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Category: Language

Taking Acception
“It is unacceptable.”

You hear that phrase a lot these days, whether we’re talking about one of the many offenses delivered to us by this modern world or some fresh outrage fulminating out of the President’s Twitter account. The assertion is always accompanied by the firmest intonation and soberest of facial expressions, as if we have truly reached a point past which we cannot go.

But it seems we always do. Go past the outrage, that is, and on to ever more outrages and even more troubling states of affairs. And when we arrive at these new junctures, there will always be someone who will step forward and very seriously declare that the new situation is “unacceptable.”

I have no quarrel here with people taking this kind of offense. We need to take a stand in these situations and confront our tormentors. My gripe is that these speakers, after they have stood up, just sit right down again. Perhaps they expect others to take on the risks involved with actual action. When you say something is unacceptable, however, it creates a fair expectation that you are prepared to act on your expressed displeasure. Okay, I’ve reached my limit, this declaration seems to say, and now I will step up and put a stop to it.

Otherwise, it’s bullshit. You are making a tacit promise to act, but you do not. “Unacceptable” ends up meaning exactly the same as “acceptable,” only with an added layer of hypocrisy. Suddenly, everything you say is suspect.

So please, can we stop using the term “unacceptable” unless we really mean it? Either we are willing to follow through or we’re just flapping our gums. And if you decide to keep saying it anyway, I will call out your usage as lame, insincere, hollow, and totally bogus.

I will not, however, say that it is unacceptable. I guess I’m not ready to make that kind of commitment.
Yes and Not No
Let me say right off the top that I am dead set against planning ahead. It is foolhardy, wasteful, and runs counter to all that I hold dear.

“What?!” you are no doubt exclaiming. “What could possibly be wrong with planning?” And my answer to you is, “nothing.” Planning is vital to achieving a positive outcome in any undertaking. Oh, you might stumble into some small successes on luck alone, but it’s hard to imagine any project that doesn’t involve some kind of preparation. So it is not planning that I object to. It’s planning ahead that troubles me.

The thing is, all planning takes place ahead. If you find yourself planning behind, I must tell you that you are wasting your time. Everything you are planning has already happened. It’s written in stone and in indelible ink on titanium steel. Indeed, you might be doing something that isn’t even a thing.

It’s the same with advance planning. The essence of all planning is that it is done in advance. Even if you’re throwing together some slapdash plot at the absolute last moment, that moment occurs before the plot is implemented — even if that is only a fraction of a second later. Anything you might come up with later is not planning, it’s regretting.

So, are we in agreement? There is no need to speak of advance planning or planning ahead. Like “gathering together,” these concepts are redundant, repetitive, superfluous, and overly extra redundant.

I can sense that we are now of the same mind on this question. That said, I absolutely refuse to mutually agree.
Letter Imperfect
I published an exposé a while back that took a hard look at the first five letters of the Roman alphabet. Since then, there has been a tsunami of response calling for yet another of my behind-the-scenes, in-your-face, over-the-top, below-the-belt looks at the characters behind the characters.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t exactly a tsunami. A storm, perhaps. A spike in humidity at the very least. In any case, I’ve had some second thoughts about that first, rather shallow in-depth report. As I look back at it, I see that it dealt mostly in cheap shots and low blows — the worst kind of glyphic celebrity-baiting. I have decided, after considerable soul-searching, that I don’t want to be that kind of person.

But at this point in my life, unfortunately, it’s too late to change. So here goes. Last time, we tore the plain brown wrapper off of A, B, C, D, and E, daring to lay bare their soft, seamy underbellies. We didn’t find any seams, but you’ll have to admit that looking at all those underbellies was pretty titillating. So, mission accomplished! Now, let’s do the same for F, G, H, I, and J.

Why don’t we concede right off that this is not the most interesting section of the alphabet. This should tell you something: to remember what order these letters come in, you have to sing “The Alphabet Song” in your head. Oh, they represent sounds we use every day, and no letter is more important than any other, and they’re all critical to effective communication, blah, blah, blah. But no, I’m sorry, this group is definitely second-tier.

Take F. Please. I don’t want to sound like an elitist, but it’s tempting to say F has no class at all. It is the lowest grade, right? Failure, complete and utter. It can’t succeed, so it’s forced to be a felon. And what about the F-bomb? How do you feel when someone drops one in the middle of a polite social gathering? (And that’s just when the F is a “fuck.” What about when it’s a “fart?”) And no, but it does not help to call it an PH-bomb.

G is the Chris Christie of letters. It’s a blowhard, it’s a bully, and it will never be president of the alphabet. It will let you know how grand it is, how great and how good, but be careful. It will walk all over you if you give it half a chance. Just ask J. G has been stealing J’s lunch for years. In many cases, such as ginger, giant, gist, and gerrymander, the theft is obvious, but G can also be a sneak-thief. Think of the second Gs in suggest or gorgeous. They represent the J sound, and they ought to be Js, but G slipped in and took J’s rightful place. Worse, G’s own name is a rip-off of the J sound. “Gee” really ought to be spelled “jee.” It’s like some kind of bad goke.

