Archive for the 'Words' Category


A gambler, a pool supplier, and a fashionista walk into a bar …

I am keen to feature a guest post on you blog as it would do wonders for my portfolio. I realized it was time I stopped ghost-writing for others and built an online reputation for myself.

I have received three emails at work pitching stories using this exact (misspelled) phrasing. They are a scam. Or something. Some computer somewhere is churning out these emails and sending them to publishers, or a coach has given scores of would-be writers—fed up with a life of obscurity behind the ghost-writing curtain, desperate for the rush of fresh air in their lungs and the warmth of sunlight on their pale, damp skin—some very bad advice and a poorly written form letter. Continue reading ‘A gambler, a pool supplier, and a fashionista walk into a bar …’


The Sole of Wit

As we settle into the on-ramp to middle age, my husband and I find ourselves utterly captivated by the lamest of intellectual parries and thrusts. One of our favorites is the synonym game. “Eat,” one of us will say. “Devour,” the other will say. “Chew,” comes the reply, followed by “masticate,” “digest,” and so on and so forth.

Last night, inspired by a piscine pun a friend of ours wrote as a Facebook status update, Jeff asked me to name species of fish.

“Uh… trout?” I said. “Pike. Flounder. Why?”

He showed me the picture on our friend Marc’s Facebook wall, a folk-art plate with a fish skeleton painted on it, accompanied by the words “Tuna Half Men. Sole Train.”

Ah. I was beginning to understand.

“I’ve already got ‘Carp 54, Where Are You?'” Jeff said. I need another one.

I gave it a long, hard think. Before long I had one. Perfect.

“Who’s the Bass?” I said.

And we were off.

Continue reading ‘The Sole of Wit’


Wonder Wall

It’s already a well-worn internet cliché to receive a deluge of “Happy birthday!!!” wishes once a year on Facebook. I don’t care. I’m absolutely delighted by it.

I used to think it was too simple. It seemed almost insulting or phony to simply post “happy birthday” to someone’s wall. If you really cared, you’d send a card and pay for a damn stamp! And maybe, individually, it is a little cheap and easy, especially when Facebook is probably the only reason you knew it was the person’s birthday in the first place. But seen in broader strokes, taken as a whole, getting a “happy birthday!” from hundreds of people at a time, whether or not they really remembered, is actually pretty awesome. A little bit of love from each of those friends and acquaintances adds up pretty quickly to a big lump of good will.

Just do your friends a favor and pay attention. It can be easy to dismiss those greetings. There can be so many that individuals get lost in the shuffle. So this year on my birthday I made it a point to respond to every single one of them.

My “Thanks!” or “Thank you!” may be even less thoughtful than many of the multiple-exclamation-point birthday greetings, but I think there’s some value in it. It guarantees that I have read everyone’s post, acknowledged everyone individually, taken a moment to remember something about each person and to think about how I’m connected to them — assuming I actually know who they are!

I’ve been paying much closer attention to people’s birthdays in the last year. I don’t remember phone numbers because my phone does it for me. And I don’t bother to remember birthdays anymore because Facebook tells me every day who I forgot to send a card to. But I do what I can to build up my birthday karma. Tell your friends, and even some strangers, happy birthday. It’ll come back to you when it’s your turn. And it’s so easy these days to show you care enough to do the very least, so there’s no excuse.


Distance Over Time

On a bus between here and there, a lot passes you by. Cars, buses, trucks, a lot of gray. Most of it goes without notice, but sometimes something sticks out.

I saw an ad for a brand of running shoe once on the side of a truck. I can’t remember the substance of the ad, but the words were simple: “Distance over time.”

Speed, I thought.

In 10th grade physics, it’s simple and basic. But it struck me for the first time how, in another context, that phrase might mean something entirely different.

Distance over time. Two meanings: mathematics vs. poetry.

In terms of running shoes, speed is measured in the distance traveled divided by the time it took to get there. But to a more poetic heart, distance is something that can be achieved over time, with patience.


The Right Looks Up ‘Marriage’ and Finds ‘Revolution’

A right-wing Web site is fuming over their recent discovery that Merriam-Webster has added a secondary definition of marriage to its pages.

World Net Daily sarcastically reported Tuesday:

“One of the nation’s most prominent dictionary companies has resolved the argument over whether the term ‘marriage’ should apply to same-sex duos or be reserved for the institution that has held families together for millennia: by simply writing a new definition.”

The change occurred years before any states legalized gay marriage. It went unnoticed until now, apparently because writers at World Net Daily do not make frequent use of dictionaries.

(Personally, any publication that accepts written work from Ann Coulter, and that hawks “Where’s the birth certificate?” bumper stickers (attempting to call into question Barack Obama’s citizenship), doesn’t have much of value to say to the more thoughtful readers of the world. But I digress.)

