Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Factoids Aren’t Facts

A Defense of Prescriptive Lexicography

I was reading a New York Times blog today – the Diner’s Journal – which features a column called “What We’re Reading”. A few times a week they'll post a variety of links to food-related fare on the web. One of the showcased links was to a list of 20 pieces of trivia about sausages, and the text accompanying the link reads “A few fascinating factoids about sausage.” I couldn’t help but think of a recent conversation I’d had that skirted the intersection of commonly misused words, words that sound as if they should mean something other than what they do, and wordy pet peeves. No, “travesty” does not mean the same thing as “tragedy” and should not be used in its place; “disinterested” is close to but distinct from “uninterested”; an acronym must be pronounced as a word of its own, otherwise it is a mere abbreviation (e.g., NATO vs. FBI).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Learning to Remember

I was in a study hall period in 8th grade when I first heard that a plane had collided with one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The room was in a sort of remote part of the school, tucked away, budding off of a lone hallway that comprised the third or maybe even fourth floor of Cape Elizabeth Middle School. I remember a teacher coming into the classroom with a grave, deadly-serious face, taking aside the study hall monitor and exchanging some urgent, hushed news. I can't even remember who the study hall monitor was -- I remember what she looked like: tall with a boyishly cut crop of brown hair that fell just above her shoulders. She was young and taught Spanish, so I never actually had her for a class because I studied French. Her youth translated to an automatic air of almost being "cool", but as I remember she was meanly sarcastic and kind of a hard-ass. But I cannot for the life of me remember what her name is. I guess I haven't thought about her much over the past few years, but now, looking back, every forgotten detail carries a small but significant guilty weight. I know it's unrealistic to expect perfect recall in such a situation, but still, I can't even remember the name of the teacher whose classroom I was in? I can't remember how she broke the news -- it was still in the morning, and I think at that point most of the details were unknown, or at least kept from the students, for our own benefit of course.