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Category: Language

I Repeat
This essay will be the 300th Eaganblog. Another two years under the bridge, over the dam, and out to the open sea. As I have done at previous century marks, I will take this moment to reflect on the state of my blog.

I like that series of water metaphors in the first paragraph, especially with the last one being unlike the first two. That form is a classic set-up for a laugh or at the very least a little wrinkle in an otherwise flat stretch of prose. It may be a sin to over-use such forms, but it’s only a venial sin. Mortal sins like using too many modifiers are much more of a cause for concern, and all I can say is that I’m trying. More editing and better verbs are my way to salvation.

I try to avoid repeating anything, though. For instance, I’ve tried to keep things fresh by mixing in some doggerel and a few epigrams to go with all the classic five-paragraph essays. There’s nothing wrong with essays, I suppose. Most columnists never deviate from that format, and they manage to get their points across. But I am not bound by word counts or column inches. There is no reason to limit myself, so I’m always on the lookout for something new. An occasional palindrome, perhaps, or themed lists, or mini-fables. Or just one word, if it’s a good’n.

There is one kind of repetition, however, that I have fallen prey to over the last hundred weeks. I keep coming back to one particular category of subject matter, and I can’t seem to help myself. In case you haven’t noticed, there is a link on my blog archives that will take you to all my blogs in a particular category. [This one, for instance, will go into “Language,” even though that might be a stretch. “Writing” would be a better classification for this piece, but there are only eight choices currently available and that is not one of them.] If you hit that link and bother to look closely, you will find that the “Politics” group has grown alarmingly of late. My last reflective blog (#201, The Upside of Down) was listed under “Politics.” That essay, it appears, was a harbinger for what has been an explosion of blogs under that heading.

Even though I am a political cartoonist, I had tried to avoid writing too much on that topic. Eaganblog gives me a chance to talk about a lot of things that my cartoons never touch. I like that. There were only six “Politics” entries in the first year, for example, while my other writing roamed all over the place. Over the last twelve months, by contrast, I’ve produced twenty-one. I tell myself that we have entered a dangerous time in our domestic politics, and that the elevation of he-who-must-not-be-named requires that I step up and speak.

I try to resist that call, but it’s hard. I’ve got one bubbling up even now that is burning to get out and get heard. It’s better not to suppress such impulses, but I am concerned that “Politics” is now the second-biggest category in a feature I had hoped would be more about the broader world. I need to get back to such categories as “Sports,” which has a mere eight entries to its name. “Humor,” poor thing, only has four. As soon as we get rid of this guy, I hope to get back to Plan A. We’ll all be relieved when that day comes.

So I promise…as soon as the fever breaks and harmony begins returning to our world, I will give politics the rest it deserves. Until then, we will have to wait for explorations of such topics as the LIGO gravity wave detector, the play of Good vs. Evil in athletics, and why farts are funny. See what I did there?
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.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee