What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

Page 123 of 132

The Greatest Generation

By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tom Friedman is a disciplined writer, so I found it interesting that he did not explain in his column today that The Greatest Generation was a book written by Tom Brokaw.

Brokaw is a retired NBC News reporter and anchor. Published in 1998, his book lauds (praises) men and women born roughly between 1920 and 1935 who fought valiantly in World War II and then used the same courage and resolve at home to build prosperous lives for themselves and their families.

Friedman is a New York Times columnist who reported on the Middle East for many years and wrote five books. He is well known for The World is Flat, a book he alludes (refers) to in the final paragraph of today’s column. I highly recommend this book for students who need to understand the international competition they will face in a computer-driven world.

Perhaps Friedman decided that the phrase has now taken its place in the vernacular (common speech) of educated people. So, when he did not attribute, he might just have been complimenting a fellow reporter.

Friedman’s column and a corresponding political cartoon appear below.

U.S. needs values of Greatest Generation if we are to succeed

I want to share a couple of articles I recently came across that, I believe, speak to the core of what ails America today.

The first was in Newsweek under the ironic headline “We’re No. 11!” Michael Hirsh wrote: “Has the United States lost its oomph as a superpower?” It noted that the U.S.A. ranks 11th in Newsweek’s list of the 100 best countries in the world.

The second piece, which could have been called “Why We’re No. 11,” was by the Washington Post economics columnist Robert Samuelson. Why, he asked, have we spent so much money on school reform in America and have so little to show for it in terms of scalable solutions that produce better student test scores? Maybe, he answered, it is not just because of bad teachers, weak principals or selfish unions.

“The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation,” wrote Samuelson. “Students, after all, have to do the work. If they aren’t motivated, even capable teachers may fail. ... The unstated assumption of much school ‘reform’ is that if students aren’t motivated, it’s mainly the fault of schools and teachers.” Wrong, he said. “Motivation is weak because more students (of all races and economic classes, let it be added) don’t like school, don’t work hard and don’t do well.”

Samuelson has a point — and it is a microcosm of a larger problem we have not faced honestly as we dig out of this recession: We had a values breakdown — a national epidemic of get-rich-quickism and something-for-nothingism. Wall Street may have been dealing the dope, but our lawmakers encouraged it. And far too many of us were happy to buy the dot-com and subprime crack for quick prosperity highs.

Ask yourself: What made our Greatest Generation great? First, the problems they faced were huge and inescapable: the Depression, Nazism and Soviet Communism. Second, the Greatest Generation’s leaders were never afraid to ask Americans to sacrifice. Third, that generation was ready to sacrifice, and pull together, for the good of the country. And fourth, because they were ready to do hard things, they earned global leadership the only way you can, by saying: “Follow me.”

Contrast that with the Baby Boomer Generation. Our big problems are unfolding incrementally — the decline in U.S. education, competitiveness and infrastructure, as well as oil addiction and climate change. Our generation’s leaders never dare utter the word “sacrifice.” Solutions must be painless. Which would you like? A stimulus from Democrats or a tax cut from Republicans?

For a decade we sent our best minds not to make computer chips in Silicon Valley but to make poker chips on Wall Street, while telling ourselves we could have the American dream — a home — without saving and investing, for nothing down. Our message to the world (except for our brave soldiers): “After you.”

So much of today’s debate between the two parties, notes David Rothkopf, a Carnegie Endowment visiting scholar, “is about assigning blame rather than assuming responsibility.”

Rothkopf and I agreed we would get excited about U.S. politics when our debate is between Democrats and Republicans who acknowledge we can’t cut deficits without both tax increases and spending cuts — and then debate which ones and when. Politicians who acknowledge that we can’t compete unless we demand more of our students — and then debate longer school days versus school years. Leaders who acknowledge that bad parents who don’t read to their kids and do indulge them with video games are as responsible for poor test scores as bad teachers — and debate what to do about that.

China and India have been catching up to us, not only because they now have free markets like we do, education like we do, access to capital and technology like we do, but, most importantly, values like our Greatest Generation had.

In a flat world where everyone has access to everything, values matter more than ever. Right now the Hindus and Confucians have more Protestant ethics than we do, and as long as that is the case we’ll be No. 11!

The New York Times




Specific, strong words

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In his column today Denny Herzog contends that we have fewer and fewer great statesmen who can respectfully debate ideas rather than just assail their opponents’ personalities.

As always, readers will either agree or disagree with him. I contend, though, that one aspect of Herzog’s column is hard to debate. He clearly chooses specific, strong words to make his argument. Following are definitions of words in the column that proficient readers should know. The definitions are taken from Webster’s.

Platitude – a commonplace or trite remark, especially one uttered as if it were fresh or original
Simultaneously – occurring, done, existing, etc. at the same time
Staunch – firm, steadfast, loyal
Predecessors – persons who precede or preceded others, as in office (Precede means “go before.”)
Ominous – of or serving as an omen; esp. having the character of an evil omen; threatening; sinister
Indigenous - native
Genre – a kind or type, as of works of literature, art, etc.
Exponentially – increasing in extraordinary proportions
Cabal – a small group of persons joined in a secret, often political, intrigue; junta
Convey – to make known, communicate in words, actions, appearance, etc.
Annihilation – total, decisive destruction, complete conquering, demolition
Forum – an assembly, place, radio program, etc. for the discussion of public matters or current questions
Substantive - essential
Snide – slyly malicious or derisive (It comes from a German word meaning “to cut.”)
Bickering – petty quarreling, squabbling

Finally, it is important to know more about the reference to Alexis de Tocqueville. He was a French political thinker and historian.  “Democracy in America (1835), his major work, published after his travels in the United States, is today considered an early work of sociology and political science," according to Wikipedia.

Armed with this knowledge, you now should be able to read Herzog’s column and decide whether you agree or disagree with him.


Alexis de Tocqueville

photo of oil painting courtesy of Wikipedia


Was Tulo crying?

By Debra Dobbins
Monday, September 13, 2010

When I scan a headline, I usually get a quick summary of a story. I couldn’t do that today with Tulo’s Tear.

That is because tear can mean a water drop in one’s eye, or it can mean a rip. (The first sounds like “teer” and the second like “tare.”) So, was Tulo crying with happiness? Looking at the photos, I decided he was happy, but not enough to turn on the waterworks.

That left the meaning of rip, which did not make sense, either. Then I remembered that English has many idioms, expressions that are peculiar to a particular language. Our idioms may not make sense to a Russian, and vice versa.

The idiom “on a tear” means to be on a streak, or a continual movement. It’s pronounced “on a tare.” I decided to read the story on Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies to check my theory out.

Sure enough, certain words and phrases backed that theory up: “on pace,” “leading contender,” and finally the actual phrase “on a tear” that appeared toward the end of the article.

So, this was one headline that made me work a little bit, but that’s OK. While I think I’m a proficient reader, I still often must use decoding skills to decipher something in print. The effort is always worthwhile.

With a new grandson, I’d better start polishing up my pitching skills. That effort will be worthwhile, too.



The bios behind the words

By Debra Dobbins
Friday, September 10, 2010

A little cove on the southeast coast of Norway is a charming spot to go for some rest and relaxation. It would be excellent for swimming, except for one problem. Strewn throughout the water are huge boulders—boulders that cannot be removed by mandate of the Norwegian government.

During World War II the Nazis invaded Norway by land through neighboring Sweden and by sea. Many Norwegians did everything they could to impede (slow down) the progress of the Nazis. For instance, they pushed boulders into coves and other landing areas so that the Germans would have a more difficult time coming ashore. After the war, the Norwegian government said the boulders must remain as a tribute to the courage and sacrifice of ordinary citizens.

For much of the war, Norway was under the rule of a puppet government headed by Vidkun Quisling. Quisling was a Norwegian who collaborated (worked with) with the Nazis. As noted above, Quisling was executed by firing squad for betraying his country. His name now is a synonym for traitor.

Other men have contributed their names to English, as well. In the late 1700s, John Montague, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, was reputedly too engrossed in his card games to take a break to eat. He ordered his valet to bring him meat in two slabs of bread so that he could remain at his card table. Others started saying that they wanted what he was having. Thus, the sandwich became popular. Were he alive today, the Earl of Sandwich might well be astonished at all the variations of his culinary concoction.

The word “maverick” comes from Samuel Maverick, a Texan rancher who bucked the system in the 1800s by not branding his cattle. Maverick now means someone who refuses to conform, according to Webster’s.

Finally, there’s “bowdlerize,” a word which means to take out passages in a literary work that might be offensive. It comes from Thomas Bowdler, an English editor who published sanitized versions of Shakespeare’s works in the early 1800s. According to http://shakespeare.palomar.edu, he said, “I acknowledge Shakespeare to be the world's greatest dramatic poet, but regret that no parent could place the uncorrected book in the hands of his daughter, and therefore I have prepared the Family Shakespeare.”

Now, of course, daughters (and sons) everywhere read unaltered plays of Shakespeare. Bowdler must be turning over in his grave.


John Montague, 4th Earl of Sandwich

photo of oil painting courtesy of Wikipedia


‘Musik’ to our ears

By Debra Dobbins
Thursday, September 9, 2010


Music is indeed a universal language; it captivates people of all ages all over the world. Thanks to mass media, people nearly everywhere also easily understand the English word “music.”

It is a cognate, a word that sounds similar, in these languages:

Italian             musica
Spanish         música (with an acute accent over the u)
Portuguese   música (with an acute accent over the u)
French           musique
German         musik
Dutch             muziek

“Eine Kleine Noon Musik” is an allusion (a reference) to The Serenade No. 13 for strings in G major, K. 525. Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1787, this work is also known by the title "Eine kleine Nachtmusik."

According to Wikipedia, “The German title means ‘a little serenade,’ though it is often rendered more literally but less accurately as ‘a little night music.’ The work is written for a chamber ensemble of two violins, viola, and cello with optional double bass, but is often performed by string orchestras.”

To hear the first movement, go to You Tube.



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