Word Nerd Wednesday: Train Wreck

This installment doesn’t warrant much in the way of explanation or commentary, so here goes. We’re resorting to slang this week, so consider this fair warning.

Train Wreck: describes something that is so bad that you don’t want to keep watching or following but you just can’t look away from it.

For example: Last night’s presidential debate was a total train wreck.

It was actually three old men yelling at each other, but I think that about covers it…

Word Nerd Wednesday: Troglodyte

I’ve had occasion to consider this word, troglodyte, recently while watching the fast moving, ever evolving wave of current events unfolding in our country. It’s a different America than the one I grew up in, for certain. I really appreciate the the Internet, my phone (sometimes!), and all the other amenities of today that weren’t around when I grew up in the late 70s and 80s. There’s been some wonderful developments.

There have also been some not-so-great developments, even in the past 20 years, and I find myself longing not only for the simplicity of days gone by, but lamenting the loss of old-fashioned values that formed the way I viewed the world. In truth, many of those values were falling out of vogue even as my dad was teaching them to us. But I don’t think anyone could have anticipated how far away from sanity we would fall in such a short period of time. I am, to get to the point, what some would disparagingly refer to as a troglodyte:

Definition of troglodyte

1 : a member of any of various peoples (as in antiquity) who lived or were reputed to live chiefly in caves

2 : a person characterized by reclusive habits or outmoded or reactionary attitudes

It should be obvious, but the second definition is more relatable than the first, although neanderthal-ish could also be used to described those of us who believe that the thousands of years of accumulated human wisdom might have something to teach us today. And yes, I recognize that there has never been such a thing as “the good old days”. Even ostensibly idyllic eras such as the 1950s were rife with injustice and sin, but  our inability to drain the bathwater without aborting the baby (literally or figuratively) doesn’t speak very well of this era.

One area in which my troglodyte perspective comes rushing forward is, if you hadn’t noticed, the destruction of childhood as a time of innocence, learning, and growth. In particular, this spot by comedian Jeff Allen brings to mind how much common sense we learned simply by virtue of being allowed to play, fall, scrape knees or even break bones. It’s funny to me, while also a little poignant because I know how much today’s children miss out on because we supervise them to within an inch of their lives.

It’s clean as well as funny  five minutes, so you can watch it without worrying about what he might say:

Word Nerd Wednesday: Metanoia

I was a part of an education training recently and one of the books we touched on was Plato’s Five Dialogues. I hope to have more to say about this book at a later date. Today, however, I want to explore a word we discussed as we contemplated our chief educational aim, which is to teach our students to pursue virtue. Today’s word is metanoia.

Anyone who has done a Greek word study of the Bible’s new testament is familiar with the word metanoia as the direct translation of the word repent. At its core, that’s what metanoia is; a turning away from one way of thinking and believing to another. It’s a perfect description of our religious conversion, but what does metanoia look like in a more general educational context? Or in any area of life?

The word metanoia speaks to me because there are a number of philosophical and political issues through which I went on a journey of metanoia, as described in the above definition. This journey, in the context of Socratic education philosophy, is taken together with one’s teacher through a series of questions and propositions crafted to make the student think. It can, however, be taken through personal research, contemplation, and prayer. We just have to be willing to interrogate ourselves.

Both of these, whether personal or with a teacher, indicate wrestling and grappling with ideas. To do this demands questioning our own presuppositions in search of  greater truth. That wrestling and any resulting change of heart is the journey of metanoia.

There isn’t much room for metanoia in our world today. We live in a world increasingly devoid of wrestling, meditation, enlightenment or repentance. To wrestle with what we believe is true, even in the face of mountains of evidence and thousands of years of documented human experience and understanding, is anathema to the post modern soul.

This lack of introspective meditation, this lack of metanoia, combined with tearing down fences without regard for the wisdom of those who went before us, is a primary characteristic of the postmodern era, and it’s becoming our undoing. Chesterton’s fence is an excellent touch-point reference:

As simple as Chesterton’s Fence is as a principle, it teaches us an important lesson. Many of the problems we face in life occur when we intervene with systems without an awareness of what the consequences could be. We can easily forget that this applies to subtraction as much as to addition. If a fence exists, there is likely a reason for it. It may be an illogical or inconsequential reason, but it is a reason nonetheless.

Chesterton also alluded to the all-too-common belief that previous generations were bumbling fools, stumbling around, constructing fences wherever they fancied. Should we fail to respect their judgement and not try to understand it, we run the risk of creating new, unexpected problems. By and large, people do not do things for no reason. We’re all lazy at heart. We don’t like to waste time and resources on useless fences. Not understanding something does not mean it must be pointless.

This is why it is vitally important that we educate our children on the pursuit of virtue. A surfeit of academic exposure without the corresponding ability to use those intellectual storehouses to the meaningful benefit of others renders our education little more than fool’s gold.

Of course, we are all basically lazy at heart, and metanoia requires something of a mental workout. Workouts that produce lasting transformation are hard. To quote my favorite video workout dude:

If was easy, everybody would be doing it.

 

 

Word Nerd Wednesday: Ad Populum

This week’s installment, like another recent installment, is inspired by our children’s logic lessons, which are continuing via Zoom throughout this quarantine. An argument ad populum is probably self-explanatory, but I’ll provide the definition offered at The Skeptic’s Dictionary:

The ad populum fallacy is the appeal to the popularity of a claim as a reason for accepting it.

It’s also referred to as the bandwagon fallacy and the appeal to popularity.

