Guy no Logical Gibberish

My dad didn’t pronounce words correctly. It embarrassed me so much, when I was younger, that I matured into something of a wordsmith. A wordsmith, in my personal definition of the term, is not necessarily more intelligent than anyone else is. We do not have a better hold on pronunciations than anyone else does, and we don’t have a gift for spelling or proper word usage. A wordsmith is someone who focuses (see obsesses) on such matters. A wordsmith is also so embarrassed by past, present and future mistakes that we make that don’t think we’ll ever live down. Such matters didn’t embarrass my dad at all. He didn’t care about any of it. 

Even though I put more effort into pronouncing words correctly, spelling them correctly, and using them in a proper manner, I still make errors all the time. I mispronounced a famous person’s name one day, and it was so embarrassing to me that I don’t think I’ll ever live it down. It started out as a joke, and it somehow morphed into confusion in my mind, until I said it aloud to two people I sought to impress. I’m sure if I asked those people hear me do it what they thought, they probably wouldn’t even remember it, but it haunts me. I used a word that that we don’t recognize as a word in my formative years, and I used a tense of an adjective that is not considered one of the tenses for that word. I also used the word (“had”) too often, as in “if he had lived to see the day”. I hear professional speakers use incorrect terms and words all the time, and I hear them mispronounce words as often, and I don’t mock them. I’m mortified for them in a manner that constitutes the difference between empathy and sympathy. 

People I knew and loved mocked my lexicon so often, in my youth, that I made it my life’s mission to eradicate errors. (I’ll let you know if I ever accomplish that feat.) I could handle most of the mean-spirited mockery directed at my other, numerous errors, because they meant nothing to me. The mockery directed at my lexicon concerned me, because I knew my dad’s casual disregard for the conventional rules of language, and it embarrassed me as a teenager.

They say that if we spend enough time in another part of the country, we might carry accents, and/or peculiar pronunciations for words that are otherwise indigenous to that area of the country. My dad said the word wash for most of his life, until he traveled to Tennessee. He spent one week there, and for the remaining decades of his life he said, “warsh.” Correcting that proved an insurmountable hurdle for him, as did “eckspecially”. He made up contractions, such as ‘kout’ for lookout and (‘Q’) or “kyou” for thank you. He also made various plural-sounding names singular and vice versa. McDonald’s was McDonald and Burger King was Burger Kinks. Don’t ask me how he arrived at that second (‘K’). He also said intentendo, instead of Nintendo. We could fault his hearing for some of it, but after numerous corrections, the man stubbornly maintained his fault-ridden lexicon. He subconsciously picked up on errors in usage, but he never picked up on my numerous corrections. 

Speaking of word choices, how did we arrive at the word anus to describe an organ? We have to imagine that those in charge of the language used in medical periodicals and biology textbooks continue to use the word for the expressed purpose of being unfunny. Tradition probably guides current choices, tradition and the need for consistency, but there had to be a first. When the subject of origin of a word arrives, as we will discuss later, it can be difficult to impossible to source a word. The best question we can come up with is why do we continue to use this unusual and somewhat cute name for such a repugnant organ?   

How extensive was their search for the ideal, unfunny sounding word? How many voices did they hear, pro and con various other terms before they eliminated all others and ended up with anus? “The search is over, we’ve found the ideal word to describe the organ that sounds professional and doesn’t lead to uncomfortable smirks and giggles. Going forward, we shall all refer to the organ as the anus in doctors’ offices, biology text books, and other professional settings.” No one can blame the collective we, for etymologists say the term predates English. The word anus derives from the Latin word anus, meaning “ring”. The Latin derivative annulus means “Little ring”.

In the search for the ideal term, the first thing they had to do was rule out the other, less professional alternatives. Imagine if your doctor said, “You’re fifty years old now, it’s time to see what’s going on inside your smelly freckle.” If my doctor used such a term, in such a sensitive situation, I wouldn’t care if they were trying to add some levity to an otherwise uncomfortable situation. I would seek another physician.

The term they decided on sounds so unusual and cute that all humans, no matter their age, gender, or background, giggle when they hear it. If we could remove all of the connotations the word has with otherwise repugnant biological functions, we might picture a cute, little bug if we heard the word for the first time. If the word had no connotations to our little ring, imagine if comic book writers used the word to name one of their bad guys. “Join Spider-Man, in next week’s issue, as he takes on the Anus!” There’s something so unusual and cute about the word that I don’t think it would strike fear in the reader, until we learned what her powers were.    

We giggle, because it makes us feel uncomfortable in a way we can’t explain. One explanation might involve the idea that they chose such an unusual, cute term to describe such a repugnant orifice. What better punchline is there than, “… and I ended getting it stuck in my anus.”?

There was never a board of lords assembled to determine what term we should use to refer to the inferior opening of the alimentary canal a term. As stated, the word has roots in Latin, and Old French, but the Indo-European language family that dates back to 4500 BC to 2500 BC influenced those languages. As with other words and terms, we can arrive at the first recorded use of a word, and Wikipedia states that the first recorded use of the word anus dates back to 1650-1660, but there was probably never an official orifice decree that suggested all professionals should start using the word anus in professional settings. Anytime we try to source a word, we encounter its complicated roots through a maze of variations of language based on migrations, and subsequent regional dialects that affect different shifts in pronunciation, morphology, and vocabulary. We then encounter various efforts at reconstruction of the Proto-Indo-European roots of the word to arrive at the conclusion that it’s almost impossible to source the origin of some words and terms. The one thing we can agree upon is that the modes of communication were so archaic in 1650-1660 on back that most words achieved staying power places via word of mouth, and that it just sort of caught on after that. Even with all that, the question remains why did one prehistoric person, with some biological knowledge, pass this agreed upon, unusual, and cute-sounding term anus to another, and how did it pass the smell test?  

The continued use of this term probably has more to do with hundreds to thousands of years of tradition, and a certain level of consistency attached to it, as I wrote, but the professionals who continue to use the term whenever they produce a new textbook or periodical of any sort have a choice every time they pass it on. The question they might ask is what’s the best viable alternative? The answer is there probably aren’t any now, the term is too ingrained, but we have to wonder how many alternatives the linguists and lexicographers of yesteryear passed on, before they agreed the word anus should be the preferred choice for those in professional and scientific circles. If they hoped that their final decision might end all of the snickers, giggles, and uncomfortable smiles when the subject comes up, then I think we can all agree that they failed.

“Don’t text me during the game,” I text. “I’m taping it. I don’t want to know if it’s a good game or a bad game. I won’t even check my phone during the game, so save your, “You’re going to love this,” “Don’t bother watching,” or “Get out of your house, there’s a small Cessna heading toward your house.” I don’t know why it bothers me so much when someone texts me about a game I’m taping, but I think it has something to do with a compact I have with the game I’m watching. It seems pointless, to me, to watch an otherwise exciting 7-yard out route, on third and six, when I know the outcome. Thus, when someone texts me some hint about the outcome of the game, it frustrates me so much that I want to coat my naked body and run through the city streets, just to teach humanity a lesson. I know that I couldn’t live with that memory though, so I just avoid my phone during games.

Big Things vs. Little Things. We dream of big things, but we cannot accomplish big things without tending to all the little things that make big things possible. Before writing the Great American Novel, for example, the author has to write. That first page can be tough, but it’s not near as tough as page two. Page one is often the flurry of inspiration that led us to sit down and write. That inspiration probably struck at a relatively boring moment in our life. Page one often ends up gibberish, however, that doesn’t make it past Chekov’s Razor. Page one often ends up being deleted or tossed into the waste paper basket. Page three is often where the book begins, according to Anton Chekov. Page one is important, but it’s not as important as page three, or any of the pages that constitute continuing.  

An important note I heard recently that contradicts that paragraph is, we don’t have to accomplish great things to be great. By taking care of the little things in life, we can still be great. We can be a great father, mother, businessman, and student. I knew a man who accomplished great things in life, but he turned out to be something of a failure as a father. I call it the Larry Bird Complex. There’s an old saying that “those who can’t do it teach” but the flipside proves to be true too. Those who can do it, often cannot teach others how to do it. Larry Bird was a man many consider one of the greatest to play the game, but he wasn’t a very good coach. The man I knew with a Larry Bird Complex had a personal resume so loaded with prestigious accolades that we might have to break the story of his life down to chapters. When they buried him, however, those of us who sat in the second row realized that he couldn’t take his accolades with him. We also realized those who sat in the first row were his legacy, and they were confused adults who lived a life of chaos. Was that his fault? It’s debatable, but he obviously didn’t do enough in his life to relieve them of their pain, and they were/are how the rest of us measured him. A man of great accomplishment enjoys telling people about his great accomplishments, but if he fails to tend to his own yard, that will be his legacy.

So, You Want to go Into Business. “My employees think I’m Daddy Warbucks,” an owner/operator of a local franchise said with a laugh. “They don’t understand how thin profit margins are.”

“Most people don’t,” I said. “I don’t for the most part. I’ve never owned my own business. Most of us think that anyone who does is in the money, especially if that business is a franchise. Most of us have no idea of the expenses involved in running a business.”

Most of us know-nothings loosely define profit as the difference between the wholesale and retail prices. We don’t consider the idea that an owner/operator uses that profit to pay employees’ wages, rent, utilities, various forms of marketing, the franchise fee, insurance, repairs, remodeling, various forms of security, and all of the other numerous costs associated with owning a business. Once the small business owner factors these numerous costs in, they still have to pay all of the federal, state, and local taxes and any fees associated with registering and owning a business. Some of us even begrudge the business owners for writing off expenses when it comes time to pay taxes. Yet, if we deprive them of the ability to do that, then they would have little to no profit at all. After paying off all of these expenses, the middle class owner/operators also have to pay off the loan the bank gave them to open the business.

Another element of the equation that should’ve been obvious but wasn’t until I attended a “Welcome to [the franchise]” meeting for potential owners of a nationwide franchise, is that the individual franchisee has to purchase everything from the vowels on the sandwich board, to the floor, to the franchise chairs and napkins from the corporation. If the owner/operator’s franchise runs out of napkins, for instance, the owner/operator cannot simply run to the supermarket to purchase napkins, they have to fill their napkin holders with napkins that have the corporate logo on them. Failure to do so could result in franchise infringements penalties. To ensure individual franchises are adhering to the level of uniformity the franchise, and their customers, expect throughout the chain, the corporation hires what some call secret shoppers. The primary goal of these insects is to prove the value of their employment, so they grade the owner/operator’s franchise on everything from the significant to the seemingly irrelevant. They find things to write in their report, because they fear if they gave the franchise an (‘A+’), “no infringements found” the corporation might not hire them again. The infringements they find could lead to more penalties and other unforeseen costs for the franchisee.

The corporation will also send out trainers who train the owner/operator and the incoming staff on how to do things “the corporate way”, and the franchisee then “helps” pay their salaries.

The corporate advisers, who provided us this “Welcome to [the franchise]” presentation, did not provide an itemized list of the total costs of purchasing and running a franchise. I had to do my own research to find some of them. One look at this list and every potential franchisee should wonder how anyone makes any money in this business. When I emailed some leading questions regarding my findings, to the advisers, they said, “[This corporation] will help you with any costs and expenses,” they wrote using the specific name of the company. “[This corporation] wants to help you open a location in your city, and they will do whatever they have to to help you make it happen.” This was a blanket statement the corporate advisers made throughout their presentation, and it was the theme of most of their answers throughout the “Welcome to [the franchise] presentation”, but they often avoided providing specifics. 

“Profits in food service are so thin that I would seriously advise you consider another business,” a former owner of a mom and pop restaurant advised me. “We obviously didn’t have to pay all the franchise costs you list, and we barely made it month to month. You probably won’t make money for years, and even then you’ll probably want to consider opening two or three different locations if you want to make any real money and each of those franchises will each take their own time to turn a decent profit.”

