The Elegant Bastard’s Dictionary of Helpful Words and Phrases, Part 3

In which the Elegant Bastard explains the power to be found in the appropriate use of words like “Um” and “Ah” and “Er”.  Neat, Eh?

What began as a simple question – How many English words are there? – ended up taking me the better part of a day to determine and the outcome was at best ambiguous. Answers ranged from about 150,000 to just over one million, depending upon what constitutes a word, whether compound words and multiple meanings count multiple times and whether or not words invented by acknowledged geeks – skeuomorphism? – needed to be considered at all.

I also discovered that an absolute answer, while no doubt fascinating, would be irrelevant to what appears to be the primary function of language today – the confusing of others. The Empire of Babel, Dear Reader, has now spanned the entire globe. And the very least we now have pyschobabble, ecobabble, econobabble, edubabble, sociobabble, obamababble, boehnerbabble and baby babble, the latter being the only variant ever evolves  in to something making sense.

It wasn’t always this way. One can easily imagine a far distant pre-word era when woofs and grunts of various lengths and tonal variations were enough to get around. Given that career choice was limited to being predator or prey, resumes and interviews were pretty much non-existent and therefore the ability to tell articulate lies remained an undiscovered art.

There then followed an age of few words that all had very precise meanings. Life was just as violent as before but social relationships had emerged and caves needed decorating. Even with these advancements,  middle and upper-class cavepersons probably managed to get by with less than a dozen; “eat”, “drink”, “mate”, “fire” and “run like hell” come immediately to mind. At this point in human history, “eat” and “drink” were likely interrogative, “mate” and “fire” imperative and “run like hell” communicated by mime.

The development of urban culture, competing civilizations and effective antacids expanded the number of necessary words exponentially. Now we had thousands of pasta varieties and even more ways of killing people. The emergence of conversation added the need for sophisticated slang vocabularies and some of the more popular body parts acquired hundreds of words dedicated solely to them. The birth of government required elaborate words that meant very little while the development of political correctness spawned words that meant nothing at all. “Run like hell” has remained pretty much what it always was. However, the number of things from which one needs to run like hell has grown to include plague infected squirrels, reality shows, Russian presidents and in much of North America, the mayor.

(“Run like hell” no longer necessarily means the sweat provoking stampede over large tracts of ground while screaming. It can now be achieved by drawing the curtains, turning off the phone and conducting extensive research into European vodka or South American flora.)

However, none of these uses of language answers our species’ primary need: differentiation. How in this enormous and teeming world can we ever make ourselves special?  Some do this by creating esoteric and deliberately abstruse vocabularies that use language to impede or prevent understanding. In this way, a teacher’s complaint that he or she had to spend the weekend making up a test translates into two days spent creating a differentiated and criterion referenced summative assessment tool that serves as a gateway indicator. Special, no?

Interestingly, some of the original woofs and grunts have remained with us and, surprisingly, they can convey meaning just as and sometimes more effectively than their more complex progeny. In today’s edition of “The Elegant Bastard’s Dictionary”, I attempt to provide an exhaustive list of these very short exclamations that function primarily as emoticons or hesitation devices. Again, I ask for no reward other than your promise, Dear Reader, to use them wisely, widely and primarily with other people.

Ah: Expressed in a short, sharp fashion, the word means “Eureka!”  or “I understand!” or “I accuse!” Traditionalists would insist that upon uttering this exclamation, one should leap from one’s bath and run naked through the streets, preferably somewhere in Greece. Less doctrinaire logophiles will permit the substitution of enthusiastic fist pumping or finger pointing.

Ah(2): Expressed in long, drawn out fashion and accompanied by an elegant  finger placed lightly upon the chin, the word essentially means that the utterer has no idea what is going on but would die rather than admit it. The removal of any clothing in this situation would be an attempt to distract the listener’s attention.

Arg: Sometimes pronounced “Erg”, this exclamation expresses anger or pain. At its loudest, it means that special and intense combination of pain and anger experienced by someone applying a hammer vigorously to the thumb, Canadians trying to understand what’s wrong with Justin Bieber  or anyone using Windows 8.

Aw: Used alone, drawn out and moving in pitch from high to low, it is the appropriate response to the cute actions of other people`s pets and children. Used as a short sharp outburst followed by “Damn” or “Crap”, it refers to the actions of one`s own pets and children.

Eh(1): A Canadian expression and likely genetic in origin, it’s use at the end of any sentence expresses the speaker’s confident assumption that the listener will agree with whatever has just been said, as in “Nice day, eh?” Used properly, it also means that the speaker can name four provincial capitals and sing most of the national anthem.

Eh(2): Used on its own, it replaces “Pardon me” for those who are syllabically challenged. The speaker is able to name three provinces and hum the opening line of the anthem.

Eh(3) Its repeated use in a short period of time suggests that the speaker may know his own name but should likely not be asked to hum anything.

Er: This exclamation suggests some degree of moral anxiety or confusion. (For real confusion, see Ah(2)) Uttered as a response to your question as to whether or not an article of clothing makes you look fat, you may safely assume that the article in question does not make you look thin and the persons responding are worried they might hurt you.

Er(2): If pronounced “errrrrr” in the same context, then you are enormous and the persons responding are  worried that you will hurt them.

Ew: Used as a brief and unemotional single syllable, it suggests that your listener is mildly offended or seriously bored by whatever you have just said. It may be followed by a request that you perform some task requiring you to leave the room and/or the country.

Ew(2): Lengthened to a two-syllable sound with the stress upon the first syllable and pronounced “eee – uuu”, it refers to dogs with no shame, living organisms with more than four legs, or anything with polka dots.

Ick, Icky, Yuck, Yucky: These are used to refer to substances (or situations) that are unpleasant, especially to touch or taste. Of more importance is the fact that they are mostly used by those who see themselves as “cute”. As they will also use expressions like “itsy-bitsy” or “teenie-weenie”, they should not be left unsupervised near pre-literate children.

Oh:  Used briefly, it acknowledges an understanding of something previously unknown. As such, it is often followed by “Thanks”, “Really” or “Hell”.

Oh(2): Extended, as in “Ohhhhh”, it suggests a profound and usually unwelcome new understanding. There will rarely be thanks and “Hell” will be replaced by much stronger terms.

O: This reverential form of address should be used when conversing with any divine being that is in the same room as you and powerful enough to cause inconvenience.

Umm: The speaker is making a choice, usually between two very pleasant options. Would you prefer to sample the coconut gelato or the green apple? Would the world be a better place if all of Antony Weiner disappeared forever or just the bits he flaunts?

Uh: Said briefly or drawn out, it means that the speaker is watching whatever you are doing and is hoping that you come with an “off” switch that can be accessed before it’s too late.

As always, Dear Reader, I hope you have found our time together useful. Again I would like to stress that I will accept no material reward for my efforts. However, those who want to express their gratitude in an appropriate fashion may do so by signing my petition demanding that anyone using the word “awesome” be forced to watch televised fishing programs every day for a year.

As always, feel free to “like”, “share”, “tweet”, or comment.

 

Sunday Morning Coffee: This Week’s Ups and Downs (I)

A bit of silliness in which the Elegant Bastard attempts to predict whether the week ahead is likely to be worth the effort.

A note: If, Dear Reader, you have chosen not to live in Toronto the Good, then you might not be aware of the way the concept of “Mayor” is being redefined here. My references to the current holder of that office may thus seem strange. If this is the case, then be aware that you apparently have lucky stars and should even now be thanking them. – E.B.

