Tag Archives: change

Save Anglo-Saxon Verbiage!

20 Apr

I was writing the world “albeit” the other day and thinking two things: 1) how much I enjoy these archaic combo words and 2) how quickly these words are disappearing from English. Nonetheless, I should forfend the loss and pledge my troth to the plasticity of English.

To quote a famous radio personality, “English is the bastard of them all.” It’s got Norse, mixed with ancient German, add French softening, and a whole lot of loan words. So it shouldn’t be a surprise when these Old/Middle English words are disappearing… because that’s what language does. It adapts.

Trying to read anything more than a hundred years old is difficult. If you were dropped in the middle of Victorian New York City, you would have real trouble trying to communicate with the locals. You might understand the words, but because you don’t speak in that way, you would have difficulty being understood. The difference between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Ernest Hemingway is night and day. I remember reading Sherlock Holmes as a teenager and loving it, but tried to reading it as an adult, and couldn’t get through a single story!

I love words like “nonetheless.” Sure, I could write “however” instead, but there’s a certain glee I have in using this older term in a sentence. But looking up a list of archaic words, I realize the reason I can keep using “albeit” is because it’s still applicable, where as “tweeny” (a maid who assisted both the cook and the housemaid) doesn’t come up in conversation because so few people have household servants. We use “housekeeper” or “butler” or “janitor” because that’s the only context we have with cleaning staff.

We can also blame the Bible–until the 1900’s, the main English translation of the Bible was the King James Version–and since most English speakers were fluent in Bible reading, a lot of those 17th Century terms and idioms lasted a lot longer than they would have. “Thenceforth, thereunto, and therewith” disappeared from most common vernacular, but everyone knew what they meant, because they read it every Sunday. As there are now less Christians, less church attendance, and a lot more readable translations of the Bible, the KJV and its sway on English disappears.

Horses are not our main form of transportation, so “steed” doesn’t get used. “Weak beer” implies a time where you only had three choices at the bar–weak beer, strong beer, and hard liquor. “Slipshod” can still be used, but away from the original meaning of a broken shoe heel. Many words that originally meant one thing doesn’t mean that anymore. “Quality” meaning good products instead of good people, “portion” meaning a piece of the whole instead of destiny or dowry… and how many parents give a “dowry” for that matter?

On the other hand, we’ve come up with new words because we didn’t have something to defining them. “Doxing” for online shaming of public figures, although that comes from “doxy,” old term for “whore.” “Hacking” as a word changed meanings within computer science. A hack was originally a shortcut that a programmer discovered to make the program run faster, but then it was applied to cutting through other people’s software defenses.

There’s probably better examples out there–do you have any? Let me know in the comments below! Then if you want to expand your word power, check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too expensive an education, go ahead and download one of my stories for free!

Moments of Transition and Moments of Revelation

19 Apr

I’m a fan of quotations. Not being very quick-witted myself, I rely on other people’s quotes to fake it, and… they’ve helped me form my life. So when I think about my current life change, I’m fond of taking inspiration from a sci-fi TV show from 20 years ago.

At the end of Season 3, Babylon 5 had a particularly great season finale. When you write for a living, the show’s creator (known best as JMS) tends to crank out a lot of wisdom with the whimsy. So he had his character G’Kar, who started out as the angry, hungry politician, and then became the wiser, clever exile, to be his source for giving the high-level wise view of the situations. So G’Kar says, “We are caught between moments of transition and moments of revelation. This had the feeling of both.”

I consider this quote gospel. We’re either transitioning from one thing to another, from one project to another, from one crisis to another… or we have that moment where everything changes, that revelation.

As humans, we are rarely content with any situation we’re in; I think that links back on a genetic level. We constantly strive for something better, and as a result, get a civilization. This has disastrous effects as well, but that’s part of who we are–we want to do more. Even the most fulfilling relationship, most considerate job, the most wonderful kids will still leave us wondering… what if? To quote different characters on Babylon 5:

Franklin: “It’s all so brief, isn’t it? Typical human lifespan is almost a hundred years, but it’s barely a second compared to what’s out there. It wouldn’t be so bad if life didn’t take so long to figure out. Seems you just start to get it right and then… it’s over.”

