Tag Archives: Word of the Week

Wednesday Word of the Week, November 23: Thankful

23 Nov

A thankful WebWordWarrior

This week’s word is THANKFUL

grateful for something; showing or feeling gratitude

This is the week that has traditionally kicked off the U.S. holiday season (until plastic Santas started showing up in stores mid-October). The Thanksgiving I remember from my childhood was one of joy and celebration, good feasting, family gathering, and none of the pressure that the gift-oriented holidays and occasions can bring. That sense of togetherness and a pause in the routine of the week made it easy to feel thankful.

It is a testament to both the OBSTINANCE

resolute adherence to your own ideas or desires

and the OPTIMISM

a general disposition to expect the best in all things

of the American people that we managed to take a mythical event that over-glamorizes the relationship between established indigenous peoples and genocidal religious fanatics and turn it into a celebration that has real meaning. Let us take this opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving as it ought to be celebrated, not as a gluttonous lead-in to crass consumerism, but as a real opportunity to pause, gather, and reflect.

Everyone has something in their life for which they should be grateful. Let us try, without cynicism (which is understandably easy today), to hold those things foremost in our minds. I suspect that for most of us, our thankful list includes people who give our lives meaning. Let us take the time to tell those people that we are thankful.

It is in that spirit that I want to offer my thanks to you, my loyal readers. This is a bittersweet Word of the Week for me, because complications in my crazy life will require me to discontinue this series, at least for now. I truly appreciate all the visitors to my weekly ponderings and the delightful comments that many of you have made.

More significantly, I am thankful for Michael Hulshof-Schmidt and The Solipsistic Me. My participation in this wonderful blog has been a delight and sometimes a salvation for me during a tumultuous 2011. Michael, his husband Robert, and I have all celebrated TSM on its anniversary, so I will not repeat those observations here. Suffice it to say that this is one of the brightest spots on the Internet; I have been privileged to participate in it. I hope that all of you are thankful for the time and effort Michael puts into helping us all work harder to make the world a better place. I shall visit regularly to read for inspiration, comment as I have insight to share, and post as my time permits.

In the meantime, let me close with a sincere paraphrase of Jack McFarland from Will and Grace, “All right. What am I thankful for? So many things, really. The smell of jasmine… A kitten’s purr… InStyle magazine… The Solipsistic Me…”

Thank you, and Happy Thanksgiving!

All definitions courtesy of Macmillan Dictionary Online, a source for which I am regularly thankful.

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Wednesday Word of the Week, November 16: Acceptance

16 Nov

Young Mayor Accepted as Hometown Hero

This week’s word is ACCEPTANCE

general agreement that something is true, reasonable, or cannot be changed; the fact of allowing someone to become part of a group or community and making them feel welcome — Macmillan Dictionary Online

As we noted on TSM last week, a large number of LGBT candidates were elected to public office on November 8. One Massachusetts winner has received national press. What is interesting is what has and has not been integral to much of that attention.

Alex Morse, 22, will be the youngest mayor in America when he takes office. CBS News devoted a two-and-a-half minute segment to his election. They naturally focused on his youth and the fact that he ousted an incumbent despite his lack of experience. What didn’t come up at all in the interview was the fact that Morse is openly gay.

That may be due in part to it never being an issue during the campaign. Morse is comfortably out and certainly did nothing to hide from the electorate. His public accomplishments include founding a GSA at his high school and working for a number of LGBT causes. Somehow, these accomplishments were simply accepted as part of his qualifications. Delightfully, his opponent did nothing to demonize him because of his sexual orientation.

As the New Civil Rights points out, however, Massachusetts is not Mississippi. One successful candidate whose sexual orientation is a non-issue is not a national trend. Still, it is promising to see that this is possible. Let us hope that unlike CBS, the mayor-elect will not be reticent about acknowledging his orientation. Hooray for Holyoke, but LGBT Americans everywhere need to see what’s possible.

Broader acceptance is only possible when accomplishments like Morse’s are made widely known. Visibility leads to acceptance; let’s not allow one moment of acceptance to lead to invisibility.

Wednesday Word of the Week, November 9: Memory

9 Nov

Puzzled Potential Presidential Pachyderm

This week’s word is MEMORY

the power of retaining and recalling past experience — Macmillan Dictionary Online

One more failing of the current crop of GOP Presidential candidates seems to be a lack of this power.

The best example is Pizzaman Herman Cain, the heir-apparent to Clarence Thomas. Facing allegations of sexual harrassment from his time at the National Restaurant Association, Cain has managed to forget the answer to every question asked. One wonders if his next move will be to forget that he ever worked there at all.

Serial flip-flopper Mitt Romney is also a convenient forgetter, and he hopes the Republican electorate will be as well. Universal health care? Might have happened while he was Governor of Masschusetts, but who can recall? In his efforts to pander to every teahadist demand, he reinvents himself daily.

