Am I a jerk because I think this way?

This sign is affixed to the side of a local school. It’s got a lot of problems.

There is the obvious and tragic punctuation problem, of course.

“OWNERS” is missing a possessive apostrophe. Presumably someone (or hopefully many people) working at the school have noticed the mistake and decided to accept the error rather than ordering a new sign and having it replaced.

It’s not what I would do, but fine. I get it. Bigger fish to fry.

I just believe in frying a lot of fish, both big and small, and I can personally fry a lot of fish at the same time.

Also, “snow storm” is one word. I’m not sure if breaking it into two words is incorrect in the eyes of a grammarian, but it looks strange to me. I don’t like it.

But here’s my bigger problem with the sign:

Isn’t it always “prior to or during” a snow storm? I know I’m diving into semantics a bit, but as I write this, near the end of July, am I not “prior to” a snow storm?

Yes, the next snowstorm might be half a year a way, but still, this moment in which I currently occupy is prior to a snowstorm. In fact, haven’t I spent every single moment of my life either “prior to or during” a snowstorm?

I know. I’s a silly argument. We all understand what the sign means. The makers of the sign could’ve added an adjective to denote a specific time period prior to a snowstorm in order to appease someone as annoying and pedantic as me, but why bother? We all get it.

Even I get it.


Still, it annoys me. When I parked in front of this sign last week, it was prior to a snowstorm, damn it.

I think this line of criticism really says more about me than it does about the need to change this sign based upon this semantic complaint, but here’s my concern:

Is the thing it says about me positive or negative?

I worried that it’s the latter.

Either way, fix the damn apostrophe. You’re a school. The first thing a visitor sees can’t be a punctuation error.


Someday sucks.

“Someday” might be my least favorite word in the English language.

It’s the word that prevents so many from trying so much. It’s the word that results in lament and regret. “Someday” causes people to live small lives filled with wishes and dreams and delay and inaction.

“Someday” is the word that allows people to wait until it’s too late.

“Someday” is why two of the greatest regrets expressed by people at the end of life (according to hospice workers) are “I wish I’d taken more risks” and “I wish I’d lived my own dream.”

“Someday” is fool’s gold. It’s a horizon that will never come. A wish never fulfilled.

I’m working on a nonfiction book proposal which would effectively eliminate “someday” from a person’s vocabulary. It’s a book about how to make the most of every day in an authentic, realistic, and very doable way.

Oddly, unexpectedly, and unintentionally, it also just occurred to me that my next novel, Twenty-one Truths About Love, is also an assault on the notion of “someday.”

I guess I really do hate the word.


How to write for 14 years without missing a day and never run out of ideas.

I’ve been blogging since 2005. I have not missed a day, even when scumbag cowards attempted to derail my career by blatantly mischaracterizing what I write and portraying me as some crazed lunatic.

I hope they are still reading today.

I’ve shifted my blog to three different platforms and changed the name each time, but I also migrated the best content from each site onto this one, where I have blogging since November 18, 2008, and preserved the content from all three.

I’ve got it all.

I’m often asked:

How could you possibly have something to say every day for 14 years? More than 5,000 days of thoughts?

Part of the answer is there are many days when my post is a photo with three sentences essentially saying, “Hey! Look at this!”

But the truth is that I collect ideas, thoughts, and experiences and write about them when it’s most appropriate.

But this past week is a good example of the secret sauce.

In my blogging platform on SquareSpace, I have more than 70 half written, partially written, or unwritten drafts. Some are single sentences representing a thought I had to write about. Others are links to news reports and stories that I know will trigger a post from me. Still others are photos, graphs, or other images that will ultimately lead to a post.

The oldest of these drafts dates back to 2013 . A thought from six years ago, just waiting for me to finally expand into a post.

Yesterday, Friday, I wrote about memorizing poems. That idea was sitting in my blog folder since 2015 when I read Daliah Lithwick’s Slate piece on memorizing poetry and thought, “I memorized a lot of poetry, too. Maybe I can write about that.”

