“Realistic” as a slur

I’ve been having fun recently thinking about two sets of terms that are so close to each other, in a way, and yet so very far apart.

The first set is real/realistic. It comes from the most recent remake of Miracle on 34th Street. The interchange between the little girl on Santa’s lap and Santa goes like this.

Susan: But you’re a very good Santa Claus. Your beard is stuck on real tight. Usually the Santa’s whiskers are too loose. Yours are realistic.

Santa: That’s because they ARE real.

This is what Susan (Mara Wilson) looks like then the beard doesn’t come off when she pulls it.

Real. Realistic. “Realistic” specifies that they are not real and comments on how nearly they look—or smell or feel or sound—like the real thing. It would take a revolution in Susan’s world to enable her to ask whether they are real.

If the whiskers are real, it would only require that the person playing Santa Claus have an actual beard of his own. He brings his own beard to playing the role of Santa Claus. But, of course, there is another possible meaning as well, which is that the beard is real because Santa Claus is real and this is THE Santa Claus.

That question is addressed in this same scene, where the double-valued word is “employee.” Here’s how that goes. Susan introduces herself as the daughter of the woman who runs the Cole’s parade and, we know as viewers, the woman who hired Santa Claus to play the part of Santa Claus in the department store

Susan: I know how this all works. You are an employee of Cole’s.

Santa: THAT is true.

What Susan means, and what she thinks she said, is that the man on whose lap she is sitting is “the Cole’s department store Santa Claus AND NOT THE REAL THING.” What Santa says in reply is precisely correct. He is an employee of Cole’s. He does not touch on the question of whether he is also the real Santa Claus.[1]

So “real” and “realistic” operate on different levels entirely. The second set of words to be set side by side is “diverse” and “perverse.” The -verses are the same, of course,[2] but they appear, in a manner of speaking, in different chapters.

Things that are “diverse” are “turned different ways,” according the Latin root diversus. [3] The di- is the remnant of dis-, which suggests a variety of turns, just as convert uses con- to suggest turning back and traverse uses trans- to travel across. No judgment is implied in any of these. Going on and going back and going different ways are all fine in the right circumstances. [4]

“Perverse” isn’t like that. The prefix per- gives us “away” or “askew.” Those are not good. There is a norm, in other words, that supports “perverse” just as there is a norm that supports “real.” And the behavior in question does not, according to the speaker, conform to that norm. If there were no norm, “diverse” would work just fine; if there is a norm and the behavior in question violates it, “diverse” is just not enough.

So no amount of diversity gets you to perversity. It isn’t a superlative form. For anything to be perverse, some norm must be proposed so that “away from” can mean something. Someone with a greater attraction to making trouble than I have might ask, when some thing is called “perverse,” just what norm is being violated.

My guess is that it would be hard to say sometimes and, at other times, not so hard to say, but hard to admit.

[1] At the trial, the prosecutor asks him point blank if he is Santa Claus. “Yes, of course,” he replies.
[2] These two words share the root vertere = “to turn” but are differentiated by their prefixes.
[3] This one emerged in a conversation with my son, Doug, who, like his father, has a thing about words.

[4]  All the beautiful slim women represent “diversity” in some sense or other.  You have to look for it

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Doing agreement

Last night, I watched—again—one of the final episodes of The West Wing. In it, Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) asks Arnie Vinick (Alan Alda) to be his Secretary of State. This seems odd, on the surface, because Santos has just defeated Vinick in an extremely close presidential campaign. {1]

vinick 2Santos tries in several ways to use Vinick as a way to get the Vice President he wants. [2] Vinick sees that coming a mile off and refuses to play. In desperation, Santos just tells the truth. “I want you as my Secretary of State. You’re my first choice.”

It takes Vinick a long time to realize that he and the President agree on foreign policy. Everybody else knows it. Vinick’s staff knows it.   I want to tell you how Vinick finally got it. It is a TV example that I would like to practice in my real-life life.