And speaking of spelling, is there an uglier one than “aitch?” That’s not H’s fault, of course, but H has always been a tough-luck letter. It looks like an A that someone pried open and just left that way. Or a one-rung ladder — not much use to anyone. Or a half-assed hashtag, or a tic-tac without the toe, or the uprights for flea football. It’s hard not to feel sorry for H, but I guess it’s even harder to resist making silly comparisons about its appearance. Again, that’s not H’s fault — although you have to blame somebody.

It may seem obvious to say that I is self-absorbed, but the situation is much more complicated than that. I suffers from the rare and highly ironic affliction of narcissistic multiple personality disorder. It can be (at any given moment) a selfish 1, a vain /, an egotistical (and lazy) __, or a conceited — (that thinks, apparently, it can levitate like a yogi). I is so inwardly focused, in fact, it doesn’t even acknowledge that U exists.

And that brings us to poor J. Pushed around by G, subjected to multiple pronunciations in other languages, and cruelly trolled as “fishhook” or “kinkytail,” J has always been an object of abuse within the greater society of runes and graphemes. And also within this essay, tendril butt.

And there I’ve done it again. Character assassination, literally and figuratively. And in the process of sullying myself, I probably got a little on you, too. Sorry. A little club soda should get that off. If not, try some White Out.
Up Close and Alphabetical
When I’m on the road with my live “Eaganblog Intergalactic” tour, I am always struck by the number of young people who approach me after a concert asking about the alphabet, especially the individual letters. “What is L really like?” they might ask, or “Is O a total zero?”

While I appreciate the enthusiasm these kids have for the language, I have to laugh at such questions. Do they really think that I have met letters of the alphabet and talked with them? Do they imagine we hang out together in Cabo or frequent the same exclusive Greek island? People can be so silly.

On the other hand, I do have a few friends in the larger community of pictograms, digraphs, and glyphs. The circles that actual letters run in are a bit too rarified for a humble blogger, or even for me. Still, I hear stories. I don’t like to repeat rumors, or to talk about anything of which I have no direct knowledge — but, of course, I do.

That said, here goes. I don’t really have the space to take on all twenty-six letters, so why don’t I just start with the first five? For those of you who can’t remember the lyrics to “The Alphabet Song,” these are A, B, C, D, and E.

First is A, because A wouldn’t have it any other way. A has always been jealous of its position at the head of the line, and it bristles at the slightest suggestion that it is not the best, the brightest, the most accomplished letter of the alphabet. This brittleness can make A seem cool and aloof at times (like most type-A personalities), and it does not make friends easily. Despite its standoffishness, however, most tend to cut it a break because it’s a vowel. The real jerks are mostly thought to be consonants.

Not B, though. It is a well-liked letter, and it presents a much different picture than A in other ways as well. While A is in tip-top physical shape, B looks like a D tied in the middle. I don’t know if there’s a word for that protruding shelf of blub below a too-tight belt (a “subgut?”), but B has a particularly big one. But we are not going to obsess over appearances here (next blog, I promise). No, we will simply say that B has a great personality and is considered by many to be the funniest letter (as we have noted here before). For instance, just say the word “boob.” Your lips automatically want to form a smile, don’t they?

I’m not sure, but I think that C’s image is fraught with ambiguity. To some, it looks like a failed attempt to make an O; to others, it’s a lovely crescent moon. Still others see a self-important parenthesis. All I can see is that barbed hook at the top (at least in this font); it’s an accident waiting to happen. When asked for a response to this controversy, C answered that it had “mixed feelings.”

Like B, D struggles a little with its weight. The difference is that D cuts a more portly figure — not so much fat as big. Furthermore, it doesn’t care; it is among the gentlest, most sweet-natured — and least neurotic — of letters. I should say, though, that it is also one of the least bright. Dupe, dope, dip, dimwit, dingbat, doofus, dummy, dolt, dork, dweeb — it’s no coincidence that they all begin with D. As does diss, which is why they are known as the ABCs, not the ABCDs. D, of course, is just too nice to make a fuss about it.

That brings us to E, perhaps the most misunderstood of all letters. Most people assume, I think, that E is popular among its peers. It is, after all, used more than any other letter in the formation of words. Some, however, have suggested that its willingness to hook up with any letter, any time, make it promiscuous. There is also wide resentment for the silent E, which many see as evidence that E has some terrible secret to hide. All this has led to a deep distrust for it within the alphabet itself. In truth, E is a sad, shy letter in spite of its fame, and it prefers to keep to itself outside of the workplace. My guess is that it actually prefers the shunning it receives.

Again, this is all just gossip. I have never actually met a letter (though I did see M in an airport once…what a slob!). It is quite possible that none of this loose talk is true, and that it represents nothing more than vicious rumor-mongering by some spiteful ligature or envious Cyrillic wannabe. I don’t know, and what’s more, you don’t care. The point is, I made a blog out of it — and that’s all that matters.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee