Thursday, August 7, 2014

Word Warfare

A few professors from the University of Mississippi have complained that the nickname of the school, which is "Ole Miss," is racist.  Not being from the South and not understanding the historical context, I was flummoxed.  A friend turned me to another article to explain.  Researching yet further, I also discovered that there is debate on the true derivation of the moniker.

In the late 1880's the school held a contest to name the yearbook.  Elma Meeks entered the winning selection of "Old Miss."  While we'll never know what she meant, there are two predominate theories as to where the name might have come.  One is that it is simply a diminutive of Old Mississippi.  The other is that it's short for "Old Missus," from the slave's term for mistress of the plantation.  The agitated professors subscribe to the latter.

As a writer, editor, and sometimes etymologist, I take great interest in words: what they mean, their historical significance, and how they're used both in speech and writing.  For instance, one of my pet peeves is when people use "anxious" for "eager."  Anxious is the antithesis of eager; for when one is anxious one is dreading something.

Memes on the Internet are ripe with bad grammar, horrific spelling and downright misuse of words.  They're/there/their, it's/its, or lose/loose are commonly and incorrectly interchanged.  I've seen plane for plain, accept for except, prosecute for persecute...well, the list goes on.  The point is that even when we have a clearly defined meaning, humans are there to muck it up.

But, what happens when a word changes meaning over time?  Then what?  The masters at Webster's and Oxford English agree on this: any spoken language changes with time.  That's why Latin was chosen for medicine and science.  It is a language no longer spoken and therefore can not be altered by use.  The meanings of Latin words are frozen in time.

English, however, is another story.  "Awful" used to mean "inspiring wonder" not "horrid." "Brave" used to mean "showy" not "courageous."  "Bully" used to mean "good fellow" not someone who beats you up.  Words change meaning.  Names change meaning.  Our language ever evolves.

The nickname "Ole Miss" has been used at the university for over 100 years.  Can it now be said to refer only to the school, even if it might have had roots in a shameful past?  Can it not now mean only a beloved institution of higher learning?  Has the meaning become synonymous with a school?

I think the danger we have when we start down the road of being offended by a word that has a history we cannot tolerate is that we don't allow for growth or change.  If "pretty" still meant "sly or cunning" then it would be an insult (to most) and not a compliment we bestow.  Our language adapts and grows as our society transforms it with daily use...and abuse.  Maybe we simply need to accept that.

I've never subscribed to the PC policing of my phraseology, yet I've altered the words I use as times have changed.  People can get riled about words that upset, but let's face it, they're only words.  In some cases, surely, they are words with a sketchy past.  Now, there are certainly words that have too much baggage and those need to be shelved—you know of which words I speak.  It just seems to me that most words in our current vernacular can only offend someone looking to be offended.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Watch out for those planks!

So, a friend (I use the term loosely here) said to me, "can we talk privately?"  Meaning out of earshot of the kids.

Oooookaaay.  Bracing.

She went on to "inform" me of what she observed of my parenting style.


I won't gossip about what she said, but suffice to say, she had some pretty sound conclusions as to why my child isn't acting the way she imagines a good child should act and much of it boils down to my parenting style.


I listened for about all I could take, then I finally said, "let's get to the paper."  She had been clutching a note.  Turns out there was a sketchy bit that had my kid's personality written all over it.  So, yeah, I talked to said kid about it afterwards and we came to the conclusion it probably wasn't the best choice to make.  So, my kid erred in judgment.  But, ultimately, the friend implied that my child wouldn't have stumbled if I were--how would she have put it?--a better parent.

Now, I was proud of myself.  I took the high road.  I even apologized.  And, I thanked her for her concerns.  Certainly, the fact they are moving to Pennsylvania next month helped my calm attitude.  I do wonder how I would have responded if they were going to continue to be a part of our lives.  Naturally, I would want to salvage the relationship--my kid adores hers and vice versa--but I would probably have to have a long talk about our different parenting styles, and how it's okay that we're different.  Though, I think she's probably a person who thinks there's only one way to slice a banana.

Do you ever find yourself critical of how others parent, or handle their dog, or workout, or spend their free time, or slice a banana?  I do.  There are so many times I just want to say to someone, "STOP doing that!  You're making a mess of things!"  It's really easy to see how other people are doing it wrong.  It's easy to see the speck of sawdust in their eyes, and tell them to get it out of there.  Ah.  But it's MUCH harder to see our planks bulging out of our sockets.  We all have a giant plank.