The offer of Secretary of State is not a quid pro quo. [3]

Vinick: Secretary of State is not something you throw at the other party to show how bipartisan you are. The job is way more important than that.  This is your representative to the world.

Santos: I agree.

Vinick fears that he would be used only as a figurehead.

Vinick: You think you can make me Secretary of State and then ignore me and run all foreign policy out of the White House?

Santos: No.

Vinick: Anybody good enough to appoint would quit the day you try to go around the State Department.

Santos: I don’t want to go around you. I want you to do the job.

They go through a batch of others. All of their considerations ignore the agreement of the vinick 1two men on foreign policy generally and on Kazakhstan in particular, which is a crisis point in the seventh season of the show. Finally, this happens.

Vinick says, “I don’t know. I don’t know. This is crazy. I don’t see how this can work.” And that is precisely correct. He does not see; he cannot “see” how it will work. And when he demonstrates to himself that it will work, it doesn’t require his “seeing” anything. Only doing something and that will force him, eventually—not during this show—to see how they agree.

That is the last assessment anyone makes from the outside. There are no further objections, there are no refusals based on some suspected political strategy or on any category, even “We agree on foreign policy.”

Santos: Here’s today’s intelligence report on Kazakhstan. There’s a interesting item in there on page two. Second paragraph.

Vinick: What, the Chinese demanding a veto on routing of the pipeline?

Santos: Yeah, they’ve never said that before.

Vinick: Don’t worry.

There is more of Vinick’s thought below, but I want you to stop for a moment and notice that the job is done right there. “Don’t worry” is not something a job applicant could say to a potential employer. It can be said by someone who has an “us” in mind and who is seeing things from the same side as his former opponent. This is the advice a Secretary of State would give the President. But there is more.

Vinick: Chinese know they haven’t a chance of getting that, but they think the Russians do. So they demand it now before the Russians, so we won’t help either one.

Santos: So how do we move them out of their positions get them to agree to a compromise?

Vinick: You can lay the groundwork for that now. You let both sides know that in the endgame the Russians will have to get a share of Kazakhstan oil production and the Chinese are gonna have to have the pipeline. You make sure they understand you’re the one setting the agenda. You don’t have to make it explicit, just hint at it.

And the show ends as the two men—the President-elect and the Secretary of State designate continue their joint planning.

Experiencing Agreement.

Santos got Vinick to do the things he would be doing as Secretary of State. We don’t get to see the moment when Vinick realizes what has happened. [4] He just buries himself, at Santos’ invitation, in the work the Secretary of State would do.  He does the agreement long before he experiences it.

In that very limited sense, you could say that Santos got Vinick to be his Secretary of State without ever agreeing to. “Agreeing” would require that Vinick go back to the question of how many things he and the President-elect disagree on and it would be hard to come back to the truth everyone knows, which is “You agree on foreign policy.”

If there were a category called “doing agreement,” rather than the much more conscious “coming to agreement,” I could say that is what happens in this show. Vinick gets to “Don’t worry,” his first words as Santos’ Secretary of State without ever noticing what he has done.

Maybe that would work better for me than what I’ve been doing.

[1] “Flip 40,000 votes in Nevada and I win,” Vinick grumbled to his staff.
[2] The Vice President during the campaign was Leo McGarry, who is killed off in the show because John Spencer, who played McGarry, actually did die.
[3] I can’t write that Latin phrase without remembering Edwin Newman’s quip about a Korean boxer named Kid Pro Kwo. He didn’t win many fights, according to Newman, but he gave as good as he got.
[4] That would be fun, but the narrative doesn’t need it and I respect the writers for leaving it out. Still, it would have been fun.

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Thou shalt not share false witness

It looks just a little odd, doesn’t it? And yet, you know exactly what I am referring to. The language of the 8th commandment (by at least one ordering of the commandments) reads “bear false witness” and “share false witness” has the same sound. I will argue here that it ha, for the most part, the same meaning.