I do not know why my Sunday morning coffee has acquired an importance that elevates it far beyond the many others I drink each week. I do not rank my showers or my transit rides or my lunches or any of the other physical and intellectual functions occurring regularly in any seven day cycle. A sneeze on Tuesday has no more meaning than black forest ham on Thursday.  Yet there is something about that second cup of the first day of the new week that carries with it a feeling of vague anxiety mixed with new hope and a dash of nagging fear. (The first cup – powder in hot water – brings only the caffeine jolt required to make me capable of actually brewing the second.)

Preparation for the Sunday second cup (actually, I use what I think is the world’s largest mug, given to me 27 years old) has taken on the status of ritual: the beans, roasted the day before, are ground by hand; the filters are imported from Italy, the carafe from Germany; the water started life in what I am told is an Icelandic glacier. Boiling water first pre-soaks the filter then baptizes the added grounds so that they “blossom”. A long slow pouring process follows and alchemy turns out not to be so difficult after all.

If that were all there was to it, then slipping into Brave New Week would be easy-peasy. However, there is another essential element: the Sunday morning news. Like most of us on a Saturday night, I carefully tuck the world away after making it promise to behave itself a little better when it gets up in the morning. If the Sunday news – on balance – shows evidence that a Putin-free period of peace and prosperity might be in the offing, then hope will take me striding into Monday with a smile upon my face. If instead it looks and sounds like the world will be  throwing the same tantrums as the three under-6’s who live next door, then my interest in finding out where Mayor Rob Ford gets his non-prescription drugs goes up – way up!

Does that sound logical? No? Well, to each his private madness, no? And since you are here, Dear Reader, why not join me. Is your coffee ready? Do you have your copy of the New York Times? Is your computer set to CNN, the BBC and the CBC? Is your television tuned to the most banal local news channel you can find? Then let’s see what’s in store? Shall it be an UP week or a DOWN week?

Hmmm. Something called an Austin Mahon is coming to Toronto. It looks like a Bieber. Something called a  Cody Simpson is coming to Toronto. It also looks like a Bieber. I look out my window. I am in Toronto. We are not off to a good start. And whatever happened to biodiversity? DOWN

Thousands of people are out in the pouring rain taking part in a run to raise money for research into prostate cancer and none of the runners looks like a Bieber. In your face, Big C! This is an UP.

I read that someone once wanted to start a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Buildings. The romance of the notion cheers me instantly. I wonder how many others I could talk into joining something like this. Perhaps we could retroactively save the Royal Ontario Museum (currently being eaten by what looks like a gigantic alien sent from outer space.) A definite UP.

North Korea announces that it is ready for talks with the U.S. Apparently the Valium is working, But Kim Yong-un remains on the Rob Ford diet. The  UP is balanced by the DOWN so it all remains ambiguous. But then, what did you expect from North Korea.

(I am too taking this seriously!)

Turkey’s leader announces that the demonstrators his police are now waterbombing in Istanbul are “international thugs and terrorists”. We all know this cannot be so because all the international thugs and terrorists are busy tormenting that nice Mr. Assad in Syria. This, of course, makes us think of that nice Mr. Mubarak in Egypt and that nice Mr. Gaddafi in Libya and that nice Mr. Duffy in a province to be determined. Forget “No Fly” zones; can we please have a “No Lie” zone? All in all, it’s a BIG DOWN.

Toronto’s police chief performed what can only be regarded as silent contortions as he attempted to avoid incriminating Toronto’s largest still standing structure, its mayor. Never doubt the power of unspoken words. Hilarious.  UP! High UP. (But not as high as Mr. Ford.)

(Of course it was a cheap shot. It’s Sunday. Ok, I promise. No more Ford stuff.)

Last week’s media star, Mr. Edward Snowden, is apparently losing some of his glitter. The predictable voices – Michael Moore, The Guardian, Julien Assange, professional “activists” – continue to deify him, but others have been probing a little more deeply. A more balanced and less hysterical picture is emerging. It is entirely possible that what some need to see as heroic and others are desperate to call a traitor is just another sad little man. No surprise. Whistle blowers who say “Look at that!” are necessary; those who say “Look at ME!” are not. We see you, Mr. Snowden. We see you. Sanity is prevailing – barely. This is an UP.

