything wrong?

Me: Headshaking and heavy snorting.

He: Do you want to talk about anything?

Me: Slam! Slam!

 

Eventually I would blurt out, “If you loved me, you would know what’s wrong!”

 

At the time, it was clear to me that if he would show common courtesy and read my mind, I wouldn’t have to speak in an unknown tongue. I was dumbstruck by what I interpreted as either obstinacy or lack of trying on his part. Clearly I was trying – very trying.

 

It took over two decades to realize that my thoughts were as opaque to him as his were to me, so I began to use my words and admit the things that bothered me. Big things. Small things. Trifling things that I should have been able to laugh off, but couldn’t. I married the man to be known, but my biggest fear was that he would fully know me, including my pettiness, my fears, and my insecurities.

 

Every door I slammed in the house mirrored a door I shut within myself to silence the words that would reveal that I am flawed and in desperate need of love and acceptance. And though my husband developed keen interpreting skills, he never attempted to speak the language.

 

Courtesy National Park Service

Courtesy National Park Service

I’ve lost my fluency in door-slamming and I think both of us are pleased about that. During the years I spoke in slams, my forceful manner of talking loosened screws, which meant both the doors and I were always in danger of coming unhinged. Having fewer loose screws is always a good thing.

In which she gets to the new car, or halfway to toity

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If I wrote like I were a truck driver, I would put my idea into the GPS, choose the shortest route, and arrive at my destination in the least amount of time possible. Instead, I write like a tourist wandering around a new city with the vague idea that I might go to the local zoo.

 

I put the address of the zoo into the GPS, choose the shortest route, and head off, eager to see the sloths and Gollum-like tarsiers. On my way, I see hundreds of billboards and decide to check out one of them because it won’t take long, and it’s right on the way to the zoo.

Tariser photo courtesy of motz

Tariser photo courtesy of motz

 

Three hundred and fifty-two times out of three hundred and fifty-three times, I never see a sloth or tarsier because I spend the day at a local winery learning about bâtonnage* or stop to fish for a few hours. While fishing, I notice four kinds of bobbers in my tackle box, and drive to the nearest bobber-making factory to learn how they are made.

 

In my last post, Compound interest, I put “new car” in the GPS and drove off. On the way, I noticed a sign marked off-ramp, began to wonder about compound nouns, and swerved at the last minute to see where the off-ramp would take me.  It took me everywhere but “new car.”

 

Today I finally got there.

 

Several months ago, my husband and I realized my 1997 Bonneville might not make it through another winter. We are cash-only car buyers because I pledged long ago that I would never, ever buy a new car, and I never have, until I did.

 

I have cherished two reasons why I would not be foolish enough to buy a never-owned car. First, once you leave the DDR force shield that covers every car dealer, deadly depreciation rays (DDRs) bombard your car and reduce its worth by up to 9%. Second, I have no interest in paying interest on a car.

 

Our auto search led us to a car dealer to look at fully depreciated cars. Although I am a fairly good judge of character, I don’t know my Buicks from my Bonnevilles. My husband, on the other hand, has a caveman’s instinct for car hunting. He always spears the fattest, biggest mastodon available, and we feast on it for years.

 

During what seemed like three days, but were only three hours in caveman hunting time, my husband went over every inch of a brand-new double-tusked mastodon with shiny gray hair, several shades darker than his own. I pretended to look interested while he looked for cash on its back and something called an APR. Since it had a cash back and the APR search came up zero, we took it.

 

Arriving home in my first and last brand-new car, I realized I had entered fancy territory. As you know, fancy is halfway to schmancy. Or put synonymously, since fancy is the same as hoity, I was halfway to toity.

 

I had no intention to leave the hoi polloi (even if it’s a redundant place to be because it translates to the the many), and then my husband went hunting again – this time for his own mastodon. He found one – an older model exactly like mine, but in black. If that’s not hoity-toity, I don’t know my hoits or my toits.

 

Becoming fancy-schmancy or hoity-toity has required a change of attitude and vocabulary. I must move from being super silly to being supercilious. Rather than shouting out, “Holy cow!” when I see the price tags on shoddy name-brand clothing, I must exclaim, “Holy filet mignon!” To avoid identification with the  double-articled hoi polloi, “Heaven’s to Betsy!” must now be expressed as “Elysium to Elizabeth!”