Four years later, a storyteller recites a poem during sound check at a Moth GrandSLAM, and I have an angle on this idea. It worked out well. About 6,000 people read the post on my blog, and hundreds of others saw it via social media and places like Goodreads, where my blog auto-sends.

This is an average audience size for a blog post.

It took four years for that idea to be realized. It’s been sitting there, waiting for me to find a way to unlock it.

On Wednesday, I wrote about people who say they don’t have enough time to same time. I wrote this idea down two years ago after the umpteenth person said something like this to me. I didn’t write about it then because I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the person who said it, so I wrote it down for a later date.

It took me almost two years to return to it. I’m working on a proposal for a book on productivity, and the idea caught me eye because it aligns well to my current project.

On Tuesday, I wrote about a book idea I have about the last time we do something important or special and how we rarely take note of it. I’ve had the idea for the book for more than a decade, and I’ve actually written about this idea before, but someone sent me the pole vaulting video attached to this post two weeks ago, and it triggered the idea for the post.

On Monday, I posted about the latest episode of our podcast. Though it’s sort of a day off for me in the blogging world, I also release a newsletter on Monday, so I need to produce fresh content there as well.

On Sunday I wrote about the decline of religion in America. I saw the data that morning while reading the news and wrote a post immediately thereafter.

On Sunday, I wrote about three strange photos I took in Vermont and described my recent trip there for work.

On Saturday, I encouraged readers to aggressively try new things by pointing out the remarkable variety of experiences I had during the course of the previous week thanks to my willingness to try storytelling in 2011.

It was my most popular post of the week.

In summary:

  • One idea had been percolating for five years.

  • Another had been percolating for two years.

  • One idea was triggered by a video that someone shared with me.

  • One idea was triggered after seeing recent data in the news.

  • Two posts were written based upon recent experiences.

  • One post announced the lasted episode of our podcast.

I also added three ideas to my list of drafts. One describes an encounter with another person that I need to wait before writing to avoid upsetting someone. One is a response to a comment made on my blog worth responding to. The third is a statistic about Internet use in America that I might have something to say about someday.

Not only am I a person who has a lot to say, but I’m a collector of ideas. Even if I’m not sure what I will write, I look for statistics, images, news reports, blog posts, and quotes from others that tickle my brain. Pique my curiosity. Stir an emotion inside me.

When I find one, I add it to my list of draft ideas. Those percolating ideas, plus autobiographical moments I experience daily, responses I have to current events, amusing observations about the world, and half-baked ideas form the basis of the blog.

I read a lot. I listen even more. I keep my eyes open. I keep my heart and mind open.

That is how I find my ideas. That is how I write a new post for more than 14 years without missing a day.

Of course, it also helps to be an opinionated blowhard with a lot to say.


Memorize some poems

I took a class in college on poetry. I wasn’t a poet, nor did I want to be a poet, but my creative writing advisor thought that writing poetry might teach me to distill my fiction down to its essence and find the truth about what I was trying to say in my stories.

I didn’t hold out much hope for this plan. Most of what I learned about writing in college was nonsense. I was taught by honest-to-goodness writers - extraordinary talents - which sounds great until you discover that these aren’t actually teachers.

They may write well, but they don’t know how to teach the process to others.

So I wandered into the senior level poetry class of Hugh Ogden, who was both an esteemed poet and an extraordinary teacher. Hugh took a young man who felt out of place in a room full of students who had been studying poetry and made him feel welcome, even when some of those students did not.

Hugh had a profound impact on my life, and it turns out that my advisor was right. I found ways to say a great deal in very few words. When I look back on the poetry that I wrote during that class, most of it was autobiographical, and honestly, much of it is structured in ways very similar to the ways I tell stories on the stage today.

Hugh also required us to come to class each week with a newly memorized poem. This was daunting at first, but by the end of the semester, I loved the first 15 minutes of class when each student recited a new poem from memory.

As a result, I memorized a lot of poems, and I can still recite several by heart, including “The Jabberwocky,” “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” “In Flanders Fields,” “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death,” “Oh Captain, My Captain,” and many shorter ones.