Warner Brothers is making previews available to churches all over the US as it tries to market  “Man of Steel”. Its claim? Superman is really a Christ figure. The evidence?  “Startling” similarities between the life of Jesus and the life of Superman. One of the more powerful “proofs” is the fact that at one point, Superman comes down to earth – arms outstretched – before taking off again. Crucifixion and Resurrection, right.

Setting aside the fact that birds, squirrels airplanes and most drunks come to earth with appendages outstretched – and then take off again, the “shock” that a western film or literary hero might have similarities to Christ is not newsworthy. A brief list of Christ figures would include Jim Casey (Grapes of Wrath), R. P. McMurphy (Cuckoo’s Nest), Harry Potter, Jim (Huckleberry Finn) , Simon (Lord of the Flies), Jim Conklin (Red Badge of Courage) and Billy Budd.

What is new is the studio’s use of America’s churches as marketing tools. Clearly the hope is that crowds will stream directly from church to Cineplex. Does this mean the churches will start previewing sermons in the movie houses in order to send those crowds stampeding back? Churches? Movie Theatres? Can either of those two institutions handle this much honesty?

For the crassest use of a religious space since the money lenders in the temple, Warner Brothers gets a DOWN.

The clincher has to be a New York Times article in which Facebook is blamed for its members’ posting indiscreet pictures of themselves. Apparently the lure of “Like” is so strong that morality and propriety and shame all get tossed out the window. “Facebook made me do it.” is becoming the great new excuse, even more than the international thugs and terrorists. The crazy thing about this is it sounds absolutely convincing. Absurdity saves the day. After this great UP, there can be no doubt.

It’s going to be a great week!  See you next Sunday.

One Too Many Phallic Symbols?

In which the Elegant Bastard accomplishes what both the UN and the CIA have failed to achieve and retires from the scene with all appropriate humility.

Apparently Justin Beiber has a small monkey he likes to play with when he is far from home. Ah, boys and their toys. I think it nasty of the German authorities to deprive the boy of his monkey when he arrived with it in Munich. I mean really, what is the child to do between performances. Hopefully they were gentle when they took it away and will be just as gentle when they return it.

The little Bieber has not been the only young victim of recent monkey-related misfortune. I am of course thinking the similarly sad tale of Kim Yong Un – he of the perpetual Bad hair Day – who, it is rumoured, has no little monkey at all. Well no wonder the boy always seems so upset. Perhaps if we all chipped in together and got him one, he wouldn’t need to play with missiles any more?

http://petslady.com/articles/german_officials_grab_justin_biebers_monkey_video_62537

 

Do You Want Bieber Chips With That?

In which the Elegant Bastard rejects the concept of edible nationalism

Canadians are a very resourceful people.

We understand that our signature politeness can get a tad dull, and so we have created hockey loyalties as ferocious in tone and as capable of producing mayhem as any other religion practiced anywhere. We understand, too, that North being North, we will have more snow than making angels and snowpersons requires,  and so we have convinced millions of foreign others that the most wonderful thing to do in winter is come and spend enormous amounts of money to play in our snow. (There’s room for them, of course, because we all go south. Sneaky, eh?) And we are generally aware of the fact that as a people we are shockingly unaware of our own and the world’s history, but we have cleverly laughed so loud and long at Americans looking for icicles in July, French in Toronto or polar bears anywhere that our ignorance has by and large escaped notice.

As well, we rise to challenges. For example, upon discovering that our venerable CN Tower was no longer the world’s Tallest Ugly Thing (TUG), we sat down – likely in focus groups (again, we are polite) – and looked at our alternatives. Having only the world’s third TUG in our midst did not sit well with either the patriotic or the phallically obsessed but what could we do? Watering it to make it grow did not seem an option. Adding to it was just so déjà vu. We could have demolished it and sold it chunk by chunk as souvenirs but really, would you want a piece of it in your living room given where it’s been?