 

My hoity-toitiness will last about as long as autumn in Wisconsin. By January of next year, my car will be old and my newly acquired rhyming compounds will drop off like autumn leaves. I hope to grow some new ones, befitting my fall from fancyhood. Perhaps I shall be barely-therely, or bleak and meek, or squarely-sparely, or plain mere-here.

 

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*bâtonnage is a fancy French word for taking a big stick and stirring the dead yeast in the bottom of a wine barrel.

 

 

 

 

Compound interest

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If you were lured here by the title of this post, expecting some insight into money, please understand that I do what have to do to get readers. Like most people, I have an interest in money, but I have more outsight than insight; that is, as soon as it is in sight, it usually wings its way out of sight before a lured person can say compound interest.

 

Courtesy National Archives

Courtesy National Archives

However, I am flush with words, have books full of them, store them on my computer, and spend hours everyday stuffing them into other people’s ears – for free. I’m nothing if not generous with them.

 

 

I’m interested in words and find  compound words especially interesting. Hence, I have a lot of compound interest.

 

 

In the intimate life of words, compounding is how words meet and mate.

 

 

Nouns, the parts of speech that never forget a name, live to meet other words and partner up. One day a hand reaches out for a bag, slaps a logo on, and voila, the $10,000 handbag is born. Later in a city, a building rises up to scrape the sky and calls itself a skyscraper. During a show, a magician saws his sister in half and ends up with a half-sister. Back at the farm, Old MacDonald takes a hog, washes it up, expecting it to keep it clean, and finds that his idea is pure hogwash. Then he splits a horse four ways and ends up with a quarter horse. Fun, isn’t it?

 

 

Compounding is not just for nouns. Verbs like to get into the action, as do adverbs, a kind of word that can’t be in a relationship without trying to modify its partner. Prepositions, the words that let you know what’s up and what’s going down participate, as do adjectives, those opinionated words that always have something to say about every noun they meet.

Courtesy of Library of Congress: DN-0068144, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum

 

Some compounds, like bridegroom, are monogamous – two nouns become one and everything they own is joint property. They take seriously the ancient truth: what the dictionary hath joined together, let no auto-correct put asunder. Others are more like the bride-to-be; they flash their hyphen to show they’re engaged. Open compounds go on dates, visit the amusement park, ride the roller coaster, and eat ice cream together, but maintain their distance and avoid PDAs (public displays of affection). Many compounds start out in an open relationship, get engaged, and end up in a closed relationship.

 

 

 

Much of my compound interest comes from rhyming compounds. I like their razzle-dazzle sound. Many of them disparage others, looking down their noses at the jibber-jabber of the snake oil salesman; others have a keen eye for disorder and will call you out if you shilly-shally or dilly-dally. *

 

 

I’ve shared all this to tell you about a car, but as you can see, my thoughts are all higgledy-piggledy, and I’ve used up my cyberspace allotment. So now I’ll have to backtrack and write about the car next time, unless I miss the off ramp again.

 

 

 

*I sort rhyming compounds like I sort my buttons: all in one big pile. There are dozens of ways to categorize them, but since this is a family friendly blog, I would like to afford linguists some dignity and not talk about their piles. If you find yourself disturbed by this and would like to make a case out of it, I’ll see you in court. Tennis or basketball – it’s your choice.

 

 

 

Actually I could care less

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Caring requires time and effort. It’s like filling up a bucket, except it’s filling up the mind and heart with a person, a thing, or a cause. You have to think about the object of your caring, which means shifting your brain from idle to at least first gear.

 

Science moment: Assuming you have a brain, and frankly, the fact that you are reading this blog creates doubt, said assumed brain idles at about 6 to 11 calories per hour. Actual thinking increases the amount of calories only slightly, which explains why there are so many thickheaded people about.

 

If caring were math, it would be the whole numbers, which depending on who you trust and I’m not sure it should be me, includes zero. Getting from caring to the nothingness or zero of not caring requires sliding down the scale of care like a firefighter sliding down the firehouse pole.