A few years ago I memorized “The Tyger” by William Blake as a Hanukkah gift to Elysha. She loves the poem, so in memorizing it, I told her that she now has access to its recitation at any time.

I also have several French poems memorized from my high school French days, as well as several pieces from Shakespeare.

All of this is to say that you should memorize a poem or two. I was listening to a sound check at a Moth GrandSLAM recently, and the storyteller recited “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening” as his sound check. I always prefer to vamp a new story or do a bit of standup during these sound checks, but reciting a poem was a lovely thing.

Everyone in the theater was impressed, admittedly leaving me thinking, “Hey! I know that one, too! And many others!"

But by seeing how impressed folks were, it also made me realize that we don’t memorize poems anymore. That is a sad thing.

A few years ago Slate’s Daliah Lithwick wrote:

“…it’s possible that the real magic of college will completely pass you by until you realize, many years later, that holy shit, you know “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” or Leaves of Grassand all the wisdom of the ages was packed in there, it’s just that you missed it at the time for band practice, or swim team, or to get to the salad bar before all the hearts of palm were gone.”

It’s so very true. Throughout my life, I’ve found myself responding to argument, thoughts, and ideas with the verse locked in my mind. And that verse, as I’ve grown older, has revealed itself to me in new and fascinating ways.

Thank goodness for Hugh.

Hugh died in 2007 at the age of 69 after falling through thin ice on a lake in Maine. The world has missed him ever since. But in honor of Hugh and the desire to lock some new verse into my brain, I’m going to spend the rest of the year firming up the poems I have already memorized and memorizing a new poem or some new verse, starting with Hamlet’s third soliloquy and Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”

Won’t you join me?


Billions with a B

I’d like to officially dispense with the phrase:

“That’s billion with a B.”

I'd like to eliminate it from the world forever. Make it extinct. Destroy every bit of it.

Have you ever heard “million” when the person said “billion” even once in your life?

Are the letters M and B so close that you could ever confuse them?

Has this attempt at numerical drama ever been effective or meaningful?

I hate it when someone says, “That’s billion with a B” so very, very much.

Would you mind hating it with me? Please?


Bravery beyond compare

Last night I did something exceptionally daring. Some might say courageous.

Elysha was in the middle of a sentence when she stopped, searching for a word that she could not find.

I thought I might know the word that she wanted, but I hesitated for a moment, because we all know that this can only go two ways:

  1. You suggest the correct word, and you are an instantaneous hero. A champion. Finding the word that your beloved is searching for is a perfect indication of your intimacy and shared human experience. You were made for each other. This relationship was meant to be. It’s likely that you’ll be making out before long.

  2. You suggest the wrong word, and your loved one dismisses your suggestion like a piece of trash. You shrink under the weight of their disappointment and scorn. You can’t believe how stupid you are.

    Then, in an attempt to make things right again, you suggest a different word. That one is wrong, too, and now your loved one thinks of you as human garbage. Their voice is filled with irritation and disgust. Suddenly your entire relationship is drawn into question. A chasm tears open between the two of you as your beloved wonders how they could’ve ever thought that this relationship was meant to be.

Offering a word to your loved one is treacherous ground. Sometimes deadly. Oftentimes it’s better to simply remain silent and allow your loved one to flail about unassisted.

But last night I steeled myself against possible ruination and suggested the word that Elysha might be seeking, and I was right.


Champion-status attained. Relationship validated. We lived happily ever after.

Sometimes we have to step and be brave in the face of possible disaster, people. Last night I did just that, and it paid off handsomely.


Overused, hackneyed, and stupid

The “He’s playing chess and everyone else is playing checkers” thing is done.


It’s really, really done. There may have been a time when this metaphor seemed clever and biting, but I doubt it. Either way, it’s become a meaningless bit of syllabic drivel. It’s stupid-speak. Unoriginal and lazy.

If you use this overused, hackneyed expression, you are just as overused and hackneyed.

While we’re at it, all references to someone playing “three dimensional chess” are also finished. This is just as overused and stupid as the chess and checkers thing.

Maybe more.

Please think of something new and more clever to say or shut the hell up.


