Monday, January 16, 2012

preserving the integrity of the English language, part 2

Last summer I wrote a post decrying the use of a powerful word that has since been rendered meaningless by its improper usage and overuse, the word "epic." Today I'd like to talk about another word in common parlance that has suffered even greater mistreatment. The word is "awkward."

If you logged onto Facebook over the weekend you likely saw this captioned photo of (left to right) Matthew Lewis, Rupert Grint, Harry Potter, er, I mean Daniel Radcliffe, and Tom Felton. I imagine it was taken after a performance of the Broadway musical How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying starring Harry Potter as Daniel Radcliffe as J. Pierrepont Finch (was that joke funnier the first or second time? Let me know in the comments below). (Apparently no one told Rupert about the taboo of wearing the t-shirt of the performance you're seeing to the actual performance.)

Image from here

I'm trying to understand this "awkward moment," and in the hope of doing so, I've consulted the collective knowledge of famed lexicographers Noah Webster and the brothers Merriam, Charles and George.

Definition of AWKWARD

1 obsolete : perverse [Had we been discussing the sex appeal of these four young men 10 years ago at the debut of the first Harry Potter film then, yes, this obsolete definition would be quite fitting.]

2 archaic : unfavorable, adverse [Any man might find it unfavorable or adverse to be less attractive than the next guy but Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe and Tom Felton have a fairly large advantage over the "next guy": they were in all those Harry Potter movies.]

3 a : lacking dexterity or skill (as in the use of hands) [This misuse of awkward has nothing to do with dexterity.]

3 b : showing the result of a lack of expertness [Perhaps the author of the caption thought the juxtaposition of Rupert, Daniel and Tom next to ugly-duckling-turned-swan Matthew Lewis appeared awkward, revealing their "lack of expertness" in being "hot." However, since the author is quite clear that the awkwardness lies in Matthew's becoming the "hottest" of the lot, this definition does not fit; in the case of these four gents, I believe overall "hotness" has to do more with heredity than some acquired expertise.]

4 a : lacking ease or grace (as of movement or expression) [Sure, this isn't the most flattering photo of Ron, Harry and Draco but the usage of awkward here has nothing to do with how they look at a given moment.]

4 b : lacking the right proportions, size, or harmony of parts [Uh, one way for things to get awkward quickly would be to start talking about the "harmony of parts" and "proportions." Moving on...]

5 a : lacking social grace and assurance [The fact that these four would pose together for what appears to be a casual photo infers friendship, for which at least a small amount of "social grace and assurance" is required.]

5 b : causing embarrassment [I think this is the definition of awkward the captioneer* had in mind. Who is embarrassed here? Matthew, Rupert, Daniel, and Tom all look quite comfortable in each other's presence. Is this one of those situation where we're supposed to be embarrassed for them? Sure, "that unexpected moment" certainly doesn't have the same ring to it but it's the phrase the captioneer should have used.]

6 : not easy to handle or deal with : requiring great skill, ingenuity, or care [What skill is required to deal with the fact that Matthew Lewis ended up "hotter" than his Harry Potter co-stars?]

I have nothing against the word awkward, I'm simply attempting to advocate its proper use. Consider eliminating the word from your personal vernacular for a few months and employing one of its many synonyms in its place. Your vocabulary will thank you.

*Is it hypocritical of me to use made-up words in a post that deals with the abuse of language?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Alice et le clown

For an assignment in a French writing class a few weeks back, we had to write a quick story using a small bank of words provided in a textbook. I started writing and about three paragraphs in, I went back and reread the instructions -- keep the story 100 words or less. Having written almost three times that, I trimmed my story to fit the assignment.

I revisited the three-paragraph version of the story last week to give it a conclusion. The story is about two friends travelling through Germany. Out of the two, Alice begins to believe she is going crazy as she catches brief glimpses of the same strange clown in each city they visit. Not the most original premise, I know, but I enjoyed writing it. I've hastily titled it "Alice et le clown" ("Alice and the Clown"). I thought about including an English translation but decided against it. So if you can't read French or use Google Translate* you're out of luck.

(I'm sure this thing is rife with errors since my French ain't what it used to be.)

"Alice et le clown"

Nous arrivâmes à la gare de Düsseldorf au départ du dernier train jusqu’au matin. « Zut ! » s’écria Alice, une chère amie avec qui je voyageais depuis une semaine, « Le train est parti ! » Je la rencontrai lors de ma dernière année d’université où j’étudiais la littérature européenne à l’étranger à Londres. Je la vit la première fois à la bibliothèque où elle travaillait et ce fut en m’aidant à trouver un volume rare de Léon Tolstoï que je tombai amoureux avec elle.