Some examples are more pathetic. Apparently Michele Bachmann forgot she was a crazy woman with a gay husband. Rick Perry forgot that he was an idiot. Newt Gingrich forgot that nobody liked him in the first place. Why would that change now? (Ironically, the pack is so damaged, that even Newt’s fatally damaged craft is rising on the tide of not-those-other-guys.) And they say that elephants never foget…

The prosepct of any of these people becoming president is scarier all the time. Who needs a national leader who forgets the which Korea is our ally? My advice for voters, forget this bunch of losers.

Wednesday Word of the Week, November 2: Semantics

2 Nov

This week’s word is SEMANTICS

the meaning of words and phrases –Macmillan Dictionary Online

Words matter, especially when one is making the case for simple human rights. This was demonstrated very vividly in a recent poll on marriage equality in New Jersey.

The poll found that a simple majority of New Jersey residents (52%) favor “gay marriage.” That’s a promising statistic. What is fascinating, however, is that the number jumps appreciably (to 61%) when the question is posed about “marriage equality.”  The rate of opposition drops by an even bigger margin, from 39% to 27%.

Why the difference? It would be tempting to guess that people are less familiar with the term “marriage equality” but the poll adjusted for that, finding that only 3% of respondents did not know what it meant. That leaves us with a pretty clear conclusion. Fair-minded people are interested in equality. When that equality is compartmentalized as some kind of special right, their interest in supporting it goes down. This is one big reason that the use of language matters.

Opponents of equality for LGBTQ Americans have worked very hard to frame civil rights as special rights. This is absurd. Gay rights are human rights.  There is no such thing as gay marriage, just marriage. The marriage of a same-sex couple is not part of some sinister agenda. It is the union of two people in love and the civil recognition of that union which conveys over 1,100 rights and responsibilities. It really is that simple.

Supporters of equality must remember to use their language carefully. Saying “gay marriage” or “same-sex marriage” is like letting the anti-choice crowd call themselves “pro-life.” It is misrepresentative and allows those who really have an agenda to co-opt the conversation by framing the parameters. Equality is simple. Let’s remember to ask for it clearly.

Wednesday Word of the Week, October 26: Epistle

26 Oct

Where is the SEND button?

This week’s word is EPISTLE

a piece of writing in the form of a letter

Over the past week, I have had two separate experiences which have caused me to ponder the value and relevance of written communication in the modern age. Both of these events are related to my work as a tutor for college students in the Boston area.

Although, at 29, I am barely a half-generation (at most) removed from most of the students with whom I work, the gap in communication strategies is wide. I willingly own a piece of this given my willful resistance to most social media, but as someone who participates in this online community and keeps in touch with many friends by email, I was surprised by how starkly the moments struck me.

The first event involved a conversation with a student about the novel Dracula. It was her first experience with an epistolary novel and she found the experience jarring. She understood the principle of writing letters and obviously knew that the Victorians had no email, but the art and value of letters as communication and persuasion was lost on her. Her entire context for communication was texting and occasionally exchanging emails. The results were immediate and the need for lengthy description and explanation was utterly absent.

Surely, she opined, the author was taking liberties with the form and no-one would ever have written letters like this in real life. This led to a fascinating discussion (and a good thesis for her paper, fortunately) about the very different requirements for communication in a pre-electronic age. Not only could weeks or even months pass between messages, but one party to the communication might well be in a place that the other would never see at all. This required a sense of description and a sensitivity to the information conveyed. It also meant that the writer of a letter had to reflect on his or her content in a way not required by modern communication tools. The result of the communication was INTIMACY

a close personal relationship; something personal or private that you say or do

not immediacy. Such reflection certainly prevented many of the consequences of thoughtless typing that we’ve seen in recent months.

The second event was a conversation with a student regarding his settling into life on campus. I asked, perhaps naively, how the transition from old friends and family to new acquaintances was going. He indicated that he hadn’t met many people outside of his roommate and casual classroom acquaintances because he was still so well connected with his friends from high school. This ought not to have shocked me, but it did. The prevalence of electronic communication (through a device always on one’s person) has evaporated the sense of DISTANCE

the fact or feeling that two people or things are far apart from each other

This student was accustomed to communicating frequently and consistently with friends by text and tweet. The physical distance matters to some extent, but the nature of the communication is not particularly jarring. Looking again at my own experience, things were quite different. I was certainly able to communicate with people via email, faster than the postal service and cheaper than the phone, but I had to be at a computer and had no expectation of an immediate response. That made electronic communication a poor second choice. As a result, I had to turn to the people around me for ENGAGEMENT

the feeling of being involved in a particular activity or group

I had left one home and was building an new community. That experience helped me mature as a person and develop new ways of thinking. The friends who remained from my life before college did so in new ways, reflecting their maturation and growth as well. Based on the conversation with the one student, I later discussed this with others whom I tutor. A significant percentage (not quite a majority) are at least as engaged with their pre-college friends as with any aspects of their new communities. This certainly provides a level of comfort and security, but it also stifles the valuable need to make the most of a new experience. One value of a college education is the development of coping and growth skills. How will people who have never truly needed to fully engage with a new environment succeed when thrust into a work situation that demands participation with new people? It will be interesting to see what employers are saying about this trend in three to five years.

