mark my words

Ever since I read my first book (‘Green Eggs and Ham’), I have been in love with words for their own sake. Sure, you can make some cool things out whole bunches of words, but some words are great all by themselves. ‘Effluvium.’ ‘Nexus.’ ‘Philology.’ Hell, ‘philology’ is just plain fun to say. Try it. Say ‘philology’ out loud three or four times (best to do this when you’re alone, as opposed to, say, while taking public transit).

I recently discovered a fascinating website called LanguageLog. Of course by ‘fascinating,’ I mean ‘interesting to people who find arcane observations about the minutiae of language interesting,’ but really, isn’t that all of us?  No? Anyway, from this site I learned that there’s an actual term for a misspoken phrase that still makes sense, like ‘old-timer’s disease’ instead of ‘Alzheimer’s.’ It’s called an ‘eggcorn.’

My favorite new word (new to me, and actually fairly new as a word) is ‘snowclone.’ While it sounds like something created by a villain in a Bond flick (“With my army of snowclones, world domination will be mine!”), the term was coined by a linguist to describe what you might call ‘fill-in-the-blank’ clichés, like ‘X is the new Y,’ or that was ‘the mother of all _____s,’ or ‘the ______ from Hell.’ (I try to make my column entertaining AND educational. You’re welcome.)

I wonder about clichés. What about the first guy who said ‘one hand washes the other’? Was he pissed when everybody started saying it? Or did his friends just look at him funny, like “Well, duh! That’s how hand-washing works!” And some clichés don’t make much sense. Before it became a cliché, did people need to be constantly reminded to look before they leapt?

Sometimes clichés aren’t all they’re cracked up to be (see what I did there? I used a cliché to describe clichés!) Like when you want to point out that two things are dissimilar—they’re like ‘apples and oranges.’ Not very effective, since apples and oranges are both fruit. Shouldn’t it be ‘that’s like apples and…trucks’? And there’s always a flipside to clichés—you could say that ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,’ but you could also argue that ‘what doesn’t kill us weakens us so that it’s easier to kill us in the future.’ Granted, that’s not as effective as an affirmation.

I’ve been thinking a lot about words lately, which I’ve found is much less labor-intensive than actually writing words. Let alone the whole ‘stringing words together into sentences’ deal. And then the sentences have to somehow connect to each other? Oy.

There are, to be sure, pros and cons about being a freelance writer. On the plus side, I work when I’m inspired to work, not because it’s…Monday. In the minus column, I only get paid when I’ve actually done something, as opposed to getting paid because it’s…Friday.

I read once that to be a successful freelancer, one should treat every day as if one had a regular job. Get up at a certain time, put in your eight hours, etc. Because the myth of freelancing is that you ‘make your own hours,’ when in reality, you have to work with the exact same hours everyone else does. It’s not like you get special ‘freelance hours’ that are eighty minutes long, or freelance days with extra hours in them.

The magic phrase is ‘be your own boss.’ Great idea in theory, but the problem I face is that I’m a shitty boss. Combine that with the fact that I’m kind of a crappy worker, and productivity can really suffer.

For instance, as my boss, I tend to let myself start work around eleven-ish, and I don’t even notice that for most of my first hour on the job, I’m using my work computer to surf the web. Now in my defense, those Scrabble tiles won’t move themselves. But still, you’d think a good boss would at least wander by my desk occasionally to keep me focused. Also, even though I appreciate a laid-back workplace, I’m not sure it’s a great idea to have a boss that lets me smoke pot at work.

I think I’m gonna find a business supply store, buy myself a time clock and attach it to my desk, just to get that tangible feeling of “Now it’s time to start working.” I’ll trick myself into being productive. Maybe I’ll pick up some partitions and turn my desk into a cubicle (I was actually curious where one would buy a cubicle, and I found out there is a company in Dallas called Cubiclemart, which may win the award for most soulless business name in history).

One big difference between a freelance career and a real job is that, in a real job, once you have the gig, you just keep showing up, whereas I have to keep getting rehired every time I finish something. The truth is, I’m not too worried. I’m starting a new assignment tomorrow, so I’ll probably take the rest of today off. Besides, I heard somewhere that not working is the new work.