Friday, February 17, 2012

Valentine's Day; or, Glagh!

'Lo, everyone. Alex Adrian; Diary of an Atomic Man. This week:holiday we celebrated Tuesday. The 14th...? Valentine's Day...? (I swear to whatever gods exist--if any do--that I'll stop with the sentence fragments, now. Anyway...) Valentine's Day leaves, you see it's...I just...GRALRAGHHHH!!!! The Hell with Valentine's Day and all its overcommercialized, heteronormative, mononormative, anti-single, marriage-tracked...Ahem. Anyway...I bet you want to know what my specific grievances against it are, right?(I mean, besides the ones I listed.) Right. Let's get this started.

Valentine's Day. How do  I loathe thee? Let me count the ways:

1. Thou happenst in the month of February, a month during which I findeth mineself disgusted more often than usual;
2.Thou art inherently heteronormative--at least as thou art practiced in the United States--leading to exclusion of those of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered persuasions.(Th'art also discriminatory 'gainst the polyamorous, but see ye below.);
3. Thou art discriminatory 'gainst those who practice the form of relations known as "polyamory". (Those readers who may be interested in the ethics, practice, and forms of poly are directed to The Ethical Slut, by Janet Hardy and Dossie Flores. Anyway, plug over.)
4. Thou assumeth that all are in a relationship, or wish to be in one, even if that be untrue;
5. On a related note to the above point, thou hold as one of thine highest assumptions that all in a commited relationship wish to engage in that which is called the highest sacrament by many, the act of marriage, even if, Heaven forbid, they should enjoy their current relational status;
6. And, perhaps most dammingly, thou art nought but a vast corporate conspiracy, a sham based on half-truths, hearsay, Victorian-Medieval romanticism, and the wish of certain corporations (namely FTD Florists, DeBeers, Hallmark, and American Greetings, but let's keep things civil, shall we?) to raise their bottom lines, a commercialization and commodification of one of the most beautiful emotions ever conceived into a crass commodity like cattle, oil, or pork products.
Okay...let's dig into my specific grievances. (And, before we move forward, I'd like to state that I have nothing, absolutely nothing, against the institution of marriage, monogamous long-term pair bonding, heterosexuality, romantic love, or any of the other things my remarks above could be construed as slagging. Anyway, on with the show...)

Compared to the rest of the grievances I mentioned above, the February thing seems almost negligible. It just happens to be that this February is the month I first noticed Vanity Fair's Lick the Arse of All the Actors, Directors, and Producers in Town issue--forgive me; "Hollywood Issue"--and it also happens to be an election year, so more disgust than normal is being produced, perhaps?

Answer me this, and answer me well and truly: in what universe (that doesn't count in base-nine) is an 18th anniversary worthy of a "collector's edition"? Well? Huh?

The other charges against the holiday are far more damning.  The heteronormativity is particularly subtle, as is the mononormativity. The anti-singleism and the marriage-tracking...rather less so. Much of the first two is contained in the phrase "that special someone", which is to Valentine's Day as "the Spirit of '76" is to Independence Day, "In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue" to Columbus Day, and "merry Christmas and a happy New Year" is to the entire grey bleak month of December: a phrase so specific to that time and place that any invocation of it outside of that time and place gets one looked at funny. It is in "that special someone" that all that is problematic with Valentine's Day (beyond the commercialism--more on that later--and the fact that the only suitable abbreviation is shared with venereal disease--not an association one desires with a holiday designed to celebrate romantic love. Anyway...) is contained. First, although this is a general thing, the usual assumption is that the significant other is of the opposite sex, something which admittedly pervades American culture as a whole.

Secondly, there's the assumption that you have a significant other of either sex, which may not be entirely accurate; I  know it's not in my case. Moving the stress to the next word, there's the assumption that you have a significant other, which is doubly bizarre given all the recent coverage of polyamory after--among other things--Newt Gingrich's proclamation that he "discussed" having an open marriage between his second wife and third and current wife. And then the marriage thing--my mom pointed this out to me a few days back, when I started working on this post, but should we honestly be encouraging teenagers--the most hormone-addled human beings on the planet--to consider getting married? Given the sheer relational drama--it's like a soap opera, high school, what with everybody crushing on everybody else, constant talk about sex, homophobia, etc.--sanity suggests no; and marriage is becoming only one of a number of options, for we seem to be getting to the stage of no-one caring about who one sleeps with, so long as all involved are consenting adults.  (At least, I don't care. Anyway...) I, for one, try and ignore it altogether. And yet...

