Chiefly British

It never fails.  I will be otherwise occupied when a question occurs to me and I’m not in a position to research an answer.  Then, just as silently as it rose to the surface of my waking thoughts, it sinks again—waiting.  Today’s topic was just such an anomaly, but now I have time on my hands.

I believe the prototype America—the one the American Revolutionary War would forge into a proper United States—required three main ingredients for it to succeed: new ideologies for government, literal and figurative fertile soil for them to thrive, and British citizens.  We forget that, in the beginning, we were all subjects of King George III.

Given that the United States was birthed from primarily British stock, when and why did differences in spelling occur? For example, the chiefly British theatre became the American theater.  Centre became center, litre/liter, sabre/saber and fibre/fiber.  And those are just of few of the “re/er” words.  We cannot ignore the “our/or” words, such as honour/honor or colour/color, or those annoying “ce/se” ones like defence/defense.  The answer turns out to be more complex than I could have, but probably should have imagined.

English is a robust, living language, and the language of any dynamic society will change as that society changes.  It is inevitable.  Many of the differences between British and American English can be traced to a Viking leader named Rollo.  In 911, Charles the Simple of France granted Rollo and his group of Vikings, whom he had defeated in battle, permission to settle along the northern coast of France.  It was Charles’s intention that these Vikings would ward off further Viking attacks upon his domain.  It was a successful venture and Rollo’s Vikings adapted themselves to the culture of northern France, becoming known as Northmen from which Normandy is derived.[1]  Setting aside the alliances, arranged marriages and buckets of blood that followed, in 1072 England found herself ruled by a Norman king—a French king.  As a direct result, Anglo-Norman, a dialect of Old French, displaced Old English and became the language of the English aristocracy.[2]  Though England has long since reverted to an English sovereign, the effects of Anglo-Norman are obvious in today’s Modern English.  This is the origin of the “-re”, “-our”, etc. words mentioned earlier.

How did we Americans come by our spellings of those Anglo-Norman words?  Noah Webster.

Okay, not entirely Noah Webster.  Many spellings happen as a result of the dynamic evolution of language.  Technology gave us Internet, hypertext, et alAspirin was originally a German trademark for A(cetyl)+SPIR(säure)+IN.  (Spirsäure is the German name of the meadowsweet plant from which salicylic acid could be derived.)  The name of my home state of Texas is alleged to be the result of a Spanish misspelling of the Caddoan word for “friends”.[3]  Back to Mr. Webster.

Noah Webster’s time at Yale College was interrupted by the American Revolutionary War, when he served with the Connecticut Militia.  One cannot discount the influence this must have had when, in the 1780’s, Mr. Webster began a concerted effort to “rescue ‘our native tongue’ from ‘the clamor of pedantry’ that surrounded English grammar and punctuation.”[4]  His three volume publication, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, consisted of a speller, a grammar and a reader (published in 1783, 1784 and 1785, respectively).  In 1806, Webster published his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, and set about the following year creating The American Dictionary of the English Language, a task that would take another 27 years to complete.

“Slowly, he changed the spelling of words, such that they became ‘Americanized’. He chose s over c in words like defense; he changed the re to er in words like center; he dropped one of the Ls in traveller; at first, he kept the u in words like colour or favour, but he dropped it in later editions.”[4]

May all your simple questions have simple answers.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_conquest#Origins

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_conquest#Language

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah_Webster

Reading the entire Wikipedia entry will provide a more complete picture of the effects of the Norman Conquest of England.

Home cp. Here

While researching another article I came across some facts that I must have known on some subconscious level, but I’d never had them “in my face” at the same time before this morning.  It makes me long for Home all the more.

In comparing Home with Here, let me define the two.  “Home” is East Texas; specifically Lufkin in Angelina County.  I lived on Allen Gin Road (aka FM2680) at the intersection with Kenner Road.

“Here” is Pasadena, Maryland, in Anne Arundel County.  Where doesn’t really matter because this overly crowded place is pretty much the same as that one.  Twenty steps Here gets you on someone else’s property.  Twenty steps back Home gets you halfway to the mailbox.

I’m afraid I may be giving away the ending with these little hints that only someone who doesn’t know the meaning of the word can call subtle.  But please, read on.  There will be facts.  I promise.