Ivanova: “Doesn’t matter. If we lived two hundred years, we’d still be human. We’d still make the same mistakes.”

Franklin: “You’re a pessimist.”

Ivanova: “I am Russian, Doctor. We understand these things.”

Babylon 5, Soul Hunter

So when I’m worried about what changes this is going to cause in my life, I have to remind myself that 1) change is inevitable and 2) it’s good to experience new things. Maybe it will help me realize that the problems I have in my own life are not the result of my current job situation. Maybe it will fix them. Maybe it will make them worse, who knows? All I do is take comfort from my Uncle Chuck’s advice: “There are things about any job that you hate. The trick is if the positives outweigh the negatives. If they don’t, find another job.”

Even the best job I’ve had–the one I’ve worked at the longest (5 years), that major hospital–had things about it that bugged me. First of all, it was located in a city that sucked hard… but they couldn’t help that. But second, my perfect setup and flexibility between working at home and the office was going away. My department was being absorbed into Information Services and they had a very bad rap of demoralizing their employees. It was a highly negative environment and I got out before working from your cube became mandatory.

Which makes it rather ironic that I so desperately want to get back to that option. However, I took comfort from something my new boss told me as a warning. (How strange is that?) He said, “This is a driving position. You’ll have to occasionally drive to other locations to meet with contacts. You won’t be at your desk all the time.” And when he said that, the heavens opened, and I felt like, “Yes! That’s what I want!” To have the option to work from home, work from a desk, work from someone else’s desk, and still have the comfort of doing my regular job… that is amazing.

So I’m very hopeful that this new job will be a good fit for me. At the same time, I know the honeymoon period will wear off after six months, and it’ll just be a job again. But I feel I should embrace this moment of revelation while it lasts. But what do you think? Is it a fallacy to think one change in your life will affect everything else? Or since we define so much of our lives in our work, will it have a greater effect than I expect? Let me know in the comments below! Then if you like my ramblings, check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too rich for your blood, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. I’d appreciate it.

The Hunt for More Work

17 Feb

One of my favorite authors used to describe himself with, “He tends to prescript his life, but gets confused why no one can get their lines right.” So I’m stepping onto stage without a script. . I’m feeling like it’s time to move on from my current job, but simply the idea of it frightens the hell out of me.

Change is scary–work change doubly so. Stepping into the unknown is always something that frightens us. Sure, the situation at work might be difficult, but at least, it’s a known difficulty. New bosses, new jobs, new relationships… even with the idea that things might be better–or at least different–I still feel reluctant to leave the same ol, same ol for something new.

Back when I was a traveling consultant (what I did before being full time), I usually didn’t worry about the change… because change was part of the job. You worked for three to six months in one location, and when the job was over, it was over. The only worry came from not having a contract waiting for me when I finished. Playing the waiting game for a month or two really sucked, but I got used to the cycle of interviews, recruiters, and the like.

Oh, how a couple years can change all that. I had a phone interview today and I was rather worried… even knowing this was only the first step and that it’s usually just a formality, but the fact that it was the first one I got back in my job search made this far more important in my mind.

What does change mean? Often times, my nature seeks out change for change’s sake. The same ol’, same ol’ is rarely a comfort. Long ago, my wife and I read a book called “The Goddesses in Every Woman,” by Jean Shinoda Bolen and the companion book, “Gods in Every Man.” It’s based on the Jungian archetype model, using Greek gods as the archetype examples that you can compare personalities with. We found it very useful, and of course, no one is just one archetype. For me, I tend to be dominant Hermes and lesser Ares. So in other words, I don’t just expect change, I thrive in it. Ares is the… not so nice part of me, my temper, frustration, and yet, there is strength in the God of War. It’s just that in Greek myth, Ares was the god of battle lust, Athena was the goddess of strategy–there’s a reason those two are seperated.