Judge yourself by who hates you

Smart church sign. It adheres to a principle I have espoused for a long time:

Judge yourself by those who hate you.

hate church.jpg

In an ideal world, hate does not enter your life. Everyone thinks well of you, or at the very least, their thoughts are neutral about you or perhaps they don’t think about you at all.

If you live this kind of life, congratulations. I envy you.

Unfortunately, this has not always been the case for me. It’s not that I am despised by the world, it hasn’t always been sunshine and rainbows, either.

When someone despises me, it’s most often for something I’ve said or written.

In college, for example, I attended a class that the professor barely attended himself. He was always late, always ending class early, and cancelling classes left and right. As someone who had fought his way through a sea of hardship and difficulty to finally make it to college, I was appalled by this behavior, so I brought it to the attention of the dean of students and then the president of the college.

When they failed to act, I took the meticulous notes that I’d been keeping on the professor’s attendance and wrote a front-page article in the school newspaper about this professors appalling attendance record.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the professor in question despised me and attempted to undermine my credibility in the department for the next year.

Happily to no effect.

Was I upset that he hated me?

Not at all. He was lazy, ineffective, and was stealing hard-earned tuition dollars from me and my classmates. If he hated me for using the power of the pen to effect a positive change, too bad.

Years later, a small group of truly despicable people attempted to end my career for reasons related to my opinions, expressed both in person and in writing, as well as their small-minded, envy-ladened perceptions of me as a human being and a teacher. It was one of the most difficult times of my life and Elysha’s life, too, but knowing something about who they were as well as the enormous number of intelligent, well-respected individuals who stood behind me made it a slightly less bitter pill to swallow.

Yes, it was clear that someone despised me, but I also knew how stupid, sad, and deliberately misleading these people had been in their characterization of me.

These were bad people. Rotten, good-for-nothing ingrates. It was a hell of a lot easier to bear the burden of their hatred knowing how awful they were as human beings.

Today it’s places like my blog, Twitter, and occasionally Facebook and even my novels that brings out the ire in people. I criticize Trump, and in response, some MAGA hat-wearing moron who can’t spell or write a complete sentence attacks me for my views.

At worst, I block the loser. At best, I just ignore the person completely.

Either way, having a MAGA hat-wearing loser hating me is just fine with me.

My thought process goes something like this:

“Someone hates me? Is the person stupid? A coward? Maybe a bigot or a sexist? Does the person constantly lie or brag about committing sexual assault? Is the person who hates me also defending someone who puts children in cages or treats my LGBTQ friends without equality and dignity?”


Then I guess I’m doing okay.

Snoop Dog thanked Snoop Dog.

Snoop Dog took recently some heat for his Hollywood Walk of Fame acceptance speech.

He thanked the Walk of Fame committee, his collaborators and mentors, his family and friends, his competitors, and his fans.

Then he thanked himself.

“I want to thank me,” he said. He thanked himself for believing in himself, for working tirelessly, for never quitting, for trying to do more right than wrong, and for always being himself.

Some folks didn’t like that part of his speech. Thanking yourself struck some people as a little too self-congratulatory. Perhaps a little arrogant.

But I loved it. I get it.

Sometimes I look back on parts of my life and don’t know how I did it.

I put myself through college while managing a McDonald’s restaurant full time and working part-time in the college’s writing center. I was Treasurer of the Student Senate, President of the National Honor Society, and a columnist for the school paper. I was an Academic All-American and won the statewide college debate competition two years in a row.

I attended two colleges simultaneously (including an all-woman’s college) and earned two separate degrees.

And I launched my DJ company at the same time.

I have no idea how I did it.

And I don’t think I could do it again. I don’t think the current version of myself would have a shot in hell of surviving those five years and accomplishing so much.

So I often look back at that time in my life and feel enormous gratitude for the younger version of me who somehow accomplished things that the current version of me could not dream of doing. It almost seems like another person did those things. Someone far more capable than I could ever dream of being. I’m eternally thankful for that younger version of myself for pushing aside all the distractions and temptations and doing the work required to make today possible.

I think that’s how Snoop Dog felt. He was thankful for that former version of himself for doing the things that might be impossible to imagine doing again today.

When you pull yourself up by your bootstraps, I think you earn the right to feel gratitude for that former version of you who made today possible. And if you’re fortunate enough to have earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, you have every right to stand on that sidewalk and thank yourself.

To hell with anyone who might be offended. They won’t ever understand the hard work, dedication, and sacrifice that was required to earn that star.

Be different

As a reluctant atheist, I’m not an easy sell when it comes to church attendance. At various times in my life, I have been Catholic and two different variations of Protestantism. I’ve also regularly attended Lutheran services and a church for Born Again Christians, as well as many Jewish services.

None of them captured my heart. In fact, the closest I’ve ever felt to faith has been while reading certain potions of the Bible (while recoiling at many others) and experiencing moments of incredible coincidence that have made me wonder if a higher power was not at work.

Not enough to give me the faith I so desire, but much more than any minister, reverend, rabbi, or priest on a Sunday.

Especially the bigoted ones who say that my gay friends are sinners who will burn in hell for loving whomever they want. Those are some of the stupidest and least inspiring leaders on the planet.

That said, had a local church posted this sign on their front lawn, I would at least be intrigued. Maybe even tempted to step inside its doors.

I first saw this sign this summer while teaching at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. I quickly showed it to my friend and teaching assistant, who was sitting across from me at the time.

We were in hysterics.

This is the power of daring to be different. Trying something new. Stepping on or even over the line at times to garner attention and make yourself known.

In a world where conformity is prized and people are often advised to “stay in your lane” and “don’t rock the boat,” a church that opts to be funny instead of staid and expected and oftentimes bizarrely threatening will invariable garner attention from people like me.

People craving something new.

The same holds true in life. Those who try to be different, blaze their own trails, and do something original and unexpected are the most courageous people in the world.

It’s easy to do what everyone else is doing. There’s no danger in following the predictable path. No bravery required to live the life that everyone else is living. The life that everyone expects you to live.

It’s remarkable but true: Many, many people follow a lifetime trajectory prescribed by parents and society. Their occupation, religion, political beliefs, style of dress, and even choice of spouse are often dictated not by their hearts and minds but by what others expected of them. Demanded of them.

It’s probably a far easier life to live - requiring a lot less courage and filled with much less kung fu fighting, for sure - but also offering far fewer rewards, too.

Well played, Harrah 1st Assembly of God. I won’t be traveling to Oklahoma to attend services, but I see that you podcast your sermons weekly. I’m tempted to give one a listen.


Important notes on the phrase "scantily clad"

Five important notes about the phrase “scantily clad” that are worthy of your attention:

1. “Scantily clad” has been done. It’s been overdone. It’s absolutely, positively finished. Beaten like a dead horse. It’s moved past cliche and into the realm of tragically unoriginal. It’s a phrase that you should never, ever use again.

2. It’s weird that the word “scantily” is never used without the word “clad.”


3. It’s weird that the phrase is almost exclusively used to describe a woman in a certain state of undress when men are just as capable of being in similar states of undress. Some might actually consider me scantily clad as I write this very sentence, but no one would ever think to use those words to describe me because I’m not a woman.

That’s weird.

4. The phrase “scantily clad” is also a little creepy. Not a lot creepy. Just teensy-weensy bit creepy. It’s the kind of phrase that mouth-breathing teenage fantasy writers use to describe the inexplicably half-naked girl being held prisoner by the dragon, and that makes it a tiny bit creepy.

Enough to also avoid using it.

5. If you’re still not convinced, do a Google image search of the phrase “scantily clad.” The images associated with the phrase should make it clear that this is not a phrase that you should be using.


This sign is amusing but otherwise pointless

This sign can be found at the entrance to the historic carousel in Bushnell Park in downtown Hartford.


There are so many things wrong with this sign:

  1. I don’t think the sign’s target audience - the kind of child who would put a ticket in their mouth - is willing or able to read this sign.

