Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nonplussed

It is easy to be nonplussed by the word "nonplussed."

It is commonly used as a substitute for "unfazed" or undaunted," although it means perplexed or bewildered.

Surprisingly, there's no entry for nonplussed in The Associated Press Stylebook.

At least not yet.

(But in my experience as a copy editor, or copyeditor, if you prefer, at a newspaper, the sports desk seemed to shun The AP Stylebook about as much as some of its prose stylists shucked modesty and moderation, especially in the Run-Away or Rampant Metaphor Department. I digress.)

Today I saw this sentence in the sports section (called "Sport" [singular] in British papers) of the local paper:

"[name of basketball player] seems nonplussed by the big time."

True, you can't tell what the sense is just by that sentence, but if you read on you understand by context that the intended sense was "unfazed."

I refer you to Charles Hodgson for an enriching and entertaining history of "nonplussed."

I don't deny that words change meaning and would not be surprised to find that perfectly acceptable dictionaries now give variant definitions for nonplussed that incorporate the "right" and the "wrong" meanings.

I don't get my Y-fronts in a knot over these things.

A pedant does reside in my bones, but I also am capable of sitting back and enjoying the etymological ride, so to speak.

(Note to true editors: yes, yes, yes, this post is a mess regarding consistent or proper use of quotation marks and italics. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Posturing

So the physical therapist launched into a valedictory sermon on posture, pointedly telling Pawlie that keeping the back and shoulders straight while sitting, while typing, while anythinging, is paramount in mitigating my rotator cuff impingement and toward pain prevention. Not that I disagreed. How could I? Not that I am unwilling to try. Why should I be? But a certain gloom hovers over my shoulders in knowing the tenacity of habits, the tenuousness of reform, in this case, literal re-forming. But that gloom is not supposed to round my shoulders, slump them forward.

Lips together teeth apart. Or tongue against the roof of the mouth. Those exercises were simple enough but hard enough to persist in, to alleviate terrible TMJ pain last year (mostly gone now).

Habits die hard. New ones take root in a soil of fragility.

To say nothing of moral posturing, or other poses.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lawn Mower in the Snow

bless me, Father Luke
for I have sinned against suburbia
leaving our lawn mower naked in the snow
and no place to go
except down to the catshit moldy basement
to endure an icy hangover
all winter long
I'm afraid
to look at maybe puddles
pooled around the stoic machine
down there down there
that oldtimer coinage
for the carnival
the southern summer riot

Maybe if I had had the courtesy to anchor
the reaper under the maple the snowfall
may have been kinder
though I doubt it 'cause
the naked branches afforded no
shelter the leaves sulking yellow
until I used the Sears-bought Briggs & Stratton
to mulch the leaves just
a few weeks ago it was a miracle where
did the leaves escape to in the November dusk

Jason the Argue-not
up the street
what does he say about all this
he is mum presiding
over his abandoned patio furniture
from the sweltering garden party
six chairs empty waiting
for the Board of Bankruptcy and Emptiness
to convene to cancel all convention
mummified alabaster on white
a silent pantomime
waiting for the players to clink glasses
once again a toast
and tell mosquito stories
once again
I'd call that hope
a great white hope
spiked by a greeny stubbornness



Monday, November 17, 2008

Mirabile Non Dictu

Back in high school, in Latin class, we learned the phrase "mirabile dictu," o wonderful thing to say. After listening this weekend to a fine interview with Gay Talese, on PRI's "To the Best of Our Knowledge," I realized, a bit, the value of "mirabile non dictu," o wonderful thing not to say, the silences between sentences or words.


[silence]


As Talese wrote in Origins,

I learned [from my mother] ... to listen with patience and care, and never to interrupt even when people were having great difficulty in explaining themselves, for during such halting and imprecise moments ... people are very revealing--what they hesitate to talk about can tell much about them. Their pauses, their evasions, their sudden shifts in subject matter are likely indicators of what embarrasses them, or irritates them, or what they regard as too private or imprudent to be disclosed to another person at that particular time. However, I have also overheard many people discussing candidly with my mother what they had earlier avoided--a reaction that I think had less to do with her inquiring nature or sensitively posed questions than with their gradual acceptance of her as a trustworthy individual in whom they could confide.