The social media environment has two characteristics that make it ethically difficult. [1] The first is that it is “bent.” [2] The second is that it is morally ambiguous. “It,” that environment, does not specify the roles we play in it, so we do not know how to respond to each other in that environment.  Friends treat each other like strangers and strangers like friends.  Opponents treat each other like enemies.  There seems no reason not to.

share 4Take, for instance, the notion that “a re-tweet is not an endorsement.” [3] I think that is demonstrably false. Let’s consider two notions of what “endorsement” means. The first is truth-value. I “endorse” a story as true by “sharing” [4] it with friends. The second is salience. I “endorse” a story as “meaningful” or “interesting” or “satisfying” or as morbidly confirmatory.

In the second kind of “endorsement,” I make no claims at all about the truth of the story. I inflict [5] this story on you because I think you should be interested in it or because I know you are interested in it.

There are probably not very many people who are positively inclined toward both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Newton Leroy Gingrich, so let me use them as polar cases. The story comes to you that Hillary is maintaining a child pornography ring in the basement of a pizza restaurant in Washington D. C. You hate Hillary, so you roll the story around on your tongue, reassuring yourself that this is just like her, whether the “specifics” (that means the story itself) are true or not. You have a bunch of “friends” [6] who also hate Hillary and you wish for them the same delicious experience you have had so you “share” it with them for their enjoyment.

You have not said the story is true, at least not in any direct way. Have you violated the commandment not to share false witness?

Newt Gingrich is a back alley fighter. He taught the Republicans under his tutelage in the share 2House of Representatives to work the media by calling their opponents ugly names and by alleging damning but unconfirmable [7] statements or actions on their enemy’s part. He brought a gun to the Congressional knife fight.

Did he really kill his first wife in the hospital by smothering her with a pillow so he could marry someone else? Well…maybe not literally. But the story is “true” in the sense that it would be just like Newt to do a thing like that. And when I heard the story, I relished it because it stoked by hatred of this evil man and I know that you would enjoy hating him too, so I pass this story along to you for its potential as emotional fuel. You and I will be closer for having shared this story and no one will be harmed by it.

You have not said the story is true, at least not in any direct way. Have you violated the commandment not to share false witness?

I think so.

On beyond the moral implications of being part of a group that is held together by hating the same people—which I am not raising in this essay—is the question of whether highlighting the significance of a story which you do not know to be true is the same as “sharing” a lie. I am arguing here that it is.

[1] I am drawing here on Regina Rini’s article in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal
[2] Her word. She goes so far as to refer to “bentness.” I take special pleasure in it because it is the word C. S. Lewis uses in his science fiction trilogy. Among all the oyeresu of the solar system, only the oyarsa of our planet is “bent.” Take my word for it.
[3] Rini uses “tweet” to refer to all social media. She doesn’t mean only Twitter.
[4] At the very base of the language part of the problem is the widespread use of the verb, “share.” It is a positively connoted word. Anyone who said, “I will share my lunch with you” will be understood. If he says, “I will share my AIDS with you,” he will not be understood because AIDS is bad and “share” is good. I wish we had not accepted “share” to include the spreading around of the most vicious and unsubstantiated rumors. But we have.
[5] I am wondering if “inflict” is precisely as negatively connoted work as “share” is positively connoted. The Latin root is flegere (past participial form is flictus) and it mans to beat or strike. So “I am sharing this beating with you” would be the sense of “inflict.”
[6] Not real friends. I mean people who have friended you of whom you have friended.
[7] Within that news cycle.

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What we know and how we know it

This is a small enjoyment of something I think is funny. It can be taken seriously, too, (in which case, of course, it is no longer funny) but it is clear to me that these two fully instances point to larger categories that might help us.

Screen Shot 2019-01-07 at 7.43.43 PM.pngI happened across this sign recently when I was looking for examples of the idea that when you “know” what something is about, it is hard to notice that other people might think it is about something else. I put it in that post, even though it didn’t fit as well as some others I had found, because I kept laughing at it. It still tickles me.

So here is an unreconstructed nerd who hears his girlfriend say that she needed more time and more distance (away from him) and translates it instantly [1] into velocity. She needs…um…velocity.

I think it is his confidence that engages me over and over. Sure. “I knew what she meant.” Needing “velocity” is the most reasonable meaning; physics is the most likely background for such a remark from his girlfriend. Sure.

In the other instance of this process, I am the clueless person.  I found this is notation in a piece music we were singing for a Vespers service. It was, of course, a religious service, but I think that, given time, I would have seen Gsus as “Jesus” anyway.

I knew it didn’t mean that. But I think that if I had known what it did mean—and I didn’t—it would never have occurred to me to see the appearance of a word rather than the meaning of it. So here is the meaning of it. [2] Just for the fun of it, I showed the mgsususic to the man who directs our choir at church. I asked him what he saw there on the page. He told me about the suspension and after it is resolved it winds up in the key of G and all that. I said, “That doesn’t look like Gsus (I pronounced it Jesus) to you?”

I think he was a little startled. The idea that it sounded like something that had nothing at all to do with music came from so far away for him. It reminded me of a lovely scene in Frank Conroy’s book, Body and Soul. The young boy, Claude Rawlings, takes a piece of music out of his piano bench and takes it to Mr. Wiesfeld, who runs the local music store. He points to a dark blob on a stick. “What is that?” he asks Weisfeld. It’s takes Weisfeld a little while to locate the question and finally it is only the boy’s earnestness that brings an answer. “It’s a note,” he says. “But,” says Claude, “what does it mean?”

It is the distance from the blob to the note that I was asking our director the jump and when he did, he laughed out loud. And then I laughed. I saw what it “said,” and he saw what it “meant.”

[1] d=d0 + vs(t-t0) after all.
[2 In these chords, the third (the second note in the chord) are being replaced with either a major second An interval consisting of two semitones or a perfect four An interval consisting of five semitones . The sus4 chord includes a perfect four and the sus2 chord includes a major second.

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Eagles fumble the ball

Eagles fumble the ball

Screen Shot 2019-01-07 at 9.29.33 AM.png

Apologies first. I am sorry for that intrusive “Play” symbol in the middle of the picture. I couldn’t find a way to get rid of it except by substituting a “Pause” symbol.

Then there is the misleading title of this essay, which will surely make some Eagles fans think I didn’t watch the game [1] and that is why I have the wrong team fumbling the ball.

OK. Enough of that. The Bear’s player is Anthony Miller. The gesture looks like “Who, me?” The Eagle’s player is Cre’Von Le Blanc. His gesture is pretty common among secondary defenders. It is celebratory. It can be very personal, like “That’s what you get for throwing the ball in my direction.” Or, it can just be the player’s version of the referee’s call, which is very common.  That is the signal the ref gives to show that the pass was incomplete.

A running back who thinks he made a first down will signal first down, not waiting for the referee to signal it. Whole teams will signal that they recovered a fumble—the ball is still buried deep in that pile of players so no one really knows [2]

This picture just shows Le Blanc celebrating that he caused an incompletion. Except that he didn’t. He caused a fumble.

Those two plays are identical in most respects. Le Blanc knows that Miller caught the ball and he knows that he ripped it out of Miller’s hands. He does not know how many steps Miller took while he still controlled the ball—and that is what is going to make the difference between an incompletion and a fumble.

So he celebrates what he thinks he did. And all the Eagles celebrate with him. And while they are all celebrating Le Blanc’s play—it was a superb play; I have no wish to take anything away from him—the football lies there on the turf. Unloved. Ignored.  Look at the picture.  There it lies.

Eventually the ref picks it up. And now there is no reasonable thing to do with it. They have to pretend that it was an incompletion because what do you do with a fumble that the ref recovers? So they give it back to the Bears at the original line of scrimmage.