Merriam-Webster editors are mystified by the fuss. From the story:

“Its inclusion was a simple matter of providing dictionary users with accurate information about all of the word’s current uses,” the company said, adding that it was surprised by the recent attention because it was “neither news nor unusual.”

“We were one of the last ones among the major dictionary publishers to do this,” said Merriam-Webster spokesman Arthur Bicknell.

Someone who commented on a YouTube video complaining about the definition says, “The word ‘marriage’ has never been synonymous with same sex relationships,” said the forum participant. “What is happening is the meaning is being changed to trigger it becoming synonymous, not the other way round.”

If he’d take his bible out of his ass long enough to concentrate, he’d realize that the definition does not make heterosexual marriage and same-sex marriage synonymous. What it signifies is merely that the term is used in that way. It is a figurative meaning.

Dictionaries include figurative and idiomatic meanings for a great many words. Note definition No. 6 of dig and definition No. 5 of bird.

The World Net Daily writer goes on to cite a 1913 dictionary definition that not only doesn’t mention same-sex marriage, but in fact adds biblical references to the traditional definition. In fact they are citations, meant to show context, not that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John or God himself are editors of dictionaries. It could have just as easily referenced a Jane Austen novel.

More importantly, should we be shocked that a word’s usage should change between 1913 and the year the Merriam-Webster change was apparently made? Of course not. Why would a 1913 publication of any sort refer to “same-sex marriage” when that concept wasn’t even part of the public consciousness? It would be like expecting Oscar Wilde to identify as “gay.” He never would have done so. Does it mean he wasn’t a big flaming queen? Certainly not.

Completely outside of the argument for or against gay marriage, consider the idiocy of World Net Daily’s complaint. I’m not thrilled that “ain’t” is in the dictionary, and that school students gleefully point to it to justify poor grammar. However, its legitimacy is determined not by whether you or I like it, but by whether or not it is used — and useful — by speakers of English. Whatever you think “ain’t” implies about its user, we all know its meaning. Ergo: ain’t.

Same-sex couples in long-term relationships have long thought of themselves — and referred to themselves — as being “married.” It’s a matter of convenience, being far less wordy than “partnered with a member of the same sex.” And until very recently on the scale of human history, we didn’t have a choice but to be figurative.



The other night, in a fit of ebullient drunkenness I declared the Oxford English Dictionary the single greatest achievement of mankind. For whatever reason, all Anglo guilt aside, English is the language of record. So, to my mind, the most comprehensive and respected volumes that record its meaning and history are a treasure for humanity. “Its more important than buildings, … fire,” I said, “and makeup.”

My friend Joey has become somewhat obsessed with this statement. I’m sure it’s because of my inclusion of makeup. And I’m sure that is the influence of RuPaul’s Drag Race. My geek-out moment is apparently one of the gayest things he’s heard in a while. It’s doesn’t rise to the level of Wildean wit, exactly, but it does my ego marvelous good to get such attention.


This sentence is worth 38 points.

In a city as big and old and famous as New York, there’s a landmark on nearly every corner. Someone was born here. Someone died here. Some drag queens started a social movement here. Someone recorded a watershed album here in the ’60s. Here’s a cafe from Sex in the City. Everyone’s got a story about some point of pride in their neighborhood.

Just recently, I learned that the birthplace of Scrabble is the Community Methodist Church in my neighborhood. To commemorate the fact, the street sign on the corner of 35th Avenue and 81st Street, where the church is located, has been made to look like it’s composed of Scrabble tiles. It’s a bit esoteric, like nerd humor, but I think a subtle nod to a great invention is more clever than a boring old plaque.



Kids Are Dumb and Therefore Funny

Babies are dumb. Little kids aren’t much better. And what are adults at the end of the day but tall kids with bumps and more hair. But as we grow and learn and try to make sense of things, we can come up with some bloody funny things.

Intelligent Design, for example.

Or The Bush Doctrine.

I was reminded of this when someone told me a story about his introduction, at the age of about 10 or 11, to a woman named Naomi.

“Hi, I’m Naomi,” she said.

“Naom-you?” he responded. He thought that when she said her name to someone it was Nao-me, and when someone else said her name to her it was Naom-you.

I myself am guilty of such leaps in logic. In kindergarten, I loved to bring in record albums (those were the days) for Show-and-Tell. It made me popular for a day if I chose the right record. There was the Grease soundtrack on one hand, and a reading of “The Three Little Pigs” on the other. Guess which one won me respect and admiration among my peers. Lord knows I can’t remember.

I forget which one it was — probably Grease — but a substitute teacher once forced me to hand over my record. My favorite song at the time was “Greased Lightning,” which contained a sexual reference or two in its lyrics that my young ears were too green to comprehend. I imagine she was trying to save me from myself, or to have a word with my mom or some such thing.

