Word Nerd Wednesday: Princess Bride Edition Redux

 

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Courtesy of Rod Dreher, we get to observe (and lament, depending on your perspective)  further evidence that even amongst the educated, literacy is reduced to a combination of functional enough to get by and near-constant wrangling to avoid offenses, real or perceived, at all costs. Before we explore the specific word in question it’s necessary to offer a bit of context from the story Dreher published. From a concerned member of the Oregon Confederation of School Administrators:

Dear COSA members,

A little over a year ago, I received an email from one of our aspiring administrators, Alesia Valdez. She asked a simple question: “Has the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators ever thought about changing the name of the organization?”

Alesia pointed out that the words “confederation” and “confederate” have historically racist associations, and wondered if it was time for COSA to update its name – to move away from a name that many would consider “outdated, offensive or racist,” and instead toward a name that would better represent the values that COSA and our members hold around “equity, diversity, inclusion and culturally-responsive practices.”

I contacted Alesia and let her know two things – first, that I appreciated her request and that I was taking it seriously, and, second, that a name change would require amending our Constitution and Bylaws through a process that would include consultation and engagement with the COSA Board of Directors and all COSA members.

After I received Alesia’s email, I sought out a number of the leaders of color in our organization to get their perspectives. Many told me that the “Confederation” in our organization’s name had been a barrier to their participation in our association and that they agreed the name should be changed.

I took Alesia’s request to the next meetings of the COSA Board of Directors and the COSA Equity Advisory Board, and together we developed a process for considering Constitution and Bylaws amendments to change the name of the organization.

In September, the COSA Board appointed a bylaws review committee and tasked them with bringing any draft amendments to the COSA Board meeting in December. The committee took a holistic view and recommended language that will strengthen and modernize our governing documents while also better reflecting the work that we do as an organization. The Board considered the draft amendments and voted unanimously to move them forward in the process. In addition to changing the “C” in COSA to “Coalition,” these amendments also include technical updates to reflect more current practice, such as updated anti-discrimination language. New additions also include specifically naming the COSA Equity Advisory Board as an official COSA committee with representation on the COSA Board of Directors, and new language acknowledging that students are at the center of our members’ work.

Sigh.  This brings us to our word of the week, confederation, which has absolutely nothing to do with the former Confederate States of America, racism, slavery, or the Civil War. In fact, the original 13 U.S. colonies ratified their union using a document known as the Articles of Confederation, long before the civil unrest of the 1860s. Why? Because this is the actual definition of the word confederation:

Confederation, n. : 1. a league or alliance for mutual support, 2. a group of confederates, especially of states more or less permanently united for common purposes.

Clearly, a cursory glance at a contemporary online dictionary supports reality. Namely, that the word confederation is far from offensive, controversial, or racist. However, we’ve gone so far down the rabbit hole since everyone has “woke up” that reason and appreciation for the rich complexity of language has given way to a jittery hair-trigger reaction to just about everything.

I’m halfway tempted to start calling every tightwad and stingy person I know a niggard, just to be controversial.

I won’t, and I’m black anyway, so spare me the outrage.

I just get a little weary with the degradation of language and the politicization of every facet of life. I think we all need a nice long walk on the beach at sunrise; for a modicum of perspective about how small we all are in the grand scheme of things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Princess and the Goblin

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The Princess and the Goblin, kindle edition, by George MacDonald. Published in 1872. 134 print pages.

This book is available to read for free at Project Gutenberg.

I have never been a huge fan of fantasy novels. I’ve read two of the Narnia books, and one of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings installments. Despite their renown, the genre has never held enough appeal with me to inspire a desire to read more. It’s more about my personality than the books themselves, however, and I recognize this. So when my daughters were assigned George Macdonald’s The Princess and the Goblin as part of their British literature study this semester, I saw a perfect opportunity for me to revisit the genre in a non-threatening way. By non-threatening I mean that this is a relatively quick read.

I’m very glad I decided to read it along with them, as it is quite a delightful story. So much so, that I am giving serious consideration to which of Macdonald’s books I want to read next. I’ll try to offer a brief overview without giving away too much of the plot.

Princess Irene lives in her father’s castle under the strict supervision of her nurse, Lootie. Lootie is to keep a watchful eye on Irene and take care to govern her under specific guidelines. Chief among them is that they are never to play outside after dark. What Lootie knows but Irene doesn’t, is that underground, below their kingdom, is another kingdom. It’s a kingdom of goblins who only come out at night, and they love to terrorize the “sun people” should they happen upon them.