Instead, we added the “Edge Walk” and set about convincing thousands to spend hundreds for the right to dangle hands-free 356 metres in the air while wearing a red suit bright enough that should they fall, we will all be able to track their progress to its crimson conclusion.

Proving yet again, Dear Reader, that if you sell it, they will come! (And if fear or nausea prompts participants to lose anything more than composure, it will all be blamed on seagulls or, if the winds are strong enough to reach North York, pigeons, neither of which can be sued.)

Yet inevitably there are those who will seek to profit from the talents of others, who will use and abuse the most precious elements of a nation’s character to serve only Mammon. We had all thought that such jingoistically justified greed was the private preserve of political parties, NHL teams and the International Olympic Committee, but we were apparently deceived. Charging ahead to the front of the wave-the-flag-for-money line is Frito-Lay and their shrill new shill, Martin Short. Apparently they have determined that all Canada’s previous accomplishments need to be capped by one more – our own chip flavour – which, they burble enthusiastically, we get to choose!

What astounds me is how little they know about Canadian diversity. Let us assume that Lay announces the new Canadian chip flavour will be poutine, or maple syrup or tortiere. (They would be wise to have Short make the announcement as he is the smaller target.) Immediately Anglo voices would sputter that once again we were all being forced to kowtow to Quebec and won’t people just please please remember the Plains of Abraham? Quebec would respond with Gallic sneers, condemning such blatant stereotyping and demanding that the matter be referred immediately to the United Nations – which they’d belong to if only the rest of the country would just see things rationally. All other varieties of the Canadian hyphe-nation would reject the choice as evidence of rampant neo-colonialism and would insist that everyone else submit immediately to equity retraining.

Do we really want this chaos to occur primarily for the benefit of Frito Lay, a corporate entity whose only claim to fame is its success in encouraging millions of people to be much larger than they really need to be?

Still, assuming the new flavour is chosen carefully, some good might possibly come of all this. It would depend on what secondary benefit could be derived from the end product and how widely distributed it would be. It is therefore in a truly utilitarian spirit that I make the following suggestions. I encourage other Canadian readers to add to the list.

(The rest of you can go get your own freaking flavour and by the way, we are not all polite!)

Pine flavoured chips would likely be an instant hit, especially if ground pine needles were incorporated into the mix prior to frying. Imagine the benefits for millions. Are you stuck in a hot car crammed with Happy Meal addicts or a small elevator stuffed with the unhappy and un-deoderized? Rip open the chips and you are instantly in the middle of the Great Canadian Pine Forest! Bliss!

Tar Sand Chips would also do well, particularly in Alberta. And since they already breathe tar sand affected air and drink tar sand affected water, eating the stuff is really just the next logical step.

Whiskey and tobacco flavoured options would allow those who desire such things to indulge their habits safely and without endangering the rest of us. True, those who chose this snack would not smell very nice but they don’t anyway so there remains a net gain.

Hockey flavoured is another deserving candidate. The recipe would again be a bit demanding – equal amounts of sweat, broken tooth enamel, leftover Don Cherry wardrobe errors and ground up money – but this would go well with socially sanctioned beer guzzling, the primary reason people watch the game.

We shouldn’t overlook Canada’s beleaguered animal symbols, some of which could use a little positive media spin. Moose and Canada Goose chips spring to mind. Beaver flavoured would be a runaway best seller, especially if wood fibres were blended with the other ingredients. The final product would at least be good for the Canadian colon, itself an endangered species.

And then there’s the obvious – Bieber chips. These would be the easiest sell imaginable. They’d be beige, noisy and utterly tasteless.

Hopefully my modest efforts here will spur others of my tribe to answer the call. And perhaps if Frito and Marty discover their error they might turn their corporate and comic talents to providing Canadians with the chance for real change. For example, they could offer us the choice of a new snow colour, its current whiteness being basically boring, far too bright and absolutely impossible to keep clean.