Friday, December 30, 2016

We Need Some Better Words in the English Language

We have nearly a quarter of a million words in the English language, and yet I can't help feel we have some we don't need, but are lacking some others.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) contains 171,476 words currently in use, another 47,156 obsolete words, plus 9,500 more derivative words. New words are being added all the time, but lately, the quality of the words being added makes me weep for civilization's decline.

For example, in September 2016, the OED added "squee," "cheeseball," and "moobs" to their lexicon.

Moobs? Seriously, moobs? How could the OED, that honorable and erudite repository of the English language, add the portmanteau of "man boobs" to their 20 volume set? Centuries from now, long after our civilization has fallen, archaeologists will find an old copy of the OED, carefully examine it, and discover the entry for "moobs."

"This explains everything," they'll say sadly, shaking their heads the way we do when we hear stories about doctors who put leeches on sick people.

You want more from a body that pursues its work with such nerdy passion that they need 20 volumes to hold the entirety of our language. You would hope the editors — I always imagine them wearing caps and gowns, like the dons at Oxford College — would scowl at the term, and strike it completely.

It's such an ugly word, my spell checker won't even recognize it, and I'm not about to add it.

But alas, the OED is a descriptive dictionary, not a proscriptive one. That means they tell us how language is currently being used, not how it should be used. They describe the language around us, they don't proscribe its proper use.

Which means telling your third grade teacher, "Nuh-uh, it's in the dictionary," after she said "'ain't' isn't a proper word" proved nothing.

The F-word is in there too, but that doesn't mean you should go to your grandmother's 90th birthday party and shout "Happy f---in' birthday, Grandma!"

I recently found a list of "untranslatable" foreign words on that sounded so lovely and agreeable, I think we should start using them on a regular basis.

I also laughed at the use of the word "untranslatable," since what followed every word was, literally, their translation.

We've got words like this already, like "Schadenfreude," which is that feeling of malicious glee at someone else's misfortune. Like when some jack wagon in a Mercedes flips you the bird and cuts you off in traffic, only to get a ticket five minutes later.

One of the words recommended was "Resferber,"a Swedish term that refers to that excited mix of anxiety and anticipation right before you leave on a trip. I know that feeling all to well. I could never sleep the night before we were supposed to drive 1,000 miles south to Florida, starting at 4:00 A.M.

That usually went away about two hours later when the kids were fighting in the back seat because they couldn't go back to sleep, and I couldn't keep my eyes open.

Once we got to Florida, I experienced "Badkruka," another Swedish term. It refers to someone who is reluctant to get into the water when swimming. This is understandable in Florida; there are things in the water that will eat you.

You're better off just staying on the shore, and enjoying the "mångata," or the rippled reflection of moonlight on water. And that can be enjoyed anywhere, especially a swimming pool at night, safely away from sharks and gators and sea monsters.

And if we already use Schadenfreude, then we need to add another German word to the mix: "verschlimmbessern." It's a verb that means to make something worse when you're trying to improve it. It's a painful word that makes me very uncomfortable.

I don't mean the word itself. That would be stupid.

I mean the act of verschlimmbessern. Imagine bumping into a friend you haven't seen for a while, and asking her when her baby is due, only to find out that she's not pregnant.

Your embarrassed stammering digs you further and further into a deep hole that you can't escape, and your only hope is that lightning will strike one of you at that very moment. You finally manage to break free, but not until you've upset her terribly and undone years of therapy and self-esteem work.

That's verschlimmbessern. And it's the plot of every episode of Frasier and The Office, which is why I hated those shows so much.

I realize that with nearly a quarter million words in the dictionary, there are bound to be some stinkers and disappointments. But that doesn't mean we have to be limited to what's available in their dusty pages. There are plenty of great words in the rest of the world too. And if we could just start using some of them in everyday conversation, I would just squee with delight!

Photo credit: MrPolyonymous (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Learning to Fly

Erik is out of the office this week for the Christmas holiday, and so we're reprinting a column from December 2005.

It was a question on a discussion card to make car trips and bad dinner parties go faster: Would you rather have the power to fly or become invisible?

Your answer is supposed to provide some insight about who you are as a person.

For example, a lot of people who choose invisibility tend to do so for less than ethical reasons. They would spy, sneak, and do mischief if they could do it unseen. But the flyers talk about saving time, avoiding traffic, and experiencing the freedom that soaring through the air can bring.

I'm a flyer.

Not in a plane though. It's just not the same. I've never had the dream of flying my own plane or becoming a pilot. Flying in a plane isn't like flying like Superman. You don't experience the wind in your hair, or the sense of speed. Also, the food sucks, and I'm right in front of the kid who won't stop kicking my seat.

I want to be the Superman-type flyer who takes off and shouts "Erik Deckers awaaaaay!" I would soar through the air, hair blowing in the breeze, playing tag with birds, buzzing through the clouds.