So the Eagles fumbled by refusing to fall on the ball. Or even pick it up. Or picking it up and running it back the other way for a touchdown. Instead, they took Le Blanc’s word for what had happened. A very small achievement, it turns out, compared to what he actually achieved. He actually caused a fumble and nobody noticed.

There are some very general football maxims that could be trotted out here, like “Keep on playing until the whistle.” That’s perfectly appropriate and that would have helped the Eagles a lot. But what has caught my attention is that the Eagles all celebrated with their teammate. He signaled what he thought he had sone and they all celebrated with him.  That is what I would have wanted to do.  It was a terrific play.

They all gave him credit for the small thing he thought he did. And that made them not capitalize on the big thing he actually did.

I like celebrating your teammates. It is one of the things I like best about watching football. But in this instance, it led to giving the ball back to the Bears and only a missed—“tipped” later video confirms—field goal enabled the Eagles to win the game.

So…really…the Eagles fumbled the ball.

[1] They are mostly right, but I did see this play.
[2] And the ball may changes hands several times after the original recovery.

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The Blindness of Good Intentions

It is true that moral fervor can make you inattentive to other aspects of the problem. That is true of any kind of fervor. [1] There are so many examples that I see immediately that this consideration of ignorance, blindness, and inconsiderateness—that’s what other people say about you while you are focuses on your good intentions—can’t really be about examples.

So let me try to say in the beginning what I’m thinking about. After a couple of examples, blindeness 3you can contribute your own favorites. There is a certain clarity of vision that comes with fervor. The focus is narrow, the need to act is intense, all the parts of the picture you construct reinforce each other and dammit, your duty is clear. A lot of good things can be done that way and frankly, there are some good things that probably cannot be done any other way.

But the costs are high for everyone, especially for the fervid actor who, in his [2] fervor, ignores or rationalizes away all the contrary signals that he otherwise, would have attended to.  And, as this poster illustrates, the likelihood of misunderstanding is high.

  • Imagine a wife who wants her husband to convert to her religious faith or, a problem just as severe, to convert to the emotional intensity of her religious faith. His persistent retreat from her catches her entirely by surprise.
  • Imagine a father who wants his children to become fully autonomous [3] and “disciplines” them firmly so that they will acquire this skill. Their hatred of him for his cruelty catches him entirely by surprise.
  • Imagine a solid German family living in hillbilly country [4] who wants the children to have a lot of hillbilly friends, but to be carefully unlike them in nearly every way. The loneliness and isolation of the children will come as a complete surprise to the parents, who only what their children to be “better.”

Enough examples?

I called this essay “the blindness” of good intentions because knowing what my intentions are, I pay particular attention to everything that bears on those intentions. Am I clear enough in describing the goals? Have I taken the range of objections into account? Have I provided each participant with the resources necessary to accomplish the outcomes? Is everybody adequately motivated? That’s a lot to pay attention to and that’s just the top layer.

Nowhere in here are the legitimate objections that might be raised to my intentions, or to the cost the participants might pay in cooperating with them. And when we are done with all of those, we have yet to consider what other projects will have to be foregone just so that I can do this one.

And ignoring all those things is not malice or ignorance. It is just blindness. And every time you choose what to pay attention to—intense, focused, persistent attention—you choose to be blind to other things. That’s just how it works. And if you focus on how good your intentions are—not just on knowing what they are but also on knowing that they are admirable—it is even worse.

Blind Love

I was recently part of a conversation where “the blindness of good intentions” was given a very specific focus. The conversation began with a poster that said, “Women are not rehabilitation centers for badly raised men. It is NOT your job to fix him, change him, raise him, or parent him. You want a partner, not a project.”

blindness 1If you begin categorizing exhortations into those that are like food (nourishing for everyone) and those that are like medicine (good for some people, but harmful to others), this is definitely a medicine kind of remark. If it were phrased as a teaching, rather than a bumper sticker, it would say, “Women who feel they are obligated by virtue of their gender alone to fix men should reconsider.”

