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AWADmail Issue 173

August 13, 2005

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages

From: Betsy Boyer (miacomet4ATcox.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--prospicient

It is with great irony then that I find myself the mother of four boys who live by monosyllabic answers to my various life questions. I do not ban their `good' and `bad' answers when I ask them how school was etc. Instead I take quiet delight in using one of their own favorite words when they were young... "WHY?" Then! I continue to repeat asking why till I extract every bit of info I desire. Smile!

From: Julia Glahn (jglahnATaol.com)
Subject: ban on "good"

Your ban on your daughter's use of such simple adjectives as "bad" and "good" for interesting things brought a smile to my face. In the 80s, when a college friend and I were both studying overseas, he in England and I in France, we managed to get together for part of the spring break, meeting in Marseilles and traveling to Florence to join some friends from his university. Seeing one glorious sight after another finally left him exhausted in trying to find the perfect superlative to outdo the last, and he had decided to describe seeing "David", the Coliseum, St. Peter's, and other such overwhelmingly beautiful things as merely "good" or "nice"!

From: Susan Florence (susanflorenceATyahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--prospicient

I never called my children, "good" or "bad", because I, also believe that a human being is both and neither. One day my daughter, who was six, sat on Santa Claus`s knee, and, of course, he asked if she`d been good. She answered, with alacrity and some disappointment in such an ignorant Santa Claus, "We don`t believe in that."

To his credit, Santa Claus did not miss a beat. "Uh," said he, "Do you eat your vegetables and go to bed at night?"

One more, in a similar vein, that I think you`ll like: My son, who was three years old at the time, called another child, "Stupid." Well, given my belief in no good or bad, I also had to follow through with myriad other words, meaning, in this case for example, I couldn't say, "That`s not nice," or "Be kind." Instead I offered my, by then, usual and predictable, "Caleb, that`s not an acceptable way to talk to someone; it makes a person feel bad to be spoken to like that."

Caleb asked, "Why?" Now, like Santa, it was my turn to meet the challenge. I answered, "Uh, because I know many, many people, as do you, and I don`t know one who isn't stupid about some things, nor do I know one person who isn`t smart about many things. We're people; we have all the colors."

He looked at me, as if I had just said the most sensible thing he had ever heard; he nodded. Thirty years later, I have yet to hear him speak of anyone in this fashion. I have never heard him sum up a person with one disparaging word.

From: Frank Brown (frank.brownATworldspan.com)
Subject: giving "good" and "bad" a rest

Let's give "good" and "bad" some time. Perhaps thinking is a painful process. Based on the avoidance of thinking evident in our society today it would seem to be true.

Using "good" and "bad" allows us not to think very much. It relieves us of the necessity of evaluating our thoughts and feelings on whatever it is that we deemed "good" or "bad", and it's so much simpler. For instance, take the question "What do you think of the fundamentalist Islamic terrorists?" A simple "They are bad" frees us from the necessity of looking very deeply into the situation. Though I find it a little frightening when it's our political leaders doing that. They get paid to think, don't they?

Additionally, giving a more explicit evaluation may also be too revealing about our own motivations.

If you ask me how I liked a book and I say it was entertaining, it may show I am reading for entertainment. Critics read to be critical. That's what they get paid for. Literature majors read to be analytical, that's what they get graded on. Other students may read for enlightenment or education or to broaden their perspective.

I read for entertainment...does that make me shallow? "Good" protects me from revealing much about myself as well as allowing me not to think.

When I was an English major in college, I took Shakespeare 201. Shakespeare 101 was the plays EVERYONE read. Shakespeare 201 was the lesser known plays. I read the plays and judged the characters by what they did. My instructor read the plays and judged the characters by what they said. Needless to say we had very different interpretations of both the characters and the plays. I thought Othello was the stupidest play ever written. Othello was my instructor's favorite play. Similarly we had very different interpretations of King Lear.

At that time, they gave split grades such as A/A or B/A on papers in the English department where I went to college. The first grade was on content. The second grade was on writing style. I am the only person I know of to get an F/A, and it was in that Shakespeare class. F for content. A for writing style. The instructors comment "What you wrote was such absolute garbage that I nearly failed to notice how well it was written." That's funny...I thought the same thing about Othello.

The result was that I became an Economics major. Probably a good choice.

From: Peter Hesse (orbitmaxATaol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--chapfallen

In the Civil War diary kept by my Great Grandfather, Sgt. William P. Hewes of 20th Iowa, company C, this term surfaced while referring to some captured rebel soldiers. In skirmishes just prior to the capture of the old Spanish Fort, he wrote the following on March 27th, 1865. "Saw the rebels captured by our cavalry yesterday. One Brigadier, one Major, 13 line officers, one hundred and fifteen privates. Passed them about 6 o'clock this afternoon. Look rather chopfallen."

From: Lawrence Crumb (lcrumbATdarkwing.uoregon.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--chapfallen

"Jon Bon Jovi, the New Jersey rock 'n' roller, says he's chapfallen ..."

Good thing he didn't drop his toothpaste; then he would have been Crestfallen.

From: Danny Magowan (rmagowanATtwcny.rr.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--insouciant

I first learned this word in an Ogden Nash poem:

"I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouciance,
Were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance."

From: Sandi Jones (slamdiATgmail.com)
Subject: Thanks (re: gadarene

I just want to tell you thank you for these wonderful words and share a story.

My son is nine years old and we have been learning a new word a day for the past week. I thought he wasn't paying attention until I actually heard him using the word gadarene to describe a wreck during a BMX race this weekend. "Well, that was a total gadarene!"

He then explained the meaning to his friend who nodded and went on to use that same word again. By the end of the day, gadarene had become the word for a common mistake that new racers make which causes wrecks. (Rushing out of the starting gate with little or no control over the bike.) Since this was a championship race, there were many young people from many different places who picked up this word and will share it. I foresee hearing the word gadarene often at BMX tracks in the future.

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. -Anton Chekhov, short-story writer and dramatist (1860-1904)

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