"...it's like Will Rogers, Jean Shepherd and some grumpy Jewish man all rolled into one."

Monday, October 21, 2013

Linguine Franca

There are certain phrases that occasionally pop up in conversation, or I've read in a book, that I think I know what they mean but find out later that I don't or have misunderstood their proper usage. "Lingua franca" is one such phrase - I always thought it meant "mother tongue", but that's astray from its actual meaning of "common language". One example often given is that English is the "lingua franca" of air travel - pilots and air traffic controllers communicate with one another in English around the world, regardless of their native language.

"Hoi polloi" is another one, although this is one phrase I understood correctly to mean "the common people". I read somewhere that people are incorrect in saying "the hoi polloi", since that translates as "the the common people". It's like when you receive an invitation that says "Please R.S.V.P."; it's redundant: "Please respond if you please." But I don't worry about the redundancy since I wasn't planning to attend anyway, open bar or not.

Not all the phrases and idioms that flummox are based in other languages - "moot point" comes to mind. It's commonly used to mean an idea rendered irrelevant due to some other action. Grammarians (and some Lutherans) argue about the meaning, with many taking the tack (or is that "tact"?) that the actual meaning is an idea that is debatable; one with room for discussion. However, over time the agreed-upon meaning has settled on "It's been decided so shut up, already". I used to work for a boss who always used the phrase, "It's a mute point". Believe me, I wished he would've shut up, preferably before opening his mouth.

Here are a few other phrases I've found that are commonly misused or misunderstood, or at least I wish they were:
  • Au courant -- contains raisins
  • Carte blanche -- to exceed one's credit limit; alternatively, to drive one's aunt to the store
  • Cum laude -- a vociferous expression of sexual pleasure
  • De rigueur -- a dead person; related to femme fatale; a deceased woman
  • Ex cathedra -- someone who no longer attends church
  • Faux pas -- my step-father
  • Good Samaritan -- a person offering assistance (vs. a "Bad Samaritan", who is someone when asked to assist another replies, "I’d love to help but can’t because of my neuralgia.")
  • "He doesn't know his ass from his elbow" -- someone who has difficulty shopping for pants
  • In his cups -- a man wearing a brassiere
  • In loco parentis – commonly used by teenagers to express, "My parents are crazy!"
  • Je ne sais quoi -- literally, "This is the extent of my French."
  • Klatuu barada nikto – “I think I am a robot, therefore I am a robot.”
  • Mano a mano -- man-to-man; the feminine is "Chica to Cheek"
  • Mi casa es su casa -- from the Spanish for "empty refrigerator"
  • Voulez vous coucher avec moi – “I didn't realize I asked you to sleep with me; I was just singing along with the radio.”
  • Persona non grata -- someone who doesn't like hard cheeses
  • Quid pro quo – from the Latin and thought to be the first tongue-twister (say it 3x fast)
  • Robbing Peter to pay Paul -- willing to risk a misdemeanor to avoid a felony
  • Shoulda, coulda, woulda -- filled with remorse and too lazy to form a complete sentence to express such a feeling
  • Sic transit gloria mundi -- becoming nauseated whenever utilizing public transportation, anywhere in the world, esp. w/someone named "Gloria"
  • Veni, vidi, vici­ – attributed to Julius Caesar, who was the first to mispronounce the phrase
  • Zeitgeist -- a hard cookie offered to teething babies.
While English has most of its roots in Latin, over time the language has embraced a panoply (from the Greek for playing multiple rounds of Monopoly) of expressions shanghai'd from other languages. German chocolate cake, French's mustard, Swiss Miss cocoa, Spanish peanuts, and Hawaiian Punch are all examples of such influences on the vernacular. The public transportation system in Chicago is known as the El, which is Spanish for "the". Therefore, Chicagoans move around the city riding "the The". That's hard to say, so residents wrapped their mother tongues around the more easily-pronounced nickname "the El", which was in common use within the local Chicano (from the Spanish for "Chicago") community.

Speaking of Chicago -- I once attended a business meeting where the discussion centered around the particulars of a government contract with the state of Illinois. While most of the services would be offered for workers in Chicago, there was a component required for Springfield employees as well. A confused look crossed the face of one of the attendees, who asked aloud, with representatives from the state on the conference line, "Why the hell do we need to offer the service to anyone in Springfield?" I leaned over and quietly said that Springfield was the state capital of Illinois, hence... I believe, at that moment, my co-worker wished he had made a mute point.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sick Of It All

The other afternoon I ran into a co-worker taking a break in our employee cafeteria. He was reading a book and said it was so interesting he didn't want to stop to go back to work. I suggested he should call out "engrossed" the next day so he could finish it.

That got me thinking about some excuses we could start beta testing since "I'm sick" has been done to death (no pun intended). Let me know if any of the suggestions below work for you:

  • "My cat is pregnant and I'm her doula."
  • "I'm binge-watching The Sopranos and will be in as soon as I see who walks into the diner."
  • "I'm in the hospital. Well, I'm in the hospital gift shop."
  • "I finished all my work yesterday. What -- there's more?"
  • "I'm waiting to get my mojo back."
  • "I've got 'Do You Believe' by Cher stuck in my head and really shouldn't come in until it works its way back out."
  • "I'm on a medication that advises against operating heavy machinery, and I really don't know how much my computer weighs."
  • "I got my mojo back but it turned out to be somebody else's… Still waiting for mine."
  • "I ran out of pre-tax transportation credits and have to wait for the next pay period before I can reload my transit pass."
  • "Our CEO told me over drinks last night I could take the rest of the week off."
  • "My car died and I'm in mourning."
  • "When I left yesterday I said, 'See you tomorrow' and you said 'Not if I see you first', so I thought we were playing 'Hide-and-Seek' today."
  • "I've lost interest in what we do. But please call me if anything new comes up."
  • "I had such a productive day yesterday that any effort I might make today would only pale by comparison."
  • "My work-life balance is out of whack and I'll be away from the office until equilibrium is restored."
  • "Instead of coming in and waiting to get paid, I'd prefer to get paid first and then I'll think about coming in."
  • "I see nothing to be gained by returning to that hellhole. I think the real question is why you still work there."

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Balance Doom

It’s been quite a run of financial snafus recently. We’ve had issues with:
  • Cable bill
  • Car rental
  • Mortgage payment
  • Insurance refunds
As well as a vending machine that took my dollar bill and delivered a package of Starbursts that had decomposed into a gooey slime.

Cable: I’ve already documented the earlier stages of the cable bill fiasco. The latest updates to that tale are:
  • Third and fourth contacts (the last being “executive escalation”) required to resolve issue.
  • Was charged penalty fees for late payments (when money was in their clutches the whole time), service disconnects (that were promised not to happen) and service reconnects (to re-establish the services that weren’t supposed to be disconnected in the first place).
  • All payments to the old account were transferred to the new account – including the one for the closing balance on the old account, which required me to offer up even more $$$ while waiting for confirmation of the extreme ($600+) credit balance on the new account.
I ended up using a profane expression (“This is bullshit”) out of frustration in one of my chat sessions with a cable rep. As soon as I hit “send” I typed my apology and told her she could go ahead and disconnect my chat session since I’d used a profanity. Sure enough, she launched a template response admonishing me for my use of such language and asking me to keep a civil tone. I typed back saying I’d already authorized the disconnect so why threaten me with that action? It’s like saying, "You can't quit -- I'm firing you!" She disconnected the chat session.

Car: I won’t mention the name of the car rental company since technically I’m one of their employees, albeit in another division. The rental car was A VISion of sleek styling and ran well during a weekend trip. I returned it early Monday morning and, after many keystrokes and mouse clicks, the desk clerk was able to print out a receipt with a final balance due of $79 and change. So imagine my surprise when I logged into my bank account and saw a pending authorization for $3,948.28 (actual figure). That generated a hold against my available credit that was more than the average annual income in some countries. I called the rental company and asked their help in getting the pending auth removed from my card. The agent apologized, recognizing it was a massive error, and offered to set up a three-way call with the bank right on the spot. She put me on hold while dialing the bank and navigating through its phone system to reach customer service. She brought me on the line after confirming my account information, when the call suddenly disconnected. I wasn’t on with either the rental company or the bank – just dead air. I expected the rental agent to call back. I waited… and waited… No return call, no email notification, no follow-up – nuttin’. Why is it in situations like this you don’t get the option of submitting a satisfaction survey?

