Thursday, February 25, 2016

Confessions of a Word Nerd

Moist ointment. Leaking papule. Snot glob. 

Whether used in combination or individually, many of us feel an unhinged contempt for certain words. I’ll tell you though, these little nasties sure are attention grabbers, aren’t they? And now that I’ve got your attention, let’s talk about just that... words.

I understand it sounds a little moronic, but the best part of writing is the words. I love them. Finding just the right one can be, as my teenager might say, "low-key” joyous. Hooking the perfect word and gingerly hoisting it from the thesaural rabbit hole proves nothing short of a literary Heimlich Maneuver sans public mortification and a 90-day ban from Outback Steakhouse.

And with all the lunacy around us, especially the shit storm stirred up lately by a certain apricot-jowled fear pimp, what say we take a deep breath and have a little fun with civilization’s building blocks—both the appealing and the appalling. Originally planned as a top ten for each category, I became too nauseated to venture past five for the list of least desirable words.

So let's weigh in with a few meaty abhorrences then bring it on home with the ten best etymons in all of worddom.

The top five worst words, as compiled by the underworked staff at Reflections of a Shallow Pond:

5) Pus—sounds nasty and is, but let's be honest, who who doesn't feel a slight tremor of satisfaction when the pus spatters lightly on the mirror, blessedly fracked from that oily crease just south of your left nostril?

4) Chafe—actually I kind of like the word ("Keith chafed at the thought of letting Shirley borrow his unicycle"), but I sure hate the feeling, especially after deciding to take a sticky summer walk in my new Levi's shrink-to-fits. Moist ointment time for sure.

3) Stench—just a downright nasty word, both in sound and connotation. The only redeeming quality is that it rhymes with its affable cousins, quench and Dame Judy Dench.

2) Bloat—many probably wouldn't consider bloat to be onomatopoeia (a word whose pronunciation imitates a natural sound, like "splash"), but think about it—what's the first sound that emanates from your body following a hearty beer bong of PBR? "Bloaaatttt! Ahhhhh!"

1) Tumor—an awful, awful word. It's number one on this dubious list simply because I can't think of a sentence where it's used toward anything positive, except maybe "We got all of the tumor."

Okay, enough of the nasty stuff. Here are the top ten best words, as compiled by me, since my staff has already bailed for happy hour at the Ruth's Chris:

10) Crunch—also onomatopoeia, crunch is one of my favorite active verbs— Ruffles, Fritos, Cheetos and Doritos team up with salt and chemicals to make one tasty noise. And when examined as a noun, NestlĂ©'s Crunch, Cap'n Crunch and Crunch 'n' Munch bear responsibility for 4.7% of my lifetime high fructose corn syrup intake.

9) Cream—Not just a superband of the 1960s, cream is wonderful as a sidekick to so many treats (cookies and cream, peaches and cream) or standing alone, as illustrated in this 1973 TV commercial featuring our beautiful Farrah Fawcett and Broadway Joe Namath:

Seems like there's a little something going on there. Not sure what it is.

8) Beer—a great sounding word, it's easy to say regardless of how much you've had. Equally easy to drink.

7) Dutch—I have no idea why, but I've always loved the sound of this word. Delving too deeply can expose some darkness, as it was Ronald Reagan's nickname and precipitated one of the most talked about lines in the annals of cinema:

6) Sweet—okay, I'm starting to realize that all the good words have something to do with food. Oh well, so be it! Sweet must be included since it's been a go-to of mine for dang near forty years. Along with cool, it's kicked to the curb the other generational faddish words, such as groovy, decent, far out and awe sooky sooky.

5) Block—I've always been a fan of blocks, especially of the Lego variety. Plus, it's a word that conveys sturdiness, solidity. How great is H-n-R Block as the name of a tax preparer? Oh, also I wanted to run by you an ad idea I've got for those guys. How about something like, "Yo, all y'all at Arthur Andersen used throw shade at our suburban strip mall workin' asses, but who's laughin' now bitches! Nah, y'all know I'm just playin'. H-n-R Block: Yamo be there."

4) Cash—99 percent of the reason is this guy:

The other one percent pertains to the feel and smell of American cash money. Filthy yet pleasing.

3) Huskies—long before I became first a fan, then a student and alum of the purple and gold, my six- to ten-year-old self wore boys' Husky size jeans and pants. My mom often went out of her way to find "stylish" pairs for me, which makes me remember how awesome she was. Great word.

2) Peace—just saying the word has a calming effect.

