Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Queen's English

One of the better uses for technology that I have found is the ability to download audio books from the New York Public Library to my i-Pod. I really enjoy listening to recorded books, partly because I am finding it hard to sit down with a real book and read as often as I used to. From childhood, reading has always been one of my greatest pleasures. I would get lost in books ranging from serious history to trashy novels. When I was commuting, I often rode past my bus or train stop while engrossed in some story. Like most book lovers, I read for pleasure, to increase my knowledge of people, places and things, and also because I am a huge fan of the English language. 

I'd guess that wherever you're from in the world, your mother tongue reigns supreme over all other languages. Frankly, except for Italian and maybe French, other languages sound harsh and guttural to me. If I had to learn Chinese to save my life, I'd be a goner. Yiddish sounds more like gibberish, and how a young lover coos to his "liebchen" in German, I will never understand. English, especially as spoken by the English is most mellifluous and pleasant to the ear. I'd guess that part of the reason for the success of the Masterpiece Theater series on PBS is that viewers who enjoy words for their own sake tune in just to doesn't matter all that much what's being said.

Two of my favorite authors are Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, writers of wonderful mysteries, but also women who have mastered the English language and use it to full effect in their writing. Agatha Christie is the undisputed queen of British mystery writers with such memorable characters as Miss Jane Marple and the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Sayers wrote the charming Lord Peter Whimsey mystery series, and was a renown scholar...a contemporary of J.R.R. Tolkien and G.H. Chesterton. Reading the novels of Christie and Sayers transports one to the days when the sun never set on the British Empire. Their grasp of the attitudes of people from both Upstairs and Downstairs is fascinating to hear about; the smash TV series 'Downton Abbey' cashed in on the public's interest in this aspect of British life.

In the days when I read real books, I pored over everything I could get by Christie and Sayers. The precision of their language captivated me; they always knew exactly the right word to use to describe a person or situation. Once you heard the word, and rolled it around on your tongue, you knew with certainty that no other word would do. Not only were their vocabularies prodigious, but they knew how to string words together in a way that let you see in a flash the idea they were trying to convey. Listening to these books on audio brings an added measure of enjoyment for me because I get to hear these marvelous words spoken aloud by cultured English men and women. Audio book narrators can make or break a story, and the selection of actors Hugh Fraser and Ian Carmichael to read the Christie and Sayers works respectively was a touch of genius.

I greatly fear our beautiful English language is on the decline, almost like an old actress living in reduced circumstances with only her memories of better times to keep her going. English grammar and writing are no longer rigorously taught in grade schools as they once were. The notion of young people being fired up by the sound of their own language is becoming less and less likely. Sadly, I fear that ship has sailed.


Children's Craniofacial Association

Monday, June 3, 2013


Don't mean to be facetious at all here. but in areas of the country that are known to regularly experience hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes, what makes anybody want to live there? It's not like these death-dealing events are once-in-a-while occurrences, towns in Texas and Oklahoma have annual tornado seasons. In New Jersey there are towns that wind up under water every single time there is a bad rain storm. We see these poor folks on the news after the latest disaster saying things like: "We were lucky the good Lord spared us; we aim to build again." Why? Maybe the next time the good Lord will blow you away with the roof.

Mention the Second Amendment in any bar and soon voices will be raised in defense of our right to bear arms. "The only way you'll get my gun is to pry it out of my cold, dead hand." Fine, calm down bubba. I used to own a ,22 rifle that I used for target shooting. I'm not anti-gun. Although it may not be my cup of tea, I know this country has many hunters and gun collectors to whom gun ownership is a sacred right. No problem at all there...but I'm still waiting for a sane answer to the question of why any civilian needs to own military-style assault rifles with high-capacity magazines. No sportsman worth the name would use such weapons to hunt, but deranged child killers will. Enough.

Through my daughter, I have become acquainted with some of her friends who have special needs children, mainly cranio-facial problems like my granddaughter. These families have such a hard road, often facing medical emergencies, frequent surgeries and time away from home as they travel to wherever the best doctors practice in the hopes of finding answers to the problems their children deal with. I thought I used to know the meaning of words like strength, courage and love, but these parents and their kids  redefine these terms every day. I so greatly admire them, the doctors that help them, and the support groups that help raise both funds and public awareness about these disorders.

We have Verizon's FIOS service for telephone, cable and Internet. It costs several hundred dollars a month, so you'd think if anything went wrong, Verizon would send someone to fix it. Wrong Kemo Sabe, they make the customer their repair man. We recently upgraded our service and had to replace one of the four set-top boxes in the house. I don't mind making the few simple connections to hook up the box, but then the system is telling me I lost all the programs we had recorded on our DVR. After an hour of cursing, and trying all the solutions their "helpful" phone rep suggested, I was finally told to keep the old master box and send in one of the other satellite boxes. I'm sending them a bill for all my work.

Every time we turn on the GPS system in our car, a fight breaks out between my wife and I. I have a pretty good sense of direction, so when I resort to using the GPS, it usually means I'm lost and therefore, already a little stressed. It seems my wife and I comprehend the commands given by the GPS lady differently. These systems are good, but not perfect. When the lady is telling me to do something that intuitively feels wrong to me, I sometimes ignore her. At this point, my wife will say something like: "She said to turn left." I usually jump on her (unfairly of course) and before long we are raising our voices. When she finally dumps me, the divorce decree won't say "Irreconcilable Differences", it will say "GPS Incompatibility."


Children's Craniofacial Association