Mortgage: The mortgage payment is auto-debited from our checking account the first of each month. It was time for the October payment, and the mortgage company is very good about sending out an email a few days in advance to remind you to check your available balance. We were all set – until I saw that there were TWO mortgage payments being processed at the same time. I went to the mortgage company’s website and was greeted with a message – “We are currently experiencing technical issues with loan payments. We appreciate your patience while we are working to resolve these issues.” Why do I have this sickening feeling that an excessive sum is going to be removed “accidentally” from my checking account and it will take 3 – 7 business days to replace it? Just long enough for our rent check to bounce in the interim?
  • [Since I first wrote the above paragraph, here's what's happened: the double-payment resulted in an overdraft fee with our bank. The overdraft was charged when our balance dropped below $0 due to the duplicate mortgage payment being processed. The bank immediately refunded that fee upon my request, due to the circumstances. The mortgage company then returned the funds for BOTH mortgage payments to our account balance and has yet to again withdraw for the current month's payment. I'm waiting to see if I'm now dinged for "missing" a payment or have been given a gift.]
Insurance: On the day we moved this summer, I realized I’d never contacted the insurance company to have our renters' policy transferred to the new address. Since I was already in a sitting position due to heat stroke (you may recall it was 99 degrees on the day we moved), I called and got a very nice young man who would handle the transfer. He noticed we also had auto insurance with the company and mentioned there might be a “slight” increase in the premium based on our new address. That “slight” increase turned out to be in excess of $500. After emailing our agent to ask for his suggestions to reduce the premium -- and not getting a response after three days – I decided “Flo” of TV fame might be able to help. I got a much better quote from the new insurance company and submitted all the required documentation to get the renters' and auto policies moved over immediately. The new company said they would contact the old company about the pro-rated refund of our cancelled policy's premium. Three weeks later I got a check with a sizable portion of the anticipated amount deducted for the “increase” due to the move to the higher-risk zipcode. For a car that had been covered by them in that new, more-dangerous neighborhood… for three days. Lesson learned – when the insurance company gives you lemons, reject their offer of lemonade because they'll just continue to put the squeeze on you.

Please don't think we're crying poverty or hard times here -- we're quite fortunate to be solidly middle-class, generally prudent with our money. We drive a ten-year-old car, shop at discount clothing stores, wait for sales for most big-ticket purchases, and limit our indulgences to extra pizza toppings. Compared to all the folks who are currently trying to make it through the government shutdown with no pay at all and must be truly worried about making ends meet, our complaints are transitory and ephemeral and will soon melt away -- just as my package of Starbursts did, so let me get started on my letter of outrage to the president of the vending machine company about that bullshit.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Artistic Lozenge

I recently became a patron of one of Boston’s leading art museums. I will admit to misunderstanding the terms of membership; I thought in exchange for my donation I’d be allowed to exhibit art works of my own making. However, I was mistaken and the very nice security guard explained it all to me as I was being taken away in handcuffs.

Some weeks after joining, I received an emailed invitation to the opening of a new exhibition. I was hoping this would be performance art and therefore involve some degree of nudity, but alas – the exhibition was largely comprised of paintings and drawings along with works in other media. While I believe many of the abstract figures were portrayed as nude or nearly so, it didn't have quite the sense of... accessibility I was anticipating. Regardless, the art work could best be described as... well, rather than my fumbling for words, here's a quote from the curator's catalog notes regarding one assemblage of multiple images:
  • "Taken together, they form an oblique and inconclusive narrative."
I wrote that down -- "an oblique and inconclusive narrative". If being oblique and inconclusive are considered artistic qualities, then I am at least 90% of the way to setting foot back in that museum with no need for handcuffs to make a further appearance. Except as part of my "performance piece".

As many modern artists now seem to do, this one branched beyond her original mode of expression to create in other formats. Among the newer works were several animations made on a iPhone or iPad using a drawing program. What a co-ink-ee-dink! I have also made animations -- mine on a pad of Post-It notes -- usually sketches of an ever-enlarging part of the human anatomy that convey a brooding sense of eroticism and immaturity. Working in pencil, ballpoint or Sharpie, when viewed as part of a collection these images form a narrative that is neither oblique nor inconclusive -- they are clearly a penis getting bigger and bigger. The fact that this expansiveness requires the use of "flipping", the use of the viewer's hands to manipulate and display, is a clever commentary on the concept of auto-eroticism in our overtly-sexualized society, as well as indicative of the fact that I don't have enough to do at work.

I like contemporary art, I really do. We've been to shows that were absolutely thrilling at this same museum, along with MassMOCA, Dia:Beacon, the Hirschhorn and other galleries. While I may not have admired the craft, inspiration or intent of this artist's work as deeply as others I have seen, I surely was impressed with the cold beer and cheese board offered at the reception. And who knows? Maybe the alcohol and dairy products were artistic expressions utilizing yet more new media which, when taken together, formed another oblique and inconclusive narrative.

Or, in my case, intestinal bloating.