A franchise owner/operator then wants to pay the person most responsible for opening the location. Themselves. They want money for their time and headaches. “Expect to work at least 60 hours a week,” the mom and pop owner told me. “At least 60 hours. You’re the one responsible for all the hiring and firing, and after a number of incidents, you’ll probably develop a greater tolerance than you predict for misbehavior and poor performance. You will put up with whatever you have to from your employees, to avoid going through the headaches involved in firing an employee, hiring a new one, and training them. Other than all of the headaches and time involved, you’ll eventually view it as an unnecessary expense. Then, you’ll have to fill in for those who call in sick, and when you finally pay yourself for all the hard work you’ve done, before taxes, you should expect to make less, per hour, than you’re making now. Most business owners, like your friend think it’s cute and funny when their employees consider them Daddy Warbucks in the beginning, but when they hear it four or five times, they might accidentally launch into a rant about how wrong they are.”

Some of us celebrate when we see “big business” fail in our neighborhood to the point of closing down. We see their big name as a blight on our community. Some of those franchises are corporate owned, but a number of them are not. We might see it as sticking it to the man when we contribute to their failure, but that failure might be a man or woman who is seeking an alternative way to feed a family of four.    

Why do flies, moths, and other insects want into our home so badly, and they want out just as badly and just as quickly? If it were nothing more than a mistake, why do they bump against the glass trying to get out? Are they just dumb? No, they’re not dumb, some argue. Okay, then why do they immediately fly to the nearest glass trying to get out shortly after getting in?

Light guides most insects at night, and the only light at night that guides them is the moon. Their internal guidance systems lead them to fly according to the light of moon, and our artificial light messes with their internal guidance system. Do they then recognize their faux pas soon after making it? If the moon explains the nighttime insects wanting in our home, how do we explain daylight flies trying to get in? Do they smell our food? When do they recognize their faux pas? Some of them might be attracted by the smell of our trash, but they rarely visit the trashcan. They usually bump to get in and turn around and bump to get out. Do they recognize their error to get in, or are they just dumb beings driven by instinct?

Why do birds only fly so high? We’ve all witnessed a predator fly higher than other birds. Why do they fly so high? Answer, they want achieve a vantage point where they can see their prey. Why don’t other birds fly just as high? Answer, they’re more affected by low levels of oxygen, as they’re not as equipped, as their predators to extract necessary oxygen from the air. The temperature is also cooler at greater heights, and most birds cannot generate enough heat with their muscles to counteract that. These latter two paragraphs describe the mysteries and functions of the every day lives of some of its smallest contributors to our daily life.  

My Favorite Teacher of all time performed a miracle. He led me to believe the subject of Economics might be interesting. He made the subject so interesting that when I left high school, I became an Economics major. In college, I discovered how boring Economics could be in different hands. On the flipside, I considered Shakespeare so boring in high school that I found it difficult to hide my disdain for the material. In college, I found a passionate teacher who made Shakespeare sound like a genius. My takeaway, every subject is one good teacher away from being interesting.

Presumptuous Qualifiers

“If we want to understand the totality of this philosopher’s character, we must know their flaws too,” he said, “because character matters”.

“Why are we questioning her personal character here? We’re talking about her philosophy.“

“She wasn’t kind to her husband. She stepped out on him, and she didn’t treat her children well, and she doesn’t agree with you on [some unrelated position].” 

If we planned on dating or marrying the philosopher, an exposé on her character might be vital. If the only thing we want from a philosopher is her philosophical road map for life, and we could use it to be a better spouse, parent, friend, and person, why does anything else matter? If a couple bullet points from her personal life sways us to question the otherwise useful tenets of her philosophy, then we’re probably do it wrong. 

Those who tells us about her personal flaws want us to dismiss her philosophy, but what if she wrote some brilliant philosophical nuggets that either broke the complex down to simple, understandable nuggets, or she provided some insight into the human condition that was so brilliant we cannot shake it. What if she wrote something that changed how we view a substantial matter in our life? How often has anyone, philosopher or otherwise, achieved that? If we considered those nuggets brilliant, and we could use them to make our life a little better, shouldn’t that be the end of the conversation?

“What if she disagrees with you on [some unrelated position]?” Detractors think that if they can trip us up on some unrelated position, we might dismiss the entire cannon of her philosophical beliefs. Wrongo Bongo! We do not have a litmus test on philosophers. We are only concerned with the information we think we can use. 

Unless detractors are able to disprove her theories, I don’t care to read anything they write about her. The detractors can even provide substantial proof that she was a hypocrite in that she didn’t personally follow any of her beliefs, and it won’t matter to me. I’m only concerned with how I can apply her principles to my life. If she decided to violate those principles, that’s on her.

Some detractors don’t even bother trying to refute the message of a philosopher anymore. They just go straight to character assassination. I listened to it, and I factored it into the equation at one time, but they’ve fired this cannon so many times, and in so many ways, that they’ve rendered all cannon fire meaningless. If the detractor was able to hold their fire and only take out certain characters, we might consider their charges. As it stands, everyone is awful, and if everyone is awful, no one is. They give weight to the cliche all humans are flawed.   

Prove or disprove the message, I say, and do it so well that you can convince me that it’s a quality rebuttal. Her philosophical nuggets may prove so influential in my life that even a substantial refutation of her philosophy might not sway me, but I will at least appreciate the elements of their approach.

Assassinating the character of the messenger approach might prove more effective if her followers engaged in some form of celebrity worship. I think detractors believe we idolize the messenger in the manner they worship their celebrities. They write scathing pieces about her personal life. They explain how that information serves to undermine everything she taught. They seek to expose some personal flaws about her to taint her message. Some of us don’t care. We only seek the message. 

They also seek to insert a qualifier into everyone’s brain when someone discusses the brilliance of her philosophy. “She was brilliant, sure, but wasn’t she a (fill in the blank).” Who gives flying fig leaf? 

The progression of the qualifier has reached a point where we place so much emphasis on the faults of the messenger that their message gets lost. If I fell prey to such matters, I would consider this dilemma so confusing. “You mean we should do research on everyone who ever lived, and if they have a tickets for jaywalking we should dismiss them?” I say. “What if they could provide me some valuable insight into matters that otherwise trouble me? What if amid everything she wrote, she provided a nugget that directly applied to that troubling situation? Should I dismiss that nugget of information based on the fact that she was unkind to her children?”    