I've wanted to fly since I was a kid, when I first tried to become airborne in my living room. Like most people my age, I learned important life lessons from TV. And at four years old, I had learned several important things about the way the world worked.

Like if I rolled a piece of paper into the shape of a rocket, it would fly when I set it on my front porch (it didn't). Or if I ate a lot of spinach, I would immediately grow huge muscles like Popeye (I didn't). Or if I flapped my arms, I could fly.

After a steady TV diet of Superman, Scooby Doo, and Bugs Bunny, I had become convinced that if I tried hard enough, I could fly around the house, floating a few feet above the floor. It was just a matter of speed and willpower. They could do it on TV, so I should be able to do it myself.

I chose the highest point in the house — the arm of the sofa — and leapt into the air, holding my arms out like Superman. I thumped to the floor. Superman technique: failed.

Next up, the Scooby Doo technique, which meant I needed to flap my arms. I remounted my launch pad and tried again, flapping furiously. Still nothing.

I tried several different flapping styles, long armed, bent arms, hands only, but no luck. All it earned me were some sore feet and a request from my mother to kindly "KNOCK OFF THAT DAMN JUMPING!!"

I settled down and pouted while I watched Scooby Doo, disappointed that my aerial vision would never be realized. They had been cut short by gravity and a mother who didn't share a young boy's weird dreams.

That is, until I discovered the answer right there on my television. The solution to my previous failures. I watched as Scooby picked up two sheets of paper, flapped them, and actually stayed aloft.

It was my Eureka moment.

I grabbed two pieces of clean typing paper from my dad's office — used paper isn't very aerodynamic — and resumed my position on the launch pad.

I gripped my new wings exactly like Scooby had, leapt off, and flapped like mad. This was it! It was working! I would slip the surly bonds of Earth and touch the face of — THUD!


I sat back down in front of the TV and finished my show, devastated. Television had betrayed me. I never tried to fly after that, the dream all but dead. But as I share this story now, I realize what I was doing wrong.

In the cartoons, the characters stay airborne as long as they never look down. As soon as they do, they immediately drop. This was my error. I had been watching the ground! And in doing so, I was reminded of where I was, which caused gravity to take hold.

So I'm inspired to try again. I've got my own paper — four sheets of card stock, since I'm a grown-up now — a pair of pilot's goggles, and I'm heading up to the highest point of my house for one last attempt at glory.

In fact, when they make a movie about my victory, that's what they'll call it: Thirty Feet to Glory.

I'll see you when I land.

Photo credit: Richard Schneider (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, December 16, 2016

An Open Letter to the Well Actually Guy

Dear Well Actually Guy,

"Well, actually, women do it too."

See, you're already doing it. I can't even say four words without you opening your mouth and well-actuallying all over everything.

What is wrong with you, Well Actually Guy? How did you become that one annoying guy on Facebook who responds to every opinion with "Well, actually. . ."

"Well, actually" you'll explain the punchlines of jokes.

"Well, actually," you'll argue about a single statistic in a news article for hours.

Well Actually Guy likes to point out when things are technically correct, even though those details are not important to the discussion. In fact, Well Actually Guy likes to throw in these minor technical corrections as a way to derail a story, or call an entire philosophical argument into question.

We should call it "wagging," or use the hashtag #WAG. As in, "Did you just #WAG me?"

"Well, actually, I don't start my arguments with the phrase 'well, actually.' So that means I'm not a Well Actually Guy, right?"

No, it does not mean that. You can be a Well Actually Guy without saying the words; it's the appropriateness and timing of your response that make you a Well Actually Guy.

For example, at this time of year, Well Actually Guy reminds us that many astronomers and historians believe Jesus' birthday was in April. It's not actually important to the peace and goodwill the season is supposed to engender, he just wants to make sure everyone knows The Actual Truth.

"Well, actually, aren't we supposed to be like this all year round? So what does it matter?"

See what I mean? Well Actually Guy can never leave anything alone. He has to put his Cheeto-crusted fingers all over stuff because 1) he has an opinion on everything, and 2) he doesn't understand the phrase "it goes without saying."

Well Actually Guy drives the speed limit in the left lane. He informs the cashier that it's "12 items or FEWER." He orders a white chocolate mocha at Starbucks and then explains how white chocolate isn't actually chocolate. For five minutes.

Well Actually Guy has three different flavors of Axe body spray.

In its purest essence, "Well, actually" is a form of gas lighting, which is a form of emotional abuse where the abuser tries to minimize the feelings and experiences of another person. It comes from Patrick Hamilton's 1938 play, The Gas Light, about a man who tries to convince his wife that she's going insane in order to cover up a crime.

"Well, actually it's not always used by emotional abusers."