So it seems that every six months, I look out there, just to see if there’s a better job, but usually it cycles with stressful moments at work. However, I may have to accept that this is my pattern–there is no perfect job–and that I constantly need to find new ways to make my current work exciting… but there’s no harm looking. 😉

What do you think? How have your job searches been in the past? Have you had the joy of being wooed by headhunters or have always been the pursuer? Let me know in the comments below!

Hints, Allegations, and Things Unsaid

13 Jan

I hear a lot of commercials for podcasts, but the phrase “Be the plant-strong person you were meant to be” stuck in my head. We resolve to be better people, but I’ve been wondering lately, even if we succeed, what do we gain?

In the end, we all want to feel better. For example, I need to lose weight. I know exactly what I can do to lose weight. I also know that my body will plateau twenty pounds lighter and will not move, despite how strict I keep to my diet. That means I will still be fifty pounds overweight at best. Why am I denying myself joy if the end result is only fractionally better?

For me, if I could get down to my high school senior year weight of 180 (at the edge of healthy BMI and I look lanky even then), then I would feel like it would be worth it. I would look good, be able to get results from exercise, and wear thinner clothes. But that’s not the end result–the end result is slightly slimmer, slightly better, and denying myself joy through food and drink.

I guess that I have to question whether or not something brings me joy (now I’m sounding like Marie Condo). My wife has been on my case for my drinking habits, and I’ve resolved not to drink around the house, but only when I go to the bar. I’ll admit, that did help–I certainly wasn’t getting any benefit from being day drunk. At first, it was to fight the boredom, and now, I don’t really need that anymore. Not that I’m not still bored, but I realized that I wasn’t getting joy from that alternative.

The main problem I face is that–in the end–my life will still be roughly the same. Whether I’m fatter or thinner doesn’t improve or decrease my life experience. I’m still a middle-aged semi-bald man working from home with a wife and two kids. I’m not about to hit the dating scene, I’m not run a marathon, or ride in a century race.

However, improving my relationships will improve my life. My wife and I have agreed to write a list of things we like to do separately and together. I always try to do things my kids want to do, and I often drag them to do stuff I want to do. I should invite more people to Friday dinner. If I want better friendships, I should be willing to do more for people. That seems like a better resolution and something that will actually improve my life.

There’s a reason why when we get older, we make less resolutions. But I think this is a good one: make better relationships. What do you think? Have you got a better resolution? A simpler one? What works for you? Let me know in the comments below!

Sownynge in Moral Vertu was his Speche

25 Oct

When I used to teach World History, one of the things I would demonstrate is how much English as a language changed in just 600 years… but I’m realizing that English hasn’t stopped changing, and will continue to do so.

So in my class, I would start with Beowulf, circa 1000 CE, and quote:

Hwæt! Wé Gárdena in géardagum
þéodcyninga þrym gefrúnon
hú ðá æþelingas ellen fremedon.

Listen! We –of the Spear-Danes in the days of yore,
of those clan-kings– heard of their glory.
how those nobles performed courageous deeds.

It’s unintelligible – it doesn’t even sound like English. You catch maybe two words that you recognize. That’s only a thousand years old.

Then I would go to Chaucer. Since the motto of my alma mater, Illinois State University, had a quote from the Canterbury Tales (circa 1400), I memorized the Clerk’s introduction in the General Prologue:

Sownynge in moral vertu was his speche,
And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly tech.

Filled with moral virtue was his speech;
And gladly would he learn and gladly teach.

This time, it sounded more recognizable, but still foreign. It’s also rather cool and appropriate for a teacher’s college. Side note: right before I graduated, ISU decided that their motto wasn’t gender-inclusive, so they asked their professors to suggest new mottos that didn’t have he or she. Instead of going with any of those, the committee went with “Gladly we learn and teach.” Seriously? (groan) That’s why the unofficial motto of ISU is “I Screwed Up.”