We obviously enjoy the messenger’s presentation more than others do or we wouldn’t be reading her books, but we never idolized her so much that if someone pointed out a relatively insignificant flaw, we’re going to trash all of her philosophical tenets. “If you thought I was that superficial, then you read me wrong.”

We might find her message informative, entertaining, or some combination of both, but the moment after she dies, the next messenger takes the baton. Dear detractors: It’s not about the messenger it’s the message.

If John Doe developed a brilliant technique on the general, agrarian practices of South Dakota, some detractors might attempt to have his technique dismissed by discussing what he wrote about the Peloponnesian Wars. In their perfect world, if John Doe wants people to take his unique and possibly helpful ideas on agrarian practices seriously, he is now required, personally and professionally, to inform his readers of his views on the Peloponnesian Wars. Why?

Why does anyone care that John Doe married four times, and that he wasn’t very nice to his kids? “Because character matters.” It does matter, in general, but it doesn’t make his ideas on South Dakota agriculture any less brilliant? Those who disagree with John Doe’s ideas, expose his philandering activities in the hope that no one will follow him. If we say that we’re going to follow Doe’s ideas, and someone says, “Are you sure you want to do that? You know he cheated on his second wife don’t you?” Yes, I know all that, but I don’t plan on dating him, marrying him, or having any personal relationships with him. I just think he has great ideas, and I prefer to listen to anyone who has great ideas. “They work,” we say. “Try them.”  

If we haven’t had military service, we cannot comment on anything involving the military without thoroughly informing the public of that qualifier. If we haven’t reared a child, we cannot have a philosophy on raising kids. We must cede the point that if someone poses an idea on agrarian practices in South Dakota without ever stepping foot in the state that person might not know enough to comment, but we shouldn’t dismiss them outright. If their outside-the-box ideas work that’s the end of the conversation. We might need some qualifiers to make informed decisions, but too many people dismiss otherwise great ideas based on a messenger’s personal resume.

If we know nothing about the qualifiers they introduce, we cower. “I didn’t know that,” we say. Okay, now that we do, what are we going to do about it? Digest the information, take the qualifier out, and put it back into the philosophy. Does it make a difference? Does that philosophical nugget still work for us, personally? Did it enrich our life all the way up to the point that we found out that our favorite philosopher was a (fill in the blank)? If so, continue to use that nugget for all that it’s worth. So, the emperor has no clothes now, was she that enjoyable to look at with her clothes on? If we idolized her prior to learning that bit of information, then we were doing it wrong. Drop the superficial idolatry. It doesn’t fit you anymore. Seek substance.   

Naughty Appeal vs. Been There, Done That

I get just about every dirty, naughty joke I hear now. I’m passed the point where I needed to claw my way through that mental maze and swing from vine to vine to understand the naughty jokes adults tell. I get it and I don’t. I get almost every dirty joke I hear now, but I don’t understand their almost universal and evergreen appeal. 

Naughty humor might still have the same appeal to me if my demand continued to outweighed the supply, but I’ve reached the “been there, done that” threshold. Young people are nowhere near this threshold, of course, and if their parents forbid it, it still has the naughty. I see that, but for the mature adult, naughtiness is no longer in short supply. It involves little more than moving a mouse and clicking. 

The “I get it” reward is strong among the young. Especially the “You don’t get it? I do!” reward. This reward probably dates back to young cave dwellers trying to find something naughty in cave paintings. We can see the reward of “Getting it” on their faces. The “I get it” smile is broad and wide, and they try to hide it from the adults around them. The reward for getting naughty humor is especially precious when their peers “Don’t get it”. How long does this sometimes subtle, sometimes overt reward last? Is it universal and evergreen?

We all have biological functions, and the need to explore other bodily functions on a perpetual basis, and some of them are quite funny when framed strategically, but how many body function jokes do we have to hear before they no longer stimulate the naughty neurons? I concede that I’ve probably watched so many movies that my naughty stimulators are all dried up, but I’ve “been there, done that” for so long that it takes a pretty ingenious presentation for me to laugh at naughty humor now.    

Yet, anytime I introduce comedic material to a friend of mine, he asks, “Is it safe humor?” I originally thought he was referring to the politically correct dividing line. He wasn’t, and he clarified his position. He’s forty something, and he still wants/needs his innuendo and the worst swear words we can imagine for the comedic material to achieve some sort of mental stimulation. He won’t watch material he deems “too safe”. He alludes to the idea that “safe” material is condescending. He prefers the risqué, and the provocative, and he defines those adjectives in swear words and innuendo.

“Why is that still so important to you?” I asked him. “I honestly don’t get it.” To clarify my position in this discussion, he and I passed middle age some years ago, and he and I have watched all the same shows and movies. Whereas my well is dry, his is still seeking greater fertilization in this arena. He has no idea why, but he still wants him a whole lot of naughty.

I cherished the naughty, back when it was a limited commodity for me. I, like all my relatively sheltered grade school era friends, worshipped at the altar of George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Cheech and Chong. Some of us could quote large chunks of dialog from the movie Porky’s verbatim. Porky’s was the ultimate taboo movie for those of us of a certain age, because it had naughty dialog, exposed female breasts, and had a risqué scene with a wolf-howling woman. We talked about the unedited scene in Grease where Danny gets racked, and we talked about the unedited swear words in the song Greased Lightning the next day. If you didn’t “get it”, you were consigned to an inescapable outsider status among the cool kids.

The cool kids could tell anyone interested how many swear words a movie contained, and how many exposed female breasts there were. The coolest kid had a mental spreadsheet count on (‘F’) words, (‘S’) words, and exposed female breasts in whatever movie you mentioned. You name the actress, and he could tell you the movie(s) that contained her revelations. I met another who could do that in high school. He compiled a VHS tape of moments when famous females exposed their breast. He was so obsessed with compiling the tape that he could tell you the moment of exposure down to the second of the movie. He knew them so well, because he would watch the movie once on HBO, and he would then memorize the time of the exposure down to the second. There were times when his memory would fail him, however, so he began writing them down, but he said that writing them down helped crystallize the moment in his memory so well that he rarely had to consult his log when the movie repeated, usually hours later on HBO. He would watch the movie again with his thumb on the record button, as that scene neared. He did this so often that we could rarely stump him on such scenes. “[That actress] exposes her breasts at the 32:22 mark of [that movie],” he said with specifics.