Of course, Irene and Lootie inevitably find themselves outside on the wrong side of the sunset, but they are rescued and kept safe by Curdie, a brave young miner boy who is not afraid of the nocturnal, lurking goblins. He knows they’re weakness, and is adept at wielding the knowledge he possesses. During his brave nighttime exploration, he finds out the goblins are hatching a plot, that Princess Irene is at its center, and that he must warn the kingdom so that it can be thwarted. What Curdie doesn’t know is that Irene is under the protection of a powerful entity who can shield her from all of the nefarious happenings taking place in and around the kingdom.

This is a fast-paced story that simultaneously demands that the reader take the time to see the vivid imagery and overlapping activity taking place among the characters. It’s a children’s book, but a smartly written one. I found myself eagerly wondering what would happen from one chapter to the next. It’s a great read.

5 out of 5 stars.

I Need a New Butt

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I Need a New Butt by Dawn McMillan. Illustrated by Ross Kinnaird. Originally published in 2012. 32 Pages. Official summary, from Goodreads:

A young boy suddenly notices a big problem — his butt has a huge crack! So he sets off to find a new one. Will he choose an armor-plated butt? A rocket butt? A robot butt? Find out in this quirky tale of a tail, which features hilarious rhymes and delightful illustrations. Children and parents will love this book — no ifs, ands, or butts about it!

This is as much a rant about low-quality children’s literature as it is a book review.  Our local grocery store has a small section with various books available for sale. To their credit, there is as much inspirational reading as there are new and popular novels, children’s books, and reading about health. Recently, I noticed this book and thought how silly it looked, but my husband and I stood there and read it nonetheless.

He, being something of a kid at heart, found the first couple of pages funny in the way he might have when he was a kid. Boys and their bathroom humor! However, as it went on, it was increasingly clear to both of us that this was a terrible book, by almost any objective standard.

By way of disclosure, I can be something of a literary snob when it comes to children’s, fictional and humorous literature. My mind is open when reading nonfiction in a way that it simply is not when reading novels and children’s literature. Fiction should have some redeeming value and a children’s book should do more than making a child chuckle. It should certainly do that, but with some sophistication of thought, and “I need a new butt because mine has a crack!” doesn’t pass muster.

The interesting thing about this book, and its sequel, is how well it was received on Goodreads. It is possible that I overestimated the literary tastes of the Goodreads community!

To make myself clear, I’m not against silliness in children’s literature. I loved reading both Dr. Suess and even Sandra Boynton to my kids when they were very young. It could be that the whole idea of a book resting on the humor of one’s butt crack rubs me the wrong way 🙂 , but I look at this book and its runaway success as just another example of the coarsening of our culture. Here is the question of the day:

Is there a place for this kind of thing in children’s literature? Or am I overreacting here?

2 out of 5 stars

Word Nerd Wednesday: Gentrification

Lest you fear I am insulting your intelligence, dear readers, let me explain myself. I  know that we all know, by now, what the word gentrification means. It’s become a household term over the past 10 years. On the off chance that there is someone reading who isn’t quite sure what the word means, let’s start this discussion with a definition:

gentrification, noun: The process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces earlier usually poorer residents.

This post isn’t about my thoughts on the subject of gentrification. To begin to try and untangle my overlapping and complex perspectives on the subject is not in keeping with the spirit of Word Nerd Wednesday. The reason I have chosen this particular term is two-fold. The first is that the first time I heard it (nearly a decade ago now), I assumed it had something to do with geriatrics. In retrospect, I can see how silly an assumption that was, but it was what I’d assumed. I still have to do something of a mental reset when I hear it, which is why it fascinated me enough to look into its etymology, and that is why I chose gentrification for this week’s Word Nerd Wednesday installment.

According to etymology online, the word gentrification has no etymology to speak of. The sum total of the entry is that the word was recorded as being first used in 1972.  It also says that early 19th Century persons are recorded with first having used the word gentrify, although no context is provided. When I looked up the etymology of the word gentrify, I got kicked back to gentrification.

The mysterious arrival and ubiquitous usage of a word with no etymological history of note fascinates me. It leaves me wondering how many other words in our lexicon, past or present, are unable to be traced back to the Romance languages from which most English words are derived.

Just a thought.