And yet all the dark forces mentioned in my final grievance still conspire to push this holiday on us, to sap the spirits of love, honesty, openness, and acceptance in search of profit. And yet, despite all this, V. D. is still on of the top holidays in the U.S., a "big" one like Christmas, Easter, Hallowe'en, and Presidents' Day, which is this weekend. Disgust, disgust, disgust... (I personally blame the Victorians. Although it was celebrated throughout the Middle Ages, being a feast-day and therefore kind of mandatory, this whole Valentine Day thing didn't really catch on until the early Nineteenth century, which is close enough, as they say, for government work; besides which, the Victorians were all about the sentimentality, which they're best remembered for today--adorable moppets with ringlets and Fauntelroy suits, sappy poetry commemorating the home and the wife's place atop it, severe prudishness and repression, and of course, casual misogyny and assumptions that society's gender roles were enthroned by God. Also, racism. Anyway...) So. Score one for corporate greed? Or does this round go to cynicism and pissiness with an idealistic core? I'm rooting for C&P, if only cos they're the underdogs and I'd like to see a victory for those values I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph. This will be a long battle, but I can't help but see a light. For America gets better and more open about these kinds of things by the day; my home state of Washington just passed a law legalizing gay marriage, and the courts have struck down California's Prop 8. If we act now--let the people know there are alternatives, that you don't have to feel left out because of who you love or how many or if you love someone at all, that love can be platonic, that friendships can last a lifetime, that even the monogamous hetero-lifemating that this abomination of a holiday honors doesn't have to look like a Hallmark card--we may be able to reform it, to return it to what it's "supposed" to be: a celebration of love. Just some thoughts.

--Alex Adrian, 2/17/12

Thursday, February 9, 2012

On the Various Failures and Illogicalities of the English Language;Or, Logic Applied at last to the Mother-Tongue!

 Irrationalities exposed.--Root words Examined.--The Differences between Albion and Columbia.--The New Small-talk.

English can be annoying. Lack of words when you need them, an overabundance of words when you don't, random spelling and grammatical quirks, differences of spelling, pronunciation, and terminology between the American and British dialects...the list goes on. (On, and just in case you missed the sign coming in: Alex Adrian. Diary of an Atomic Man.) So, this week--and incidentally, in the first Wednesday post in awhile--we'll take a look at the improbabilities and illogicalities of English, differences between American and British English, and spell-check.

First, some history of the language. English in the modern form is one of the younger and possibly the most heavily-borrowing of the major languages. This may have something to do with the origins of the tongue; as the joke goes, it was the result of, quote "Norman armsmen fucking Anglo-Saxon barmaids", close quote. In all seriousness, though, English is a hybrid, motley tongue, comprised at base of Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, French(mostly loanwords), Latin (ditto), Dutch (you're starting to see my point about loanwords, right...?), Welsh (according to John McWhorter's terrific Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, and mostly grammatical), and various others. As you probably noticed from the parenthetical notes, one thing English does ridiculously well is pick up loanwords; the languages cited above are but a fraction, a mere fraction, of the languages English has begged, borrowed, or stole words from. (perennial exception: Finnish, which is a pity because it looks and sounds awesome.) This is all well and good, but a in-depth examination will have to come later. One thing that's been annoying me recently is word origins. Take, for example, the word "pretty". By way of analog with witty and gritty, and wit and grit there must have  been--perhaps in Englisc, or Old English--a noun form "pret"; would those Anglo-Saxons have referred to a now-extinct quality we Men of later days call prettiness? And, moreover, will the same fate happen to the other two words? We speak of being overwhelmed and underwhelmed; presumably there's some way of being "whelmed",  the exact right amount of emotional impact. The English "Hell" seems obviously derived from the Norse "Hel", the Viking death-goddess--but where in the Nine Worlds is "heck" derived from? I learned fairly recently that "darn" is an extreme modification of "eternal damnation", and is thus related to damn etymologically, but still: enough to keep a guy up at night thinking. Now, so far in this post, Jarte's spell-check hasn't recognized, in order, armsmen, fucking, McWhorter's, Englisc, pret, underwhelmed,(though 'whelmed' itself raised no flags, which gives me hope) Hel, and "Jarte's" itself. I've added all of these in due time, but it draws this to my next point: the eventual conquest and replacement of all life on Earth by our benevolent robot overl--er, I mean spell-check.
Spell-check is useful but annoying, like a grandmother who considers you her pride and joy but insists on babying you even though you're twenty-one and moved out of your parents' house, semi-gainfully employed, and generally no longer three and making a mess in your diapers. While it may prove useful if, for instance, you're one prone to misspelling words, and I've actually had some moments--a few on this very post--wherein it saved my bacon, but all in all it just sticks in my craw: I can spell well enough and generally catch my mistakes, it gives homophones a free pass--not a problem for me, but common enough that my English teachers go over it repeatedly at the beginning of the term--and as for new words...hooo-boy. One of the unsung joys of being a science-fiction/fantasy writer is making up new words to describe concepts that you invented by the time-honored method of ramming two or three words together to creating a new one, or making up words for your new alien species' language; generally, SF/F writers get to play with the language a bit--or a lot--more than "literary", thriller, or romance authors, one of the pleasures of the genres. Spell-check pointedly refuses to acknowledge 'em, natch, even though some, like "Terran" have been in use for decades. By the way, natch apparently isn't a word, although I use it a lot. Similarly certain words of relatively recent vintage, such as "webcomic/webcomics" and "polyamory" and its conjugations--"polyamorous" ,"polyamorist"--are obviously not real words and must be treated accordingly. (While the MS Word spell-check is relatively limited insofar as polyamory is concerned, offering up only "polyandry"--which I guess might be considered a form of polyamory, though most poly advocates seek to distance themselves from Mormon polygamists...different post, Alex; different post--and "polymer"--which is something rather different-- the Jarte checker is more...diversified, bringing Polymorph--yes, as in the D&D spell--into the equation.) It also considers "non-standard" contractions, which I use a lot of, most names, their various plurals and possessives, and British spellings of words to be anathema, which  I find annoying. On that note, let's press on to our next--and, I swear to God, Zeus, Odin, Thor, Shiva, and Queztalcoatl, last--topic tonight.