If you were one of the few unfortunates who only saw the made for television version of Stripes and Airplane, you knew the FOMO (fear of missing out) acronym at a very young age, before anyone coined it. “You missed the best parts,” our friends would tell us, or, “You have to see the unedited version, it has seven (‘F’) words, two (‘S’) words, and it actually has an ‘MF’ in it. Seriously, it occurs after the barista in the movie says, (“Fill in the blank”) and before the scene where they show the topless astronaut hanging her laundry.”

I didn’t remember how focused we were on that mental clicker of swear words in our youth, until my nephew began this accounting process in his younger years. You name the movie, and my nephew can recite for you how many (‘F’s) and (‘S’s) the movie contains. When Dr. Johnny Fever, on WKRP in Cincinnati, mocked a priest for attempting to censor his playlist, we thought that was so cool. “Uh, oh! There’s a naughty word!” Fever said, mocking the priest. When George Carlin was asked why he swears so much in his otherwise intelligent, observational humor, he said, “It’s excellent punctuation.” Comedians suggest they’ve tried it out on the road. They say they tried the same joke with and without any swear words, at different locations, and they determined that Carlin was correct. A punchline just doesn’t land the same without proper punctuation without a swear word. Carlin’s statement asks the rhetorical question is it his fault or ours for swear words in comedic presentations?

My Uncle Clark’s good friend Jim introduced us to this world without borders when we were pre-teens. Our parents had no idea we were watching naughty movies at Jim’s house, and that made it extra naughty. Naughty is an ever changing and relative term, of course, as what we deemed naughty in our era is relatively tame now, but some of the movies we watched at his house were the peak of naughty for us. Jim “didn’t see anything wrong with the kids hearing swear words,” he said. “They’re going to hear them anyway. They’re eventually going to see a woman’s breasts. They’ll see people smoke pot, and everything else these movies provide. I don’t see the harm.” He would swear  around us so often that we learned how to swear. We learned how to inflect, how to time swear words, and how to properly punctuate a joke with a strategically placed swear word from him. He taught us how to avoid sounding like a little kid learning how to cuss for the first time. He also taught us how to talk about carnal relations with women. He wasn’t afraid to provide explicit detail. This guy was so cool and so funny, and not just adult funny. This guy was genuinely (‘F’)ing hilarious to us. He treated us like adults, and we worshiped him for it. He wasn’t a stick in the mud, like my dad.

I am that stick in the mud now. I am that dad. I’ve stopped cussing, because one of my other friends said that the (‘F’) words was one of his kid’s first five words. I don’t know if he was proud or ashamed of it, but he thought it was “(‘F’)ing hilarious”. I wouldn’t enjoy that, and on one plane, it is about morality, but it also has something to do with class.

“You cussed a lot in your teens and 20’s,” my friends say. “In Europe, kids drink and swear like a sailor, and it doesn’t affect them in the least. In fact, I’d say most of them are more sophisticated and worldly than most puritanical American children.”

“I don’t care if I’m a hypocrite,” I say in response, “and I’m not particularly concerned with how other parents raise their children, as I’m no authority on the matter, but what you sway doesn’t sway me one iota.”

My “been there, done that” reactions are so strong that even when the kid goes to bed, I don’t enjoy the excessive need for punctuation, and I often see it as just that in others’ attempts to be humorous. It has nothing to do with morality for me, personally, once the kid goes to bed. It’s more a “been there, done that” reaction I have to it now. I no longer have a clicker. I hear (‘F’) words now, and they go in one ear and out the other. This cycle started soon after I was able to rent any movie I wanted. I was on my own, and I able to choose every naughty, dirty movie I could find. Back then, I avoided humor that was too safe, but the supply eventually reached my demand, until I saturated the market and I “been there done that”. I demanded naughty, risqué material, and it was in short supply for much of my life. Then it wasn’t, and it wasn’t for my forty-something friend either. If I put this supply vs. demand qualifier to our discussion, I’m sure he would concede that the supply met his demand a long time ago, yet he still needs material he deems relatively “unsafe”.

In this long-since passed era, the supply was so low that we met our demand by standing close enough to a drive-in theater to see, but not hear, the scene everyone was talking about. That era has passed for many of us, as we now have more than enough supply at the tips of our fingers, yet the demand for such demand obviously remains strong among my peers?

Can a joke be funny without pre-pubescent and pubescent need for punctuation? Yes, if it’s creative. Yet, even incredibly ingenious jokes need punctuation. To my mind, the most ingenious learn how to punctuate without such punctuation, and that’s not about morality. It’s about ingenuity and creativity. Music has the same “been there done that” quality for me. I’m not going to join the pack and slam the heavy metal era for its lack of soul, and for all of its hedonistic plays for fame, but it had its place in my life. Some of those bands produced some quality music, but that time has passed for me. When I’m feeling nostalgic, I might click on an old heavy metal song here and there, but I’ve “been there done that”. I can’t make it all the way through any of those songs now. The need for nostalgia is not that great for me, as that music provides little-to-no value to me anymore. The elements in swearing, innuendo, and nudity in humor provide little-to-no value to comedy anymore to me either.

At the Check Out with Child

“Oh shoot!” I said in a checkout aisle at a store. 

“What’s the matter?” my son asked.

“I just realized, I don’t have enough money to pay for these items,” I lied. I double-check my wallet, and I added a theatrical check of my pockets. Three customers stood between the Promised Land and us. I write Promised Land to characterize how much my son hates going to stores of any kind. Most people accept the fact of life that when we need goods, we need to enter a store. My son is not there yet. Entering stores is the great inconvenience of his life. When we mention that we must go to the store, he throws a fit that lasts until we enter the store. He indulges us, while in the store by behaving, but throughout our brief stay, he is looking for anything and everything that might cut short our stay and take him to his personal vision of the Promised Land, the store’s exit.

Back before debit cards, and back before we went and got all growed up, we had incidents like this one,“You still need twenty-seven cents,” a checker told me in the most dismissive manner imaginable. I remember that transaction every time I pass this convenience store. I remember standing there with insufficient funds thinking that I wasn’t ready for the rigors involved in completing adult transactions. I was in no position to question this sentry at the gate of maturity, but this transaction occurred before we all went digital. We could question analog, or manual, cash registers back then, because they required manual entries that could fall prey to human error. I told the cashier that I carefully added the total, and that I couldn’t see how I could be wrong. I showed the cashier my addition. “You forgot the sales tax kid,” the guy said. He was right. I heard about sales tax, but I didn’t know how to add it to a total yet. I was so humiliated and embarrassed that I walked away with my tail between my legs, vowing that this would never happen to me again. Remnants of that anxiety remain with me to this day. I over prepare in the aisles of the store. I check and double-check the price of my items, I project a total, and I allow abundant room for any errors in my calculations. Some of the times, I put much-wanted items back just in case I added the percentage of sales tax incorrectly. It’s still such a deep seeded anxiety that I would rather not have some items than risk the prospect of that embarrassment and humiliation I experienced as a young kid. As a result of that transaction, I became so hyper-vigilant that I made the mistake of believing that everyone knows about it on some level.  

I turned to my seven-year-old son at the checkout stand, “Do you have any money?” He had money in his pockets one time at a store, when we took him there to spend his birthday money. So, I thought this was such a ludicrous question that we might share a laugh. What I didn’t realize was that by insinuating that it was ludicrous that he should have any money, I was calling him ludicrous to his mind. He didn’t think it was ludicrous that he should have money. He had money, in fact, and he told me so.

“Yes,” he said. “I do have money.” Through some back and forth, we realized that he meant he had money in his piggy bank in his bedroom.

“No, I’m asking you if have any money on you right now,” I said, “I need you to help me pay for all this?”

“I don’t have any,”my son said. He was a little disappointed, but it dawned on me that he wasn’t disappointed in himself, or his role in this, because why should he be? Plus, he was rarely disappointed in himself, as he rarely cared about such situations. Thus, whenever he exhibits any disappointment in himself, it’s based on the idea that I might be disappointed in him.

If I ask him, “Did you score any goals in your last soccer match?” and he has to say no, he does so in a way that suggests to me that he never thought about it, until I asked. “Did you get 100% on your last spelling test?” He knows when he didn’t, of course, but he forgot about it soon after he received his test back. He doesn’t care about any of these things in the manner I do, just like he didn’t care that we didn’t have enough money to help pay for all the items we have in our shopping cart, but he doesn’t want to disappoint me by saying so. He’s no more ambivalent to such matters than any other normal seven-year-old boy, and just like every other normal boy his age, he knows that his happiness is based on the parameters that his authority figures set for him. He cares what I care about, in other words, and he knows that I’m trying to teach him to care. He also doesn’t want to disappoint me by revealing the truth of the matter that both of us know.

Do our kids worry about scoring goals in soccer matches? Do they even think about it? Do they care about winning? Parents on the sideline do, and we show it by building ourselves into a lather as the game progresses. We hoot, holler, and scream anytime they make a halfway decent move on their field. Kids enjoy hearing that, and they want more of it. Yet, nine times out of ten when an opposing player has the ball, our kids watch them dribble the ball along with the rest of us, until a parent or coach yells their name out, “There you go Freidrich. That’s yours.” We parents now say such things, because we’ve learned from our parents. We remember the pain and humiliation our parents induced when they screamed, “Wake the hell up and go get the ball!” in front of everyone. We use better, less inoffensive ways to encourage our children to wake the hell up now. When we now yell these inoffensive things, we awake them out of whatever momentary stupor they’re in, and they try to take the ball away from the other kid.

“Why didn’t you take the ball away from the kid before I said something?” we want to ask them.

“I don’t know,” they say. If they were more reflective and analytical, they might say, “The thought didn’t even cross my mind. I thought it was that feller’s ball at the time, and I thought he was doing just fine with it.” They might not be able to express themselves at the time, but we can see it on their face, as they watch the other kid dribbling. When they watch the opponent, along with the rest of the spectators, some of them even smile. We don’t know if they’re daydreaming in the moment, or if they’re appreciating the other kid’s ability, imagining what their parents might think of them if they were that skilled. When we instruct them to take the ball away, their expression flips, as if by a switch, from the daydreaming smile to one of determination, as they attempt to take the ball away from the opponent.

“You don’t just let the opponent dribble the ball in front of you,” we say with some exasperation after the game is over. We think they should understand that fundamental element of sports by now. “When the opponent has the ball, you need to steal it from him. That’s the key to most sports.”

If he was able to articulate the complex inconsistencies in the worldview I try to pass to him, he might say, “Well, doesn’t that fly in the face of everything you, and all my teachers, have taught me about sharing?”    

Other than “I don’t know” my son didn’t say any of these things, because he knows it would disappoint me that he hasn’t learned all of these complex concepts at age seven. He also isn’t able to articulate my inconsistencies on matters of large and small. Even though we enter our children into various sports, they’re brains are still so young that it’s tough for them to make quick connections. Even though we’ve logged hundreds of hours playing sports with them in the backyard, coaching them up with our philosophy on sports, they’re still so young that they have a tough time grasping difficult concepts. Their whole world is about having fun, laughing, and not caring about things. How many of us wish we spent our early, elementary years being more serious? They focus their mind on the simple, enjoyable aspects of life, and they know that the key to living that good life is to do everything they can to avoid disappointing the authority figures in their life.

After spending some time in theatrical deliberation, in the checkout line at the store, I looked at my son, “I think we might have to put some of these items back.” I affected this with grave disappointment that I hoped might transfer to him. He didn’t appear to be the least bit moved by it. He looked at the items, and he looked back at me.

“Well what are we doing standing around here then?” he said. “Let’s put these things back and get the heck out of here.”

His response suggested a certain level of ambivalence that threw me a little, but the full scope of his ambivalence didn’t dawn on me, until I said, “I’m just kidding. I have the money.” I don’t know how I expected him to respond, but I thought it might come somewhere close to relief. What I received instead was:

“Well what are we doing standing around here then? Let’s pay for these things and get the heck out of here.”

