“Multiple Individuals Utilized…”—No

Buzzwords bother me. The picture above is a slight exaggeration of what real-life corporations espouse in training pamphlets and of what your boss might use to make him or herself feel more important.

Don’t empower me, boss—let me do my job. Don’t thought-lead me—teach me. The list goes on. These are rather easy to spot, because their usage sounds contrived and robotic. I notice a few more that have become so commonplace that for a lot of people, hearing them used doesn’t phase them. I cannot express how much I hate how robotic the language becomes in certain registers. Here are a few very common buzzwords that need to end.

1. Individual.

I am not an individual. I am a human being. When being referred to, if “person” won’t suffice, my name probably will. And don’t try the “but we’re all unique!” argument, because that much is obvious. I don’t need to reiterate that very blatant fact. Doing so just makes it seem like you’re artificially inflating your sense of importance.

2. Utilize

“Utilize” = “use.” Probably crafted in a dark laboratory with the mad scientists behind “individual,” “utilize” serves no greater purpose than its shorter, simpler, less robotic cousin “use.” Never use this buzzword, even if you suspect it might land you a job interview.

Cut these out of your vernacular and you’ll be talking like a real human in no time!


Words: Conniption

I ran across the splendid word “conniption” on Twitter the other day. I was surprised I had never come across it before, because I love everything about it from its sound to its multiple uses.

Conniption: North American, noun, informal

Definition (Oxford Online Dictionaries): a fit of rage or hysterics. Ex: “the casting choice gave the writers a conniption.”

Etymology: mid-19th century, probably an invented word

I find this word interesting because, since hysterics isn’t exactly negative, it can be used with both positive and negative connotations. One could have a conniption over, say, the travesty that is watermelon-flavored Oreos. At the same time, one could have a conniption if the latest episode of Cosmos leaves them hysterical about it.

One could even have a mega conniption if Emma Watson graced the wonderful show Cosmos while you accidentally ate a watermelon Oreo. It’s so versatile.

“Cheers” in the UK

I cannot think of a word in the American dialect of English that is used as regularly and for as many purposes as “cheers” is used in the British dialect. Honestly, I never knew the word was so versatile until a few months ago when a friend told me about his experience studying abroad. He said that not only did Brits use “cheers” for everything, they might even give you a nasty look if you say anything but to express gratitude—even “thanks.”

I don’t mean to talk about European countries that subscribe to this type of banter as alien. It’s simply new and fascinating to me. Because I was interested, I looked at some definitions online.

Oxford Dictionaries Online defines “cheers” as broadly as a statement used to express gratitude and give general acknowledgement.

Effingpot is an online slang dictionary, and it adds that “cheers” is a common greeting and farewell, saying this:

Cheers – This word is obviously used when drinking with friends. However, it also has other colloquial meanings. For example when saying goodbye you could say “cheers”, or “cheers then”. It also means thank you. Americans could use it in English pubs, but should avoid the other situations as it sounds wrong with an American accent. Sorry!


The Influence of Myth in the Harry Potter Series

Myths encompass many different languages across all the continents. The language of myths is one deeply-seated in time. Despite some myths having originated thousands of years ago, the influence on today’s stories is apparent—including Harry Potter.

J.K. Rowling borrowed words for Latin, Greek, French, and elsewhere to create new word formations for the names for her spells, characters, and various wizarding objects. She pulled rather more directly when it came to myths, though. Here are just a few examples.

Fluffy: Fluffy brings to mind Cerberus, the fifty-headed guard dog to the entrance of Hades in Greek myth. Similarly to the myth, music is played to lull the beast to sleep. Not similar to the myth, the ironically cuddly name “Fluffy.”

Hippogriffs: Hippogriffs are magical creatures unique to the Harry Potter universe. They have the front legs, wings, and head of a giant eagle and the body, hind legs and tail of a horse. Hippogriffs are Rowling’s spin on the traditional Griffin, which usually has a lion rear end.

The word “hippogriff” is yet another example of Rowling’s keen ability to craft fun new words. Rowling probably chose the “hippo” portion of the word for phonological reason (it’s pretty fun to say, especially in this arrangement), but the Greek word for “hippos” does mean horse. Win-win. The griff on the end is appended on using a blending word-formation process.

Dragons, centaurs, and headless men roam the grounds of Hogwarts as well, but they’re less interesting from a linguistics perspective. I’ll leave it at this.

Theory: Hemingway Repurposed Images from The Great Gatsby for The Sun Also Rises

As a student of English and Creative/Professional Writing, I’m also a student of linguistic concision. I have read William Zinsser’s On Writing Well twice and taken enough Mass Comm classes to be my own editor. But what I admire most about some writers is their ability to convey not mere sentences but entire nuanced ideas with less words than another may have.

