Friday, February 26, 2010

I didn't mean to call you a mushroom. I just meant you're a jerk.

(Self editing note to my English-teaching friends - the title of this entry used to be "I didn't mean to call you a mushroom.  I just meant you're a jerk that I don't really like."  However, I recognized the improper usage of "that" and the presence of some extraneous words.  Duly noted and corrected.)

Today, I want to talk about language.  Not French or Cantonese, but the concept of words that we use to communicate.  One particular word, actually.

In the spectrum of bad words, I think (and this is just my opinion) this one ranks on the low end, slightly above heck.  By itself, it seems to be an appropriate expletive for when you do dumb things like smash your thumb with a hammer: "____, that hurt!" or need that extra bit of adjective when you say "now that's a ____ shame."  Place the word God in front of it, and you slide rapidly into the other side of the spectrum, where there be dragons. 

We all know that the pen is considered by some to be mightier than the sword, that words carry tremendous power. 

But why does this particular word, these 4 letters set in a specific order, offend?  Is it that the letters are unpleasant to look at?  Not really.  Is that the sound is degrading?  The engineers and beavers who build structures that block water from flowing don't seem to think so.  So why is this word "bad?"

I really don't know the answer, except that it is.

Some words should just be considered bad.  The c-word, the n-word.  Those I heartily agree with.  But I wonder if it's time for some new "bad" words.

Mushroom is a candidate.  I consider mushrooms the ultimate insult, especially to pizza, quiche and soup.  

And I just don't like the word frequent.  My tongue trips on it.  So I'd love to be able to use it with deliberate, shocking impact - "I am so frequenting angry!"

Can I become part of the club that make these decisions?

That would be so darn cool.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Pondering a Hallmark holiday

It would be very easy for me, a woman who has spent more of the past 15 years single than in a relationship, to head off on a rant that would indicate just how bitter and cynical I really am.  I could easily go on forever about a fake holiday that pays homage to couples, when, from my jaded point of view, the entire world pays homage to couples, so why do we have to have a holiday for it?

Instead, as an unexpected snow falls outside my window, I'm going to dig a little deeper into this world of Valentine's Day.

According to (and with the requisite disclaimer that I'm only doing surface-level research here), Pope Gaius declared February 14th to be St. Valentine's Day in 498 AD.  The Catholic Church references at least 3 saints with the name Valentine or Valentinus.  There are many legends about why the holiday was named for St. Valentine, some of which are hopelessly romantic (he was jailed and fell in love with his jailer's daughter and sent a note signed "from your Valentine"), others less so (he was killed for helping Roman prisoners escape from harsh prison systems).

So those like me who have claimed that Hallmark made the holiday up to sell cards are only partially right.  It was made up long before Hallmark was around. The practice of exchanging cards, too, existed long before the singing email was born.  Depending on which part of the world we discuss, says that humans have been exchanging Valentine-related themed love tokens since the 1400's.

That said, there's no denying Valentine's Day has become an institution, with literally billions of cards, flowers, chocolates and pajama grams being sent each year. Think of the space those take up in landfills! 

So today, instead of lamenting my lack of flowers or romantic dinners, I'm going to instead choose to think about why we should celebrate couplehood.

I'm going to think about all of my friends in same sex relationships who have to keep fighting to have their loving relationships mean as much as loveless heterosexual marriages do in the eyes of the law.

I'm going to think of the thousands of kids like my Little Sister whose lives have been crushed because marriage (and the people who got married) failed them, but who still long for a mom and dad and a love of their own.

I'm going to think of my parents, heading toward their 40th wedding anniversary, who have built their dream together and make me so proud I could burst.

I'm going to think of my brother, who's fallen in love with a military woman, and how challenging things will be for them if they stay together.

I'm going to think of a good friend from college who just went through a divorce. 

I'm going to wonder what is it that makes marriages and relationships tick, while realizing that millions of dollars have been spent on the same question, and no one really knows the answer.

And most of all, I'm going to try to be optimistic.  I'm going to try to look impending spinsterhood in the face and say "back off, b____!"  I'm going to be happy for all of my friends and family who have found love and are working hard to keep it.  And I'm going to allow myself to get misty-eyed and jealous over epic love stories and giant bouquets of roses.

Happy St. Valentine's Day, everyone.  Or Happy Singles Awareness Day.  Whichever one applies to you.