No, you're right, Well Actually Guy. It's not just used by emotional abusers. It's also used by socially tone deaf people who seek to belittle the experiences of others in order to score debate points, or force their way into a discussion that has absolutely nothing to do with them.

Such as saying "Not All Men," whenever a woman talks about a time she was assaulted, abused, or afraid for her safety.

When someone shares their cancer diagnosis with friends, Well Actually Guy will tell a story about the time his grandmother had it.

Well Actually Guy reminds us that parsecs are a measure of distance, not time.

Well Actually Guy defends his neckbeard with a well-rehearsed recitation of other famous neckbeards throughout history.

Teen Vogue recently called out Donald Trump's gas lighting of the CIA, after the agency said the Russians interfered with the presidential election. His transition team said in a statement, "these are the same people who said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction."

Except it doesn't change the fact that the Russians interfered with the presidential election. And by gas lighting the CIA, Trump's team can minimize the damage of this story without actually defending themselves.

That's the modus operandi of Well Actually Guy.

Well Actually Guy counters every example of wrongdoing with another "Oh yeah? Well, your guy . . . " story of wrongdoing by the opposing side. Because nothing erases sin quite like the debate skills of a five year old.

When your car gets broken into, Well Actually Guy asks if you locked your doors.

Well Actually Guy responds to an African-American father's fear for his son with #AllLivesMatter, and an article about crime statistics.

The problem, Well Actually Guy, is you don't understand that some discussions are not about you. You need to learn that when someone shares their deepest fears or greatest pain, it's not your chance to correct them.

It's time to sit back and listen. Quietly.

Well Actually Guy just reminded me that it's "scents." He has three "scents" of Axe body spray.

Photo credit: Graham Lavender (Flickr, Creative Commons)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, December 09, 2016

The Deckers Family, Inc. 2016 Annual Report

To: All members of Deckers Family, Inc.
From: President Dad
RE: Yearly Evaluation Report

Dear Shareholders, Partners, and Employees of DFI:

It has been six years, since I have submitted an annual report for your review. In fact, it's been so long that my title has changed from President Daddy to President Dad. This was actually a sad day for me and CEO Mom, because it meant that our junior staffers had long surpassed their probationary period, and were now moving into their own positions of responsibility.

I also had a feeling of predictions gone wrong when I read in our 2010 report that DFI had moved to its "permanent headquarters" and that "we have no plans of moving." And yet, the old adage, "the only thing that is constant is change" holds true, because we since moved to Orlando, Florida, to our new semi-permanent headquarters.

I say "semi-permanent," because the last several years have shown that making plans for permanence is optimistic at best, and foolish 95 percent of the time. But I have begun planning for our eventual departure. For example, after abandoning yet another garage workstation — this time, a 17 linear foot hand-built L-shaped work station — our new garage workstation is completely portable, which means when we move again, I can take it with us.

I'm also pleased to see the Senior Manager and Assistant Manager of Daughter Operations (SMDO, AMDO) are amenable to sharing their workspace again. As we have sought to downsize into a more lean operation, we've managed to eliminate a lot of our excess inventory, especially old and outdated electronics, uniforms, and even recreational items. This has enabled the SMDO and AMDO to merge departments with a minimum of fuss. CEO Mom and I appreciate your cooperation.

One area of special commendation is the amount of resources the Coordinator of Son Operation (CSO) consumes as he expands his operations. Despite his rapid vertical expansion over the last few years, his total resource consumption has been relatively small.

I recently mentioned during a board meeting that I consumed easily twice the resources when I was the Senior Manager of Son Operations in a previous venture in the mid-80s.

Later, after I went freelance for several years, the Assistant Manager of Son Operations took over the entire department, and his resource consumption equaled and even exceeded my previous years' performance. So we applaud DFI's SCO for expanding operations at a minimal cost.

Despite having a smaller headquarters, all members of DFI have managed to keep their personal workspaces fairly clean and organized. It has helped immensely that we have streamlined our overall inventory footprint, which means there's much less to clean and organize than when we first opened DFI in northern Indiana.

Special thanks to CSO for taking over outside grounds management. Your willingness to oversee this area, especially in the middle of summer, have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.

The corporate cafeteria is still a problem, however, which is understandable, since we all use it. But we could keep it cleaner throughout the day, if the CSO would just remember to empty the dishwasher each morning.

(On a side note, let me warn our junior staffers: If CEO Mom points out that you left items in the cafeteria sink, don't point out her own cafeteria items around the house. This is apparently a sensitive issue, and I have been called into several lengthy meetings after forgetting to heed my own warning.)

Acting Chief of K9 Security, Sophie, was promoted to Chief of K9 Security in 2012, after CEO Mom pointed out that we didn't have the budget for an additional member of the department, and this was as good as we were going to get. So Sophie is serving as Chief of Security as well as Chief Morale Officer, and her pay has been increased to a nice dog biscuit each afternoon.