Cependant, ces sentiments d’amour n’existaient pas chez elle. Quand même, on s’entendait bien et elle accepta de m’accompagner pendant un voyage de recherche littéraire de deux semaines en Allemagne. Notre premier après-midi à Berlin, en revenant seule d’une sortie pour une tasse de thé, Alice remarqua quelque chose de très bizarre à l’extérieur de notre hôtel : un vieux clown aux cheveux jaunes citron qui portait un habit saumon d’un temps ancien longtemps passé. Quand nous sortîmes ensemble pour dîner le clown n’y était plus.

Deux jours plus tard, Alice le vit entrer un magasin à Hambourg. Curieuse, elle insista que nous le suivions mais dans le magasin on ne trouvait aucun clown. Quand elle l’aperçut à Hanovre le lendemain elle commençait à se croire folle. Et enfin, à Düsseldorf, après l’avoir vu sortir du café où nous terminions le soir, elle demanda en larmes que nous partions pour Paris où habitent ses parents.

Alors, nous sommes seuls au quai de la gare. Des larmes apparaissent aux coins de ses yeux et elles coulent sur ses joues au battement des paupières. Elle se met à grelotter de froid. Je sais qu’elle n’est pas folle mais je n’arrive pas à voir ce qu’elle voit. Je m’approche près d’elle et la serre dans mes bras.

*Unsurprisingly, the Google translation isn't entirely comprehensible but my bad French might be as much to blame for that.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

you make my dreams

I spent just enough time driving yesterday to listen to the soundtrack from Amélie by Yann Tiersen. I'd love to be able to write music like this -- instrumental music with great melodies, not necessarily complicated but layered. Here's a sample:

Yann Tiersen - La Valse d'Amelie by nurseda_cagatay

Really, the hardest part of writing a song like this would be composing the melodies, which I think has more to do with inherent talent than a technical knowledge of music.

I had a dream last night that I heard this great arpeggiated chord progression in my head. I struggled to pick it out on the guitar. Eventually I failed to recall the arpeggiation and soon I was unable to play the simple chord progression itself.

In terms of events this dream is far from interesting, but what is interesting is that somehow my brain created this complex melody in my head as I slept. (That or my brain tricked me into thinking I come up with this melody. Which might be likely.)

This isn't the first time my brain has written songs for me during that most sublime form of nocturnal respite known as sleep. Last summer I dreamed about hearing this new Peter Cetera song -- I could hear everything in my head, guitars, keyboard, drums, vocals -- it was all incredibly vivid. (I'm pretty sure my brain drew heavily on Bon Iver's love-it-or-hate-it "Beth/Rest" for inspiration since that song could be tacked on to a Peter Cetera album without anyone knowing the difference.)

My favorite YouTube comment for this video: "this song is like going to a really nice restaurant and getting served a bologna sandwich only to find out that it is the most amazing thing you have ever eaten."

So now I'm trying to determine if I'm really this talented musician while I sleep or if I my brain is just making me think I am.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I'm talking to you, come on


I can't tell if Scout loves or hates music. If I watch movies on my laptop or iPad she likes to investigate and paw at the speakers when there's a swell in the soundtrack. Tonight as I was playing guitar she jumped on the back my chair and started nudging my shoulders with her paws. She's the least affectionate cat ever so I think the nudging is her way of saying, "Please stop."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

so many light years to go

I know every family has their own Christmas traditions, but it seems like my family's are a bit more rigid than some. From Christmas Eve on, what we eat, what we do, where we go, where we sleep, what time we wake up, the order in which we open presents have all been cemented by years of repetition.

Our New Year's Eve traditions are far less set in stone because, well, we don't have any. Growing up celebrating New Year's consisting of staying up till midnight and banging pots and pans. Which is cool. But far less exciting than what goes on at Christmas.

How many years does it take for something to become tradition?

Crystal Pier, San Diego, California, January 1, 2011

I spent the beginning of last year in San Diego with some dear friends, Jackie, Deena and Chip, and Afton. Back in September or October, Chip and Deena and I talked about making a repeat trip for New Year's 2012. Sadly, Afton and Jackie weren't as enthused about creating this annual tradition but Chip and Deena were.

This year, instead of heading straight to San Diego -- where Deena's folks have a condo -- we decided to make a New Year's Eve pit stop at the happiest place on earth.

Disneyland, Anaheim, California, January 1, 2012. Note the empty medical stretcher in the background.

I hadn't been to Disneyland since 2004 so it was great to be back, even if the crowds were among the most dense I've seen anywhere.

Sunday was quite a lazy day but I didn't mind as it gave me time to start rereading one my favorite books.

I don't understand why more people don't love this book as much as I do.

Monday before heading back we had breakfast on the beach, did some shopping and spent a bit of time downtown. Here I am at the Ghirardelli shop enjoying an overpriced butterscotch sundae:

Slowly eating my way to diabetes.

I suppose time will tell whether or not this trip becomes an annual New Year's tradition. I certainly won't mind if it does as I have yet to have a bad time in Southern California.