I interrupt too much. This underscores the danger, the harm, caused by my hyperexuberant conversational reflexes. It shows the spiritual index of silence. But . . .

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Money Is No Object

"Money is no object."

It's a line straight out of gangster movies or stories of political scandals.

Or today's news stories.

Help me out here.

The mega-normous financial bailout was supposedly $700 billion. Then the final bill was said to be $800 billion (or was it more?) with all the sweeteners added to the bill to get it passed. But news stories still tend to say "$700 billion bailout."

Sheesh.

Which is it?

Oh well, what's a hundred billion dollars here or there? (Just ask the folks at A.I.G.)

It's so much beyond our comprehension, does anyone care?

Can some math wizard break it down into something practical, like dollars per minute per adult? Or how may pounds of pasta it would buy? Or Tootsie Rolls? Something!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An Oily Substance

Light Sweet Crude.

Don't you just love that term to describe petroleum?

Yass, yasss, yassss, many have taken up the banner and used that term, or parts of it, for business or marketing or what-not. A lot of what-not.

Light Sweet Crude.

It's a moniker I could imagine for myself, or more accurately imagine others imagining about me. However, on any given day, I submit that I must quibble as to the accuracy of any one of that trio of adjectives.

Lightly, sweetly, and crudely yours,

The Laughorist.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Taxonomy of Taxiness

This in today's Syracuse Post-Standard:

"At midafternoon, stickers on entrance doors to the restaurant stated,

' This property has been seized for nonpayment of taxes and is in possession of New York state.' "

Yikes! Would I love to be the lawyer representing that defendant, if the sticker posted on the premises has any bearing on the case.

So, let me parse this parsimoniously: if you want to gain possession of one of the largest states in the Union, the venerable Empire State, just stop paying your taxes?

It's a queer bit of illogical logic, but these are odd times.

Who said grammar ain't important (or impotent, pronounced with the accent on the second syllable for humorous effect)?

Talk about the -tax in syntax!

Monday, November 10, 2008

wordie-ness

lambent, a word I cherish

from Merriam-Webster (and dictionaries are NOT the same):

Pronunciation:
\ˈlam-bənt\
Function:
adjective
Etymology:
Latin lambent-, lambens, present participle of lambere to lick — more at lap
Date:
1647
1 : playing lightly on or over a surface : flickering
2 : softly bright or radiant
3 : marked by lightness or brilliance especially of expression
— lam·bent·ly adverb

Maybe, my sense is off. The morning light is silently still, not flickering.

And let me ask you: does anyone know why lights on lightposts always look like they are flickering when you look down at them on the ground from an airplane? An illusion? Or what?

Lambent Light

gone is gray

lambent light today

moist chill burning off

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Gray

Or grey, as our Brit brethren and sisthren spell it.

This evening was steel-newsprint gray with mist and impending flurries.

Walking the dog, I felt winter crowding in. I wore my heavy winter coat and wore gloves.

The unseen geese above sounded like barking puppies.

On last night's walk, the wolves or coyotes at the nearby zoo were wailing like sirens, like their neighbor hyenas. But I don't think it was hyenas.

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Keep on Truckin' (Not!)

Ever see this sign on the back of a dump truck?

CONSTRUCTION VEHICLE

DO NOT FOLLOW

Now, honestly, what's a driver supposed to do?

Slam on the brakes?

Kick it into reverse?

These are perilous options, especially alongside many fast-moving vehicles on a superhighway.

Just sayin'.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Say What?

At Wegmans today [they don't use the apostrophe and their reasoning is weak] I saw a guy with a long goatee who had these words emblazoned on his black shirt:

Everything Louder Than Everything Else

in a Gothic-looking script.

After a slight bit of Google-addled research, I discovered what many of you already knew, that this is more or less a heavy-metal rock credo, with a rich musical history. Or maybe a Harley-Davidson creed.

