Archive for March, 2010

free speech, right wings and morning tv
March 29, 2010

It occurs to me that the reason public dialogue is broken down into wings is you need a full wing span to fly – left and right. Lately, it seems to me the right wing has been flapping furiously and sending public dialogue into a reckless flight path. Is free speech not perilously out of control in an irrecoverable tail spin? Having never been one to just let it lie, I’m going to furiously flap my left wing. Couldn’t a little counter criticism avert a crash?

First, there’s Sarah Palin’s “never retreat, instead RELOAD!” complete with enemies in the cross hairs rhetoric. Geez, I really don’t get why she’s such a star (over 1,000,000 friends of facebook??? – the mind boggles). I, for one, wouldn’t trust her with a grocery list never mind a nation with nukes.

Then, there’s Coulter, the camel and the campus. Coulter commented that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed on airplanes and should take a flying carpets instead. When a Muslim student at the University of Ottawa commented she didn’t have a flying carpet, Coulter replied “take a camel”. The next day, I received a contrite e-mail message from my alumni association that the U of O supports free speech and the organization that invited her to speak was indeed the one responsible for canceling the event. I’m glad they did. Had I been there, as I was over 20 years ago, I know the welcome mat would have been firmly (albeit at least politely) pulled out from under her. Ottawa U is a micro united nations/diplomacy incubator. With most every embassy on earth within walking distance of that campus – there are students from all over the world – you can’t blame that student body for being especially sensitive to such obnoxious behaviour. Move along Ms. Coulter. If you’re ever invited back, please don’t forget your manners at the border.

And, not to be outdone, Mr. Rush Limbaugh, “the gloves have to come off, it’s time to sober up, Obama is destroying the U.S. economy” – couldn’t a commentator of his stature manage without the lame cliches. I mean c’mon. Is this public speaking 101? Oh no wait, he calls it the Excellence in Broadcasting Network. Potato?Po-tah-toe… Gee, puts me in mind of another conservative leader for whom words weren’t such a strong suit.

So there, I’ve said it. I feel better. The Blahgg Blog is also the “i’m so glad I got that off my chest” log. It won’t change a thing. Except I might be able to get through the first hour of the Today Show now that I’ve had my chance to say what’s on my mind instead of only being subjected to their “right” way of thinking. So Matt and Meredith – I’m ready to try again. See you tomorrow, on not so live, time delayed, morning television. Hopefully I’ll be “left” with a better impression…

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wordplay – jeux de mots
March 22, 2010

A final post in this series deals with the use of French in the English language. Sadly, many of the most commonly used French words in the English language are not really worth much consideration here, but some are worth celebrating and some are worth our abhorrence.

Raison d’etre

Reason for being.

Hors d’oeuvres

Outside the meal – or appetizer

Aperitif

A drink before diner

Au contraire

on the contrary

Chef d’oeuvre

Masterpiece.

Creme brulee

Literally, burnt cream – but oh so much better

Esprit de corps

Team spirit

and here comes the abhorrence…

Reste avec

A “stay with”. The name given to Haitian children sold into slavery to another family. I was heartbroken to view to this report on 60 minutes.

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=6320973n&tag=contentMain;cbsCarousel

but to end on a hopeful note, a

Mise en scene

from this op/ed piece in the New York Times – a “put in place” possiblity for the future –  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/19/opinion/19brooks.html?emc=eta1

Words can be for play, but they can also be a source of powerful change.

N’est ce pas?

wordplay part deux
March 19, 2010

How to Not Say What You Mean: A Dictionary of Euphemisms, is the title of a great book. I’ve enjoyed reading it over the years, even dragging it out on occasion at get togethers for a guaranteed laugh. I think that’s where I learned the real meaning of deadline (see previous post).

In marketing, we’re often called upon to tell stories that don’t always want to be told. Some things are easier to sell than others. Some messages are easier to deliver than others. This is why I love euphemisms so.

My favourite euphemisms, I think, are the ones used by my dad. I think it can be hard for parents to say what they really mean. Especially when they see their wee babes grow up and make choices they never would have made.  One that comes to mind, is his way of describing people he doesn’t always understand (and I’m sure I’ve fallen into that category from time to time) “a few sandwiches short of a picnic“. Another, attributed to a writer describing President Bush is “born on second base, thought he hit a triple” my dad’s way of discrediting some “over-entitled” elected official. And I can’t say that I blame him.

I think, in general,  it may be hard for many of us to say what we really mean. Which is probably why we often say something vague, then tilt our head and say “you know what I mean” – as in, “please don’t make me say it out loud”.

Some other euphemisms that are well used and, in my case, not always completely understood include:

(thank you http://www.phrases.org.uk for everything here in italics)

Take it with a grain of salt

Meaning

To take a statement with ‘a grain of salt’ or ‘a pinch of salt’ means to accept it but to maintain a degree of skepticism about its truth.

Origin

The idea comes from the fact that food is more easily swallowed if taken with a small amount of salt.