  2. I don’t think a parent would allow their child to put a ticket in their mouth, see this sign, and only then instruct the child to remove said ticket. Parents are either going to prevent the ticket-to-mouth connection from the start or they are the kind of parent who really doesn’t care.

  3. I don’t feel like there is any kid in the world contemplating putting a ticket in their mouth and then deciding against it upon seeing this sign. The ticket is either instantly in the mouth or not. There is no careful weighing of the pros and cons of a ticket in the mouth, so this sign would at best only limit the amount of time that the ticket might spend in a child’s mouth, but even that is highly improbable (see #1).

  4. This sign is at the entrance to the carousel itself. In other words, it’s positioned in the the exact spot where the child must relinquish the ticket to the ticket-taker. At this point, it’s too late. No child places the ticket in their mouth just seconds before handing it over to the adult in charge. If a ticket has spent any time in a child’s mouth, that happened long before the transaction between ticket taker and child takes place.

  5. I also find it amusing that the sign is placed beside a sign encouraging parents to host their child’s next birthday at the carousel. It’s a sign indicating that children are disgusting alongside a sign inviting parents to being many more disgusting children to the carousel.

  6. All that said, the sign brought joy to my heart, so at least in this regard, it was appreciated.

N-word bingo

It's not hard to avoid using racial epitaphs. Words that offend enormous swaths of humanity for justifiable reasons.

Despite this, people still do.

Sometimes it's because they are racist, and they use the word as a means of denigration. 

Sometimes they are thoughtless and inconsiderate, and they use the word without thinking about what it might mean to another person. These are the people who toss around the N-word because they hear others using it and therefore assume it's okay. 

Sometimes they are arrogant, ignorant pseudo-intellectuals who use the word to push buttons or claim some right that does not require claiming. These are the entitled white people, for example, who are angry that African Americans can use the word with impunity but they cannot, so they aggressively use the word in an effort to claim some linguistic territory because they have never been denied territory before. 

Think Fox News pundit. 

Mostly, though, they're just racists. People who believe that human beings of a certain skin color are lesser than them. Ignorant scumbags. Insecure, hate-mongering evil doers. Really, really, really stupid people. 

Like the President of the United States, for example. 

A new Quinnipiac University poll has found that 49% of people said they believe President Donald Trump to be a racist while 47% believe he is not. More Americans, and HALF OF ALL AMERICANS, think the President is a racist. The only thing more shocking is that 47% of Americans don't think he's a racist.

Apparently these are the people who don't read, listen, or watch the news, because there are only so many times that a human being can defend the Nazis in Charlottesville, retweet white nationalist conspiracy theories, attempt to ban all Muslims from our country, lie about Muslims celebrating on rooftops during 9/11, separate Mexican children from their families on the border, put brown children in cages, refer to Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, question the impartiality of Mexican-American judges, question the intelligence of African American politicians, entertainers, and athletes, and run an administration almost entirely bereft of people of color before the racism is undeniable.  

There may also be a tape of Trump using he N-word while on The Apprentice. If that tape ever surfaces (and when it comes to Trump, it seems as if every tape eventually surfaces), this clever, hilarious, and tragically accurate bingo board might be very useful. 

Racism bingo.jpg

Open mouth. Insert foot.

Someone recently told me that I always know just what to say in any situation.

"You can talk your way out of anything," he said. "Or into anything. You're good that way."

This may seem true, but I assure you that it is not. 

Case in point:

Earlier this week, I met a person in real life who I have known for a long time online - via email, social media, and even a podcast interview.

My first words upon meeting him:

"Wow. I thought you were a lot taller." 

These words were especially dumb. Elysha was standing beside me and wanted to kill me. Thankfully, the person in question is a very kind, very confident human being who didn't seem to mind my moment of extreme stupidity.

But I assure you that this moment wasn't exactly unique. These gaffs happen more often than you think. Perhaps not as often as they once did, but still too often.  

I promise that I can be just as dumb (or even dumber) as anyone else.

Right, Elysha?

Never trust alliteration

Elysha is looking for a teaching job for the first time in 9 years. Now that the kids are off to school and settled into their routines, it's time for her to return to the classroom.

