Monthly Archives: January 2018

What’s in a word?

A recent column on the use of profanity and obscenity drew quite a bit of reaction. I’d written about language and how it affects people.

The crux of the discussion was that identifying words that are too gross to appear or be uttered in public places is difficult. How do we sanitize language?

Coverage of President Trump’s verbal choices drew much fury in the press. I was a bit miffed at reading terms like s—holes to describe the topography and living conditions of people in Africa and other regions. A flurry of letters appeared in the daily press, analyzing the suitability of such terms.

And of course, my own sheltered existence — of which about 20 years were in a parochial (as in “parish”) school — may have tempered my attitude toward what some people call “fighting words.”

As I began the recent column on Trump’s use of language, I believe I made it clear that I would not engage in profanity. By that I meant that I would not use the actual words that offend; rather, I’d water them down in hopes of diluting the terms and sanitizing them a bit. But I found even that a big task. Continue reading

We can’t live on tips

How much might a person earn as a door holder opener? I can answer that in a heartbeat: exactly 25 cents.

Let me explain:

One day, as I was leaving a downtown restaurant I saw a man. a stranger, racing to hold the door open for a family of four. I heard the man in the group utter something like, “I’d like to tip you for that, but I don’t have any change.” I have no doubt a tip for such a simple act was far from anything the door opener was hoping for.

Then, as the patriarch of the old Katzenjammer Kids comic strip would say, “Gifs idea.” I thought I’d try it too.

But let me proceed with my myriad accounts: I certainly am not hard up; I don’t need the money; I realize more people carry plastic than loose change; I ask for a tip only to test others’ reactions; I’ve received only 25 cents in my life, and that was almost forced on me by a woman, a stranger, who insisted, explaining, “You have a right to earn a living.” And finally, I suspect she had wanted the quarter in her hand expecting her genial door opener to ask for compensation.

Additionally, I realize there are needier people, those who would benefit from a handful of quarters which might add up to the price of a meal or a snack. I certainly don’t want to compete with them. But the lady insisted, and I became richer for that. Continue reading

Grownups use childish taunts

When we were kids — and because we were kids — we used lots of taunting phrases, the most popular being the chant: “Nanny nanny boo-boo,” or something equally imbecilic.

Every kid I knew was familiar with that chant. We used it too in our Railroad Avenue barrio, and if the recipients could run fast enough, they made us pay. It’s on a par with youngsters engaging in p–sing contests.

Now, several decades later, we’re being exposed to grown-up (although not necessarily “mature”) taunts in which our own president is engaging in verbal jousts with Kim Jong Un of North Korea.

Pardon me for waxing eloquent, but can’t President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un end their “mine is bigger” feud? It’s on the par with two kids in the playground spoiling for a fight, ending each outburst with “mine is bigger,” But we never discover the object of the bigness.

Possibly the “bigger” item is a family, or an older brother, or a gang, or maybe a cudgel.
And speaking of taunting-leading-to-fisticuffs, I saw a brilliant commercial on TV during the height of the Vietnam War that raged in the ‘70s. We were living in a suburb of Charlottesville, Va., not far from our national’s capital.

The black-and-white ad showed two middle-aged men, double-chins-sagging, pot-bellies showing, wearing white shirts and marching into a forested area. Continue reading

What’s in a name?

I’ve been called a number of things åin my life. Some of the names, at least, have even been respectable.

Many old timers still call me Mannie. In my childhood, I must have been given that moniker by one of my parents. It stuck, and now, when someone (probably an alumnus of Immaculate Conception School in Las Vegas) calls me that, I generally recognize that person as a former classmate.

And there have been other names as well. In high school, when I wrote sports for the Optic, my name became Clark Kent. Remember that fellow who wore glasses, worked for a newspaper and doubled as Superman?

And there was also “There.” It’s a noun that comes from an adverb, and I give credit to Janice Odom, the former public information director at Highlands. I called her once, as her job had connections to the Highlands University journalism department of which I was a member. I introduced myself, and Janice responded with, “Oh hi, There.”

It didn’t take long for me to leave messages like, “Hi, Janice, this is your friend, ‘There.’” In fairness, the late Alnita Baker, to whom I delivered the Optic when I was 11, would also say, “Hi, There.” But it was Janice who got more mileage out of the Christening. Continue reading