Cut off your nose to spite your face

Meaning

Disadvantage yourself in order to do harm to an adversary.

Looking a gift horse in the mouth

Meaning

Don’t be ungrateful when you receive a gift.

Origin

As horses age their teeth begin to project further forward each year and so their age can be estimated by checking how prominent the teeth are. This incidentally is also the source of another teeth/age related phrase –  long in the tooth

… when given a present, be grateful for your good fortune and don’t look for more by examining it to assess its value.

Three sheets to the wind

Meaning

Very drunk.

Origin

If three sheets (or sails) are loose and blowing about in the wind then the sails will flap and the boat will lurch about like a drunken sailor.

In a pickle

Meaning

In a quandary or some other difficult position.

Origin

… an allusion to being as disoriented and mixed up as the stewed vegetables that made up pickles.

Let the cat out of the bag

Meaning

Disclose a secret.

Origin

… relates to the fraud of substituting a cat for a piglet at markets. If you let the cat out of the bag you disclosed the trick

While it would probably be more honest to just say what we really mean, excuse my french (forgive me my strong language – In the 19th century, when English people used French expressions in conversation they often apologised for it – presumably because many of their listeners (then as now) wouldn’t be familiar with the language), and I feel strongly that I can use this, as I am French afterall, hence the reason I don’t always get these english inside jokes, it’s just that much more fun.

word play
March 16, 2010

In marketing, words are play things – like the gazillion lego strewn across my living room – and I get to play with them (and sometimes the lego) most every day.

Like lego, there are many pieces that don’t always fit. here are a few of those misfit pieces.

double entendre or double entente

I heard Nancy Grace use “double entendre” in one of her infuriating interviews and I got to thinking – is that really right? Double Entendre, literally translated means double hearing or listening. It’s double entente that means double meaning. So while it may be helpful to listen twice, it’s really a double entente you’re going for.

party gifts or parting gifts

As a kid, I always wondered. Do game show contestants who lose get party gifts or parting gifts? Either are a nice gesture. I still can’t be sure. You get gifts because you’re parting from the show – but it’s a party just to win something, isn’t it?

regardless or irregardless

Well, regardless of what you’re defending, please if you want to add some irr to it, chose irrespective. Everytime I hear someone use irregardless in an interview, I tumble off the train of thought.

speciality or specialty

Is speciality even a word? Or is it a pseudo fancy way of saying specialty? So just say that. Less is more.

on the wagon, off the wagon

Made famous, as many things are, by an episode of Seinfeld, I never know what means what, so I looked it up on phrases.org.uk – here’s the verdict.

Various language sites state that The “wagon” in “on the wagon” refers to a fixture of America’s past, the water wagon. Before roads were routinely paved, municipalities would dispatch horse-drawn water wagons to spray the streets in order to prevent the clouds of dust that traffic would otherwise cause. Anyone who had sworn abstinence from alcohol (and would presumably be drinking largely water from then on) was said to have “climbed aboard the water wagon,” later shortened to “on the wagon.”

and here I thought it was chuck wagon drivers and camp cooks who were drinking rum during the long journeys west. Shows you what I know.

on a deadline

and my favourite word to play with is deadline. Again, in marketing we play with these most every day. The actual meaning of which, it may interest you to know, is the line past which a prisoner can be shot dead. So if I seem a bit stressed next time our paths cross, don’t take it personal (heard that one before, eh) – i mean personally, I’m just avoiding some friendly fire. Speaking of which, there’s a whole new topic to consider – euphemisms –  the art of not saying what you really mean.  But, for now, it’s back to the yard.

thanks tim
March 12, 2010

appreciate your help

Putting an “i” in team
March 10, 2010

I have noticed a disturbing trend in public discourse of late. Used to be that joining a group was a good thing. These days, it seems to be met with such disdain, you’d think the mere act of publicly participating in a cause that matters to you is an act of subversion, revolt or even destruction.

A few cases in point. I was struck this time last year when GM almost single handedly sunk the US economy (and much of southern Ontario’s too for that matter) that the blame was put squarely on the unions’ shoulders. Excuse me? The work of those union members garnered the fat cat execs and lucky shareholders a fair bit of coin in the good old days. But somehow, the workers made too much money. I don’t know how many times I heard that argument. It was surprising to hear people, who, had they lived in Southern Ontario as friends of mine did, would likely have been 25 year card-carrying auto workers themselves, building homes, educating children,  and supporting groups in their community.

Where do we get off saying “they” make too much money for what “they” do. And therein lies the irony. It’s easy to criticize them – they – those guys, that group. We are humans and humans at their very best interact, cooperate, agree, move forward and make things happen.  And yet, when we do this as a labeled group, we seem to expose ourselves to target practice from the disgruntled individual or, ironically, the biggest groups of all, private corporations and public institutions. I don’t get it.