Then I would advance two hundred years and hit them with Shakespeare. However, only recently did I learn about The Great Tonal Shift ™. So even Shakespeare – 400 years ago – didn’t sound like Shakespeare, it sounded closer to Middle English. We softened some vowels around 1800, changed some pronouncations – I can’t help but think that had more to do with London English suddenly getting deluged by all the countryside accents that combined when their owners came in to work in the factories. So what sounded closer to what we think of as Cockney accent – or more likely, West Cornish – was closer to how Shakespeare sounded.

There’s a particular actor named Ben Crystal who works in London whose made performing in OP (Original Pronunciation) his particular niche. It also helps that his dad is a linguist, so he grew up with this, however, it’s amazing to hear him perform:

Of course, it doesn’t stop with Shakespeare. Every year, thousands of high school sophomores are subjected to The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, which was only written 150 years ago… and it’s very difficult to read. Not unintelligible, but written for people who had a very different expectation from their books… a very different worldview than a modern-day reader. I used to love Sherlock Holmes stories as a teenager – only 100 years old – but now I cannot enjoy them at all. It’s difficult to read anything written before Hemingway (70-90 years old).

I find this incredibly fascinating – and should expect to change in the future. Did I miss something? Is there a better example of changed English? Let me know in the comments below!

Shrug Shoulders, Smile Awkwardly

4 Aug

When I was living overseas, I figured that if I ever wrote a travel book, I would have to call it “A Land Where No One Makes Change.” Where I lived in the Indian Himalayas, everything was a cash economy. Yet strangely, no storekeeper EVER had change for your big 500 rupee bills. Were they lying? Or was there a deeper reason?

To preface this, I was working in Uttarakhand State about 15 years ago, but I just bet this is still the case. Lot of things changed while I was living in Mussoorie. First off, they changed the state name from Uttaranchal to Uttarakhand (Northern Valley to Valley of the Gods… I think), we finally got a real pizza place (Dominos is frickin’ gourmet compared to sweet tomato sauce on baked bread), and our very own cafe (Barista). I’m sure I wouldn’t recognize the Buz (bazaar) if I went back.

However, I bet few people have credit card readers, and most of the stores will have difficulty making change for a 500 rupee note. Now, for my Western readers, if you do the calculation, that’s only US $6.67. However, the purchasing power of that note in the hills is closer to $13-20! To explain, I was making $3600/year – that put me in the poverty range back home in America, but made me upper middle class in the mountains. I had two servants (a housekeeper and a laundry man) and a 43-year-old Bajaj green scooter that I called the Hulk (it was mean, green, and dangerous to ride).

Of course, I didn’t pay for my apartment or utilities, so there was some benefits. However, I saved up enough cash even on that little to pay for a round-trip plane ticket back home! THAT’S how far my US Poverty Level salary extended. So when you’re going to a storekeeper than maybe makes… oh, Rs.100-200/day and has to pay rent, food, fuel, and take care of their elderly mother singing bhajans (hymns) all day, that burns out fast. Gee, I wonder why they couldn’t make change for a note that equaled a week’s profit?!

So when I see signs in the US saying, “We can’t make change,” that’s where my mind goes. It didn’t help that the ATM machine only kicked out 500 rupee notes, so if you wanted change, you went to the “grocery stores” or you waited in “line” at the bank. NOTE: neither of those statements are accurate. “Sardarji’s” was the size of a big closet and crammed to the ceiling with packaged groceries, with fruits and veggies on top of other shelves crammed with stuff. If something didn’t sell, it stayed there… forever. That wasn’t even the name of the store: it was “Harkrishan Store” and it was run by a father and son who were both Sikhs. So since “sardar” is the (insulting) nickname for Sikhs, you soften it by giving it the honorific “-ji.” Also, no one ever lined up at the bank teller; they just moved as a mob to get to the front. Not always the case in India, but at my bank, yes.

In the US, I rarely use cash–everyone has card readers, except for the rare exceptions of the dive bar I frequent weekly–and that has more to do with the economic hit they took for being closed for three months. They couldn’t afford to pay their fees!

Have you been having trouble making change? Have you run into this problem before? Let me know in the comments below!

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