Monthly Archives: January 2009

Random Thoughts on… Grammar (revisited)

Excerpt from “Oaf of Office,” a recent op-ed in the New York Times by Harvard professor Steven Pinker:

Language pedants hew to an oral tradition of shibboleths that have no basis in logic or style, that have been defied by great writers for centuries, and that have been disavowed by every thoughtful usage manual. Nonetheless, they refuse to go away, perpetuated by the Gotcha! Gang and meekly obeyed by insecure writers.

Among these fetishes is the prohibition against “split verbs,” in which an adverb comes between an infinitive marker like “to,” or an auxiliary like “will,” and the main verb of the sentence. According to this superstition, Captain Kirk made a grammatical error when he declared that the five-year mission of the starship Enterprise was “to boldly go where no man has gone before”; it should have been “to go boldly.” Likewise, Dolly Parton should not have declared that “I will always love you” but “I always will love you” or “I will love you always.”

Also, this article from MSNBC is interesting: “Fastidious Spelling Snobs Pushed Over the Edge

“I once used the word ‘right’ when I meant to say ‘write’ on a friend’s Facebook wall,” says grammar vandal McCulley. “She’s a writing professor and immediately wrote back to chide me for using a homophone. I told her I was going to go put my head in the oven.”

Link to my original post about adventures in grammar, from 9/5/08 (also copied below):

In 1946, George Orwell called for a rehaul of the English language in line with the traditional rules of grammar: ”One ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end.”

Fifty-plus years later, President George W. Bush addressed a crowd in South Carolina with the following: “Rarely is the question asked: is our children learning?”

Obviously much progress has been made.

When the President of the United States is frequently making hillbilly blunders of the English language, what can we expect from the rest of Americans? What example are we setting for the children sitting in grammar classes? What could we possibly teach the Chinese food delivery guy taking English as a second language? According to George W., we need to ensure that they is learning proper grammar, but our grammar is deteriorating ourselves.

Personally, my favorite example of the “decay of language” is from Justin Timberlake, in his song “What Goes Around.” Now, even though music is art and may not fall by the same conventions as speech, I always appreciate it when someone makes up a word so that it can rhyme in a song:

From Justin Timberlake’s song, ”What Goes Around“,

“I heard you found out / That he’s doing to you / What you did to me / Ain’t that the way it goes / You cheated girl / My heart bleeded girl…”

Looking at these lyrics with our grammar glasses on (we are so cool), most of us know that Justin means ”bleeded,” given the context of hearts “bleeding.” However, the past tense of “bleed” is “bled.” Therefore, a grammatically-correct lyrical translation would be “bleated,” like what sheep do. So, when singing along to the song, we either ignore the grammatical error but get the overall message (”bleeded”), or misunderstand Justin’s message but use the correct word (”bleated”).

Even though this may be a frivolous example, it shows that bad grammar anywhere may lead to confusion: we risk distorting the language which carries the message, or we may miss the message completely. Some may end up believing that “bleeded” is a word, or that the cries of Justin’s heart sound like sheep. So to mitigate these risks, should we just let the grammar police run wild? Should we round up all the language offenders and send them off to reeducation camps? Even though there are indicators that we should (Timbaland’s hit “The Way I Are” comes to mind), language can also be exclusive if we are stringent on the rules, and we can easily alienate one another based on our definition of what is “correct”. Plus, it would be embarrassing to deport our own President because of linking verbs.

However, there are real dangers when we just let anything go. As Orwell noted, the future of our society depends on our ability to clearly convey ideas and thought. If we cannot do so (here’s to you, President Bush), or if we confuse the audience with our words (”my heart bleated, girl”), we not only perpetuate the problem, but we pass it on to others. This is the greatest risk, at its extreme: as our bad habits become others’ bad habits, and these bad habits are passed down to our children, a whole new language develops. People start saying “bleeded” instead of “bled,” and thousands of words are replaced or replicated with new words that sound right to some, but are unintelligible to others. This then raises the communication barrier, as those outside the realm of understanding will have to re-learn a changing language that has been so distorted that we barely know what’s right and what’s wrong.

With how we’re butchering it, who knows if English will be the dominant language in the future. Thus if you ever feel the urge to laugh at the Chinese delivery guy’s broken English, refrain yourself: after all, what goes around…

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Forgetting 43, and Moving On With 44

Now that George W. is finally out of the White House, back home in Texas, and safely away from the nuclear codes, we can start to reflect on his presidency.    While Bushie thinks that history will redeem him, his best bet may be to hope for James Buchanan-like obscurity.  Slink away from the public eye, lay low, and watch while the next guy makes history.  Maybe then 43’s sins will be forgotten.

obama-inaugurationGeorge W. Bush had been president for 1/3 of my lifetime, throughout my youth and formative years.  Maybe for this reason, I had never been interested in politics, nor confident in the leadership of my elected officials.  This has changed with the election of Barack Obama.  For the past two years, I, and many other young people like me, have been energized, mobilized, and hungry for change.  November 4th showed us what we as individuals could do when brought together by a common goal.

Now with the inauguration honeymoon over, my greatest fear is that we slip back into a state of political apathy.  With two wars, a sagging economy, crisis in the Middle East, and a tarnished global reputation, it’s easy to lose focus.  But there is much work to be done, and we are still a part of the Obama presidency.  As Michael Sandel relayed to Tom Friedman:

“In ordinary times, the energy and dynamism of American life reside in the economy and society, and people view government with suspicion or indifference. But in times of national crisis, Americans look to government to solve fundamental problems that affect them directly. These are the times when presidents can do big things. These moments are rare. But they offer the occasion for the kind of leadership that can recast the political landscape, and redefine the terms of political argument for a generation.

“These presidencies did more than enact new laws and programs.  They rewrote the social contract, and redefined what it means to be a citizen. Obama’s moment, and his presidency, could be that consequential.”

In Obama’s inauguration speech, he said, “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility.”  We must shed the apathy and distrust of the past.  And if history judges our presidents not only for what they do in office, but for how they leave our country, maybe our new generation will help George W. escape the “worst ever” lists, for the sole reason: “Well, he brought us Obama.”

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Best All-Around: Damages (10 pm, Wednesdays, FX)

Now that awards season is upon us, it’s time to reflect on the past fall’s TV lineup and welcome the spring slate of shows (new and returning) that will ease our winter hibernation. While American Idol will likely win its 8th “Most Popular” title in a row, here are some television superlatives, high school-style, for your viewing pleasure:

MOST POPULAR: American Idol (8 pm, Tuesdays, FOX) The crazier Paula Abdul gets, the better ratings the show receives… That’s a good combination for FOX, since that woman is straight up insane, and Simon’s getting a bit boring.

tim-rigginsBEST LOOKING: It’s a toss-up between Simon Baker on The Mentalist (9 pm, Tuesdays, CBS) and Taylor Kitsch as Tim Riggins of Friday Night Lights (9 pm, Fridays, NBC). Given that Riggs is actually in high school, perhaps he deserves this award. On the other side, I’ll let the guys decide who they prefer on Gossip Girl (8 pm, Mondays, CW): Blair or Serena?

MOST CRAZY (IN A GOOD WAY): Tracy Jordan and Jenna Maroney on 30 Rock (9:30 pm, Thursdays, NBC)… This is why 30 Rock won 5 Golden Globes.

MOST CRAZY (IN A BAD WAY): Mrs. B as a crazy mom on the reality show, Momma’s Boys, which had its season finale on Monday night. Her poor son Jojo (who, by the way, was looking for love at the ripe old age of 21) tried to win over girls after his mother’s racist speech, declaring all but white Catholics suitable for her darling son. Jojo may need to try the priesthood now that this show has aired.

Layout 1BIGGEST TRAIN WRECK: I will nominate the entire cast of Grey’s Anatomy (9 pm, Thursdays, ABC) for this award. Let’s see, George has slept with 3 of the female leads, Meredith has had two ridiculous near death experiences (hand in bomb, ferryboat accident), and now Izzie is sleeping with the ghost of her dead ex-fiance (whom she accidentally killed). I used to watch this show religiously… these days, it’s lucky to get DVRed.

SAD FOR HUMANITY: There are a whole host of shows that fall into this category–Tool Academy on VH1, Rock of Love 2 on MTV, Nip/Tuck on FX (how fast it’s fallen)–but the runaway winner is MTV’s A Double Shot at Love, with the Ikki Twins. I think it’s pretty easy to justify how this show is sad for humanity; if you Google “double shot at love,” the first link leads to this proclamation: “OMG! i love a double shot at love even know im 10 years old i stull love you guys you guys are buteyful.” Future of America…

KILL IT NOW: We like watching fictional rich girls live out melodramas on the Upper East Side, but we don’t like watching melodramatic rich girls live out fictional storylines in The City (10 pm, Mondays, MTV). Spare us the misery of watching Whitney attempt to be interesting. I’d almost rather watch Bromance on repeat than sit through another episode of The City… well, almost. In both scenarios, death would be a welcome alternative.

damagesBEST ALL-AROUND: Speaking of death, I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of Glenn Close as Patty Hewes on Damages (10 pm, Wednesdays, FX). Why is it that Glenn Close always plays crazy so well? With the best cast, the best plotlines, and the best stony looks on television (thanks, Rose Byrnes), Damages is my new favorite show (FNL is a close #2). And you know it’s got to be good when you need to keep a light on while watching.

WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING THIS SPRING: (suggestions, comments, insults, and digs always appreciated)

Monday:

8 PM: Gossip Girl (CW)

9:30 PM: Samantha Who (ABC)

Tuesday:

8 PM: The Biggest Loser (NBC)

Wednesday:

9 PM: Lost (ABC)

10 PM: Damages (FX) / Top Chef (Bravo)

Thursday:

9 PM: The Office (NBC) / 30 Rock (NBC) / Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)

Friday:

9 PM: Friday Night Lights (NBC)

And on occasion: Bones (8 pm, Thursdays, FOX), Without a Trace (10 pm, Tuesdays, CBS…and the only CBS show I’m watching), House Hunters and Property Virgins (HGTV), Iron Chef America (Food Network)

They’ve got potential: Some new shows with promise… Kings (8 pm, Sundays, NBC), Lie to Me (9 pm, Wednesdays, FOX)

 

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There’s an Icebox Where My Heart Used to Be

I have a confession: I cry at movies.  I cried buckets during The Dark Knight and Benjamin Button.  I obliterated the tissue box during My Dog Skip.  I even cried while watching last night’s Momma’s Boys finale on NBC.

But, the last time I cried in real life?  Can’t remember…

So why is it that Biggest Loser promos will make me tear up, while heartwarming wedding toasts will leave my cheeks dry?

jonkate8_s12Maybe my life just isn’t all that eventful.  I’m not aging backwards or being hunted by a psychopathic joker.  I didn’t pose for Penthouse and remorsefully reveal it on national television.  Maybe my life is just mundane compared to the melodrama happening on the screen.

Or maybe it’s because I feel more sorry for others than I do myself.  If I were getting chewed out for being massively obese, I’d probably respond with a stoic, “bite me” attitude.  However, when I’m watching others get called out, I’m in shambles.  Tissues can’t contain the waterworks.  It’s a mess.

My friends affectionately call me “icebox” for my inability to show a lot of emotion in everyday life… However, I think the true test of our empathy comes from our gut reactions to the travails of others.  The drama of movies and trashy reality shows brings out the crybaby in all of us.  Well… at least it does in me.  So if I don’t shed tears of joy at your wedding, please don’t hold it against me.  Just remember that the next time I cry during Jon and Kate Plus 8, some of those tears will be for you.

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Los Angeles vs. New York… Working to Live, vs. Living to Work?

Growing up in Boston and having gone to school in Cambridge, I had a strong conviction of East Coast superiority. I loved the history of Boston, the competitiveness in Cambridge, and, after spending two summers in New York, the pace of Manhattan. There was a gritty, dog-eat-dog mentality that permeated throughout the city, both up in the boardrooms and down on the streets. There was a toughness and an urgency that New York required, as evidenced by the fast walking, fast talking culture. And even though the suits could be parading around with million-dollar bank accounts, they all still carried themselves as if entering the school of hard knocks: brows furrowed, collars up, and wielding a vast repertoire of profanity.

