Homage to Dotage

A recent article reporting the results of a survey for one word that summarizes our current president also noted that North Korea’s leader (or at least the translator who brought his words to us) managed to find a word that has fallen out of use in American English but quickly captivated its audience: Dotard. The same newspaper helpfully suggested several other lesser known insults to deploy in reply. This reminded me of  the “Shakespearean Insults” widget I once had on a web homepage (in fact “dotard” was used by Shakespeare). Political cartoonists have also had some fun with the idea of a war of words that taps into the vast reservoir of underutilized ammunition. If I had any hope of remembering all these great words, I would surely assist in preserving them like antique seeds in a seed bank.

As for the original article, I was interested as a qualitative researcher in the results of this experiment and the way they were graphically summarized. The most common word selected was “Strong” but the percent of respondents who selected it was not especially high (9 percent), indicating a low level of agreement. However, when the words were grouped by their connotations, negative words (some barely publishable) clearly dominated. I found that for myself it was difficult to come up with a word to summarize all that I think and feel on this subject. This may be because I am inclined to be over-wordy or it might be that I don’t think very fast on my feet. Whatever the cause, I salute those who managed to find one single word to do the job.

 

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Groundtruths

When I used to work with GIS, I had a fondness for the term “Groundtruthing”,  which refers to the act of physically validating the data on a map. Mapmakers often rely on users in the field to verify the accuracy of a map. My husband, for example, frequents the hiking trails in Maine’s Baxter State Park and the adjacent Katahdin Woods and Waters Monument. When he spots a mistake in the way a trail is represented, he reports it.

Recently, I encountered a different kind of groundtruthing. In Seattle, there is a project called “The Poetic Grid“, which is assembling a map of residents’ experiences as recorded in their poetic observations. Poets of all types and level of experience contribute their work, which is assigned a dot on the map indicating the locale that is the subject of the poem. The next time you are grasping for a poetic subject, this concept of recording a place that is central to your life, in however mundane a manner you choose, may fit the bill.

A Spell of Trouble

When I spotted the headline in the local paper today, I did a double-take. I texted my distant spouse with a photo and he first replied, “I know.” And then, before I could write, “You DO?” He replied “Furry??” The paper had taken President Trump’s pronouncement that he would answer North Korea’s aggression with “fire and fury” and blown it up into a blaring headline that announced “Trump warns of ‘Fire and Furry‘”. As one of my co-workers pointed out, spellcheck would not have saved the day on that operation. There is no substitute for good, sound quality control (says the girl who left the “e” off of the word “note” in an email to clients yesterday, thus changing the spirit of the message).

I realize that the unmangled message from the president is very serious in nature but I can’t shake the image of a basket of puppies or kittens being handed out at a diplomatic meeting as an antidote to tense negotiations. Who knows? Maybe it would work.

A Hero for Our Time(‘)s

I knew when I read about this masked vigilante who removes superfluous apostrophes from signs, that he should be recognized in a post on this site. The story also contains several hopeful pleas from ordinary civilians regarding other offending signs that have assaulted them (including some that do not involve punctuation errors). I personally wince but turn away from such mistakes on hand-made signs and in emails but take umbrage with professionally made signs and advertising materials that don’t understand how plurals actually work in English. If one pays for a job, one should be able to expect that the job will be done with competence. As for the authors of ‘free puppy’s’, I absolve you.

She Shrugged and Tossed Her Curls

Trying to keep readers from guessing your dominant gender? You would do well to take a peek at this piece reviewing a book in which 100 classic works, 50 by men and 50 by women, were analyzed for word frequency differences. Three of the words that most suggest yours truly is a woman (freely admitted) appear in the title of this post. The piece also points out that some authors, Vladimir Nabokov in particular, are more apt to mix it up in terms of word choice.

While I have never before reviewed research on this subject, I do have experience with gender evasiveness. When I joined writing.com several years ago (I’m no longer a member), I chose for a screen name the nickname of a masculine character from a book series I had been reading. I was experimenting, testing to see if commentary would run one way or another in response to my posts. With the fiction I posted, I took no special measures, but with the blog I kept, I avoided pronouns (sometimes tortuously) that would give away my gender or that of my spouse (those being the days when the likelihood of my spouse being the opposite gender was extremely strong). I must have had some success at convincing readers I was male because I did receive a comment or two scolding me for what struck the readers as sexist remarks made by a member of that group.

Being scolded by women while I posed as a man was not a novelty. In college I played a male character in a role-playing game, tipping the gender balance of our group, which was comprised of more women than men. Since my character tended to strike a protective pose with the women (more because they were less armored and had fewer weapons than because of any skill deficit), I often got complaints about patronizing behavior. To be fair, the men in the group scolded me for hanging back too much. I once got soundly trounced for choosing not to enter a pub by busting down the door, though I was fully capable of doing so and was apparently expected to exercise my abilities to their fullest at all times. The motto must have been: Why do anything without all your weapons drawn?

The only novel-length piece I have written in first voice was done through the eyes of a male character. I have no doubt that if I re-read that book with an eye to the language, I’d find my hero wandering in the same no-man’s land as my role-playing alter ego. I offer no apology for that, since, judging from the men I know in real life, gender is not a hard and fast determinant of your behavior or language. My own experiments aside, I also don’t believe that one gender is not capable of accessing and describing the experiences of the other. It may be that the 100 works chosen for the survey cited above were more exemplars of place and time (and of who could get published) than of true social rules.

Anyway, it’s exhausting carrying a crossbow everywhere.

Little Ship Lost

NASA recently announced the re-discovery of a spacecraft that disappeared 8 years ago hiding in plain sight in orbit around the moon. Questions abound and they seem like they could lead down some interesting paths. In these conspiracy-theory-rich times, one can even speculate about devious plots to force attention away from dastardly doings on Earth or hide data, objects, or persons in the most unlikely place. Have at it.