Ernest Hemingway is an obvious case study, with his short, terse prose. This semester I took an American Modernists class, in which I read two Hemingway novels, In Our Time and The Sun Also Rises, as well as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The two were geniuses, but their writing style couldn’t have been more different.

Before we read The Sun Also Rises in class, we learned about the time in which Hemingway wrote it. One peculiar fact: he read The Great Gatsby just before he started writing. He approved of it. In his memoir, A Moveable Feast,he wrote: “If he could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby I was sure that he cold write an even better one. I did not know Zelda yet, and so I did not know the terrible odds that were against him.”

Hemingway and Fitzgerald belonged to the same group of American expatriate artists in Paris and wrote about the same themes that would later be known as “modernist.” But some similarities between Gatsby and Sun Also Rises are too close—so close that, if I had to make a poorly researched hypothesis, I would say that Hemingway stole imagery from Gatsby for his own novel, taking it as a challenge to condense Fitzgerald’s complex images and themes into smaller and smaller sentences and lines of dialogue.

I have no research to back this, and I don’t have the time to research it right now, but look at the sentences below and tell me they aren’t too similar for a rival writer to have pulled from one work and made that material his own.

Nick, the narrator of The Great Gatsby, writes this as he ruminates on what the green light meant to Gatsby, comparing it to how immigrants must have felt long ago when first coming ashore in America:

“And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world,” (180, Gatsby).

Hemingway uses the same imagery in The Sun Also Rises, although true to Hemingway’s style, the thought is contained within a much more concise sentence:

“He looked a great deal as his compatriot must have looked when he saw the promised land” (29, SAR).

Throughout Gatsby we are fed imagery of a green light, which symbolizes the illusory American Dream. Though Fitzgerald argues against the existence of such a lofty dream, he does comment on the beauty of dreams in relation to human nature (“to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther”):

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning—

So we beat on boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

At the end of his own novel, Hemingway seems to have condensed the entirety of Gatsby‘s green light symbolism into one line of dialogue, spoken by one character to the woman he loves but cannot be with:

“Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

Excavating the Truths of Beowulf

Heorot, a Beowulf-esque Hall.

Bemidji State University held its annual Student Scholarship and Creative Achievement Conference the other day, in which I had the pleasure of experiencing Rachel Munson’s presentation of her research paper Beowulf: Truth or Legend? An Archaeological Perspective by Rachel Munson. It was a thoughtful, interesting, and well researched article on the excavated items that suggest that, as Rachel put it, “Beowulf is more grounded in fact than it is given credit for.”

The Ulfberht is but one example of items that appear in both Beowulf and old Viking burial grounds. Rachel compared other factual items—more swords, gold-plated helmets, Viking Halls—to those depicted in the 6th-century epic in a short 15-minute presentation that ultimately left me convinced. Not only did Beowulf jump the top of my summer reading list—I’m still kicking myself for not taking the class—but now I’ll have some valuable perspective whenever I do read it.

A Five-Week Study of Indie Games

A screenshot from Braid, a 2008 indie game made by two people and one of the highest-rated games of all time.

As a writer and avid reader and English major, friends and family often believe I love my coursework. This is not the case. The quest for a liberal arts degree includes a close study of interesting topics—interesting compared to numbers or chemical formulas, anyways—but often those topics are a waste of my time. My five-year goals include publishing a short-story anthology, writing freelance stories for magazines like Wired and Official Xbox Magazine, and maybe sending a few TV spec scripts to Hollywood. So I hope you understand why I believe spending two weeks of my adult life preparing to perform Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream isn’t a good use of time. So on the contrary, I often despise my coursework.

But on rare occasions I do love it. Yesterday, for the Weblogs and Wikis class for which this blog was created, I pitched a project that seemed—gasp!—pertinent and useful. I asked to spend five weeks playing five indie games and writing a series of blog posts about the experience. Today that project was approved.

Each week I will play one game and write three posts about it on my other blog. First, on Monday, I will communicate my research about the game’s context—its inspirations, creator(s), development process, et al—as well as my first impressions. On Wednesday I will write an extended analysis about at least three noteworthy aspects of the game. This includes but is not limited to the game’s narrative, mechanics, and art. On Friday, I will post a full critical review. This will be much different than Wednesday’s post—it will look at the game as an experience from a critical lens.