The prospect of the embarrassment and humiliation involved in putting things back obviously didn’t hit him yet. The embarrassment derives from not having enough money, not being able to add correctly, and being called out in front of a group of people. He hasn’t yet grasped the concept of money, and how others could view one with insufficient funds as not earning enough to buy something at a convenience store. He thinks we just go to the ATM to get the money necessary the complete a transaction. He doesn’t understand that we put money in there for later withdrawal. He’s seven years old, he doesn’t understand the complex emotions of embarrassment, shame, and humiliation on the level we do. 

If we spend enough time with our child, we will overestimate them as often as we underestimate them. We will also assign our complex emotions and values to them, and even though we teach them they’re young, unformed brains cannot grasp them yet. 

Even though I knew that my son had no experience with such situations, I incorrectly assumed that most people came equipped with that inherent sense of doing everything they could to avoid them. He, of course, didn’t know enough to know he should be embarrassed. We think we know them, but more often than not our experiences in life are not theirs, and they don’t understand how experiences, good and bad, shape the life we lead in various instances. If we spend enough time with them, however, we think they should naturally do what we want them to do, even without us telling them one way or another.

Top 10 Favorite Smurfs: The 2020 Edition

It’s that time of year again. We present our annual best Smurfs of the year. The reason for the delay is that it was so challenging this year. There was great debate here in the office, as our panel spent long hours compiling attributes and characteristics to shore up our list. We might not ever be able to top our 2005 list, but we hope Smurfers appreciate how much work went into compiling our list this year. 

10) Pretentious Smurf- Pretentious Smurf wants other Smurfs to love him, but he doesn’t know how to make that happen. It’s a wonder more Smurfs don’t face this dilemma, as the primary source of information about love, for most beings, comes from their parents. Smurfs don’t have parents. Most Smurflings are delivered by storks, and some were created by Gargamel and others. Papa Smurf is the leader of the Smurfs, but he is not their father. There is no Mama Smurf, with whom they might witness loving interactions with Papa Smurf to help them define love. They also don’t receive influential paternal and maternal forms of love. They’re on their own to discover the definition of love. In the absence of paternal lessons, there are but a few definitions of attaining love: the love you give is the love you receive, and one cannot know love without first loving oneself.

As opposed to other Smurfs, Pretentious ascribes to the latter, as he pretends to love others for the sake of loving himself. The word pretends might sound harsh, as it speaks of artifice, and I’m sure Pretentious doesn’t intend to pretend, but the words pretend and pretentious have numerous unintended similarities. The questions we ask is why does Pretentious love his fellow Smurfs, and how does he love them? We think he loves them, because of what it says about him to love them. He loves them to define himself and love himself more.

He thinks he knows what everyone else is on about, but it doesn’t bother him when he’s wrong. He thinks he knows them better than they know themselves. He thinks he can read them, but he is often wrong, and his errors are costly when it comes to building relationships. He thinks he knows humor, yet when no one else gets his jokes, he doesn’t care. “This is funny, and I know funny,” he says when other Smurfs don’t even smile at one of his jokes. Pretentious Smurf’s exaggerated love of self might have started out philosophically pure, as he attempted to define the emotion, but it progressed into a protection device to avoid the fact that he doesn’t know how to love others, and that results in other Smurfs not knowing how to love him.

9) Writer Smurf- Writer Smurf wrote a popular piece sometime before we met him. The lore of that piece granted Writer Smurf the title of an artiste. He is unable to recapture the magic when we meet him. Writer Smurf informs anyone who will listen that he is not properly inspired to create another piece. Part of this is true, and part of this admission was inspired to fortify his legacy. After delivering this line a number of times, the other Smurfs begin to question his legacy. The desire to defeat this leads Writer Smurf frustration drove him to create pieces no one can understand. “Nothing happened in the story,” was the primary complaint Writer Smurf heard regarding his subsequent pieces.

To which Writer Smurf said, “The demand that something happens in a story is trite.” Writer Smurf chose to focus on writing beautiful scenes and incredible characters in a language few understood. He chose to litter his stories with limericks and songs that no one else has heard before. He also uses big words to impress upon the other Surfs how smart he is. He does this so often in one particular piece that we know it’s more about using those words than it is about entertaining other Smurfs. Writer Smurf appears to enjoy the motif he has created for himself. “Anyone can write a story,” he says to his critics, “but I create masterpieces.” Writer Smurf says such things, but we know what he would do for another great story.  

8) Reflective Smurf- Reflective Smurf read a wide array of books before we met him. We considered this a redundant error. Why not just give those same attributes to Brainy Smurf? We found out that that in this new generation of Smurfs, of unique depth, that Reflective Smurf learned how to analyze his actions by reading experts (i.e. authors of his favorite books) analyze their characters and their characters’ actions. Like many of the side characters in Smurf Village, Reflective Smurf is not fully developed. He is a vehicle through which the writers define other characters. When, for example, the good friends Salubrious Smurf and Quiescent Smurf argued, Lachrymose was upset by some of the the things Salubrious said. 

“They’ve loved each other for so long,” he said. “How could he say such things to his favorite Smurf Quiescent?”

“It was an argument,” Reflective said. “Some Smurfs will say whatever they have to say to win an argument.”

“You heard him. Salubrious said some things that will be difficult to unwind,” Lachrymose added. “I’m going to say something, before they drag this out too long.”

“You’ll do more harm than good,” Reflective cautions.

“He said some awful things though,” Lachrymose responds. “He’s going to regret it.”

“Be careful what you wait for,” Reflective says to close the scene. Our first impulse was to reach for the pen to write a letter to the writers of the show to correct them on the line. “It’s be careful what you wish for,” we want to write with apologies to those who note the dangling participle. Upon some reflection, we realized that Reflective Smurf probably intended to say this based on his experiences with Smurfs who are the exact opposite of him. He would probably be the first to admit that he analyzes situations and scenarios too much, but most Smurfs aren’t reflective, and some don’t reflect at all. If he were to expand on the topic, Reflective might add that some short-term thinkers say the most divisive, obnoxious things to the Smurfs who love them the most. They think their loved ones will last forever, he might add, so they say the meanest, most awful things to them to win an argument, and if some Smurfs confronts them to remind them that their loved ones won’t last forever, that Smurf will end up doing more harm than good. If the worst-case scenario happens, and their loved one dies, Reflective might say to Lachrymose, you could confront them at the funeral, and they wouldn’t see it. They might say you’re exaggerating, or that they don’t remember the argument being as bad as Lachrymose thought. We could even drop heartfelt comments from the subject of their scorn, and they wouldn’t see it. We might suspect that their ignorance on this issue is intentional, but Reflective’s experience on the matter suggests that that’s not the case. Some Smurfs simply don’t see it, and they never will.       