She was on a relatively long assignment, filling in for our regular teacher. Those were the days of Miss Nelson is Missing!. We did not like teachers, but a sub was the Devil incarnate. So naturally, I thought she was using her bully powers of adulthood (Oh, I couldn’t wait to grow up!) to steal it from me forever.

As I recall, I got it back by pouting at the end of class. Whether she had intended to give it back then or not I can’t say. I hated her and feared her. But I had no idea what would soon happen to the poor woman.

One day she wasn’t in class and we had a different sub. I asked what happened to Miss What’s-her-name, and someone (a student? my memory!) told me breezily that she had been fired.

I’d never heard of such a thing, and naturally I was horrified. They burned her to death? Just for taking my Grease album? Word got around, I guess. Maybe she had been mean to other kids at other schools. I felt vaguely responsible. I didn’t hate her that much. But also I felt vindicated, like a reign of terror had ended.



When a gay man reaches a certain age — say thirty-something — he may begin to wonder what category he falls into. It’s all about categories in this gay world. What you look like: twink, chicken, bear, cub, otter, wolf. What you do: gym bunny, muscle daddy, leather daddy. Who you do: top, bottom, chubby chaser, chicken hawk, rice queen.

We revel in these labels. We build identities and bars and communities and Web sites and publishing companies around them.

BearSome of us revel in not fitting into one of these categories.

Until we do.

I have never felt like I fit a label. Never was a twink. Not headed toward anything in particular, so I thought. Maybe I could be a cub if I could grow a beard worth a damn. But today I was startled to learn that there are at least two people I work with who think I am a bear. Or at least bearish.

It was further revealed that one of them (I don’t know who; I didn’t ask) said so as a compliment, i.e., my apparent bearishness is an attractive quality. And this did lessen the shock. I’ll take anything label if it means someone thinks I’m cute.

A quick flip through any bear magazine should disabuse anyone of these notions of bearhood. I am as pink and hairless as a newborn kangaroo. But, taken with another word someone else at work applied to me — cuddly — I have little choice but to conclude that I just need to lose weight. No euphemism for “fat” — even if it means someone thinks I’m cute — can leave me feeling very good about myself.


I Want my OED (or “Etymology for Nothing and Web Access for Free”)

Video never did kill the radio star, but there may be a very serious casualty in the smackdown between the World Wide Web and what we old timers call the “durable media.”

Of all the great crushes in my life — Chris in 5th grade, the subject of my first boy-on-boy dream (complete with, no joke, a roaring fireplace); Justin in 7th grade, who I would surreptitiously photograph at Camp Tamarack; Paul in high school, my little brother’s YMCA swimming instructor, who I never missed sight of changing in the locker room — the one that stands out above all others is the one I met in college. An English professor introduced us. I was at once captivated by his plain language and vast knowledge; his masculine, somewhat earthy scent; his perfectly straight spine; his thin, delicate pages; his minuscule, seemingly boundless print.

What hope did I have? How could I possibly resist this true, this pure, this urgent love? I was hopelessly lost from the moment I parted those covers to examine “gun” and “hangnail” and “nickname” and other marvels.

Yet there will come a time when those hardcover multi-volume memories are all I have left. I fear that I will never see the great love of my life — the Oxford English Dictionary — in its third edition in printed form.

Oh, for how long have I dreamed of wrapping myself bodily around its two dozen volumes! Of running my fingers along its stiff, bony edges. Of digging the sharp corners of its perfect, tight binding into my softly pliant flesh! Of inhaling the musky perfumery of inks on thousands upon thousands of translucent leaves!

A recent visit to the OED Web site rudely wrestled me from such dizzying passions. Intending to confirm the third edition’s publishing date, I was shocked instead to learn that plans had changed dramatically since my last visit. The FAQ stated unmistakably that the revisions currently underway for the third edition will not be completed until 2037.

Two thousand.


I will turn 61 years old that year.

The OED contains the history of the meaning of every blessed word in the English language, which includes by default a fair number of words from other languages, traced all the way back to their first recorded usage. It is the bible of my sacred tongue. An essential (and significantly large) part of the history of human thought itself. Few have anticipated the Second Coming with as much fervor as I have waited for this edition.

The second edition contains more than 300,000 words. Apparently more than 4,000 words are added every year. The OED will effectively double in size by the time the third edition is complete. There is no dictionary more well-endowed.

But the second edition is riddled with supplements and additions, a Frankenstein’s monster of cobbled volumes.


The complete CD-ROM edition is not available for Macintosh.


And a subscription to the online service, perhaps the most bearable option, is unaffordable. Libraries in the UK and Ireland offer remote access for free, but the New York Public Library does not. (So much for one of the greatest knowledge institutions of the world.)

Rat bastards!

Unthinkably, there may not even be be a printing of the third edition! Can you imagine a 40-volume dictionary? In type too small for my old ass to read? What is the point of literacy? What is the point of living?

the untallied hours