American versus British (and Canadian!)

...English, that is. (Which reminds me of this idea for a T-shirt I've got: You know those t-shirts that say, "This is America, now speak English or get out of the country"? The ones that make sure to tell people that you're a douche and/or redneck? Like that, only instead of "English", it's "Esperanto". Two versions of that one:one in English, and another in Esperanto. And I've other ideas along that line: Lojban, Ido, Sindarin[okay, probably--no, definitely--"Middle-Earth" for that one], Klingon, German, French Canadian... and a whole lot of others. Anyway...) The sheer number of differences between BrE and AmE, as those froods hoopy enough to study these kinds of things say and write, boggles the mind; it truly does. Let's start with terminology, since that's the most obvious one. While both an American and a Brit enjoy a game of football, what they're referring to in either case can differ quite shockingly, for what is called "football" in the UK is what an American would call "soccer".(For the record, soccer is a corruption of a contraction: originally the full term was--and still is, technically--association football, a reference to the early governing body; being played primarily by upper-class Britons originally lead to it being called "socca", and I like to think that the present-day American name comes from some overzealous, hypercorrecting American journalist exactly phonetically transcribing the popular name. Anyway...) What would be a "truck" to an American is a "lorry" to  an Englishman, and while in the States you fill that truck's tank up with gasoline or gas, the same thing across the Atlantic is accomplished with petrol. If you're tabling something, God help if you've just switched continents: in Britain to table (or "boulder" should no tables be available due to your sleeper ship, containing all the middle managers, hairdressers, and telephone sanitizers of the planet Gogalfrincham, has just crashed on prehistoric Earth, in which case you've more problems then just the lack of tables.) is to open a subject to discussion; the American meaning is to close the topic:i.e."So I guess we'll table this for now/we'll put this thing to bed/WHEN I BASH YOUR HEAD OPEN" in the Jonathon Coulton song "re:Your Brains". Something's wrong under the bonnet of your Ford Prefect, versus problems under the hood of your new Taurus. When parking cars, is one doing it in a car park or a parking lot? Is something to be spun anti- or counter-clockwise so as to loosen it? I could go on, but there's just so much. There is, of course, the slang meaning of rubber--a condom in America, an eraser in England. And spelling...! Spelling is where the three dialects diverge into severe linguistic shift-things. Okay...keep your head about you, cos this gets really messy really fast. Firstly, -or/-our. Is it honor or honour? Color or colour? Favor or favour? And on and on. How to spell certain words that end with the er sound? Theater/theatre, somber/sombre (I prefer the latter), specter/spectre (ditto), etc. If it's emphasize versus emphasise (for instance)...well, the US is unique here too: Canada is solidly Commonwealth on the question. (or is that query? Ah, never mind.) The periodic table can get confusing: is element number 137 (Cs) cesium or caesium? My family inadvertently convinced me to start spelling aluminum aluminium several months ago; I kept with it on a "fun-to-say" basis. Gray/grey is another matter entirely; the lines between the two usages are much blurrier there and Grey is an entirely acceptable surname Stateside. How do I swing, you ask? Answer: it varies. As noted above, I go with the British spellings on words that, in AmE, are spelt -er, and use aluminium rather than aluminum. Grammatically, I prefer to excise got in sentences where they make just as much sense without it: "I've a lovely bunch of coconuts", f'rex, or "I've the blasted documents. Where d'you want me to put them?"; I also move the contraction point in negative sentences further up than most Americans:i.e."We've not yet breached the damned perimeter!" or "He's not yet fought the hardest battle." I also spell grey with an e, as gray is an American perversion that has no place in proper spelling. And--on a topic I missed in this post--I err the side of two L's; regardless of dialect, one L alone looks lonely and cold to me, desperately in need of a hug, some kind of hot drink--coffee or tea, perhaps, or hot coca--and a friend. I use "arse" over "ass" when discussing the buttocks, although I use "ass" in the context of donkeys, someone making an ass out of themselves, and as in badass.
Those of you interested in further exploring this topic I refer to the relevant Wikipedia pages. It's really a fascinating topic, and I want to explore it further.

This post written partially whilst in the nude
--Alex Adrian, twilight hours of 2/8/12 and 2/9/12