7) Jejune Smurf- I was not a fan of the early incarnation of Jejune Smurf, as there was something missing in his absurdist dada attempts at humor. As Heuristic Smurf later stated, “Jejune was not in a place where he could be a quality Smurf. He was without an identity, not quite a Smurf.” Jejune Smurf was but a shadow and little more than a disembodied voice until the light entered the room. He denied his physical identity and attempted to shut himself out of his own consciousness. Heuristic Smurf commanded the seas about Jujune, thus expanding Jejune’s dramatis personae and establishing Jejune’s raison d’etre in the Smurf motif.   

6) Bellicose Smurf- Bellicose Smurf’s early dialogue offended some of us so much that we wanted to crawl into a hole and cry. Many of us were unable to watch these episodes without a bottle of Merlot, a friend on the phone to talk us through it, and a warm, dry blanket. His discursive dialogue seemed so incongruent to the Smurf aesthetic. When acclaimed director Rama Eflue exerted some influence over the character, he introduced a holistic sense of cohesion in the whimsically conceived diegetic oeuvre. Eflue not only introduced us to the interiority of Bellicose, but he provided a basic honesty with his techniques and framed it in the Smurf schema with Homeric parallels. Introducing him with the Claudio Baglioni’s beautiful, orchestral arrangement E Tu Come Stai didn’t hurt either.

5) Contumacious Smurf- From his introduction to his bitter, unusually violent end, Contumacious Smurf provided us a form of drama in two different episodes last season that have no parallel in any prior or subsequent Smurfean fare. It was a mixture of fantasy, delicate political and personal satire, knockabout farce, obscenity (probably of ritual origin) and in the case of his far too infrequent interactions with Lachrymose Smurf at least, delightful lyric poetry.

4) Didactic Smurf- Didactic Smurf provided further definition of the eternal struggle between good and evil in his early encounters with Gargamel. The culmination might have occurred in the interaction in the Is it My Birthday Yet? episode. What does Didactic Smurf expect from Gargamel? What does Gargamel expect to extract from Smurf Village? What is Gargamel’s place in the broad edifice? Gargamel represents a past Didactic despises. To combat that, Didactic expresses a strong need for knowledge about Smurf Village in general and specific to Gargamel’s subterfuge. “I have much to learn,” Didactic’s interior narration says, as he writes to the Smurfling Invidious, “Learn and inwardly ingest.” These two ideas represent a near contradictory description of Didactic’s attitude. Was Didactic Smurf recalling a past episode in Smurf Village in which Didactic perceived, in a moment of metempsychosis, to see the ghost of Efficacious Smurf peering out through the vestments of the present? We don’t yet know, but we know he despises his creator, Gargamel, as a symbol of a guardian of the past.   

3) Taciturn Smurf- Taciturn Smurf completely changed what we considered the Smurf ethos when he opened the scene with the declarative, “I am another Smurf now and yet the same,” before turning out the lights to tacitly encourage the chaos and violence that followed. “A Smurf too. A Smurf of a Smurf. I am the Smurf of two Smurfs!” he shouted in a booming voice. “A crazy Smurf, old and jealous. Now kneel down before me.” Those who watched this with me considered Taciturn Smurf’s performance terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. One of my colleagues actually said he literally found Taciturn Smurf’s rancor so egregious that he was relieved when Taciturn Smurf reached his denouement during the great Smurf War. Taciturn’s performance made him uncomfortable. I agreed in a most glorious appreciation of his performance.  

2) Rhadamanthine Smurf: Rhadamanthine might not be on this list were it not for the existential questions involved in his interactions. Rhadamanthine Smurf is the most accomplished and decorated Smurf in Smurf Village. The other Smurfs, those outside his family, revere him. The old adage ‘he doesn’t know his own strength’ applies to Rhadamanthine Smurf in reverse. Rhadamanthine knows he is the strongest Smurf, physically. In episode after episode, Rhadamanthine shows his strength, compares it, and lectures other Smurfs on it for the good of the Smurf community. Physical strength is his raison d’etre, his comparative analysis, and the tool he uses to keep the random at bay. Is Rhadamanthine Smurf’s sole focus on outer strength, a window into his lack of inner strength? It’s possible that Rhadamanthine has only known weakness, and he considers it a strength. He constantly compares the strength of other Smurfs to something he once knew, but is he comparing or is he lecturing on a subject of keen interest to him, and is such interest always born of a subject on which we have no knowledge? He speaks of muscular strength, of course, but muscular strength is easily identifiable and concrete, but is it as easily attainable as inner strength? In the Less Unparalleled episode, we witness the idea that Rhadamanthine has no stature in his home. His Smurflings, including the Invidious Smurfling, are obnoxious and unruly. Rhadamanthine Smurf has an enviable reputation among the Smurfs who know him superficially, but in the confines of his mushroom, he is the weakest Smurf.

1) Solipsist Smurf– For the third year running, Solipsist Smurf is our favorite Smurf. We identify with his facile ruminations, and his jocose use of mnemonic devices to advise and entertain his fellow Smurfs, but most of all we love Solipsist Smurf for the way he manages to leverage all that with a unique level of depth and range. In the The Hat Becomes a Leaf episode, Lugubrious Smurf approached Solipsist for advice on how to tell Muliebrous Smurf that he loved her. Sopolsist’s answer reveals the rewards of self-reflection as it lends itself to occasional solipsism. “Touch her,” he said, “for touch is the one essential sensation we all share. Until we touch, we only dream. Touch creates a tangible connection to the person and to the dream. Touch is you, it is I, and it is Smurf Village. Avoiding touch permits us to never lose and never gain.”