Monday, September 30, 2013

For uninsured Americans, signups for coverage in the health insurance marketplaces begin tomorrow and coverage begins in January. I have a few questions about that for myself, and like apparently many people, I still remain ignorant of some of the answers. So I thought I'd share the federal website where you can get started finding out about what's happening in your state, as well as the answers to other questions.

Yeah, well, it's in the title.

Slate has a good article about all the questions you were too embarrassed to ask. They include the following cartoon. Because whatever you feel about the Affordable Care Act, nobody doesn't like watching a good cartoon.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Article 314

Because every once in awhile, I like to stress that I don't hold the monopoly on ignorance. In fact, anyone can play...

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Thursday, September 19, 2013

What is performance?

This is a little different than the usual confessions going on here, but I can't seem to get this one out of my mind. The thing I don't understand has something to do with advertising. Actually, I do understand it, though I don't understand why I understand.

If you are in that non-tech savvy lot that still watches television containing commercials, which may be a party of one for all I know, meaning me, you will probably come across a familiar voice doing the voice overs for some high end brands from time to time . One of these is Mercedes-Benz and the other is American Airlines. The voice is so distinctive that if you have watched the celebrated TV show he's on, you can hardly miss that the voiceover is being done by Jon Hamm, more familiarly known as Don Draper of Mad Men. 

Don't get me wrong. I have no problem with Hamm signing on for this kind of gig while he's at the peak of his career. May as well cash in while he can. The part I don't understand is, why does the voice of a character known specifically for selling people things by making them associate them with inner fantasies and needs that the product won't ultimately fulfill seem like a good choice? My take is that it is a very good choice--I just don't totally understand why.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

New sentence construction--Slate weighs in on Double Is

I know, it's a bit of a cheat to just link over to someone else's article, but I found this piece by Alyssa Pelish on Slate fascinating. Apparently, Obama has been getting some flack for his sentence construction as he frequently uses the Double Is.

An example of Obama's usage from the article:

What has to happen is is that the money has to come from somewhere.

But it turns out that it is a construction that George W. Bush used often as well. And that linguists have been tracking this usage for thirty years. Still working on the theories, though.

Check it out.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

"False Entomologies" by Susan Blackwell Ramsey

I've mentioned recently on my book review blog, Not New For Long, that I've taken a role over at a website called Escape Into Life, writing book reviews and perhaps a few other things to do with books--we'll see. Anyway, because of that, Escape Into Life is now in my blog roll here and so I noticed this latest post on the EIL blog a couple of days ago, featuring the poems of Susan Blackwell Ramsay. And I really can't resist pointing you to the third poem down, "False Entomologies", because it is so apropos to the stuff I write about here.

I also really like the Kelly Reemsten paintings that accompany the poems. So check it out.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


I've been watching Borgen lately, Denmark's own equivalent of The West Wing. It's in Danish of course, with subtitles, and I don't recognize much in terms of language, but I do know when characters are saying hello and goodbye. Hello is "hej" which sounds like "hi" and "goodbye" is "hej hej", which sounds like "hi hi". I always find this amusing because to my American ear it sounds like someone is giving an enthusiastic greeting to someone who is just walking out the door. Childish, I know.

But it did get me to wonder where our American "hi" comes from. It isn't British usage, or wasn't the last time I had occasion to check. Many years ago, on my first trip to England, I was trying to master the British public phone and the pips and the coins and kept hanging up on the person I was trying to call. I would get out "Hi--" and then the line would go dead. I was feeling terrible about it, she was the wife of one of my favorite professors, so there was that added anxiety, but when I finally got her, and apologized, she said, "Oh, I knew it had to be you." I asked how and she said that it was because I kept saying "hi." It narrowed the field to an American and we were vaguely expected.

So maybe this made it's way to us somehow from Denmark, skipping England altogether?


Well, there is a Middle English "hy, hey" which "hi" probably comes from, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. But this is not exactly the meaning of hi today. Like "Hey!" today, "hi!" was a call to pay attention to something--"Look out!". "Hi" as a greeting is American usage. It's interesting that though no one seems to be able to tell us how "Hi" found its way to the Great Plains, they can tell us that the "first recorded reference is to speech of a Kansas Indian" in 1862.

Way to be both precise and maddeningly obscure, Online Etymology Dictionary.

The title of this picture on Wikipedia is: "Indians who broke out of their reservation in Indian territory & made a raid across Kan in 1879 & killed settlers near Great Bend & other places. , by Leonard & Martin"

No "Hi"s exchanged there, I'm thinking.

There's a long thread on the drifting meaning of the word "hey" here, which seems to have followed a similar trend from calling attention to greeting, although it keeps that first sense of exclamation better than "hi" did. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

boots on the ground

This was something I noticed about the First Gulf War, way back when. Everybody started using the same little catch phrases. Although of course this kind of imitative speech is unavoidable, because how else do we learn to say anything anyway, I find it particularly irritating when accompanied by the drumbeats of war. If there's any time when human beings need to think for themselves and not just parrot what other people are saying it seems to me its during wartime or the  days leading up to war.

In the First Gulf War, the phrase that drove me crazy was "hunkered down", which was the way Iraqi troops seemed to be perpetually described. No one else seemed to be bothered by this one, but to me this squatting opposition made the Iraqis sound cowardly and slightly less than human.

In the second Gulf War the phrase that always bugged me was "embedded". As in "embedded journalist". Although its a point of pride for many reporters to be able to say they were embedded with the military in some frontline situation, I never can get the idea of "in bed with", with all its overtones of collusion, out of my mind in relation to journalism whenever the phrase comes up.

With the looming possibility of air strikes on Syria, you can hardly avoid hearing the words "boots on the ground" in any media discussion of it these days. "Boots on the ground" is a phrase that was already in play, but it seems to be particularly accented right now, or rather "No boots on the ground" is. But it hasn't always been part of the common parlance. I thought I would try and find out when it first started being, well, deployed.


Wikipedia gives us the sense that the phrase extends further back in time than the written expressions of it. It tells us that the phrase "boots on the ground" goes at least as far back as the Malayan Emergency of 1948-1960 (and yes, I should know what this is, and you should too) when it was used by the British officer Robert Grainger Ker Thompson, who was one of the chief strategists on counter-insurgency. He later went on to advise Nixon in a similar way, so it's no surprise that the term began to crop up in relation to Vietnam a well.

It's interesting to realize that a phrase that was initially used to argue that there was no winning a war without boots on the ground has come to be part of a phrase reassuring the public of quite the opposite.

There turns out to be other complications around the phrase. For one thing,  William Safire tells us that the slang for a new Marine inductee is a boot and so that the boot of the phrase refers to a soldier not footwear. This may not seem like such a big deal, but as Grammarphobia points out, if you use a phrase like "20,000 boots on the ground" you may mean 20,000 troops, or you could mean 10,000. Right?

In any case, the newspapers are already ahead of me on my particular topic here, once again. But at least Eric Zorn's article which is apparently from September 4th, just a few days ago, validates my empirical impression.

"Stories in the Tribune using the expression "boots on the ground" to refer to military men and women in a combat theater from the mid 1980s (when the digital record begins) until Sept. 24, 2001 -- Zero.
...from Sept. 25, 2001 to Jan 1, 2010 --- about 60
...from Jan 1, 2010  through today -- about 55
New York Times, similar search --      3, 144, 161".

It would be interesting to know how many of these stories were about arguments for and how many were about arguments against. And when and if the preponderence shifted.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

An Open Letter to Chancellor Blumenthal on the ending of Shakespeare Santa Cruz

Dear Chancellor Blumenthal:

I’m writing today to express my sadness about the decision by the University of California to no longer support Shakespeare Santa Cruz. Unlike many, I am not casting blame on Dean Yager for his decision. Given a constrained humanities budget, it is not surprising to me that he would choose classes and students and all the expenses these entail over a summer festival. My own feeling is that this should never have been his private version of Sophie’s Choice to begin with.

Shakespeare Santa Cruz is a jewel in the crown of the UC system. It should never have been the responsibility of a small, not currently “sexy”, department to decide. The arts are the responsibility of all. Somewhere in the very well endowed  UCal system, which we as Californians all do our part in supporting through our taxes, surely there is some money we can use for the benefit, not just of the humanities, but for humanity.

I happened to attend a performance of Henry V during its last week up in the glen. There was an actor’s chat afterwards, and though of course the demise of the company was discussed a bit, what really struck me was when Fred Arsenault, who not only played Henry, but had played the young Harry in previous years, was asked how he felt about the experience. He said, I feel very, very lucky. It is a rare thing to be able to play Harry through his transformation into Henry V. When asked how he played it, he said that he just worked very hard. The thing to remember, he said, is that Shakespeare is smarter than we are. He is ahead of us, and we are trying to catch up.

Perhaps the UC system believes that training an actor like Arsenault, or any of the many of fine actors who have passed through the Festival Glen over the years, is a very small thing in the grand scheme of things. I do not. I am amazed at the glorious good fortune UCSC and Santa Cruz have had through the years to have teachers of the quality of Audrey Stanley and Michael Warren connected to living theatre in this way.

By coincidence, I am currently starting a free course through EdX by the renowned Harvard scholar Gregory Nagy. (The only reason I’m interested in it, by the way, is because of my studies with wonderful UCSC professors like John Lynch and Gary Miles and the above mentioned Stanley and Warren in the distant past.) I was struck by something Nagy said about studying the ancient Greeks:  [Socrates is saying] “…cry if the word dies on us.  But if the word lives, by being constantly re-engaged with, then the vitality of these things that mean more than anything to humans, or should, can go on. And it’s inter-generational. It’s intercultural. And best of all, it’s potentially eternal.”

On these grounds, I respectfully ask that the university system rethink its decision.


Seana Graham

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

stop and frisk

If you live in the U.S., you'll know that the term 'stop and frisk' has been much in the news of late, especially in regard to New York City's policing practices. It's become a conventional enough phrase at this point, so it took me a long time to think about the word "frisk" embedded in it. Frisk as in frisky? Or just what, exactly?

Frisk makes it way into written English in 1510, with the meaning of "to dance or frolic". Middle English had it as "lively", stemming from Middle French frisque, which meant lively or brisk, and in Old French had meant fresh or new, lively or animated. Great. But none of this seems much related to the experience of being stopped by the police and being patted down for weapons or contraband, does it? The Online Etymology Dictionary that frisk in the sense of a patdown is recorded from 1781. It doesn't, however, show us how language made the leap between the two meanings.

Luckily The Word Detective is a bit more informative. (You have to scroll down a bit, but you'll find it.) Frisk, meaning to move briskly, gradually came to include such things as brisk movements of the hands. (Brisk and frisk are apparently unrelated, by the way, much to my surprise.) In fact, because brisk movements of the hand were part of the pickpocket's repertoire of skills, the word was 18th century slang for "a thief". (Also "frisker".)

The interesting part about this is that "frisk" changed sides. From meaning "to dip into someone's pockets to steal something", it switched over to mean to search a person for illicit goods. This is not the only time this has happened. Turns out "cop" has followed a similar trajectory.

Now that I've gotten this far, I see that the Wall Street Journal has beaten me to the punch and written of much the same topic just three days ago. I will say that  the writer delved down and found the name of the 1789 book in which "frisk" in this sense first appears in print. But for the answer to that, you are going to have to go HERE.