In a string of interesting comments, there was one by Denise Haley Hall that I thought shed a helpful light on this problem. I am using one of the middle paragraphs of her comment here and I will add my observations to each part. I think you will see why I appreciated her perspective so much. [6]

Here is the first.

Some women believe they can love a man enough to make him not be the bad boy, to make him grow up, to make him not be abusive.

Here we have the outcome specified. The man is to “grow up,”[5] to stop being a bad boy and to stop being abusive. And we have a means. If the woman “loves the man enough” all those good things will happen. If they don’t happen, it must be because the woman “has not loved him enough.” She has failed. My heart goes out to those women, but I have had the good fortune never to have married one, so my compassion is still abstract.

Here is the second.

They need to recognize that they never will “fix” him and stop letting themselves settle for less than a true partner in a relationship.

Here the whole project of “fixing him” is abandoned, as it should be. Further, the goal of a partnership marriage is affirmed. But how do we get from the shortfalls that raised the question of “fixing” to the true partner status. Just abandoning the effort isn’t going to be enough. How do we establish the grounds for mutual respect that would ground a partnership?

Here is the third.

I feel like some women continue to pick such men because they need to feel needed.

Here there is a turn in the argument. Here a woman is imagined who makes the same kind of choice over and over; one “project man” after another. And if, for each of these projects, she believes that just loving them enough is going to get the job done, she will fail time after time.

But here, also, an answer is offered. These women do what they do because they need to feel needed and taking on a man as a project meets that need. It truly does. It meets that need and moves all the other needs out of the picture. That is the effect of “the blindness of good intentions.”

And here is the last.

They thrive on caretaking so much that they need people to rely on them and therefore they take over so much responsibility.

I have seen the same things Denise has seen, but I process them is a slightly different way. These women don’t actually “thrive” on caretaking. They choose it and they refuse to give it up, but they don’t thrive on their caretaking obsession any more than an addict thrives on his drug of choice. That choice could be destroying him, but try to take it away.

The second way of processing this last observation differently is to focus on power, rather than on responsibility. Being the only one in the relationship who actually knows what is going on or who cares a rip about success is this woman. As she works on her project—this isn’t all that much fun for the project either—she earns the admiration and sometimes the compassion of her friends and she takes more and more power in the relationship.

This is the blindness again “I’m only doing this for your own good” is, among adults, a justification for exercising power, but the focus is entirely on the outcome. The “I’m doing this” part is a claim of power. It is what being the responsible person drives you to. The “your own good” part is the outcome the actor hopes for. Producing the outcomes that would justify such a use of power will, eventually require the cooperation of the “project” and projects are notoriously slow to cooperate.

What would work?

It is way too late in this essay to hope for a thoughtful answer to such a question, but there is a bumper sticker version that can start us in the right direction. Men and women don’t come together like puzzle pieces, each cut out to fit the other. [7] An adjustment of each to the other is going to be required. These can be done over a long lifetime by small changes offered with generosity and grace. Nobody is a “project;” we learn as we go. And when we change, we learn other things. That’s not a project. It is not two projects. It is a partnership.

