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.

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it’s the little things

I believe there’s not nearly enough anger in the world. OK, not really. But I do think a lot of society’s problems go unsolved because nobody gets angry about them. Righteous anger.

So I figure, maybe people need to practice getting angry. Find some little things to get angry about, then work your way up to things that really matter. So think of this as an anger training workshop. We’ll find little, seemingly meaningless things that nonetheless, really piss us off, and try to nurture that little spark of outrage within. I’ll start.

CLICHES WHICH, WHEN BROKEN DOWN, ACTUALLY MAKE NO SENSE

This one is like a thousand nails on a thousand chalkboards to me. “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” Yes, you can.Think about it. You buy a cake and take it home. You now have a cake. Then you eat the cake. You have now had your cake, and eaten it, too. The phrase to express ‘not being able to have things both ways’ should be “you can’t eat your cake and have it, too” because if you’ve eaten your cake, you obviously don’t have it anymore.

STUPID NAMES FOR THINGS THAT WE HAVE TO SAY BECAUSE WE NEED THE THING WITH THE STUPID NAME AND THE PERSON WHO HAS WHAT WE NEED INSISTS ON CALLING IT BY THE STUPID NAME
I love Arby’s sandwiches–something about odd-tasting mass-produced quasi-beef product topped with a plasticene kinda-sorta cheese is comfort food for me. But the experience is ruined when I have to ask for packets of ‘horsey sauce.’ I feel like an idiot asking for ‘horsey sauce.’ It’s  horseradish! Or…is it?  Why isn’t the FDA investigating this? True story: I asked for two packets of horseradish at an Arby’s once and the person at the window was actually stumped for a second until I said “You know, horsey sauce.” By the way, I get just as angry at coffeehouses which have three sizes of cups but you can’t ask for a ‘small’ because they call their ‘small’ a’medium’. It’s hard to communicate with someone when they decide to REDEFINE WHAT WORDS MEAN!
PEOPLE WHO PUSH A BUTTON MORE THAN ONCE IN THE BELIEF THAT IT WILL MAKE THE LIGHT CHANGE (OR THE ELEVATOR COME) MORE QUICKLY
Stop it. Just stop it. The mystical forces which control the Walk/Don’t Walk  signals and the elevator do not care that you are late for a meeting. In fact, you end up vexing the Elevator God by your manic
button-pushing. I’m no electrical engineer, but you might actually be damaging the little doo-dad that sends the signal to the thingie that makes the elevator come. And by the way, if you see me push the button and you’re waiting for the same elevator, it doesn’t do any good to push it again. This just insults me, as if you’re saying, “Yeah, I know you pushed the button, but you should let me handle this.”
WHEN I PAY FOR MY PURCHASE AT THE REGISTER, PUT MY HAND OUT FROR MY CHANGE, AND THE CASHIER PUTS MY CHANGE ON THE COUNTER
Look, I suppose there’s always the chance that by putting my change into my outstretched hand, you might contract some flesh-eating bacteria, but when you think about it, I don’t know where your hands have been, either. I’m willing to take the risk.
WHEN I GIVE ALL OF MY INFORMATION TO THE FIRST CUSTOMER SERVICE GUY, FIND OUT HE CAN’T ACTUALLY HELP ME, SO HE TRANSFERS ME TO ANOTHER GUY, AND I HAVE TO GIVE HIM THE EXACT SAME INFORMATION
I’m pretty sure that any company with enough technology for menu options in their phone system also has the ability have the first guy send my name, account number, billing address, last four digits of my social security number and THE REASON I’M CALLING to the second guy BEFORE the call is actually transferred. Maybe your computers could actually be… I don’t know…networked or something.
Well, these are just a few of the everyday nuisances which, if unaddressed, will simply lead to more stupidity, which will lead to more irritation, more pent-up rage, and ultimately, civilization as we know it will collapse. Of course, it could be just me.
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