Maybe I do need to look at some of the things which my "friend" pointed out about my parenting.  But, she doesn't know what really goes on in our house, and she was drawing some pretty broad conclusions.  She doesn't know how far my kid has grown on my kid's scale.  She doesn't have a child with my child's personality.  You can't put up one child or one parent as a blueprint for all others to aspire.  God didn't make us that way.  He made us unique people.  There was a reason God gave me the children he gave me, because he wanted me to raise them the way I would raise them.

After explaining the encounter to my husband, I thought his comment was rather interesting.  When he finally understood which friend's child I was talking about, he said, "Oh, you mean the one that doesn't smile?"

I pray for them and wish them the best.  I hope her daughter can find some joy while she is busy behaving properly for her mom.  I hope my daughter can make some better decisions in the future.

But, most of all, I hope I can again take the high road the next time I'm confronted about my speck.  And also remember that there's a plank in there, too.

"Why do you look for the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye, and pay not attention to the plank in your own eye?"  ~Matthew 7:3

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Take Your Privacy Back

I was just reading an article in the Huff Post (shocker, eh?), detailing that 70% of parents struggle with being unable to keep off their phones at dinner.
For everyone's sanity, we have to address this issue of being constantly in contact.  And it starts with me...and you.
Excluding emergencies, phones should be off at dinner time. Remember when we used to NOT answer the phone because it was "dinner?" Or, you'd tell your friends, "don't call during dinner!" It was accepted that you could not be reached at dinner time or other times.  These days, we're much too available. 

"I texted you three times and left a voicemail, WHERE were you?" 
"Um, in the bathroom." 
People are annoyed if they can't get you right away. We need to change that, but we can only change that as we each make changes. 
First of all, calmly and firmly tell people, "I was unavailable." No excuses.  You are simply not able to be reached, end of discussion. 
Next, when you are crying inside to check your messages, give yourself a time. I'll check messages in 40 minutes. Space out the times you check to pull yourself back from the immediate contact. Make social media and messaging something you do in chunks, not throughout the day.

Put your phone in your purse or pocket (esp. whilst driving!), and don't be online or messaging all the time.  Go outside and enjoy the fresh air.  Talk to a human being face to face.  Pick up a book (readers are okay).  Pray or meditate.  Take up a hobby (but don't constantly post your achievements or step by step  accomplishments).  Learn something new.  Help a friend.  Help a stranger.

There is much more to you and your life than a little screen in your hands.  Make some real memories now with people around you.     

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Children Are Not Blank Slates

Children are not blank slates.  God forms complete human beings.  They are who they are and our job as parents is to raise them in the confines of their personalities, temperaments, and abilities.

I learned this first hand when we homeschooled our brood.  For three years, I set out to restructure my wildlings into the stereotypical homeschooling drones I dreamed they would become.  I fantasized about the hours we'd lounge in the living room studying literature and philosophy in a classical classroom setting, creating intricate scientific experiments using common household chemicals, and, perhaps, building an air-breathing combustion engine in the garage.  All the while, they'd dive into learning with ravenous glee, demanding to know more about the solar system and Ancient Egypt.

Yeah.  I was on the fast track to Fantasyland.

My children are leaders, not ducklings.  They are warriors, not philosophers.  They are captains, not mates.  The ADD one still has ADD regardless of how many years we homeschooled.  The Dyslexic one surprised me with intelligence that masked the disorder so well we've only recently confirmed a diagnosis.  In short: they are who they are and no environment on the planet can change their inner being.

Nor (in retrospect) would I want such change.
Once, when we were on vacation in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, we stood atop a vista, gazing at misty blue mountains.  I glanced over to a family standing next to us, noticing the kids were calmly licking ice cream cones and blithely staring off into the distance.  I was suddenly aware my own progeny were not beside us enjoying the view, so I turned around.  Atop a table in a nearby picnic area my kids were kung fu fighting.

Some kids will want the given experience, and some kids will want to make their own.  Neither is correct, they are simply different.

Can we demand obedience, teach empathy, and guide our young away from the paths of destruction?  Of course!  We need to do that.  But, that's not what I'm talking about here.

A child is a human being; a child of God who was known to the Creator in the mother's womb, not a un-programmed computer awaiting code.  Unfortunately, we, as parents, don't get to decide what type of child we get.  Fortunately, we get to decide how we raise our child based on preconditioned settings, the ones God has bestowed.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be. 
~Psalm 139:13-16