[1] The Latin root is fervere, “to boil.” The English “fervid” is the adjective form.
[2] The context of the discussion that raised this interest was whether this question should be “genderized” Would it be good for the discussion for us to imagine that this is something women do to men or men to women? My answer is No to the genderization move, so I am going to use the once-innocent neuter singular pronoun (I know, it does look like the masculine singular pronoun) to refer to everyone of all sexes and of both sexes.
[3] Not, by the way, like the family car. We are beginning to say that cars that drive themselves are “autonomous”—that means to rule themselves—rather than self-driving. The Latin verb meaning “to drive” is agere (ago, agere, egi, actus, if you want the whole declination) so a combination of auto = self and actus = to drive would be much more accurate and less scary.
[4] Playing, here, off of Colin Woodard’s American Nations, in which he identifies my part of Ohio as a place where Midlanders and Greater Appalachians both live, but who value very different things.
[5] “Grow up” is somewhat problematic in that “maturity,” which is where you get to after you have grown up, looks like different things in different men and women. If “grow up” means only not being a bad boy and not abusing others, it is too narrow. If it means “maturity,” it is not adequately specified
[6] I should take the time here to say that Denise said I could use her words and could attribute them to her by name (thank you, Denise) but I am projecting the argument further in each instance. I hope Denise enjoys them, but I have no idea whether she will agree with them.
[7] OK, I see that I am trapped. Every puzzle picture I use will have one piece fitting in the concavity of another piece. Dr. Freud has me in a corner on this one.

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Happy New Years?

A barista at Starbucks pronounced her good wishes on me as I left the store this morning with my hands full of Bette’s coffee and mine. “Happy New Years,” she said.

I know this is going to sound crabby and I want to take just a moment to say that I am not feeling crabby. I’m just curious about how language works and especially how it changes. [1]

Why, for instance, do sportscasters say that a hitter “reached” in the third inning? I thinknew years 3 that several hundred thousand uses of the phrase “reached first base” and the lack on any other common conclusion of the phrase beginning with “reached” has brought us to the place where “reached” may be taken to mean “reached first base.” Or possibly any base.  That could be represented in written English as “reached…”

Most people who say “Goodbye” don’t understand that it is a severely contracted version of “God be with you.” This contraction followed the same process as “reached” except that it wound up being used as a single word rather than a truncated phrase. It could be represented in writing as “Go(o)d b (e) [with] ye.” Goodbye. No one is confused.

So I am imagining that there are so many occasions where the possessive “year’s” is used that the way the word is heard by people who follow the sounds of words more than the sense collapses the possessive into the plural.  So “new years” rather than “new year’s day” becomes an expression of its own. The possessive (’s) is translated into a plural (-s) as if many years were being celebrated and the speaker wishes for you that they will all be happy ones. [2]

new year 2The fact is that the language we use every day—unless the setting of your life is one where the accuracy or the beauty of language is, itself, something to be valued [3]—works as long as it is good enough. “Good enough” is a very forgiving standard. People know clearly, or can infer quickly, what you probably mean and that is good enough. You can even point to an oil filter and say “carburetor” and the person you are with can say, “You mean carburetor.” and you can say, “Of course. What did I say?”

So…really, it works. I take my barista’s good wishes to heart and I begin to prepare to replace my old and much loved 2018 pocket calendar with a brand new and promising 2019 calendar.

Oh…and Happy New Years.

[1] Now, “crabby;” if you are looking for crabby, I confess that I did tell this barista—but not until she asked—that the order of the adjectives on her doughnut tray is wrong. It says “Old-fashioned glazed doughnut” when it should say “Glazed Old-fashioned doughnut.” “Old-fashioned” is a shape of doughnut and “glazed” is what they did to the surface of it. The natural order of adjectives in English is remarkably stable. If you have any doubt about that at all, I have an exercise for you. Take these trait names—the order here is random—and give them to five friends. They will all effortlessly and without thought order the adjectives in the same order. How about: dog, black, large, mean, and pregnant.
[2] There is also a phenomenon in popular songs called Lady Mondegreen. A “Lady new year 1Mondegreen” is the construction of an idea based only on the hearing of it. American writer Sylvia Wright coined the term in 1954, writing about how as a girl she had misheard the lyric “…and laid him on the green” in a Scottish ballad as “…and Lady Mondegreen.” I, myself, had trouble as a boy in church hearing the expression “gladly the cross I’d bear” as anything other than Gladly (you know) the Cross-eyed Bear.” I have since seen tee shirts featuring images of Gladly.

[3]  In which case, I offer you my sincere congratulations and I hope you are as grateful for the privilege as you should be.

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