1) Pie—Where do I begin? What would the world be without these buttery, flaky, tangy, cheesy, sweet hunks of heaven? Whether it's blackberry, chicken pot, pizza, or even Hostess Cherry, I'm not ashamed to say that pie has made my life a whole lot better. And since I know a person who makes the best pies on Earth, this word must finish the list at number one.

Please reply with your favorite and least favorite words. I know there are a few of my fellow etymology nerds out there, so show yourselves! And eat more pie!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

You Think You've Got Problems?

Manfred was starving; he hadn't eaten since 1:30 and the bag next to him smelled like a feast for the gods. His tires let out a muffled squeal as he pulled the Forrester out of the drive-through and onto 35th. It wasn't until he'd sailed through his fifth consecutive green light, after he'd shucked off the foil wrapper and buried his face in his deluxe pork burrito that he realized... 

What hapless Taco Time laggard had given him the wrong freaking sauce? What were they, deaf? He had specifically ordered the chunky southwestern chipotle, not the tangy chipotle southwestern. Cretins.

He stabbed a straw into his diet cherry Coke Zero and pulled a hearty slurp. Too much goddamn carbonation again! Manfred's blood churned with that unique brand of fury he reserved for the grossly inept.

"First World Problem." It's a maxim that until just recently hadn't cemented itself into our vernacular. Yet unlike its graceless cousins "hangry" and "yaaas," who also surfaced at this year's Oxford Dictionary induction ceremony, we're talking about a term that cuts to the chase.

No other phrase both captures and frames an issue quite like First World Problem does. You may prefer a different expression, perhaps "Uptown Downer" or "White Whine," but whatever your preferred pseudonym, it's any obstacle or complication that can only arise while living in a developed and prosperous society.

How do you fare when it comes to keeping yourself in check? Is there some type of perspective meter embedded in your superego that facilitates the identification of champagne problems, thus stifling any douchebaggery before it escapes your mouth?

I had thought I was covered, that is until I devoted about thirty seconds to considering the stuff that irritates me on a regular basis. Following that, let's just say I'm not crowing the cluck of the conscientious cock I'd once considered myself. Here's what's taken place just in the past week:

1)  Near my cubicle at work is a door that leads to the stairwell. If someone wants to use the stairs to enter from another floor, they must swipe their keycard to re-gain entry. Simple enough, yes? Well, after the card beeps the light green, people aren't waiting to hear the door unlatch which leads to technical failure. Imagine someone trying to jerk open a locked door, over and over again, with lots of beeping in between. Causes a bit of chafe to my sweetbreads, it does.

About a year ago, my co-worker posted a sign next to the door explaining the issue and how to solve it. This hasn't helped, as ten to twenty times a day I'm serenaded with a seven-second door throttling by some of my favorite folks. It's like when someone cuts you off in traffic, you recognize who it is and you feel bad about so recently desiring to torture them with hot mustard and pea gravel. I must rise above it.

2) Last holiday season (the back-to-back Valentine's Day/Presidents Day weekend), our home Internet decided to take some well-deserved time off. Apparently, some sort of mysterious yet wide-spread Century Link glitch rendered the green modem globe red for over 72 hours. As a family whose 15-year-old daughter uses 75% of our cellular data, our modem coma posed the very real threat of book reading, board-game-playing or even prolonged verbal conversation. As fate would have it, we'd serendipitously booked two days and a night at a VRBO with all the wi-fi we could eat. Too close for comfort, that one.

3) Lastly, this happened:

When I woke up the other morning, it looked like Pizza Hut had decided to sponsor my left eyelid and stuffed it with delicious cheese. It wasn't goopy and itchy like pink eye so I decided to take my chances and go to work.

Granted, a swollen eye can occur in any culture or socio-economic class, so that wasn't the problem. My dilemma arose when trying to decide how to best deal with this fleshy eye Nerf. I could call my doctor, who's only a couple of blocks away and can always fit me in for some acute eye shit. Alternatively, I could search for a sweet eye patch at Rite Aid. Or lastly, I could Popeye may way through the workday and present it to my acupuncturist that evening. Definitely a dilemma for the ages.

The swelling receded by midday, rendering my well-considered decision moot. The eye patch must live another day.

First World Problems aren't going anywhere, but we can choose how to process them. Maybe next time that guy squeezes into a crowded elevator to go down a single floor, I won't fantasize about flicking him in the back of the head while saying "Really?" to the uproarious approval of my 'vator mates.

Yes, I must transcend—flat tires, dead phone batteries, a rain-soaked UPS box on the porch—none of it matters one eyelash, and I think 53 years has been long enough to figure this out. Still, a single First World Problem remains that I can't shake, one that may linger until its resounding eradication the first Tuesday this coming November.

Trust me, it'll be huge.