Please do not misunderstand me. I believe that most modern advancement is a good thing. The abilities to maintain connections and receive rapid feedback can be worthwhile. I fear, however, that we are losing our sense of the art of communication. If all one’s friends are old friends and every message is a fixed length, where do we have room to grow as humans?

All definitions courtesy of Macmillan Dictionary Online.

Wednesday Word of the Week, October 19: Obstruction

19 Oct

The party of NO strikes again!

This week’s word is OBSTRUCTION

the act of taking action in order to prevent someone from doing something or to prevent something from happening – Macmillan Dictionary Online

An equally accurate definition

Republicans in Congress – Wednesday Word of the Week

It has been true for nearly three years, but now it is more clear than ever. The Republican response to everything is “NO.”

A clear majority of Americans indicate in poll after poll that their top priority for Congress is job creation. The President created a jobs bill. The Republicans stymie it, using the ridiculous filibuster rules in the Senate. They have no alternate proposal.

The Federal government lacks an operating budget and is limping along on stopgap agreements. No real budget is possible without revenue increases. The majority of Americans believe that millionaires should be taxed more fairly; even many millionaires agree. The Republicans refuse to budge on any increase in revenue.

The Justice Department determines that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and decides not to defend it further in court. This is completely within the purview of this department. Republicans in the House dedicate money to hire an outside council to defend the law, wasting taxpayer money.

The President uses his Constitutional authority to nominate a head for the new Consumer Protection Bureau. Alarmed that Elizabeth Warren might actually do the job she was appointed to do, Senate Republicans block her nomination. (Just wait until they have to deal with her in the Senate!)

The list goes on and on. One is left with only two possible conclusions.

Perhaps Republicans hate government so much (they certainly say they do) that they want to starve it to death. Given that the people withholding the nourishment are members of the government, this is pathetic and pathological at the same time.

While it is entertaining to believe that Congressional Republicans are all certifiably insane, the more likely explanation is both simpler and nastier. The economy is rocky. America needs forward motion. They don’t want President Obama to get any credit for such forward motion.

Simply put, defeating a duly-elected President is more important to these monsters than doing their sworn duty and protecting the interests of ALL Americans.

In just over a year, we’ll have a national election. The choice is crystal clear. We cannot afford to reward the party of obstructed morals.

Wednesday Word of the Week, October 12: Secular

12 Oct

Today’s word is SECULAR

not religious, or not connected with religion – Macmillan Dictionary Online

which is the kind of government we supposedly have. Clearly enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States,

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

the principle that government and religion have no business intermingling is part of the bedrock of our country, from Jefferson’s “Wall of Separation” through multiple court cases (including recent decisions by a conservative U.S. Supreme Court). Try telling that to our political leaders.

The absurd dominance of evangelical christian posturing on the Republican side of the aisle is well documented. From anti-choice maneuvers to anti-gay pledges, members of the right from Presidential candidates to participants in local government meetings use their faith as a bludgeon in political issues.

Sadly, Democrats are not immune, as President Obama demonstrated in his misguided invitation to the rabidly anti-gay Rick Warren to speak at his inauguration. Even assuming that a gesture of outreach to the faith community was necessary, the plethora of non-denominational (or at the very least non-demonizing) options made Warren a deeply offensive selection. How ironic that Obama, who has been dogged by “accusations” of being a Muslim, was so insensitive.

Similarly ironic were the attacks on Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress (in 2007!). For his 2007 inauguration, Ellison opted to be sworn in on a Quran rather than a Bible. This prompted a firestorm from the right. Setting aside for a moment how inappropriate it is that secular officials would be sworn in with any religious document, it seems fitting that Ellison would choose the document that has personal meaning to him. Underscoring that point, he used a Quran from the library of none other than Thomas Jefferson.

The latest bizarre manifestation of this intrusion of religion into politics comes (big surprise) at the hands of Rick Perry. At the hideously misnamed Values Voter Summit last week, Perry was introduced by a pastor who attacked Mitt Romney as a member of a “cult” because of his Mormon faith. Let us be clear: his faith is utterly irrelevant unless he (like so many of the Republican candidates) says that it will be a foundation of his politics, which would violate the Constitution. Amusingly, the other candidates assumed vividly contorted positions, trying to attack Perry while not supporting Romney. Perhaps equally amusing was the winner of the Summit’s straw poll, Ron Paul, who, despite his faith-based opposition to any form of reproductive choice for women, is one of the least religion-wielding of the Republican candidates, more proof that polls can mean little or nothing.

When it comes to faith, in fact, the greatest irony of this latest tempest in a baptismal font is that any of these candidates would be lousy presidents fully independent of their faith. The rigid adherence that most of them display to the sacrament of the teapot is just further proof that they have no business in governance.

For anyone who is interested in protecting our electoral process from these religiously inappropriate fools, I offer this prayer to Saint Dymphna.

Hear us, O God, Our Savior, as we honor St. Dymphna, patron of those afflicted with mental and emotional illness. Help us to be inspired by her example and comforted by her merciful help. Amen.

Amen, indeed.

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