Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Word to the Wise

I have an undergraduate university diploma that, if I understand the concept correctly, certifies me as an indisputable authority on all language-related topics.

With great power, of course, comes great responsibility. It’s only right that I share with the masses a taste of the heady wisdom gained during my lifelong and continuing research. Prepare to be edified by my…


1. Abbreviations are a thing.

It took years of unrelenting canine obsession before my parents succumbed and got us a dog. Before that, I had to make do with my grandparents’ string of black Labradors. After thorough study of breed nuances, I was eventually able to tell them apart from the other varieties of dog in my life (“Wishbone” and “corn-”).

I didn’t have to wait long to use my impressive knowledge. On a Moms & Kids Group trip to the park, an unfamiliar woman appeared with a tantalizingly familiar animal, and I began a thorough investigation.

After checking all the particulars—ears, size, color, lack of fried cornbread coating—I boldly proclaimed my scientific determination:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

2. Words that start the same are not necessarily the same.

My dad worked in law enforcement for the federal government for years, and we moved to Albuquerque for his job when I was in elementary school. The feds put us up in apartment for a few weeks until we could move into our new house, and during this transition the whole family got a cash allotment to spend on meals while our kitchen implements were stuck in government storage. This allotment is called per diem, as in, “We are trying out a lot of restaurants because my daddy is on per diem.”

All grown-up-related terms pretty much sounded the same to my ten-year-old self, so I tossed them all together and picked out whatever was easiest to reach at a given time.

They don’t sound the same to fifth-grade teachers, though, which explains the reaction I got to blithe announcements that “We are eating out because my daddy is on parole.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

3. Do not change horses in midstream.

My standard in-person, casual greeting is “Howdy.” I’m originally from Texas, and I can’t help it.

(Which is to say, I can help it, but then how would others know upon first meeting that I AM A UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL AND WORTHY OF SPECIAL NOTICE, OKAY?)

The trouble is that I’m also kind of indecisive. (Or maybe not. I’m not sure.)

Tragedy struck a few weeks ago with my new Native American coworker, when my mouth couldn’t choose between a rousing “howdy” and a more traditional “hi.” Instead, I ended up with an enthusiastic combination of the two.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Now remember, ladies and gentlemen, that this research has been conducted by a trained professional. I cannot take responsibility for any attempts to recreate experimental conditions on your own. But please take video.


  1. When I was even younger, Mom tried to teach us responsibility with money and told us how Dad worked hard to earn money...including pennies for gumball machines (yes, this was back in the dark ages). So one day, I declared to some people with whom we were in a conversation that, "My dad is a Park Ranger. He works for pennies."

  2. I hope your Native-American co-worker wasn't too offended... that's a pretty funny story, and the pictures are even better :)

  3. Your Lab or Labrador story reminds me that the other day my little sister admitted that her friend's mom smokes "both weed AND pot!" Needless to say, I laughed this ignorant child (hopefully) into a drug-free future of shame and fear.

    1. Shame and fear are some of my favorite byproducts of language. Thank you for passing the tradition to the next generation.