Even with its rat-race culture, I loved New York. During my senior year of college, I interviewed solely for jobs that were based in the city. Having grown up in the ambitious East Coast lifestyle, it just seemed like a natural progression to move to Manhattan, with its promise of hard work begetting career advancement.

img_0387I ultimately accepted an offer to work in a program which required a year in New York and a year in Los Angeles. When I got my first assignment, I was devastated to learn that I was starting in California. On a cold, wintry day in Boston, I packed my bags and flew out to the West Coast. I figured I’d just wait it out for a year until I got back to New York, where my career would actually begin. After all, LA was about its actors and singers, smoke and mirrors, and Britney and Kevin. Instead of M&A, I figured I’d just find T&A. It certainly wasn’t the same type of professional environment that I expected in New York.

img_0383Throughout my year in LA, I did encounter many examples of the superficiality that I expected when I first came to California. Most conversations centered around the gym, the beach, or the latest celebrity debacle. Meeting people out on the town invariably turned into a casting session. There was an endless supply of aspiring actors, models, and dancers moonlighting as waiters, secretaries, and personal trainers. There was a sleepy, slow pace to LA, where people mostly ambled along. Furrowed brows and premature wrinkles were nonexistent, if not for the worry-free lifestyle, then for the rampant use of Botox.

img_0271To my surprise, I found myself drawn to many aspects of the laid-back, West Coast lifestyle. One huge part of this was the weather. When I first arrived at the Burbank airport in January, I was greeted by 65 degree weather and bundled-up Californians. My landlord, wearing a thick black parka, apologized for how cold it was. (Over my year in LA, I could count on one hand how many times it rained. Almost 90% of the days were over 70 degrees and sunny…even in “winter”. I remember going to the beach in February, and just like in the Corona commercial, feeling disappointed when a cloud would appear in the bright blue sky.) The beautiful weather was something I didn’t expect, and it seemed to justify the slow pace of LA. Lying on the Santa Monica beach in the middle of March, I remember feeling rather smug–while my friends back in New York were shuttered away in their tiny apartments, I was out on the beach every weekend, enjoying the sun. While they were trekking through snow and maneuvering through the NYC subway system, I was cruising down Ventura boulevard in my car, windows down, radio blaring. While they were working weekends and long hours, I was putting in ten-hour days at most, with enough time to go to the gym and still get a margarita after work.

img_0281Yet even with this carefree lifestyle, there were often times when I felt anxious about the life I was living. I almost didn’t want to get too comfortable… it seemed like I was getting complacent or soft. I worried that I was losing my drive and ambition to the allure of comfort and sun. I didn’t want to become the stereotypical airhead Californian, without a care in the world. I’d think of the negatives of living in LA (the superficial people, the earthquakes, the traffic, and the smog) and remind myself of my East Coast convictions. I was bred to be a New Yorker after all, and there was some built-in angst that I had to have. Even with all the comforts out on the West Coast, I was never free from anxiety about my career, future, and ambitions.

A week ago, I moved back to New York to start the second year of my program. As I sat at my austere desk and looked out on the gray horizon, I missed the carefree days of life in sunny California. I can’t help but reminisce about LA and its anti-New York philosophies: work to live, don’t live to work. Life’s too short. Don’t worry, be happy.

A year ago, I would have thought that these philosophies were just an excuse for being weak, lazy, and of course, soft. Now, I’m not so sure. I don’t think I can ever completely embrace either side. As much as I loved LA, perhaps I’m programmed to feel guilt for “settling” or being too comfortable. Perhaps I can’t shake that gnawing ambition and ensuing anxiety. But now that I’ve seen how the other half lives, I don’t think I can bear the rat race of New York. I’m still awed by the intensity and energy of the city, but I’m not quite as keen to be immersed in it. Maybe that means I’m more willing to sacrifice career for life, in order to have fewer wrinkles when I’m older. Or, maybe I just need a few more weeks to get used to the fast pace of NYC again.

At some point I’ll have to choose… but I’m probably just not ready to do it now.

Update (6/25/09): What I Love About New York City

Update (10/14/09): Oddities in New York City

Update (3/31/10): I’m moving back to LA … Guess I’ve made my decision, huh?

Update (4/30/10): Goodbye, New York

Update (6/7/10): Truth is Beauty, and Beauty is Los Angeles

Update (6/29/10): Deciding On Lew Yongeles

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