Big, Long, Stupid Words

Let’s talk about Brian.  (It’s okay, he’s not here.)  Brian uses a lot of big words.  Like, all day with the big words.  He’s walking around all, “Watching the Eagles last night was practically self-deprecating.  The defense is flaccid, the offense is haphazard, and the head coach’s method of strategy is archaic.  I mean, it’s just archaic.”

And that makes you mad.  And you say, “Damn it, Brian, that makes me mad!”

You know the word mad.  You use it because, here in the States, it conveys the emotion you feel.  You don’t think about it, it comes out naturally.  But, you also know the word angry.  You could use that too, couldn’t you?  It means the same thing; they’re interchangeable.

Before you made the statement, “Brian, that makes me mad!” did you think for a moment about whether you should use the word “angry” or “mad”?  No, dude.  One just came out.

It works the same way for Brian.  When Brian goes to speak, he is just like you; he doesn’t craft out his sentences beforehand, making sure to include as many multisyllabic words as possible.  When he goes to yell that he’s angry, his brain is still going to choose a word at random to express that emotion, the same way it did for you.  But for him, it will choose from mad, angry, incensed, piqued, irascible, irate, vexed…

Brian isn’t using big words to piss you off, he’s using big words simply because his brain has access to them.  So it uses them.  And the thing about it is, it isn’t even Brian’s fault that he knows so many big words.  Even that just happens.

Nobody actually expands their vocabulary studying for a spelling bee.  All a vocab quiz gets you is a lower GPA.  Everyone, regardless of where they sit on the standard IQ bell curve, learns new words through osmosis.

Like the word “osmosis,” for example.  You know how I came to know that word?  It was on a Garfield poster in my 7th grade history classroom.  Garfield is laying in his box with a book over his presumably sleeping head, with a caption “I’m learning through osmosis.”

(Of course my science guys are going “That’s not what osmosis is.”  Yeah, I know.  I took high school science.  The point is that it’s a transferable concept.  Now stop interrupting, you’re confusing the point I’m trying to make.)

We all pick up new words from the context of our daily lives.  Like how I was in the grocery store and Elle magazine was telling me that “Crop tops and overalls are here to stay!”  And I’m like “What the hell is a crop top?”  So I look at the picture and see a borderline-anorexic woman in overalls with this little half shirt.  From this I can infer, “Oh, that must be a crop top.”

Boom.  I’ve just expanded my vocabulary standing in line at the Piggly Wiggly.

The more intelligent a person is, the more readily their brain does this.  I needed a visual aid to explain “crop top” to me.  Someone smarter than me (pssht, like you could find one)  (…ha) might infer the meanings of the words “crop,” to cut off the ends, and “top,” a colloquialism for “shirt.”  Ergo, a crop top must be a shirt with the end cut off.  Which of course it is.

Brian isn’t going to be able to use shorter, simpler words without a lot of concerted effort on his part.  He would literally have to think about everything he said before he said it.  “Gina.  Are.  You.  Going.  To.  Starbucks.  This.  Morning?  I.  Would.  Like.  A.  Frappuccino.”  That doesn’t seem like much of an improvement.

How do we solve this problem?  How do we eradicate vocabism?  We get together, and we all agree that the Eagles are flaccid and haphazard, and move on from there.

Ebenezer Screwed

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In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a scruffy miser named Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three Christmas ghosts who show him the high cost he pays among his fellow man for leading such a cruel and parsimonious life.

(At least that is the meaning  gleaned from the movies.  Trying to read the book is an exercise in futility.  Dickens wrote it in 1843, in dialectal nineteenth century slang.  That would be like, a hundred years from now, someone picking up The Life and Times of Chris Rock and trying to understand a word of it.  He will be reading his holo-book thinking, “what is a black-ass ho?” the same way I open up Dickens and go “what the hell is a bootjack?”)

In the end, Scrooge learns his lesson.  He gives Bob Cratchit a raise.  And he becomes “a second father” to Tiny Tim (who incidentally does not die), and “as good a friend, as good a master and as good a man as the good old city ever knew.”

Now, we will skip over the part where it’s 1843 and no matter how rich and generous Ebenezer Scrooge may be, they are still about a hundred and fifty years away from the modern medicine that can make a lick of difference to Tiny Tim’s long-term health.  No amount of extra heat or better nutrition is going to save the kid who needs titanium prosthetics and a kidney transplant.  Can you buy Tiny Tim a time-travelling phone booth, Mr. Scrooge?  No?  Then you are useless.

Instead of Tiny Tim, let’s focus on the real plot hole in this classic tale.  Ebenezer Scrooge is a rich man, with a large surplus of financial means.  He’s loaded.  I mean, this man has gold coins pouring out of his eyeballs.  How did he become rich?  According to Dickens, he gained his capital by being a “shrewd moneylender.”

But the Christmas ghosts demand that Scrooge learn to be kind and charitable toward his fellow man.  Ebenezer reacts to this lesson by waking up Christmas morning and going out into the streets of London giving his mattress funds to anyone who’ll take them.  He’s rich – so he should spend that money as charity for others.

Eventually, that pile of money is going to run out.  To give more charity he’s going to have to make more money.  And to make more money, he’s going to have to be that “shrewd moneylender” everyone hates so much.

The reality about the finance business is that, in order to be a successful financier, Ebenezer has to be a villain.  Because when a borrower comes to Scrooge’s office asking to skate on his mortgage payment, it is literally impossible for Scrooge to let this guy go without losing money.

To be kind, as the Christmas ghosts require, would be to let the guy go in his time of hardship.  But keep letting guys like this skate by and not only is Scrooge going to be out serious funds himself, but how is he going to be able to pay kindly Bob Cratchit?  What will happen to Tiny Tim then?

Scrooge has been put into an impossible position.  If he doesn’t become a man of kindness and charity, he will spend eternity dragging unbearably heavy chains he forged in life.  But he can’t be charitable without continuing to make a living…which he does by relentlessly taking other people’s money.

Of course, that is just a guess, because I don’t know what the hell “the blithest in his ears,” “a dig in the waistcoat” or “another coal-scuttle” means.

Maybe She’s a Good Witch, Maybe It’s Maybelline

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It’s one of the most famous scenes in one of the most timeless movies ever made:  Dorothy opens the door of her wooden, Kansas-built, tornado-blown, sepia-hued cabin and steps into a Technicolor world of song, (well, more songs) (different songs) and enchantment.  She takes her first strides into this new world and then either one of two things happen:

One, Pink Floyd starts playing “Money” off of their Dark Side of the Moon album, and you and your friends start to shout “Dude! Dude! I told you man, it’s like a conspiracy or something, man!”  And you’re too busy jumping around excitedly in your “legalize it” tee shirts to notice anything else that follows.

Or, two, you’re not high, and you watch as a magic bubble appears and out pops a glittery, pink Glinda.  Then she and Dorothy begin the most notorious of dialogues:

Glinda:  Are you a good witch or a bad witch?

Dorothy:  Who me?  I’m not a witch at all…Witches are old and ugly.

[Munchkins laugh]

Dorothy:  What was that?

Glinda:  The Munchkins.  They’re laughing because I am a witch.  I’m Glinda, the Witch of the North. 

Dorothy:  Oh, you are?  Oh, I beg your pardon, but I’ve never heard of a beautiful witch before.

Glinda:  Only bad witches are ugly. 

And since you’re not high, you notice it; you think to yourself, “Wait a minute.  If only bad witches are ugly and good witches are beautiful, shouldn’t the Munchkins know whether Dorothy is a good witch or a bad witch just by looking at her?”

On the one hand, Dorothy isn’t a witch.  And she is not from Oz, either; she’s from Kansas.  In both regards, one might make the argument that this good-to-beauty equivalency doesn’t apply to her.  And, of course, it doesn’t…in Kansas.

But, as Dorothy notes herself, she’s not in Kansas anymore.  She’s in Oz.  And in Oz, only bad witches are ugly.  In Oz, good witches are beautiful.  And in Oz, the Munchkins want to know whether Dorothy is a good witch or a bad witch.

Yes, Dorothy, you should feel insulted.

The good news for Dorothy is that, since they don’t immediately assume she is a bad witch, she isn’t essentially ugly.  They’re not hiding behind their giant, glazed leaves going, “Who is this beat-down butter face?  Better stay away from her.  She’s a bad witch for sure.”

On the other hand, they’re not sure she’s a good witch, so she probably won’t be signing any deals with Emerald City Vogue or Oz Maxim any time soon.

What’s worth noting is that the famous “are you a good witch or a bad witch” exchange is entirely fabricated for cinema.  This notion that “only bad witches are ugly” was made up by the screenwriters at MGM, in all their post-Depression sexism.

In the original text, the good witch who greets Dorothy outside her twister-fallen house (who, by the way, isn’t even Glinda) is old and “covered with wrinkles.”  Her hair is white and she walks with an arthritic limp.  And the conversation goes something more like this:

Dorothy:  Are you a real witch?

Not Glinda:  Yeah, but I’m a good witch.

Dorothy:  But I thought all witches were wicked.

Not Glinda:  No.  And I know that cause I’m a witch, and I’m good, so there you go.

Of course in the cinematic version we made the good witch beautiful because film is a visual medium, and by making her beautiful she becomes a visual foil to the ugly Wicked Witch of the West.  Or maybe smiley redheads in glittery, pink dresses sell more movie tickets.  Whatever.

Either way, it does not explain why the dialogue had to be changed.  There is nothing inherently “good” about being beautiful, nor young.  If you don’t believe me, Google Amanda Knox.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

By changing the dialogue to suggest that Dorothy isn’t beautiful enough to be obviously “good,” all it does is add a whole other layer of grief for Dorothy to work through with her therapist: a severe complex of negative self-image to add to the rest of the post traumatic stress problems she will unquestionably develop after this harrowing trip that no one will even believe she’s taken.