Saturday, October 10, 2009

Marist Poll on Annoying Words: Whatever, I Like "Whatever"

This week I read several news stories about a recent Marist poll of the most annoying words. "Whatever" and "you know" came out on top.

I love this survey, but I'm at odds with the results. I don't mind "whatever" or "you know," and I even downright love "at the end of the day," which was also on the respondents' hate list.

But maybe this is because my peeps and I (okay, mostly my brother and I) love to use them for fun and effect. In fact, we regularly use "I know, right?" to make each other laugh and because it's fun to say. Plus it gets your agreement across quite nicely. For instance, one of us will say, "I'm dying for some nachos," and the other will agree with "I know, right?" Instantly the first one knows, yeah, she likes nachos, too, and she's in a fun, playful mood. It's shorthand for "I agree and I'm in a good mood."

As for "whatever," I've instructed my sons to say this to themselves when something annoys them. It seems to me it's a useful mantra when you're prone to fits of high emotion (which would be everyone in my family). I've been imagining an essay I could write titled "Thanks 'Whatever,' " in which I discuss how saying "whatever" to themselves has helped my sons handle their bursts of anger and frustration.

That said, I do hate certain words and phrases. The top of my list has to be "We're sorry for any inconvenience this may cause." Oh my god, just writing it is making my blood run hot.

I'll have to save that discussion for another post.
Too annoyed to write now.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Health Care Reform: "Words Matter"

"The fact is, words matter." Yes, Olympia Snowe. I couldn't agree more.

In "Dancing Around Legislative Language," posted today on, Representative Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, discussed the different labels you could use for the proposed tax on people who don't carry health insurance, which is part of the health care reform bill making its way through Congress. If you call it a "tax," it means one thing; if you call it a "penalty," it means something slightly different. Rep. Snowe would like to call it a "defined minimum contribution." According to the article, if the language is changed from "tax" or "penalty" to "defined minimum contribution," it might mean a Republican, like Snowe, can vote for it.

So, the right words in the bill could make the difference in the success of health care reform. Which means the words the legislators choose have a direct effect on my mom, who just yesterday received a staggering invoice for her husband's month-long stay in the hospital. If we achieve health care reform, my mother might not have to live the last years of her life in poverty.

I suppose if health care reform does not pass, I could choose to call her impending impoverishment her "suboptimal funding status." Or maybe her "nonsatisfactory security level." Or perhaps her "habitation in a riverside van condition."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor: Way to Interrupt!

The Supreme Court officially opened a new term yesterday, October 5, 2009, and new justice Sonia Sotomayor made her debut. Nina Totenberg filed a story on NPR in which two of the other justices, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, discuss how stressful it can be for a new member of the court to enter the scene. The court is like a family, Chief Roberts said, and it's difficult to make room for someone new.

Today on, there was a story about how Justice Sotomayor, on her first day on the bench, got her words in by interrupting. Some of the justices do this and some don't. It seems Sotomayor is one who does.

Which I totally get. If the justices are like a family, then how does a new member of the family inject herself into the fray in a meaningful way? My family is one of those talk-a-mile-a-minute types. Often, you only hold the floor by talking more loudly and frequently than anyone else. As the fourth of four kids, I had to do this. A lot. Other times I'd get frustrated and just keep quiet, but that was no fun, because all the action would just pass me by. So mostly I'd jump in as best I could, and usually at least one family member would hear me.

Good luck to you, Justice Sotomayor. Show your new family that you can join in the action. Oh, and please uphold the Constitution while you're at it.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Productive Day Equals Happy Susannah

On Sundays I have the boys until noon. It's nice to spend the morning with them (although I must admit I often doze while they watch TV), and I even managed to make pancakes and burn off calories in a rousing pillow fight. It was fun pretending to be a good mom.

But then I had to get to work. I had a full day planned: after dropping off the boys, I'd to go to Capitol Grounds and edit, and then go up to the gym for cardio and swimming. Then I'd come home, finish the book I'm editing, and move on to my weekly grocery shopping. The rest of the night would be devoted to my piece for Figrig, with a short break for Curb Your Enthusiasm (my latest obsession).

It was an ambitious plan. I didn't manage the gym, and I simply had to take a nap. But I did take a walk after the nap (and a strong cup of Earl Grey), and by golly, I finished my editing and a rough draft of the Figrig piece. Impressive! The best part was the long stretch of time I had to just focus on work. For me, that's the holy grail: long stretches of time. On the other hand, if I had as much time as I yearn for, it would probably work against me. I think it's the infrequency of times to work that makes them so delicious. And successful.

After polishing up the Figrig piece before work this morning, I felt pretty darn good. Yay for me.

Photo from

A Dictionary for Every Family

Photo from

Back in the day, my family spent lots of time consulting the dictionary for correct spelling or precise meanings. But we also liked to make up words. My sister was the best at this. She coined a term for "scout's honor" that all of us use to this day. The term is "lart." If you say, for example, "I have a crush on Ian LaPage," and your sister says, "no way," you can say "lart" to show her how serious you are. If you go against lart, the punishment is two hits in a tender area (in your upper half). The punishment was rarely needed. The sanctity of "lart" was as deep as our loyalty to the family.

For some reason, all us Noels are pretty squeamish about vulgar words. We even have some acronyms that we used in place of bathroomy words: BAF (for "blow a ____") and TAS (for "take a _____"). My mom came up with one she only needed to use a couple times: GAF ("gushing amniotic fluid").

My family is not alone in our prudishness. Jesse Sheidlower wrote an article on that explores how difficult it's been to get vulgar words in the dictionary ("Can a Woman 'Prong' a Man? Why It's So Hard to Put Sex in the Dictionary"). For dictionary editors, defining a word can mean dealing with stereotypes, in this case about sexual practices.

Perhaps each family or social group should have their own dictionary. It could not only help the outsider decipher the group's lexicon ("I ate All the cookie batter--LART!"), but also reveal their values and priorities. In my family's case, the priorities would be to not utter a bathroom word and to prevent embarrassing gullibility. Worthy causes, I suppose.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Christopher Noel and Green Mountain Prose

Here are some fascinating facts about my brother Chris:

  1. When he was 11, he sat up in bed in the middle of the night and called out, "Purple, purple, PURPLE!" Then he flopped back down to his pillow, still sound asleep.
  2. As a teenager and aspiring writer, he made himself an office in the long thin closet off his bedroom. He tacked up pithy and amusing quotes by Woody Allen and typed out poems and short stories.
  3. When he was about 3, he and my mom said good-bye to my dad, who was leaving for work. After my dad shut the door, Chris turned to my mom and said solemnly, "There goes a great man."
  4. He searches for Bigfoot and he wrote a book about it. Really. Here's his Web site:
  5. He's very funny. He's done standup comedy at the MFA program where he teaches.
  6. He baby-sits for my kids and only charges $25/hour.

If you're a writer, you might want to meet Chris. He has a freelance business as a manuscript editor called Green Mountain Prose. So if you've written a book, or some chapters of a book, or a short story, or an essay, and you're feeling unusure about whether they're publishable, you could send them to my brother (or his able business partner and fellow editor Ellen Lesser) and he would read and critique them. He's very good at this, people. He's been teaching at one of the best MFA programs in the country for over 20 years. So you'll be in good hands. And you just might learn something (or a LOT) about Bigfoot.