Several Words About Words

I am in the business of words. I aim to teach children to love them. Sometimes, they end up thinking they hate them but I think it’s safe to assume that one day, they’ll come around. When I think about “being in the business of words,” I realize that this is really a huge club. Don Draper is in the business of words. John Mayer is. Tupac was. Salespeople are. Politicians even, with varying degrees of success. Words are every single thing. Some archeologists and historians, also word people, estimate that hominids first developed language 1.75 million years ago (study described here). They weren’t even homo sapiens but there they were blabbing about god knows what, auditioning for Geico commercials, and eating paleo.

In undergrad I took a class called Semiotics. It’s the study of signs and symbols. Apparently, it’s a big deal in Canada. It really awakened my brain. My teacher was about 142 years old but sharp and fascinating (and I remember she was C. Hill so her email was chill@towson.edu). She taught us that “tree,” for example, is just a symbol for that large plant outside. We’ve just all agreed that the sound “tree” stands for those things. All words are just agreed-upon symbols. Because we said so. Tree. Also, what are our names but symbols for ourselves? Sure, “Amanda” has a Latin meaning but I have borrowed that word to stand for me. Is your brain awakened yet?

I love words. Chas and I share some of the same taste in music but appreciate the same songs for completely different reasons. He goes for the sounds, the inventiveness, musical cleverness. I am all about the lyrics. Remember your AIM profile and how you used to fill it with only the best lyrics? Oh yea, I was all over that. Shamefully, my quote in my 8th grade yearbook is from the band O Town. I can’t even bring myself to type the line I chose as I’ve revealed too much already. (Sidenote: It looks like they’re still touring minus their own version of Justin Timberlake, Ashley Parker Angel, whom I saw perform the male lead in Wicked at the Hippodrome in 2015.) Still, lyrics are what grab me and pull me into music. Even when I am belting out, “Hit the cat spa,” and later finding out that Sia is saying “Hit the dance floor,” I’m still all about the lyrics.

Then there are first words. As I am learning what it’s like to have peers with children, I am also hearing about first words. Mine was brush. My parents said I blurted it out while they were brushing my full head of hair at 10 months and then didn’t speak for another 30 days. In addition to the first word one says as a baby, are those first words you hear in life. I will always remember the feeling of the bouncing dance floor at Seacrets, 1 a.m., sweat and confetti and popped balloons, and my husband, then boyfriend, telling me “I love you” for the first time. It felt like my veins were exploding. Then again, that could have been too many of those slushy drinks called “Pain in da ass.” There’s also that first time one of your students accidentally calls you “Mom” and you realize you’re doing something right.

In the study of children’s brains, early word exposure is a determining factor of success throughout school and even later in life. There’s something called the 32 million word gap that plagues children who grow up in welfare homes where they are exposed to less vocabulary. By the time they are four years old, on average they’ve been exposed to 32 million less words at home than children of professionals. In a way this explains a lot about my day to day. But it makes me sad because some kids just did not have a chance.

One more education-related note before I switch to something pithy. Growth mindset has changed the way that I speak to every single person in my life. And almost every teacher I know who’s been exposed to it says that. Instead of saying the words, “You’re so good at that!” It’s “You put forth so much effort and look at the result!” Rather than “Math isn’t your thing,” you’d say “Let’s put more work into algebra” or “You’re not there yet with geometry.” It’s all about “the power of yet” and that if you put forth enough effort, what can’t you do? Growth words over fixed words. I wish I’d known about growth mindset when I decided I was “bad at math” in 7th grade.

Okay, enough didactics. Onto The Bachelor. Yes, not only was my 8th grade quote from a one-hit-wonder-band named for the city of Orlando, Florida but I also am part of Bachelor Nation. Ugh. I know, it’s the worst. But, it’s also the best. The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are among the most soothing parts of my life. They’re not enriching, genuine, or even stimulating. For all I know, the whole thing is a sham. But they are predictable and calming.  And I absolutely love them. And I love to hate their words. I’ve not yet played a drinking game with The Bachelor but if I did, I’d be on the floor within two commercial breaks (about 8 minutes). Brigid, Rosh, Becky, Dot, Sara, Chris, Aunt Carol, Janna, all my fellow citizens of Bachelor Nation, feel free to add to the list below–or to ask me to remove you from the list above. Commonly used words and phrases on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette include:

  • amazing
  • the most exciting season ever/yet
  • the triple threat (referring to a woman who is smart, funny, and beautiful–apparently unheard of for most male contestants)
  • forever
  • there for the right reasons
  • the journey to find love
  • getting down on one knee
  • a connection
  • I’m not here to make friends.
  • her and I (and many, many other misuses of objective case pronouns)
  • falling for him/her
  • never
  • My husband/wife could be in this room tonight!
  • having my guard up
  • letting my guard down
  • open
  • skeptical
  • My biggest fear is… also: and that’s my biggest fear 
  • This is my hardest week yet.
  • The most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make.
  • May I steal you away?
  • express my feelings
  • one of the (pronounced thee) biggest nights of my life
  • to bring home to my mom
  • vulnerable
  • I need that rose.
  • I see a future with him/her.
  • intentions
  • This process can work.
  • My family is so important to me. Other common version: My family is everything to me.
  • process
  • How are you? I’m good.
  • _______________ (insert city here) is the perfect place to fall in love.
  • I/She/He deserve(s) to find love.
  • let myself fall
  • I hate group dates.
  • I need time with him/her.

Man, just reading that list makes me eager for the next ep! And, I am not being sarcastic.

fridge

Here’s a picture of my fridge to show you that I still love inventive uses of words and my brain hasn’t been completely wiped by The Bachelor Franchise. Every time I open the fridge I read “the aching for power stops my gifts,” which I believe is a Chris Eby original.

Another great–and by great I mean awful–place to find words is in the food world. I cringe when I see “piled high,” “blistered,” “chargrilled,” “tossed with” because I am convinced they are meaningless. Also, what does cold-pressed mean? I don’t actually want the answer to that question (I already googled it and it actually does have a meaning) but my point is that we consumers don’t know or maybe even care that these words mean nothing to us. I hate that companies and restaurants can just throw these words out there and assume we’ll bite. And we do! We bite. I bite a lot. I mean “pure premium.” What is pure premium? I think it’s just an excuse to use alliteration and sell orange juice. No one is in the store with his/her spouse saying, “Let’s get this one! It’s pure premium!” Deep breaths…

My last and maybe best example of a word realm is at school. My non-teacher-friends love to hear what the kids are “saying these days.” I remember about four years ago at my old school, K told me that my eyebrows were “on fleek.” I told her it was mean to make fun of people and checked my face in the bathroom as soon as I could. Then that night I looked it up on urban dictionary and saw that “on fleek” was actually a good thing. Now it’s so ubiquitous that the wine store down the street sells a beer called “On Fleek.” When a phrase goes from Baltimore’s youth to a crunchy granola brewery, you know it’s dead. The other day, T pulled one out of the woodwork and said, “Ms. Eby, why you always tryna crack slick?” That’s always been one of my favorites. It means “getting smart” which means being sassy. One time at PMS I said something in class to a kid who was acting up and everyone started yelling “She got in your butt!” Not my favorite. My new favorite though and the kids nearly do flips in the air when I say it is, “Go awf babysis.” This is a term of encouragement–or conversely, mocking someone who is “going off.” Another oldy (oldy is about 8 months old or more) is “He bae.” This means that a guy is cute, stemming from “He’s my bae,” which means “He’s my baby” which means “He’s my boyfriend” which just became “He bae.” Now that’s evolution. Ben and Zack, this is what one of my students said about you two when you visited me at PMS. “They bae.” The other day at school I heard the girls yelling “Ms. D say we too lit! Ms. D said we too lit!” Being “lit” or “turnt up” is like being hyper or out of control. They flipped out when my teacher pal next door (also white) said the class was “too lit” which then made them more lit, I’m guessing. In addition to being told I am cracking slick, too smart, I am often told that I am “extra.” Being “extra” can also be called “doin’ too much.” When I am extra or doin’ too much (seemingly 24/7) I am holding someone accountable, encouraging someone to walk instead of run, or asking a kid to raise her hand. See? Extra.

English is pretty incredible–maybe that’s why most Americans, including me, speak only it while countries around the world boast a majority of multi-lingual natives (not fact-checking this, just going off of people I’ve met). When you’re speaking, writing, texting, tweeting, whatever, remember that words do matter, despite what some people in power might lead us to believe.

Family in White and Denim.JPG

I received so many comments last week about the photo of my family in our woe whites and denim, I felt like I had to include this year’s re-staging of the same photo. The two young men closest to me in the photo are the ones labeled as “bae” by my former student as mentioned above.

 

 

2 thoughts on “Several Words About Words

  1. Bachelor words: “girls” (used to refer to all grown women) and “most dramatic moment yet” (used every episode/season).

    Your paragraph “Then there are first words…” really touched me.

    Like

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