What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

Page 121 of 132

Pink, white and blue in the workaday world

By Debra Dobbins
Friday, October 1, 2010

I found The Daily Sentinel today a bit unsettling. Not because of the news, which often can be unsettling, but because of the background color throughout the entire paper: pink.

To acknowledge the beginning of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, today’s edition is printed on pink paper. That means that color photographs also appear on pink paper, which concerned our staff photographers a bit. I think they’ll be relieved when their pictures once again show up on regular newspaper stock.

For quite some time, pink has symbolized girls or women, and blue has symbolized boys or men. While many decry this symbolism as sexist, it seems entrenched in our culture.

There are even pink-collar jobs, such as secretarial work, for which women have been traditionally hired.

Men who prefer working with their hands and/or men who have decided not to pursue higher educations hold blue-collar jobs, such as construction work.

Some feminists argue that women should at least go after blue collar jobs, because swinging a hammer often commands a better hourly wage than typing a memo.

White-collar jobs are office jobs that are often, but not always, held by people with higher educations.

Whatever the color of our collars, however, we all live in dread of the pink slip. This Americanism means a notice to an employee that his or services are no longer required. “Getting the pink slip” is a euphemism for “you’re fired.” (See July 20 entry for more on euphemisms.) It comes from the "use of pink paper as the employee’s carbon of a dismissal notice,"  according to Webster’s.

Today, I am grateful for my family, job and health. Today, I am also mindful of the need to get a mammogram whenever my doctor recommends one. It is, after all, a vital way to stay “in the pink.”


Goldilocks goes orbital

By Debra Dobbins
Thursday, September 30, 2010

The headline above alludes (refers) to a fairy tale that has been popular nearly 200 years, although the tale’s main characters have changed along the way.

“The Story of the Three Bears” was written by Englishman Robert Southey in 1837. According to Wikipedia, in his original story Southey wrote about three male bears and an elderly woman. In later years, also according to Wikipedia, the bears became Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear, and the old woman was transformed into a young girl with golden hair.

An artist’s rendering of the planet appears below. You’ll find the full story on this fascinating planet in The Daily Sentinel’s print edition or e-edition.



A more tasteful word

By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I don’t like beans.

Once when my mother was away for a week, my father discovered all sorts of beans languishing in our kitchen cupboards—navy beans, pinto beans, lima beans, kidney beans, we had ‘em all.

A product of the Great Depression, Dad decided this was a prime opportunity to teach my sister, brother and me not to waste food. We had beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner for five days straight. When Mom returned, we threw ourselves onto the living room floor and cried out, “Thank goodness you’re back. Dad’s been making us eat beans!"

As an adult, I am grateful to my father for the many life lessons he taught, including not wasting food, but I still cannot bring myself to consume beans. This is my loss, I realize, as beans are highly nutritious.

While scanning the recipes in today’s food section of the paper, I hit upon the solution: call beans a different name. So, soon I’ll try making “pasta e fagioli.” Translated, it means pasta and beans, but I’ll be sure to use the Italian name if family or friends ask, “What’s for dinner?”

If I just use Italian, I can bring myself to benefit from the excellent protein that beans fagioli provide.

Besides, this recipe actually calls for chickpeas. I'm sure that beans fagioli could be substituted, but I’ll stick with the chickpeas for now. Some memories fade slowly, after all….

The recipe is below. You may wish to try it, too. Buono appetito!



Pun pokes fun at Pooh and mind trick

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Even I, an unrepentant perpetrator of atrocious puns, groaned at Frank & Earnest today. My first thought was, “What a bad pun.” OK, OK, my second thought was, “Why didn’t I think of it?”

A pun is a play on words. According to Webster’s, it happens through “the use of a word, or of words which are formed or sounded alike, in such a way as to juxtapose, connect, or bring out two or more of the possible applications of the word or words, usually in a humorous way.”

The cartoonists rely on our culture’s common knowledge of A.A. Milne’s much-loved literary character, Winnie-the-Pooh, to make this pun work.

“Deja Pooh” plays on the French expression “déjà vu,” which means “already seen or viewed.” It describes the rather strange feeling we have when we think we have already had the experience we are currently undergoing.

Trying to understand why déjà vu happens, scientists have come up with a few theories. A prominent one, according to Wikipedia, is that the neurological systems in brains that contribute to our short-term memories and those neurological systems that contribute to our long-term memories sometimes overlap. In other words, once in a while sensory impressions may go into our long-term memories just slightly before they register in the conscious part of our brains.

In researching déjà vu in Wikipedia, I came across a related French expression that I find comforting. It is “presque vu,” meaning “almost seen.” It describes the sensation of having information on “the tip of our tongues.” This happens to me frequently. Some people call this experience a senior moment, but the French version sounds much more impressive. “Oh, excuse me,” I can now say. “I’m having a touch of presque vu.”

The concept of presque vu is a great help for a retired teacher such as I. After getting to know a slew of students during my years with District 51, I often fail to remember everyone’s name. This causes great consternation when I  run into folks in places such as the grocery store. For reasons both good and bad, they always seem to remember me.

I often take evasive action and dodge into an adjoining aisle when I spot someone I should know. Then I have a few precious moments to dredge up the name from my memory's murky depths. At that point, I saunter back into the next aisle, “casually” call out his or her moniker and feign surprise over the encounter.

The boys, after all, change from scrawny eighth-graders with braces to strapping young men with beards, and the girls’ hair colors change as often as mine. Those are my excuses, anyway; I must remember to stick to them.


Watching how “oui” spell, say “surveillance”

By Debra Dobbins
Monday, September 27, 2010

“Surveillance” is a tricky word to spell—and to pronounce.

Breaking the word down into its syllables (sur-veil-lance) helps in spelling it. Sur is a short, common prefix meaning over, so it is not hard to remember. A veil is a cloth that brides and other women sometimes wear over their faces, and a lance is a long, sharp weapon that knights used to carry into battle.

Often creating a story around a word helps us to remember its spelling. My story for surveillance would just be a scene out of a movie: Sir Lancelot is jousting (fighting with a lance) with another knight in an arena. In the stands sits a princess with a veil over her face. Perhaps both knights are vying (competing) for her affections. Using this story, I just have to remind myself that Sir becomes sur in the word surveillance.

Sir Lancelot, by the way, was a highly respected hero among the Knights of the Round Table, according to Arthurian legends.

While we are taught to sound out words, that strategy does not work well with surveillance. It comes from the French language, and French uses many letters that are not heard when words are spoken, or they sound like different letters altogether to an English speaker.

Take, for example, “mais oui!” It means “but yes!” and is used as a hearty agreement. Sounding it out, we may want to say “mays-ow-eye,” but the words are actually spoken as “may wee.” We do not hear the “s” in “mais,” and “oui” sounds nothing like its actual letters. So goes French. Though a beautiful language and worth studying, it requires quite a bit of memorization.

Surveillance is pronounced as sur-vay-lance. It means a close watch kept over someone, according to Webster’s. It comes from the same Latin word for “vigil,” also a watch that is kept.

To read the complete story on why federal officials want more surveillance of communication on the Web, go to www.gjsentinel.com or to our print edition or e-edition.

The French flag has the same colors as the American flag.

Page 121 of 132


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