 

 

 

 

How to Be Happy Though Married

I was in Barnes and Noble this morning to pick up Mile Rowe’s The Way I Heard It for 50% off the sticker price. On my way to the cash register, I stopped at the bargain books table and found an interesting little volume for $2.99:

how to be happy though married

It’s a book of quotes taken from everyone from Aristotle to Ovid to Einstein about the pleasures and pains of married life. The artwork -including sketches, paintings, and photographs- add to the humor and thoughtfulness of the quotes. It was a fun way to spend my lunch break. I was able to read through the entire thing in about 30 minutes. Here are some of the quotes from different sections within the book.

Section I: The Pleasures of Marriage

Marriage may often be a stormy lake, but celibacy is almost always a muddy horse-pond.~Thomas Love Peacock, Mellincourt, 1817

There were several quotes in this section that made me audibly chuckle, such as this one:

Five or six years of married life will often reduce a naturally irascible man to so angelic a condition that it would hardly be safe to trust him with a pair of wings ~ How to be Happy Though Married, 1895

My experience differs, but who wants a marriage to an angel, anyway? A saint? Sure! An angel, not so much. One last quote, and probably my favorite,  from this section:

There is nothing more admirable, than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends.~ Homer, The Odyssey, c 8th Century B.C.

Section II: The Pains of Marriage

By all means, marry; if you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher. ~ Socrates, 4th Century B.C.

That made me laugh. Another from the pains of marriage:

Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage.~ Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911.

Huh. Interesting book title, no? I suspect a lot of people probably agree with him. Of course, this is what happens when we forget that marriage, not courtship, is where love really blossoms.

Of all the actions of a man’s life, his marriage doth least concern other people; yet of all actions of our life, it is the most meddled with by other people. ~ John Selden, English Scholar (1584-1654)

Section III: Hints for Husbands

This first one is a riff on the barefoot and pregnant trope, I suppose:

According to the old custom, Egyptian women did not wear shoes; this was so that they should spend all day at home. With most women, if you take away their gilded shoes and bracelets and anklets, their purple dresses and their pearls, they too will stay at home. ~ Plutarch, Advice to the Bride and Groom, 1st Century AD.

I don’t agree with that, seeing as all it takes to send me out for a jaunt around the block is a decent pair of sneakers. No gilding, bracelets, or anklets required, but I do appreciate the spirit of the quote.

Remember, if thou marry for beauty, thou bindest thyself all thy life for that which perchance will neither last nor please thee one year; and when thou hast it, it will be to thee of no price at all. ~ Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618)

The last hint for husbands underscored to me what I have always known to be true; namely that there is nothing new under the sun:

When our Mistriss commands us to do anything, nothing should hinder us from giving a blinde obedience. ~ The Art of Making Love, 1676

Section IV: Hints for Wives

Don’t sit up until he comes home from the club; better be in bed and pretend to be asleep. If you must be awake, seem to be glad he came home early. He will probably think you an idiot; but that’s inevitable anyway. ~ The Isle of Man Times, 1895.

That made me grateful for a man who, most of the time anyway, thinks far more highly of me than is warranted. This next one is interesting:

If our husbands are not what we wish- and very few are in every respect- we should try to help them become so…We are apt to expect too much of manhood even, and hence, instead of a pleasant surprise, experience a sad disappointment. ~ Wedlock, 1874

That’s a bit of a headscratcher, but I really liked this next one, which is needed even more in this era:

Don’t expect life to be all sunshine. Besides, if there are no clouds, you will lose the opportunity of showing your husband what a good chum you can be. ~ Don’ts for Husbands and Wives, 1913.

That this next one was offered towards brides is telling, although it is clearly a unisex admonition:

Don’t imagine that the perfect lover, whether male or female, will come along ready made. If they do, mistrust them, since this shows a certain amount of previous experience. ~How to be A Good Lover, 1936

Last, but certainly not least:

Be not arrogant and answer not back your husband that shall be, nor his words, nor contradict what he saith, above all before other people. Le Menagier de Paris, 1393.

Some husbands actually desire to hear their wife’s perspective, especially when it differs from his. However, I would never contradict mine in front of others unless it was a matter of imminent life and death.

Section V: The Marital Bed

I’ll only offer two from this section. The way some of these chauvinists view sex, I’ll tell you…

A man must hug, and dandle, and kittle, and play a hundred little tricks with his bed-fellow when he is disposed to make that use of her that nature designed her for. ~ The Praise of Folly, 1509.