As stated earlier, I am from East Texas, an area comprising some 41 of Texas’s 254 counties.  I can also narrow it down and state that I’m from the Piney Woods of East Texas; a region of roughly 25 or so counties.  Refining further still, Angelina is one of 12 counties that make up Deep East Texas.

According to the Deep East Texas Council of Governments, there are 368,675 people living in the 9,790 square miles of Deep East Texas.  By comparison, and according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 5,615,727 people living in the 9,774 square miles of the state of Maryland.

Obviously I knew there were more people in Maryland than in my little neck of the woods, but I didn’t realize that my little neck of the woods was larger than the state of Maryland (even if only a little).

Home wins.  Missing Home.

joie de vivre

[Originally published September 2008 in another blog]

Have I ever mentioned that I lived in Paris for a short while?  Well, more like the suburbs, but it was still The City of Light.  I loved the quiet residential neighborhoods away from the frenetic tourist spots.  Every day seemed supernaturally perfect.  Instead of finding the differences between American and French cultures grating or annoying, I appreciated them for what they were; new experiences to be savored.  During my time in Paris I was absolutely the happiest, the most fulfilled, the most complete I have ever been.  I was living a dream.

When I left it felt like my soul had been ripped away.  The pain was almost physical.  Holding on to the dream was like trying to hold onto a fistful of sand; the harder I tried, the more it slipped away.  Eventually I was fully awake, cocooned in the same comfortable sheets that had a few weeks earlier conspired with the universe to cause me to sprain my neck.  I replayed that dream over and over trying to recapture the feelings, the emotions that went with the facts.  All I found were ghosts.  The disassociation between me and absolute happiness was almost complete; joie de vivre will remain foreign to me.

That said, this dream was also puzzling.  I have never wanted to visit, much less live in, Paris.  Or France.  Frankly speaking, there are many places higher on my list: New Zealand, Australia, Puerto Rico, Scotland, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and there are others.  Many others.

On a related note, I have begun to entertain the notion that my most comfortable sheets are possessed.

A ‘crick’ in my neck

Or “How the Entropic Nature of the Universe Exerts Its Influence on My Life Using Soft Sheets”

[Originally published August 2008 in another blog]

Don’t worry, this will be short. The Percocet is in full effect and I’m feeling very sleepy.

Had I known that the best night’s sleep I’d had in months would result in some of the worst pain I had felt in years, I would have… I would’ve…  OK, I don’t know exactly what I would’ve done, but I’m certain I would have done something. And to be betrayed, as I most certainly was, by my own bed linen… Well, that’s beyond the rational mind to analyze.

So, here’s my analysis so far. I remember watching one of those factual TV shows about dinosaurs or paper clips or ice road truckers or some such. The kind of show where all those neat facts should be dumped into short-term memory for later insertion into long-term memory, then later still recalled while you’re on Jeopardy and winning tens of thousands of dollars.

I just sneezed and the resulting spasm of pain has reminded me why I’m writing this, so enough with the digressing.

I was in bed watching one of the aforementioned type of shows and began to realize how incredibly comfortable the bed and the sheets felt. No matter what position I shifted to, I could not get into an uncomfortable position. Everywhere was cool and soft and cushy. It was in this last comfortable position that I awoke seven and a half hours later, apparently not having budged an inch. With a crick in my neck.

Decades earlier I remembered having a crick in my neck—can you have a crick anywhere else?—but I don’t remember it hurting this much. Even before getting out of bed I put the heating pad to work on it, then stretched my neck and shoulder muscles to loosen them a little. After making the traitorous bed (to hide its shame, of course), a nice long hot shower. Which didn’t seem to be helping. Actually, nothing I’d done seemed to do anything but make it hurt worse after a while.

Google is a great resource, but it works best when used. I finally looked up “crick” and “neck” and discovered that it isn’t a tightening of the muscles as I had thought (for decades). It’s when the ligaments of the neck become overly stretched and tear, such as when one is watching TV on soft sheets with two pillows under one’s head and doesn’t move for seven and a half hours. Therefore, there are certain things you should not do if you have a crick.

  • You should not use a heating pad.
  • You should not stretch.
  • You should avoid hot showers.

