"That you may ruminate"

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Posts Tagged ‘deliberate use of language’

…On “Happy Holidays.”

Posted by Steve on December 29, 2008

Happy Holidays, everyone. Seriously: hopefully you just had a good holiday, and hopefully you’re about to have a good coseasonal holiday.

Come again, you ask?

Well, there’s more than one holiday to the holiday season – just check the Christmas carol: “We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.” Or check the things that happen while kids are off from school: Christmas, New Year’s. Hmm…

Now, I realize that people regard the use of “Happy Holidays” as a generic substitute for “Merry Christmas” based on the multiple holidays that go on this time of year and celebration of which is, to a degree of accuracy ranging from “correct” to “incorrect”, widely regarded as mutually exclusive with celebrating Christmas: חנוכה is one, Kwanzaa is another, Festivus is another, and as I recall from having a pair of Reclaiming roommates there’s some sort of Solstice thingy. And I know that some people are bothered by this supposed origin of the phrase “Happy Holidays”.

Well, I don’t think that interpretation makes sense, because if that’s all it were about, nobody’d say “Happy Holidays”, they’d say “Happy Holiday”. As in, “Whatever sole holiday you celebrate, have a happy one.” ‘Cause after all, nobody who celebrates Hannukah celebrates Christmas (I mean, besides my elementary school, and my family when I was a kid, and my Jewish Grandma), and nobody’s going to be celebrating both Kwanzaa and Christmas except for maybe the many people who are or were both Christian and AfricanAmerican. So, you know, the idea that people celebrate One And Only One holiday during December is a crock, but such is the perception, and apparently this perception’s led to the idea that people say “Happy Holidays” in order to avoid giving offense by misidentifying that One Winter Holiday when speaking to someone.

Here’s my thoughts on that: New Year’s is a holiday. New Year’s is very close to all those holidays. Everybody celebrates New Year’s – even if they really do only celebrate one holiday in December. Two holidays, minimum: New Year’s plus Whatever Else. Now, people are lazy. “Happy Holidays” covers any possible combination of (New Years)+(Something Else), without having to think about – or even learn about – any list of (Something Else). It’s five syllables, and with “good new year” taking up 3, it can only be bested by “good [monosyllabic holiday]” (by the way, if anyone knows of any monosyllabic names for holidays, I’d love to hear them – as far as I know, none exist). It’s easy. It’s great. It’s at least two holiday greetings for the effort of one.

And that, I assure you, is the real reason people say “Happy Holidays”.

Posted in English according to me, Other people's blogging | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

…On Those Proposed HHS Regulations.

Posted by Steve on August 31, 2008

It’s been now nine days since I reported the Department of Heatlh & Human Service’s release of a draft regulations for public comment. I wanted to talk about those some. This will probably get hell of long, so…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in The Law | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

…On Covering All Your Bases.

Posted by Steve on August 30, 2008

I just clicked through Yahoo, where a little section of the page included news headlines. Among those were this brilliant headline, “Analysis: Palin may be plus or bust for McCain.” What’s not to love about that headline? It rhymes and it addresses all possibilities just as thoroughly as “Weather: Tomorrow may be sunny or rainy.” Or the flyer I saw on campus one time back in college, that was trying to get volunteers to be subjects for some psych study: “Are you a person who smokes marijuana, has smoked marijuana, or has never smoked marijuana?” I’m pretty sure if you did a Venn diagram for that, you’d just get a perfect circle full of people.

Brilliance, I tell you.

As for Sarah Palin and whether she’ll be plus or bust for John McCain, I wasn’t going to vote for John McCain before he picked her as his running mate, and now that he’s picked her I’m still not going to vote for John McCain.

Although, apparently my dad donated to his campaign back in 2000. The things you can learn on the internet.

Posted in From the News | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

…On Mixed Drinks.

Posted by Steve on July 26, 2008

Last night, I had blue balls. Or, actually, maybe it was blue balls that I had… no, I think I just had blue balls… Ok, regardless, I had blue balls last night.

I think you’re getting my points. 1) So many mixed drinks have delightfully raunchy names. 2) So many seem to be a delightfully raunchy name with no standard definition attached to it. In point of fact, I believe the drink I had consisted of blueberry vodka, blue curacao, peach schnapps, soda, and a dash of lemon. Similar to, but not exactly the same as, one of the linked-to-recipes.

Point #1’s just a fun tidbit. Point #2, well… on the one hand, it should be profoundly satisfying since it can be explained as an application of the mutability of a living vernacular. Not that precise definition of the term “blue balls” is the sort of thing that an Academy of the English Language would likely concern itself with, but still. If some bartender out in Kansas starts serving Jack Daniels, creme de menthe, gin, and Red Bull when customers order “blue balls”, then in the unlikely event people keep ordering that there, bam, the word’s acquired a new meaning. A trivial application of a vital grand concept: language through time is like life through time, subject to natural evolution and to evolution through selective breeding (biologists be damned, chihuahuas are not canis lupus anymore. More like rattus chihuahuacus.) Yes, it sucks in that it decreases the precision of language – there is definitely something to be said for the idea of a language in which every word has exactly one and only one denotation and connotation so that infinite gradations of meaning can be communicated with inerrant precision due to words serving as quanta of meaning (essentially, a vocabulary that’s the exact opposite of Newspeak). But, hey, you want that, just make a deliberate effort to speak and write that way and work towards breeding the language you want. It’ll take the cooperation of others and may be the work of generations, but it can be done.

Posted in & Drink, English according to me | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »