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



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


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?








Word Nerd Wednesday: Fallacies

I’m currently finishing Doug Wilson’s Confessions of a Food Catholic (review scheduled for Friday). In it, he references a quote from G. K. Chesterton:

Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.

We live in a time when fallacies are routinely embraced as fact because, and only because, they have become fashionable. It made me stop and think about the word fallacy and how we are able, despite all evidence to the contrary, to discard empirical truth for the sake of fashion and warm fuzzies. I could go into a long list of examples of the kinds of things I’m thinking of, but what would be the point? Instead, I’ll just begin with a dictionary definition of a fallacy:

  • noun A false notion.
  • noun A statement or an argument based on a false or invalid inference.
  • noun Incorrectness of reasoning or belief; erroneousness.
  • noun The quality of being deceptive.

We have reached a juncture in our social and political discourse where definitions of terms are no more. If you believe that literal, historical, or scientific understandings of words still hold true, you’re in trouble in the public discourse.

Facts aren’t fashionable. Even men and women of goodwill and a general agreement on broad principles stumble to communicate as everyone strives to be superior and the most ideologically pure.

When fallacy is treated as fact, and the truth is subjective, common American culture no longer exists in any meaningful, unifying way.

It’s an unfortunate development.




Word Nerd Wednesday: Quodlibet

Quodlibet, which basically means “whatever”, is a word I recently learned after a friend handed me a copy of Touchstone Magazine. Touchstone, according to their own description, is a Christian journal, conservative in doctrine and eclectic in content, with editors and readers from each of the three great divisions of Christendom —Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox.

I loved the issue, and am considering subscribing. Touchstone is a publication that many people might find a little hoity-toity, by both the first and second definitions.  I found a few of the pieces a little hoity-toity myself. However, on balance it was worth my time and mental investment. I wondered if, as a classical homeschooler, I should have heard of this word before, but alas, no one has heard of everything.  Better late than never.

Merriam-Webster defines quodlibet this way:

“Whatever.” Try to get philosophical nowadays and that may be the response you hear. We don’t know if someone quibbling over a minor philosophical or theological point 600 years ago might have gotten a similar reaction, but we do know that Latin quodlibet, meaning “any whatever,” was the name given to such academic debates. Quodlibet is a form of quilibet, from qui, meaning “what,” and libet, meaning “it pleases.”

“Whatever it pleases” on the one hand sounds great to me, being a live and let live type of gal in a world where fewer and fewer people seem capable of living and letting others live.  I can see the danger in it as well, being a woman of deep religious faith.

In the section of Touchstone titled quodlibet, you’ll find short editorial pieces written by various editors about “whatever they please” to write about.  And whatever they please is guaranteed to be decidedly politically incorrect but more than that, it may even be interpreted as inflammatory, depending on your perspective Such is the case with this bit by Douglas T. Johnson.

Whether it’s someone I agree with or not, I rather enjoy being free to listen to and interpret the philosophies of those who wish to discuss “whatever”.


I like that.



Word Nerd Wednesday: Princess Bride Edition

don't think it means

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. ~ Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride

I am pretty sure we’ve discussed this here before, but this past week I thought about it again. So you get to be the beneficiaries of my periodic belaboring over the misuse and misapplication of words and how this makes it easy for us to misunderstand concepts that should be simple. As a result, we live in a culture and society where a majority of people are misled about the reality of things. This accelerates the erosion of our personal and collective freedom so it needs to be considered. I’ll start with the word which recently reignited my passion for this particular topic.

*Healthcare: The quick click online definition of healthcare is as follows: The prevention, treatment, and management of illness and the preservation of mental and physical well-being through the services offered by the medical and allied health professions.

That is not a terrible definition, except that it neglects to include the things we can do individually to contribute to our health and personal well-being. Things such as the brisk walk I took with my husband not long after 5:30 AM, or the weight training workout that followed it. The idea that individuals can be largely responsible for the care of our own health has been largely ignored. However, that’s not the part that sparked my notice. How many of us have heard a politician breathlessly bleat out this panicked refrain into the nearest microphone:

“Millions of Americans are living without healthcare!”

Yeah, you’ve heard it. And by that, they mean health insurance. In effect, our entire society has been conditioned to equate health insurance (the bureaucratic apparatus by which medical bills are sometimes partially paid) with healthcare. Drinking plenty of water, eating your broccoli, and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle is probably better insurance than said bureaucratic apparatus.

*Sex: The first quick click online dictionary definition of sex is, again, pretty close to the purest definition of the word, which is actually a biological term: either of the two major forms of individuals that occur in many species and that are distinguished respectively as female or male especially on the basis of their reproductive organs and structures.

Of course, we’ve replaced sex with gender (which now operates on a spectrum) and taken the words coitus and intercourse and replaced them with sex. For the longest time, I didn’t see a problem with this particular evolution of language, but that was back when I was gullible enough to think that science still held some clout in our society even as religion waned.

I could go on about this particular evolution of language, but then I’d be wandering off the word nerd reservation and that’s not really what we do here.

*Education: The quick clink online dictionary definition of this word is pretty strange: the action or process of educating or of being educated. When I looked up educated, I got: having an education. The second definition is like unto the first but it at least gets to the heart of my problem with our modern understanding of education: the field of study that deals mainly with methods of teaching and learning in schools.

The classic understanding of education (probably prior to mass schooling) was this: that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations.

In effect, we have discarded the idea of education as a comprehensive endeavor meant to form the whole person into a useful citizen, spouse, parent, employer, and employee. We have replaced that with the notion of education as synonymous with schooling.

Well, that’s it for this edition of Word Nerd Wednesday.

As always, feel free to add your picks for words that don’t mean what we’ve been conditioned to think they mean.

Word Nerd Wednesday: Less is more

I’m still in the process of working out exactly what this weekly wrangling over words is going to look like. Last week, I took a very pointed look at a man who helped change the way we write words and their technical use. It was along the lines of what I initially envisioned. Now, however, I’m thinking that will be just one among many ways I discuss our daily use of words.

It is readily observed by anyone paying a modicum of attention that words, their evolving meanings, and how we use them in our current society are changing the cultural landscape at a rapid pace. That brings me to today’s discussion, inspired by the prolific writing of Joshua Gibbs. In a recent article, A Defense of Just Bottling It All Up, he asks his readers to re-examine the emphasis we place on talking it out as a way to resolve conflicts.

My skeptical stance toward the idea that interpersonal conflicts are best solved through conversation is chiefly derived from two things: first, a staggering amount of evidence and personal experience which suggests the contrary, and second, a staggering lack of biblical evidence to support the claim. Upon saying this, I suppose there is a certain kind of reader who will respond, “Oh, so you think it is better to fight?” However, such reactions only go to my second objection. Modern people have been trained to believe all problems are solved either by violence or by calmly, rationally sitting down to talk. To the contrary, Christian tradition suggests a rather wide range of much better possibilities— like doing nothing, for example.

People who make their living using words generally recognize that the power in using them sparingly. Our current ethos insists that if we could just talk more about our differences, we might be able to diffuse the polarizing atmosphere that has gripped our current social and political environment. Gibbs rightly questions this.

The age of social media has led to endless chatter about race and gender, nonetheless, I still regularly encounter people who claim, “Our problems with race will not go away and until we can openly discuss them.” The idea that we talk too much about important issues is blasphemous. Americans used to believe that throwing enough money at a problem would make it go away. We now believe that throwing enough words at our problems is the answer. Nonetheless, St. James says we should “quick to listen,” which does not mean “quick to engage in conversation.”

He also notes the admonition from King Solomon: When there are many words, sin is not absent.

The whole thing is worth a read, so click over to glean the appropriate context for what was offered here. This Word Nerd Wednesday, I’m pondering the admonitions from King Solomon and St. James. To give it a more modern spin:

When it comes to our words, less is definitely more.

So…what do you guys think about talking everything out as the ultimate method of conflict resolution? When do we accept the reality that words often fail?