Note to reader: The lightly-edited section above was the text of an e-mail to my work explaining why I was absent today and would likely be absent tomorrow.  It ended a little abruptly as I was fighting with the spell checker, which seemed to be implying via its frequent use of dotted little underlines that I was quickly losing the ability to spell.  As noted at the beginning of this post, it was written under the influence of chemical happiness and it is to that I attribute my temporary misunderstanding of the word “short” and my renewed relationship with the word “unconscious”.  Jump ahead several hours…

The Perc has worn off.  My neck is alternately cold, wet and hurting, or it’s dry and hurting.  Life is once again a heaping pile of poo.  There are no comfortable positions for me tonight, there are only painful and slightly less painful positions.  The pain meds will have to wait until I become naturally tired.  I’ve slept so much today that I’m afraid their induced sleep will hold little or no actual rest.  All that said, my neck does feel somewhat better.

That’s all for now.  Generation Kill is on HBO.

Evicted

Though not recently.

Just after I graduated high school, which was just after my father died, my mother arrived at two novel ways of getting me to move out of the house.  Both were a surprise to me as there hadn’t yet been any talk of me leaving. Not even a hint.

The first plan was that she would die.  Being unable to maintain a home on my own, I would be forced to sell and move elsewhere.  A foolproof plan I have to admit, but it had a note of finality that would prevent her from any further attempts should she fail.  I gather that’s why she chose Plan B.

The second plan required the use of a revolver; a six-shooter as we say in Texas.  Luckily for her, my dad had one that he kept loaded and hanging in its holster in their closet.

I can hear you damned liberals now: “He kept a loaded weapon just hanging in the closet?!”  Yes, he did.  You can say, I told you so, later.  But for now, piss off.

This particular six-shooter had only five shells in it.  My dad left one chamber empty, the one behind the hammer obviously, in case something—anything—should happen that could cause the gun to fire accidentally.

Back to Plan B…  Having a weapon pointed at your face by the woman who gave birth to you can create/enhance/switch on the ability to focus intensely.  Things you ignored before are suddenly brought to the forefront along with all those things you weren’t ignoring.  The temperature, the humidity, the quality of the light in the room, the feel of the shirt on my back.  The fact that I could see the only empty chamber in the revolver which, of course, meant there was a live round behind the now-cocked hammer.

Remaining melodrama aside, I’m happy to report that I did not get shot in the face or anywhere else.  All firearms were removed from the house later that day.  I joined the military the following week.  My mother remarried and eventually sold the house.

After I joined the military and went through the various substance abuse courses, I realized my mother was addicted to drugs.  The drugs were all legal prescription medications obtained in a legal manner, but it was the way she used them that constituted the “abuse” part.

I only mention that last bit since it seems that decades of perfectly legal drug abuse coupled with perfectly legal old age resulted in some perfectly understandable memory lapses.  For instance, my mother seems to have forgotten that her first plan, Plan B, succeeded in getting me out of the house, and so she enabled Plan A.

I told you so

This is an incident alluded to in my Evicted post.

I was getting ready for high school one morning in my freshman or sophomore year, brushing my teeth just before heading out the door, when there came an almost ear-splitting POW! sound. After the shock passed I realized it was a partially ear-splitting sound. A piece of wood from the wall behind me had sliced into the bottom part of my right ear where the lobe meets the jawline. I hadn’t yet figured out what had happened, and turning around to see a jagged bullet hole in the wall didn’t do a lot to diminish the sense of unreality that filled the bathroom.

When I finally did realize that it was my dad’s pistol that had discharged, I wondered where the bullet had gone. I realized further that, had it travelled in a straight line, I should be shot. I’d never been shot before, but I always imagined it to be quite painful. Certainly more than my ear hurt. And yet I found myself running my hands over my clothes looking for blood anyway. Finding none, I was even more confused. Where had the bullet gone?

If I hadn’t been shot, then the sink or the opposite wall must have been. The wall hadn’t, but there was a nick in the porcelain of the sink slightly left of center that led to a small indentation in the inner wall of the tub and, eventually, to the spent round resting in the bottom.

Following the trajectory from the pistol to the wall to the sink, I guesstimated that I was one, maybe two inches from having my nuts shot off. And all the Liberals said…

“I told you so!”