One area of concern we have is that while all three junior staffers are learning more job responsibilities, CMO Mom and I are not quite comfortable with the AMDO and CSO exploring temporary external partnerships.

The SMDO has enough experience and seniority that she has begun exploring some options, but we encourage wisdom and patience while she considers what's available. And of course, senior staff reserves the right to veto any potential partnership that can be damaging to SMDO's overall performance and well-being.

Also, President Dad has promised to block any transfer of SMDO to another company for a number of years, especially if the new venture does not have the financial stability and maturity to succeed on its own.

Deckers Family, Inc. has been in Orlando for over a year now, and while I was resistant to the change, I'm pleased to see that everyone has easily made the adjustment to the new location and climate. I'm looking forward to what 2017 can bring us as a company.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Helicopter Parents May Ruin Childhood Christmas

It's Christmas time, and you know what that means! It's time for parents to drive themselves deeper into debt by buying their children's happiness and getting them into a good college. Their biggest purchases are usually in mad pursuit of the year's hottest toy, designed to bring minutes and minutes of joy before the kids get bored and start thinking about their birthdays.

In 1983, the big toy was Cabbage Patch Kids, and there were riots at several retail stores as crazed would shove, hit, kick, and even whack each other with baseball bats, over the plush toy.

In 1996, it was Tickle Me Elmo, and parents spent as much as $1,500 for a $29 toy. Again, people rioted. Two Chicago women were arrested for fighting, and a Walmart clerk in British Columbia received a broken rib and a concussion when 300 people trampled him to get an Elmo.

Because nothing celebrates the birth of the Prince of Peace like clocking some jackwagon over a child's toy.

This year's must-have-toy-or-Aubrey-won't-get-into-Harvard is the Hatchimal. It's a furry animal that hatches from a plastic egg, and grows and develops mentally, as a kid plays with it. The toy retails for $60, but some parents are paying as much as $500 so as not to disappoint their children. Because, as everyone knows, life is never full of disappointment and sadness.
The Hatchimal goes through three stages of life, and sings "Hatchy Birthday" at each new stage. They go through the fourth and final stage when the kid gets bored and quits playing with it, usually around February. Parents can then get the Li'l Griever's Five Stages of Sadness decorating kit. (Viking Burial accessories sold separately.)

Typical of any good toy craze, Spin Master, Hatchimal's maker, has run out of the toys, and is making more, which they expect to have in early 2017. They're not very happy about the profiteering, and are encouraging people to pre-order the new batch, and get rain checks that they can claim in January.

Meanwhile, some parents who weren't lucky enough to snatch a Hatchimal for little Oliver or Wicker are putting off important life lessons of supply-and-demand and bitter disappointment, and are instead writing apology letters from Santa.

There are two sample versions of the letter online for parents to use. One is an IOU, a promise that the child's Hatchimal will be arriving soon, once Mama and Papa Hatchimal can find a little free time in front of a warm fireplace, play a little smooth jazz, drink a little wine. . .

I can live with this. My family and I have often done the IOU thing before. Print out a photo of the gift, and wrap it in a big box, with an explanation that the gift will arrive soon. It's not a great solution, but it teaches patience.

But other parents are helicoptering their children into maladjusted adulthood by writing apology letters from Santa, explaining that he can't get any more Hatchimals, and he's very sorry, but he won't be delivering their fondest Christmas wish at any time at all ever.

Cheese balls!

Don't get me wrong. I love Santa Claus. He visited our house for years, when my kids were still young enough. But we had a rule that Santa didn't give the cool presents, we did. If anyone was going to get credit for giving a cherished childhood toy, it was going to be us. And if we couldn't get a particular present, we didn't scramble for it. We didn't spend half the mortgage on a single toy, and we didn't blame Santa for our unwillingness to have our children feel a single negative emotion.

These helicopter parents are so afraid of their children feeling sad for even one second that they're too cowardly to tell them no. Instead, they pile the blame on Santa's shoulders, along with the mountain of organic gluten-free educational toys he's bringing to their already-entitled children.

Hopefully Santa knows some good young adult therapists, because this will no doubt come up a few times before the parents walk their children across the stage at their college graduation.

If you want your kids to learn to cope with life's disappointments, tell them that Santa can't do everything. Tell them he'll bring the toys he thinks will suit them, not the copy-and-pasted toy catalog they sent him.

Better yet, toughen your kids up with a little emotional blackmail. Use this as a teaching opportunity, as well as a way to get a little peace and quiet for yourself.

"Dear Wicker and Oliver, I didn't get you a Hatchimal because you haven't been very good this year. Your incessant bickering and whining gives your parents a headache. Suck it up and try better next year. I'm not kidding, Santa."

Photo credit: 'Santa's Portrait' byThomas Nast, published in Harper's Weekly, 1881 (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.