By now we can probably all point out any number of things in history that were believed to be universally true only to be proven false. Mobs can be, and often are, wrong.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to offer in the comments any ad populum fallacies you can think of that have been disproven and debunked.

Word Nerd Wednesday: Ersatz

We are living in interesting, if not especially novel, times my friends! I suspect more people are reading books than have been in a very long time. I have several going at once, and as many book reviews in draft, so stay tuned.

Ove the past week or so, I’ve been hearing or reading a particular word used more often than I am used to hearing it. Both in podcasts and columns, the word ersatz has been coming up, almost as if it’s trending. I don’t know it’s a trendy word right now, but I like it. Ergo, our word of the week is ersatz.

Ersatz: 1. Being a usually inferior imitation or substitute; artificial: ersatz coffee made of chicory. 2. Not genuine; fake.

I’ll use the word in a sentence:

We live in a culture awash in ersatz experts, activists, and spiritual gurus.

Besides the fact that I enjoy the sound and spelling of ersatz, something about the increased usage of the word instead of simply “fake” or “phony” or even “faux” highlights the current zeitgeist or spirit of the age. Zeitgeist is another word I really like.
What the heck. Let’s make it a twofer!

Zeitgeist: The spirit of the time; the taste and outlook characteristic of a period or generation.

Let’s use it in a sentence!

The cult of celebrity and social media influence is deeply embedded in the current zeitgeist.

I’m not sure if that’s a great sentence, but it’s all I can come up with at the moment.

Those are the words of the week. So tell me, what do you think of these two words? Do you use them? Do you hear them often?

Word Nerd Wednesday: Syllogisms

I almost forgot about Word Nerd Wednesday! As it happens, I was studying logic this afternoon with my kids and this word, which is cool to say, struck me as a suitable installment.

For the record, I’m not very good at the study of formal logic. Someone else handles the instructional guidance, while I provide home support. With that said, here is the definition:

Syllogism: A form of deductive reasoning consisting of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion.
For example:
All mammals are living things.
Human beings are mammals.
Therefore, Human beings are living things.
For those interested, the concept of the syllogism was introduced by Aristotle.

Word Nerd Wednesday: Epigenetics

One of the many blessings of having intelligent, well-read friends is that you often find yourself engaged in fascinating conversations about all manner of things. Topics wander deliciously from one subject to the next and before you know it, someone stops and says, “Wait. What is that? I don’t think I’ve ever heard that word before.” It was such a confabulation that lead to this week’s word: epigenetic.

Epigenetic:  of, relating to, or produced by the chain of developmental processes in epigenesis that lead from genotype to phenotype after the initial action of the genes

I’m still working all of this out, but researching an answer to the age-old question of nature versus nurture inevitably leads you to the study of epigenetics, and epigeneticists say the answer to the question is that nature and nurture have a huge impact on why each of us is the way we are. As a Christian, I am firmly persuaded that nature plays one part, nurture another, and our own free will as moved by consciences plays yet another. We are a spirit, possess a soul and live in a body.

However, it’s no accident that I am generally comfortable in 80-degree heat while my friend of Scottish descent finds it particularly stifling. African genes tend to prefer warmer climes. Or that regardless of how much I work out, my arms are weak and wobbly compared to those of a 15-year-old boy, even if he never worked out. Men and women are different. The website What is Epigenetics describes it this way:

Here’s an analogy that might further help you to understand what epigenetics is, as presented in Nessa Carey’s Epigenetics Revolution. Think of the human lifespan as a very long movie. The cells would be the actors and actresses, essential units that make up the movie. DNA, in turn, would be the script — instructions for all the participants of the movie to perform their roles. Subsequently, the DNA sequence would be the words on the script, and certain blocks of these words that instruct key actions or events to take place would be the genes. The concept of genetics would be like screenwriting. Follow the analogy so far? Great. The concept of epigenetics, then, would be like directing. The script can be the same, but the director can choose to eliminate or tweak certain scenes or dialogue, altering the movie for better or worse. After all, Steven Spielberg’s finished product would be drastically different than Woody Allen’s for the same movie script, wouldn’t it?

Now you know a little about epigenetics.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Word Nerd Wednesday: Contronyms

Dust-the-table.

When a word means one thing, but also means its opposite, what you have is a contronym.

Contronym: a word having two meanings that contradict one another.

Contronyms aren’t the same as oxymorons, however, in which two contradictory terms are combined either mistakenly or for effect. The meaning of a contronym is understood by its use in context. Here are a few contronyms.

~Bolt can mean either to secure something or to flee something. For example:

She bolted the door. Or…She bolted out of there.

~Left can mean that something or someone remains or that someone or something left. For example:

John left the party. Or…As the party ended, John was the only one left.

~Overlook might mean to supervise something, but then again it might mean to neglect something. For example:

She overlooked the mistake the clerk made. Or…Karen carefully overlooked the transaction so no mistake was made.

~To sanction something means to approve of it, but it also means to punish or boycott something. For example:

Sam’s mother sanctioned his use of the car on Friday night. Or…Sam’s mother imposed sanctions upon him, including refusing him the use of the car on Friday night.

~To strike something means to hit it, or it might mean a swing and a miss. For example:

Bob bowled a perfect game on Saturday, striking every pin on the first attempt. However, he managed to strike out three times at his company softball game on Sunday.

Those are just a few examples of contronyms. Feel free to add comments with any more contronyms you can think of.

Aren’t words wonderful?