I’ll wind up the marital bed quotes with this one from the more modern era:

Legend speaks of the face that launched a thousand ships: maybe the one you select wouldn’t even launch a canoe, but don’t let that bother you.~ Looking Toward Marriage, 1944.

I enjoyed this little book. It’s funny, and I’m always up for a good laugh. It’s also interesting to read the perspectives of people who lived outside of the craziness of the postmodern world.

It does make one wonder though: Since there is so much literature out there -besides the Bible even- with practical marital advice from the wisdom of the ages- why are more being printed every day?

4 and 1/2 out of 5 Stars

 

 

In Other’s Words: In Memory of Sir Roger Scruton

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I learned on Sunday morning that Sir Roger Scruton, the intelligent and insightful conservative British philosopher, passed away at the age of 75. After reading the headline, it occurred to me to post a few thoughts outlining some of the ways his writing and commentary made me think.  As it happens, a writer more articulate than I ever hope to be, beat me to the punch (a luxury of writing for a living I suppose), so I decided to simply share a bit of what he wrote with which I heartily agree.

Before I offer the thoughts of another, I’ll note that Scruton’s observations on the intersection of the decline of architectural beauty and death of community are what first spring to mind when I see his name, whatever else a particular article he wrote happens to be about.

His discourse of beauty on a macro scale was also worth examining, but he was most convincing, at least to me, on the subject of the ugly architecture which has become the template for our postmodern work and living spaces. That, however, is only a small part of how Scruton critiqued postmodern culture and thought. Joshua Gibbs offers his take on the legacy of his “hero”, Sir Roger Scruton:

I only discovered Roger Scruton five years ago, which means I’ve barely scratched the surface of his work; however, in these five years, no living intellectual explained beauty and tradition with greater lucidity than Scruton. My thesis that all human artifacts can be divided between common, uncommon, and mediocre is borrowed from a passage on the importance of neatly setting the dinner table in Scruton’s Beauty: A Very Short Introduction (2011). Anything reasonable I’ve ever said about tradition (and especially about the Canon) is downstream from Scruton’s The Meaning of Conservatism (1980). Scruton was by no means an original thinker, though I mean this as the highest praise. He was a hand pointing at the sky. Without him, the sky would nonetheless exist, but I would not know where to look. Roger Scruton explained important things simply. Why do people graffiti ugly buildings but not beautiful ones? Why have old churches lasted? Why do exciting things not last? Why is it impossible to create a new tradition from scratch, try as we may? Scruton not only anticipated the questions of a restless mind, he answered them. My students quote Scruton every day when performing their catechism: “The world of destruction is quick, easy and exhilarating; the work of creation slow, laborious and dull.” Every time I say these words, they offer a fresh justification for what I do.

I completely agree. This is an image of Scruton’s home library, the room of my dreams:

That tells you almost everything you need to know, doesn’t it? At the very least, it should dispel any confusion about why I’ve taken the time to remember Sir Roger Scruton in this space.

Rest in Peace, Professor Scruton.

 

 

 

Friday Faves: Chucktown, SC

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The view we enjoyed during our stay.

We recently had occasion to spend a great week exploring the charming and historic Southern city of Charleston, South Carolina. It’s a city with subtropical weather (not unlike Southern Florida), surrounded by water, with scenic views in every direction. For my Friday Faves, I thought a brief recap of my favorite stops would be a fun thing to do.

  • Kiawah Island: The combination of the weather (after the first two days of rain), views, and general beauty of the place made it a place I’d love to stay again soon.
  • The City Market: The array of vendors selling everything from local specialty foods to the work of local artists was a feast for the senses. I really enjoyed touring and shopping there
  • Low Country Cuisine: You can’t really go to a food region like this one and not enjoy the local seafood, especially a plate of shrimp and grits.
  • The Sound of Charleston: This musical history of the city featuring beautifully performed music from plantation fields, confederate battlegrounds, and Gershwin’s South Carolina inspired opera Porgy and Bess, which contains the well-known song, Summertime.
  • The unquestioned highlight of our short excursion northward was getting to meet a friend I first began communication online with 8-10 years ago. She is every bit as delightful in person and I look forward to getting together again with her much sooner than a decade from now!

Next week, I’m thinking of listing a few of my guilty pleasures. We’ll see…

Y’all have a great weekend!