As an observer [see my recent post], I was amused by the phrase's tautology and by its koan-like blend of logic and absurdity.

I like it.

It reminds me of a quote by Albert Einstein: "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."

It offers an array of endless possibilities to ponder and play with:

Everything Holier Than Everything Else

Everything more silent than nothing else.

nothing more silent than nothing else

no one more singular than everything else

something less logical than nobody home

either

or

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Out-takes

1. Several weeks ago, wearing an Obama T-shirt, I am accosted in the university area by a panhandler near Starbucks. I'm in no mood. "Hey, Obama!" he shouts out once I'm across the street. He takes me as an easy mark. I'm not. Like I said, I ain't in no mood. I always gladly help out the neighborhood guy, Mike, who makes his living collecting bottles and cans. That's his job. Mike never panhandles. In fact, he does not ask for anything, just works the streets, even in the dead of winter. We've become first-name friends.

2. Yesterday, Election Day, at Arby's in rural Upstate New York, a young truck driver glares and glowers at me; he wants to catch my eye. At first I thought he was staring at me because we knew each other. I come to realize it must be my Obama button. I'm afraid, honestly wary, about saying anything to him. He looks steely and fierce. I eat, read the paper (the Times, of course), don't raise my eyes. He leaves, drives off in his huge waste hauler.

3. Today, Hess gas station, west side of Syracuse, I'm buying the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Daily News, The Post-Standard. I'm standing in line next to a black woman, professional, maybe in her forties. I've got my bow tie on and sport jacket. Our eyes meet. I say, "It's a great day, isn't it?" "It's a beautiful day," she says, her face radiant, beatific. We both exchange campaign stories. I tell how the day before, in Athens, Pennsylvania, young and old, black and white, Hispanic, straight and gay, worked together. "This is America." She tells of having 18 kids, presumably students, work in the campaign. We have tears in our eyes. I think she thanked me. Huh? Did I thank her? I walk to my car. I want to just walk back inside and hug her, but by then she was either gone or other customers were in line. Plus maybe she'd think I was weird, but I don't think she would. More likely, I'm afraid of what emotions would pour out of me.

4. Later this morning I fetishistically go to buy another copy of the Times (they say they were selling for $199 on Ebay; people in various cities waited in line merely to buy newspapers!). I wanted a copy without a price tag of $1.75 on it (besides, it's only supposed to be$1.50). I want a clean, unblemished original. An older woman, matronly, 60s or 70s, is behind the counter. Humorless. You know the type. "It's pretty historic. A good day to buy the paper." Nothing. Blank. "Here's your change, sir."

5. Wearing the button is a cultural-political-emotional barometer of sorts. "Obama!" a woman in the post office says to me in the mall post office, in a good way, I surmise.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

History

Walking the walk, I drove (not walked) to "battleground state" Pennsylvania (Athens, Pennsylvania, to be exact) today, making calls to prospective voters, for Barack Obama, I'm proud to say, this in addition to canvassing several weeks ago, with my daughter, 11, in Erie.

For once, The Laughorist was not a voyeur of his history or history with an initial cap (i-cap, as editors say).

I feel spiritually and emotionally obliged to post on this historic (not "historical," as some have erred) day.

I close with these two quotes, from an American treasure, the nonpareil ballerina Suzanne Farrell:

"You don't just become a ballerina; you have to get there, and the only way to get there is to live and dance."

I quote these words because if you substitute "person" or "citizen" for "ballerina," and if you substitute "act" or "do" for "dance," you have the same existential equation. More or less. Or you have parts of the same Zen koan.

And:

"You have to live in the now, and you make your now."

Amen.

See, liberals can say "amen" too.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Report From The Observatory

"The observer is the observed." -- Krishnamurti

What a paradigm for bloggers.

We observe, we watch, we report -- on matters external and internal. And others observe these observations and watch and report. It's a loop.

The very act of observing changes me.

If I observe my own thoughts and actions, especially in writing, the act provides objectivity, and that objectivity reduces the "I" factor, enabling serenity.

But do we change what we observe, as the observer effect in physics states (often confused with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle)?

You tell me, dear reader.