Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Art of Speaking Badly

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 25, 2021] ©2021

It’s time for another episode of Auntie Inga’s Geriatric Curmudgeon Hour, Language Edition. So much to complain about, so little time.

Our first topic is the frightening disappearance of the letter “t” in spoken English. You hear it – or should I say, don’t hear it? – everywhere these days, including and especially from announcers in the “Alana” airport in Georgia.  A physician in a TV ad insists it’s “imporan” to continue with regular screenings. Newscasters lament that it is unknown when “elemenary” schools will re-open.  During the election, we heard about “independen voers.” 

I’m officially launching a grassroots campaign to “Save the T!”  Yes, it was included in the “alphabeh” for a reason! 

You should definitely be worried about the contagion of language aberrations. They can spread even faster than Covid, as has been evidenced by “vocal fry,” a low gravelly vibration also known as the Verbal Tic of Death.  Kim Kardashian (and sibs) have popularized this plague which makes your speech sound like you ran your vocal chords over a food grater. Alas, it has been widely copied by young persons who don’t seem to realize they are limiting their career choices to the fast food industry.

Phrases suddenly seem to appear from nowhere and become part of …everywhere.  For example, children are no longer referred to as “kids” but as “kiddos.”  “Prices” are now “price points.”  Loving or hating someone has been expanded to “loving on” [someone] or “hating on” [someone.]  Sorry, sweetie, he just hates you, pure and simple.

But I’m encouraged that some of the past few years’ most overused phrases seem to be waning, like “wheelhouse,” “big girl panties,” “hot mess,” “I’m all about,” and my least favorite, “pop.” 

When I heard someone say that a particular color of eye shadow made her eyes pop or a certain piece of furniture made the room pop, it made ME pop, but not the same way. Apparently, there was nothing that could not pop.  But things do seem to be popping less.  And I thank you.

Language, as we know, is constantly evolving. The use of “good” and “well” are perfect examples as in the preponderance of the phrase “You did good” which should be “You did well.”  My high school English teacher would be rising out of her grave at an adjective being used as an adverb but my kids’ teachers all said it routinely. One of my sons sent me an article recently saying “you did good” is in such common usage that it can now be considered “correct.” The attached note read: “Mom: sorry this had to happen in your life time.”

Ditto “fewer” (not as many) vs. “less” (not as much). If you can actually count it (think cookies), it’s fewer.  If you can’t count it (like milk), it’s less. At the grocery store, it’s all I can do not to whip out my felt tip marker and stealthily change the sign to “10 items or fewer.”  #grammarterrorist

And about those adjectives…and adverbs and nouns and verbs.  While parts of speech were fundamental to elementary school curricula in my youth, I find that the eyes of people under 50 tend to glaze over at the mere mention of them. Maybe it doesn’t even matter anymore. 

But sometimes it does.  A while back, I wrote a line in my column about how my first mother-in-law always referred to me in the third person and without conjunctions as in: “Ask the shiksa she wants dessert.”  The proofreader added the word “if” – a conjunction – changing the sentence to “Ask the shiksa if she wants dessert” and making the line non-sensical. I queried the change (this stuff makes me absolutely nuts) only to learn that he had no idea what a conjunction was. (They connect sentences). Just not taught anymore, I guess.

Meanwhile, my husband Olof has his own language challenges.  As a former Air Force pilot, he used the NATO alphabet system – Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, etc. – and employs it to this day when needing to spell out things like email addresses to someone on the phone. 

Not long ago, however, I overheard him try this with a young customer service agent who was completely confused by it.  “Huh?” she said, “Charlie? I thought your name was Olof? Who’s this Sierra? What do you mean, ‘Tango’? Can we go back to English?”

I was nearly falling out of my chair laughing.  There was a pause, and Olof began again. “C as in cat, S as in Sam, T as in Tom.” 

When he hung up, he commented tersely, “I think I’ve outlived my time.”

OK, so the NATO alphabet and parts of speech may have gone to the big recycle bin in the sky along with the bible of my college career, Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.” 

But please, can we bring back “t” before it’s too late?  It’s just really imporan. Especially in Alana.



Monday, January 18, 2021

Covid vaccine: An investment in normal life

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 18, 2021] ©2021

One of my goals for 2021 is to not repeat history.

In 1955, my siblings and I contracted polio four months after Jonas Salk’s triumphant April 12 announcement of a vaccine to prevent it.

In that era, polio, a warm weather virus particularly targeting children, was the second greatest fear in America after nuclear war.

In those hot humid August days in 1955, I remember being as sick as I’ve ever been.  Fortunately, neither I nor my siblings were paralyzed but polio has had life-long impacts on my health.  Probably we kids recovered better than our poor terrified parents. The little boy in the bed next to my sister’s ended up in an iron lung. (Google this.)

The simple fact was – and is – that it really takes a while for an entire country to be vaccinated. Never mind, in Covid’s case, twice.

Believe me, there weren’t many anti-vaxxers in the early 1950’s. In fact, I wish I could load up every one of the current ones and take them on time travel back to the polio wards of that era.

Like most kids of my generation, you were destined to get the un-vaccinatable childhood diseases like mumps, chickenpox, measles, and Rubella (also called German Measles.)  There was plenty of misery in all of them and they were not without permanent effects – deafness from mumps, for example.  Our next-door neighbor contracted rubella while pregnant and gave birth to a severely disabled child.

The vaccination eligibility categories seem to be shifting pretty much daily but my husband and I both plan to get the vaccine when available to us. I do confess that we, like a lot of people, have some concerns about such a large population getting a vaccine that hasn’t been tested by time. But we consider it an investment in resuming normal life.

Personally, I think that people in the 20-40 age group, especially those with kids, ought to get the vaccine before us oldies who are living at home and don’t have a serious underlying condition.  (In my view, being over 70 is by definition an underlying condition.)  Getting kids back in school and the economy back on track would be really high on our priority list.

One can definitely find vaccine horror stories – or at least cautionary tales – if one looks.  The infamous 1955 Cutter Incident with the polio vaccine, for example (thousands of children received defective vaccine containing live polio virus).   The folks who got Guillain-BarrĂ© Syndrome from the 1976 swine flu vaccine.  The good news from both is the learning curve on vaccines – and oversight in manufacturing – have improved exponentially.

I signed up for the Covid contact tracing app on my phone which is utterly amazing.  The amazing part I’m referring to is that I was actually able to do it.  It first required upgrading to the next operating system on my phone which I am normally morally opposed to.  These upgrades in my experience are scientifically designed to make everything that worked before never work again.

Frankly, the odds of this app ever pinging and alerting me that I have been exposed to Covid-19 are astoundingly small.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, the only person I am ever within six feet of for more than 15 minutes is Olof.  In fact, my exposure to such groupings is so rare that I’d be able to identify who exposed me long before the app did.  But I still consider it a useful data point.

Olof, however, is horrified that I have done this.  He maintains that if that app were on his phone, the phone would never leave the house again.  But keep in mind that Olof disables GPS tracking on his phone settings until the microsecond before he is calling an Uber then re-disables it again as soon as he gets home. 

Frankly, doing that is pretty low on my techno-disabled brain’s list of things to master. Besides, I’m fairly clear that “they” know where I am and what I’m doing pretty much all the time anyway.  This is proven by my searching for even a nano-second for something on the internet and then being bombarded for ads for it for weeks after. I confess that I sometimes like to toy with the algorithm by searching really weird kinky stuff. My phone also knows the precise time and location of every photo I’ve ever taken.  Now that ought to scare the sh-t out of you.

When the polio vaccination program finally got to my little town, the team showed up to schools, lined the kids up assembly-line style in the cafeteria, and inoculated us. No one was turning it down.

Unlike the polio vaccine which gave you permanent immunity, it’s hard to know how long the effects of the Covid vaccine will last. Will we need it yearly like regular flu? That’s one part of the experiment that is going to become evident pretty fast.

Regardless, this time around, I just want to get the vaccine before the disease gets me.



Monday, January 11, 2021

Hankering To Stop Hunkering

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 11, 2021] ©2021

Sometimes I think I’ve fallen into the twilight zone when I realize I live in a state where it’s legal to get an abortion, but not a haircut. 

And speaking of hair, I also can’t help but notice that many public figures seem to have managed to avail themselves of professional grooming services despite hair-related emporia being firmly, non-negotiably closed.  You can’t convince me that our governor’s wife is cutting his perfectly-coifed head.  If the rest of us have to look like muppets, why not him?

Even my husband is starting to look like a 1960’s throw-back of himself.  Actually, he never had long hair then because he was doing ROTC in preparation for becoming an Air Force pilot.  But now I know he would have looked had he sported the grungy look of the era.  The grandkids have offered to braid it for him.

I think we are all hoping for a much (much much) better 2021.  I am being careful not to say it couldn't be worse than 2020.  I have made such rash statements before over the years only to have the fates delight in proving me wrong.

In a world of masks, I have begun recognizing people by their dogs.  It’s especially difficult if they’re wearing sunglasses (the people, not the dogs).  Or don’t have a dog.

If someone wants to come up with an app that would be really useful, it is voice recognition software that would alert you who just accosted you in Baked Goods.  Like a little message that pops up on your phone screen whispering, “That’s your former neighbor Lucy with the hideous lawn flamingos.”

Now my only recourse is to try to fake my way through trying to get enough clues so I know who I’m talking to. 

For some reason, I seem to be easier to recognize. Maybe it’s because I have descended into wearing the same outfit all the time:  black slacks, white top.

I’ve also put on the Covid 19 (pounds).  I’ve just had a really hard time socially distancing myself from my refrigerator this year.  So if you see a person of porcine proportions looking like a server at a lesser trattoria, that’s me. 

It’s interesting how certain things about the pandemic can really start annoying you to the breaking point.  I am finding the word “hunker” on that list.  At this point, I just want to pull out my 9 mm Glock (if I had one) and blast anyone who uses the word “hunker.”  How do I hate that word?  Let me count the ways.

It reminds me of the 1976 movie Network. I like to imagine everyone hanging out their windows yelling, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to hunker anymore!”

I was thinking that there should be a version of hunker that implies anger about it, just like “hangry” (bad-temper as a result of hunger) for “hungry.”  Except there’s already a “hanker” (as in a strong desire to do something.)  So maybe the best I’m going to do is to hanker not to hunker.

I think the other issue that continues to weigh ever more heavily on all of us is tolerance (or lack thereof) for how others are adhering to Covid regulations.  It goes without saying that people who sterilize their canned goods are paranoid numnuts and the ones who ignore mask wearing and who freely party are appallingly irresponsible and deserve to get Covid and die, preferably before infecting their elderly relatives. 

We are each in our own little bubble of what the right level of caution should be. 

Everyone else, by definition, is an idiot.

Some months ago, I wrote a column about the difficulties of assessing other people’s Covid comfort levels, including a little quiz to help determine this. 

One of my quiz options read: “You have appointed yourself Chief of Covid Police, posting regular rants on your neighborhood Next Door about perceived non-compliance.” These posts have frankly gotten out of hand.

Just as Twitter posts those yellow caveats on disputable messages, I wish Next Door would do the same, like “! This is a forum for lost pets and crime reports! Shut the eff up!”

If you factor in everyone’s current passionately-held political opinions along with their very specific Covid constraints, it is truly a wonder anyone is speaking to anyone else.  (Are they?) In fact, I am going to add “electoral vote” to “hunker” as yet one more phrase that could truly push me over the edge. 

But in my more sanguine moments, I have faith. Those phrases will gradually recede from our consciousness. The evening news will not lead with Covid deaths. I will not turn it off after three minutes. Kids will go back to school.  Hair salons will re-open.

Meanwhile, please get a dog so I can recognize you. 

Could my hair qualify as a mask?