Category: Words & Phrases

One Little Word for 2015

I recently shared some links about the idea of choosing a word to guide your year. Did you click through? Have you chosen a word for the new year?

I’ve thought a lot about how choosing a word to guide my year. I’ve gone between active words and passive words. I’ve thought about adjectives and verbs. I’ve considered words that have two and three meanings.

At first I thought I had settled on a word that I’ve heard too many times over the past several months,

BRAVE.

But while I know it’s necessary to be brave, I’m not sure it’s a word that should define my year. If anything I’ve learned that it’s hard to be brave but sometimes even harder to be vulnerable. So, to choose BRAVE as my guiding word seems an unworthy challenge.

Instead, I thought I would choose a word that I can aspire to. A word that can help me focus my intentions on something positive and calming. A word that can be celebrated, danced and written,

GRACE.

noun: elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, oraction; favor or goodwill; mercy
verb: to favor or honor; to lend grace to
The Hemingway quote, above, “Courage is grace under pressure,” reminds me of how diamonds are made—coal under pressure. I like to believe that by fixating on grace I will find more courage for the everyday. And by showing grace toward others I hope to be more accepting, more patient (the latter being one of my mini-resolutions for the year.)
Did you choose a word for the year? Do you still need a word? Learn more here, here and here. I’d love to hear your word or your intention for the year.

Starting over with a “clean slate”

Clean Slate history as a nautical termart by Tacita Dea 

A clean slate. It’s something we’re all talking about this first week of January. It’s a fresh start. A blank page. A new calendar year. It’s a way to start over on goals we may have fallen short of in the past. It’s a new beginning to old habits we want to change or new ones we want to create.

But a “clean slate” didn’t always mean to start anew. So what does “a clean slate” mean? Or, more accurately, where did the whole “clean slate” phrase come from?

Well, according to my highly scientific internet research, two sources (1 & 2) confirm that our whole “clean slate” obsession stems from an old nautical task. The watch keeper of the ship would record speeds, distances and more on a slate during his (or her?) watch. If there were no problems, the slate would be wiped clean at the end of his watch. Then, the new watch would “start over with a clean slate.”

Now, I don’t plan on climbing aboard any ships any time soon, but I like a clean slate as much as the next sailor.

Small Talk Gets Me Every Time

via Emily McDowell

 

Alternate title: 10 things to say when you’re not sure what to say.

Are you ever unsure of what to say? I am. And now, I’ve become acutely aware of when others have no idea what to say.

So, when you’re not sure exactly what a person is going through (trauma, strife, personal problems), here’s my advice on what to say (or not say.) Because talking to people is hard. And sometimes, we’re not all that good at it.

So, I say, don’t start with questions that you could probably guess the answer to. (i.e. “how are you?”)

Don’t start with the obvious questions you want to ask. (i.e. “what happened?”)

Don’t start with the statements that are only going to make the conversation more strained.

Do start with one of these 10 things to say when you’re not sure what to say.

  1. Say something boring. Like “how about this weather?” Or “Monday already?” “Gas prices have dropped, huh?”
  2. Ask about the latest and greatest. “How was your (insert most recent holiday/event)?”
  3. Start with a something superfluous. “Great shirt/necklace/tie. Where’s it from?”
  4. How about a recommendation? “Know where I can find a plumber/a dog/a great croissant?”
  5. Just be there. “Let me know if you want to grab lunch/coffee/a drink?”
  6. Talk about you. Tell the person a story, what you ate for lunch, how much you hate water polo. Something. Anything.
  7. Simply acknowledge the person is there. “Good to see you.” and then just walk away. Sometimes, less is more.
  8. Ask for that person’s expertise. “Can you help me with x/y/z?” Make that person feel useful.
  9. Talk about the place you are/activity you are doing. It could be work, the gym, the playground.
  10. Nothing at all. Perhaps mom’s rule about “having nothing nice to say” also applies when you’re unsure what to say.

Now go, say something, or nothing, to the person who might need to hear from you right about now.

“Curiosity Killed The Cat” Gets Me Every Time

“Curiosity killed the cat” is a phrase that almost got too close to home recently. See, Louise the Cat had a little visitor on the porch. (Check out the video for the details.) But thankfully the glass door was shut and it all ended in just some growling and hissing.

So, again, words being my thing, it got me thinking about that what the phrase “curiosity killed the cat” exactly means. Or more, where did it come from and when did it come into popularity. The internet hunt was on!

According to official internet source Wikipedia, it was first penned as “care will kill a cat” in a play from 1598, Every Man in his Humour, by Ben Jonson. From there, Shakespeare used a similar phrase in Much Ado, “What, courage man! what though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care.”

And this early iteration of “curiosity killed the cat” was finally documented in the Brewer’s dictionary of Fable and Phrase in 1898:

Care killed the Cat.
It is said that “a cat has nine lives,” yet care would wear them all out.

But when did the modern phrase get brought into our lives? Well, no one can be quite sure, but according to written history, it seems as though it was first recorded in 1873 by James Allan Mair in A handbook of proverbs: English, Scottish, Irish, American, Shakesperean, and scriptural; and family mottoesOn page 34, the letter “I” after the phrase “Curiousity killed the cat. I.” implies that the phrase came from Ireland.

No matter where the phrase came from, to me it means to keep your curiosity under control, lest it get you in more trouble than you can handle. However, a little curiosity is a good thing, and as one retort to this popular phrase says, knowing might just make the cat, or you, OK…

Curiosity killed the cat, satisfaction brought him back.

These Seven Words Get Me Every Time

via

If you weren’t already aware, I love words. I’m not quite sure where the love stemmed from, but it’s one I can’t deny. I like to think part of it comes from my godfather. Growing up, he kept a dictionary where he marked every word he looked up. Needless to say his vocabulary is quite impressive.

Recently, I came across the visual artist and writer Khalil Gibran. Though born in Lebanon, he grew up in Boston’s South End and became quite the prolific poet, thinker and artist. In Sand and Foam, he writes,

We shall never understand one another until we reduce the language to seven words.

But who should decide those seven words?

Even if they (whoever they are) asked me to decide on THE seven words, I wouldn’t accept the task. Too big. Too great. Right here, I’ve already used more than 100 words. How could I get it down to seven? However, I thought I’d give it my best shot. Why not?

Here’s my seven words, no explanations. I just want to know your seven words.

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Please*
  4. Thank You
  5. Love
  6. Food
  7. Bathroom
  8. Sleep

Now get to it. Seven words and seven words only. In the comments.

*I’m going with the reasoning that body language could convey this as much as saying it means.

“Home, Sweet Home” Gets Me Every Time

Home Sweet Home art from Etsy shop claireabellemakes
via

As a writer, by profession, I explore words and phrases every day. I’m fascinated by clichés and oft-used phrases. So, I’ve decided to bore you all with a look at where some of those sayings come from.

Starting with one that we should all feel so lucky to say, “Home, Sweet Home.” (It’s also one I touched upon in great detail yesterday.) So where does “Home ,Sweet Home” come from? And what does “Home, Sweet Home” mean?

Home Sweet Home vintage mugs from Etsy shop SimpleTreasury
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Well, according to the vast depths of the internet wikipedia, the phrase originates from an American playwright, author, poet and all-around creative guy, John Howard Payne. In 1822 he wrote the lyrics, which were then set to music and the next year, became an integral song of the 1823 novella Clari, or The Maid of Milan. (Not to be confused with the later opera Clari.)

The lyrics are as follows:

Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home;
A charm from the skies seems to hallow us there,
Which seek thro’ the world, is ne’er met elsewhere.
Home! Home! Sweet, sweet home!
There’s no place like home
There’s no place like home!

There’s even a movie about the lyricist, appropriately titled, Home, Sweet Home.

Home Sweet Home pillowcase from Etsy Shop audemarine
via

But that doesn’t really answer the question, “what does ‘home, sweet home’ mean?” I guess nothing is going to answer that question except one’s own mind though.

To me, “home, sweet home” is not referencing a place, but the feelings associated with the idea of home.  “Home, sweet home,” is the comfort and safety associated with that idea. It’s the familiarity and ease and all the feelings—stress, love and everything in between.

My “home, sweet home” is the sigh of relief I feel after a long day. It’s the joy I feel when surrounded by friends and family. It’s the pride of a job well done. It’s the weight lifting off my shoulders before a three-day weekend.

What’s does “home, sweet home” feel like to you?

Instant Classics Get Me Every Time

carshow3While I know very little about classic cars and I wouldn’t even go so far as to say I’m interested in learning more, I did attend a classic car show recently. It got me thinking, not about classic cars, but instead about the phrase “instant classic.

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See, the cars on display seemed to have withstood the test of time. They’ve been labored over and loved. Treasured and kept in pristine condition. Passed down between generations and restored to their original glory. They define what it means to be a classic.

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But an “instant classic” doesn’t stand for any of that. Is anything so great that it should arrive and instantly be given such a title? Sure, things are “instant hits,” “instant sensations” or “instant favorites.” But “instant classic?” Shouldn’t we reserve that title for something more deserving?

To prove that it’s overused, I’ve found some recent examples:
Dana Carvey’s Choppin Broccoli (funny, sure. instant classic…. jury’s still out.)

Advertising during this week’s all-star game (c’mon, I work in advertising and don’t even think it should be labeled “instant classic.”)

Melissa McCarthy’s Jet Ski Story (so, wigs make everything better?)

This stupid picture (what grade are we in?)

Really. How can any of those ever live up to the standards and glory and beauty of a 1957 Chevy? Will “Choppin Broccoli” be searchable in 60 years? And will anyone really want to search it? And should that be what is known as a classic from our generation?

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I’m not here to provide any further answers or insights. Just to say that “What really is an instant classic?” is a question we can all put some thought to, I suppose.