 

Couldn’t-care-lessness is measurable and getting there requires another simile. It’s like untying a balloon full of concern and attentiveness and forcing all of it out by stretching the neck of the balloon to produce sounds not unlike those experienced during gastrointestinal distress. Once all of that air is satisfyingly released (and you know exactly what I’m talking about), you have emptied yourself and have reached the “Om” of OMG, I couldn’t care less.

Care-o-meter

Once this nirvana of carelessness has been achieved, you must never think about the subject again, so as to not disturb your care-o-meter. This explains why I avoid reading tabloid headlines in supermarket lines and tend to weep any time I come across bad words like…Warning! BWA! (Bad Words Alert)….Bieber, Kardashian, and Brangelina.

 

Hearing or reading about what the not-to-be-mentioned people wear, don’t wear, eat, don’t eat, kiss, or don’t kiss knocks my brain out of idle and forces me to not care about what I just heard or read. The very act of not caring about the information tires me out and often leaves me at the place where I could care less if I tried, but I don’t have the energy or inclination to do so. More often than not I exhaust myself into numbness and discover I could not care less, but this usually requires dark chocolate, wine, or both.

 

So, yeah, sometimes I really could care less.

My bucket’s list

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  1. Spend one day without getting kicked

 

  1. Find the end of the rainbow and hold the gold

 

  1. Get a handle on why my most important work always goes down the drain

 

  1. Go to the beach and keep my bottom sand-free

 

  1. Chill out with champagne

 

  1. Make people stop trying to carry tunes in me

 

  1. Take part in the ALS ice bucket challenge

 

  1. Visit the bottom of the wishing well and bring home some cash

 

  1. Learn how to empty myself through meditation

 

10. Kick one person before I die
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The Rabbit Wars: Urine, You’re Out

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The petunias in all their glory being surveyed by a wascally wabbit.

The petunias in all their glory being surveyed by a wascally wabbit.

The petunias can barely contain themselves in the flower box behind the house. Each one is a small poem written in pink, coral, or purple. And like all good poetry, the petunias both teach and delight.

 

My other yard poems are the geraniums. They have taught me two lessons. First, hummingbirds like them. Second, rabbits generally don’t. Part of the delight of geraniums comes from those same reasons.

 

Petunias, on the other hand, have taught me that rabbits see things differently than I do. To me, my white box of colorful petunias is a feast for the eyes; to the rabbits in the neighborhood, it’s a feast.

 

If he were a jackrabbit, this would be jack in the box.

If he were a jackrabbit, this would be jack in the box.

I like rabbits, and I enjoy watching them, but I don’t like them enough to let them eat my petunias. We had a long hard winter and several rabbits survived by eating the bushes in the back. The rabbits processed a good foot of each bush into scat, but I never complained.

 

Encouraged by my leniency, they thought it would be okay to eat my petunias. First, I tried soaping down the box, hoping the smell would deter them. Instead they sat in the box, munching away, with their sanitized paws. Naturally that gave me pause, so I sprinkled pepper around the box, hoping they would hotfoot out of the box and take their paws elsewhere. When that didn’t work, I thought it would make good sense to bring out the big PP, which stands for predator pee (or PredatorPee, a real company), which, of course, makes good scents for plant protection. And the best good scents for rabbits are bad scents, long-toothed and hungry bad, as in fox urine.

One of the bunnies checks to see if I am watching the petunias.

One of the bunnies checks to see if I am watching the petunias.

 

My husband found a different product that uses putrescent egg products to encourage the bunnies to forage elsewhere. The repellent works well and keeps the rabbits from seeing my flower box as an all-you-can-eat salad bar. When it rains, the spray dissipates and the rabbits come back, so it requires repeated spraying, which makes good cents for the company.

 

Probably overcome by guilt and shame for eating my petunias.

Probably overcome by guilt and shame for eating my petunias.

The rabbits still visit the yard, and I have seen them among the hostas in the early morning. We have developed a wary truce. The petunias are there to feed my soul, not their bellies. I plan to stop stewing about the flowers as long as they stay away; otherwise, I might start stewing the rabbit