Recently, she was looking at a school district that expects classroom instruction to be "rigorous, relevant, and respectful."

Excellent standards for instruction, but one problem:

I don't trust alliteration when it comes to policy. I will never understand the need for schools, teachers, principals, and other educational leaders to constantly use alliteration when setting forth standards. I don't understand how alliteration makes a set of standards, expectations, goals, or the like any better or more memorable. I can't understand know how or why a stylistic literary device, most often used in poetry and verse, has somehow crept into into policy and procedural standards. 

I have attended meetings where valuable time has been spent trying to wedge a set of standards into a list of words that all begin with the same letter. Conversations that go something like this:

Educator A: "So we all agree. The content of this unit should be timely, topical, and culturally diverse."

Educator B: "Sure, but can we find a way of saying that diversity part with the letter T? Maybe... treats everyone equally? Or tolerant? How about timely, topical, and tolerant. Or tolerance centered? Tolerance focused? Tolerating tolerance? Yeah, that's two T words! Timely, topical, and tolerating tolerance!"

I'm not kidding. I've watched this insanity in action. Many times. 

I'm not saying that "rigorous, relevant, and respectful" are not excellent standards for instruction. I just can't help but wonder what standard might have been left off the list because it didn't begin with the letter R.

Or which of these R words were added simply because when someone was brainstorming a set of standards, the unconscious desire for alliteration took hold. 

Or if one of these standards isn't needed or isn't nearly as important, but the desire for alliteration altered the policy of an entire school district and the means by which thousands of children will be instructed.  

Never trust alliteration. It's a signal of vocabulary manipulation that is never required and often less clear and less precise than the original, less alliterative list. 


I am nonplussed about the shifting definition of nonplussed.

In the last 24 hours, I've read two professionally published pieces of writing - a collection of essays by David Sedaris and a news article - where the word "nonplussed" was used incorrectly. 

Nonplussed means to be surprised and confused to such a degree that a person is uncertain about how to react.

When you are nonplussed, you are startled. Befuddled. Shocked. Discombobulated. 

Not unaffected. Not calm. Not bemused. Despite how so many people - including experienced writers and their editors - might think. 

Websters offers an alternate definition of nonplussed (not bothered, surprised, or impressed by something) but also indicates that this definition is chiefly used in the United States.

Then it adds:

NOTE: The use of nonplussed to mean "unimpressed" is an Americanism that has become increasingly common in recent decades and now appears frequently in published writing. It apparently arose from confusion over the meaning of nonplussed in ambiguous contexts, and it continues to be widely regarded as an error.

In other words, Americans have screwed up the use of this word so often that we must acknowledge that there is alternate, albeit ridiculous definition used only in the stupid Americans. 

I understand that language is constantly evolving, but are we really going to entirely reverse the definition of this word? Changes in the meaning and usage of words is a normal part of an evolving language, but to shift the opposite meaning seems a little ridiculous to me.  

I feel the same about the phrase "Begs the question." While it's so often used to imply that something someone has said or done has prompted a question or wonderment (His inability to hit the baseball begs the question: Does he belong in the major leagues?), it's actually a phrase that defines a certain type of circular logic. 

For example, "The death penalty is wrong because killing people is immoral" is an example of begging the question because it argues that the death penalty is wrong because the death penalty is wrong. 

As a former debate champion and lover of logic, I am a huge fan of the proper use of "begs the question."

Despite my strong feelings, I fear that the true meaning of "begs the question" is a lost cause. It's far more likely to hear someone use the phrase improperly these days, and I suspect that in another decade or two, the proper definition will be lost forever. 

I'm willing to cede ground on "begs the question." Grudgingly. 

But nonplussed? That is a hill I'm willing to die on. A fight that must be fought. A battle I'm willing to wage, and you should, too. Shifting definitions is a perfectly acceptable result of an evolving and ever-changing language, but reversing a definition entirely is something I cannot abide.

I am nonplussed about the shifting definition of nonplussed. I am outraged. Defiant. Activated and ready to fight.

I'm sure you find this as important and pressing an issue as I do.