My work with this blog has attracted people who appreciate art in all its forms, so I hope that even if videogames aren’t your thing you also follow my series of posts there. Your feedback, be it praise or loud yelling, is not only welcome but encouraged.

The project begins tomorrow with a look at Braid, the narrative-driven platforming game which spurred the still-strong indie renaissance. I’ll give my first impressions, then take a look at Braid‘s creator Jon Blow and his bittersweet success story. In the following weeks I’ll be looking at Fez, To The MoonSpelunky, and Gone Home.

Remember: this project will be hosted on my other blog. Any questions or suggestions about this project? Let me know. I hope to see you in the comments section tomorrow and throughout the next five weeks.

Words: “Obsequious”

After the recent death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, rest his soul, I read his obituary in the New York Times and stumbled across a word I wanted to study. Obsequious—as in ‘He played an obsequious sycophant in the Coen brothers’s cult comedy “The Big Lebowski”’—is defined as being excessively obedient or servile. If you’ve seen The Big Lebowski, and I really hope you have, Hoffman played Mr. Lebowski’s obsequious butler.

The word apparently has its origins in the mid-15th century and meant “prompt to serve,” deriving from Latin. Ob “after” + sequi “follow.”

I imagine Hoffman was given his lines and told “be osequious,” because he did just that. His character was more helpful in my understanding of the word than was the definition.

Related words: “sycophantic,” “ingratiating”

Poe, Tupac, Eminem

I love hip hop and rap music—the good stuff, anyways. I was thinking about dissecting a rap song’s lyrics for fun to see which linguistic and rhyming strategies rappers use in their writing. Then I stumbled upon a fantastic New Yorker article that did it for me and thought it’d be perfect for a language journal.

a couplet by Tupac Shakur—

“Out on bail, fresh outta jail, California dreamin’
Soon as I stepped on the scene, I’m hearin’ hoochies screamin’”

—was a small marvel of “rhyme (both end and internal), assonance, and alliteration,” given extra propulsion by Shakur’s exaggerated stress patterns. Bradley also celebrated some lesser-known hip-hop lyrics, including this dense, percussive couplet by Pharoahe Monch, a cult favorite from Queens:

The last batter to hit, blast shattered your hip
Smash any splitter or fastball—that’ll be it

Picking through this thicket, Bradley paused to appreciate Monch’s use of apocopated rhyme, as when a one-syllable word is rhymed with the penultimate syllable of a multisyllabic word (last / blast / fastball).

Along the way the article argues that rap is “the most widely disseminated poetry in the history of the world” while evangelizing an annotated lyric book penned by rapper Jay Z. He talks about how rappers choose words and then make those words work within the beat and flow of the song. Check out the full article here.

There’s also this fascinating music video that points out that almost every single word of Eminem’s song “Lose Yourself” falls under one of eight rhyme columns, calling him a “one of the most impressive lyricists ever.” In it he uses multiple techniques like clipping and smart stressing of syllables to bend the words to his will.

I Made Words Tonight

This portrait screams: “Heisenbad”

The title might suggest I’m simply declaring that I wrote in a dumbed-down way, but I literally made words tonight. It was fun, too! I had certain things on my mind—namely books and blogs and Breaking Bad—and that probably shows. There are a few strategies for making up words—acronyming, coining, clipping, blending, borrowing—but I found myself going back to blending over and over. I coined one word and made two acronyms, too. Enjoy!

1. Sloozy: slimy and oozy, not like a Hobbit-hole. The method I used here is blending, because I took the first part of one word, the second part of another, and smashed them together. I thought of the beginning of The Hobbit, as the narrator assures us that Hobbit holes are quaint.

2. Fitzingwaying: the act of writing short, terse prose that is broken up by Gatsby-esque poetics. Blending.

3. Bliki: A blog maintained within the structure of a wiki. Blending. This word is awesome and I would like your help in popularizing it.

4. Cockoholic: Exactly how it sounds. One who has an unhealthy addiction to penis. Blending.

5. ADD: Addicting Distractions Disorder. Acronyming.

6. Sherf: To fuck up. Example: “Wow, you really sherfed it on that test.” Coining.

7. Adderic: One who relies on Adderal to perform well in school. Blending.

8. Acroinyming: Creating an acronym out of one or more newly-coined words. Blending.

9. MSS: Midterm Study Session, usually over 12 hours long. Acronyming.

10. Heisenbad: The quality of being as evil as Heisenberg, the alter-ego of anti-hero Walter White in Breaking Bad. Clipping and blending.

That’s all for now, folks. Lets get these words the popularity they deserve. Feel free to use them in conversation, on Facebook, or shout them from the top of buildings.