Another case in point. In recent years, two groups have formed in Salmon Arm in support of sustainable community development and environmentally sensitive eco-systems. Salmon Arm is a charming town on the shores of a beautiful lake, after all. It was bound to happen. Both groups, by defacto, reasonably oppose the huge big box mart shopping hub proposed by Smart Centres for the edge of town. But to note the criticism of these groups on blogs, forums, letters to the editor and coffee shop conversations, you’d think it was a secret society full of skullduggery, secret ambition and clever conceit. Do they have secret agendas? Are they being honest? Aren’t they fooling the poor silent majority? So much so that Smart Centres (ironically neither smart not central so far in this debate), posted a brochure designed for one of these community group on their own website and had the nerve to change the graphics under the guise of “updating” the public on misleading information published by a “special” interest group. Give me a break. Smart Centres is going to protect the poor confused citizens of Salmon Arm? I beg to differ. How insulting.

And a final case, closer to my heart. I worked on a community effort (I dare not use the G for Group of C for Committee words, lest I be labelled a subversive) to help save North Canoe Elementary School in my community. We, as a collective of individuals, decided on a neighbourly approach. We did door to door surveys, we collected names on a petition, we started a facebook page and we built a website. We put up signs and we had meetings, lots and lots of meetings. We stayed in contact with the School Board. We were told our efforts were honourable and our fight was worthwhile but it might be beyond anyone’s control. The BC Government mandates School Districts to balance their budget. They were legally bound to make the expenses match the revenues. Trouble is, with declining enrollment, the revenues are shrinking. Add to that an increase in Medical Services Plan premiums, the first of a three year legislated increase to teachers salaries, and the impending HST, the numbers just wouldn’t work. Now, after all was said and done, North Canoe school was spared. But quite possibly at the expense of a smaller, more remote community school in Malakwa. Bitter sweet at best. Then came news that the BC Government wasn’t much interested in hearing what “groups” had to say anyway. Just ask any representative of teachers or other unions working in the school system. They’re really only interested in what the voters have to say as individuals. What, each of us, individually? How likely is that? Groups are an important part of representational democracy, are they not? In response, parents heading up the local DPAC (District Parents Advisory Committee) have spearheaded an effort to give all parents of students in our district a postcard that they, in turn, can send to their MLA (via school PACs)  requesting that school districts be properly funded to meet the financial obligations imposed on them by the provincial government. Can you spell vicious circle? So when your kids head back to school come March 22, check their backpacks for the postcard. You can put and “i” in team by signing your name and sending it back to school with the kids. When we act as a team, good things happen.

Say what you have to say. Join what you want to join. Do it with honesty. Do it with intention. Just so long as you do it. How else can we become a winning team?

I, for one, will appreciate it. Afterall, critic has two “i”s where team has none. Time to even that score, n’est ce pas?

why hockey matters so
March 5, 2010

Now this is coming from an avid art lover and political junkie – I think I’ve fallen under the spell of hockey. Why does it define us so? What can we learn from it? It’s expensive. It eats up evenings and weekends. It’s solitary in a way. When your kids play hockey, you sit and watch while they get some exercise.

If your family skis at least you all get a bit of a workout. And at last check, a ski pass for a family of four pales in comparison to a single season of hockey including fees, ice time, tournaments never mind trips to Tim Hortons. Yet skiing is considered a luxury. I’m not convinced I could afford to put my kids in hockey. But I can afford a few trips down the peanut trail at Silver Star every winter. I think the hot chocolate at Bugaboos is the luxurious part. But I digress.

So what’s the point? Is it because we can all watch hockey even if we can’t all play – well at least I can’t play – despite joining a woman’s rec league this year. But  I enjoyed it. That’s the important part. And I finally know what icing and off side mean. Not that it helped me any watching the Olympic tournament.

What captivates us so about “the” game? Is it the players? Each generation had its faves. Maurice Richard (if you can spare 10 minutes, watch this nfb video: http://www.nfb.ca/film/sweater/), Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby or Halley? Is it because they do what we all wish we could?

Since the big game, my kids and the neighbours’ kids have dug out the sticks and the hockey balls taking turns being Team Canada and Crosby and Luongo. It’s a delight. And I’m grateful when I see their lovely rosy cheeks after an afternoon in the back alley.

Maybe hockey knows no bounds. Player or not, we can talk about it. Analyze it. Joke about it. Share it. Belong to it.

My favourite promotional clip from the Olympics was the skater racing along the frozen lake. What freedom. As a former figure skater, I loved that feeling. That few minutes of solitary ice time. Me and my skates. To this day, my least four favourite words in the english language are “please clear the ice”. But the disappointment is quickly diminished by the sound and the zen of the Zamboni going round and round. Making it all better like a kiss on a scraped knee from a loving parent. The fun begins again. Even if, in your neighbourhood as well as in mine,  there are two Luongos in goal and ten Crosbys on ice and Team Canada is playing against Team Canada yet again, when you cheer them on, we all feel good.

See you at the game!