Easter, Eggs, and The Etymologicon

My family, not being particularly religious, doesn’t celebrate Easter. The most we do is take my youngest siblings Easter egg hunting. Maybe eat at Red Robin. And that’s if we’re feeling particularly special on this otherwise normal Sunday.

Don’t worry, this isn’t an “Easter is a pagan holiday and Jesus doesn’t exist post.” Over on The Big Blog of All the S#!t I Know, I’ve been partaking in [not really] the April A-Z Challenge. The month is almost over and I’m only on the letter “E.” Hooray for laziness. And I’ve also been neglecting this blog, so I’m just using the topic of Easter as inspiration and to segue into talking about etymology (because it’s alliterative, of course).

Words are fascinating, to express my feelings simply. They rock my crocs and allow me to convey ideas both inane and relevant. As much as I aspire to be one, I am no professional linguist, just an amateur lover of language. For fellow word-lovers, a fun read is The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language by Mark Forsyth, the blogger over at The Inky Fool. Forsyth is a level 99 etymology nerd, which makes me both love him and be jealous of him. It’s a lot of etymology packed into less than 300 pages and every other page, you’ll be going “Oh! So that’s where that comes from!”

Another site logophiles will find equally fun and useful is the Online Etymology Dictionary, started by one guy who was also a huge etymology nerd and figured the interwebs needed a proper, coherent etymological dictionary. It’s been added to by loads of people and has become pretty extensive. It’s my go-to site for looking up basic etymologies of words. “Hm, I wonder where the word ‘cockroach’ comes from?” Oh well let’s see. European dude’s bastardization of the Spanish “cucaracha” (chafer, beetle, kind of caterpillar – is “cuca” related to cocoon?)

A certaine India Bug, called by the Spaniards a Cacarootch, the which creeping into Chests they eat and defile with their ill-sented dung [Capt. John Smith, “Virginia,” 1624]. (Online Etymology Dictionary)

And this often leads to a descent into the etymology hole, much like the Wikipedia hole and the cute-animals-on-YouTube hole.

Etymology’s fun isn’t just in memorizing where words come from. Words are more than packaged, literal definitions. They are social vehicles that get us from A to B to X, Y, Z. They get us out of bed and through the door, at dinner with a friend to bed with a lover. The etymology of “etymology” is from the Greek for “the study of the true sense.” This includes the social, cultural history of the word, the psychologies involved with its evolution and use. While a gene pool and a swimming pool might not technically have the same historical origins, is it a coincidence that both senses of pool are tied so closely together in our minds?

A gene pool is a collection of DNA. A swimming pool is a collection of water. So what if the gene pool sense of “pool” comes from the French for chicken, poule, and the swimming pool “pool” is from the Old English/Germanic pol for small body of water? As with John Smith’s mishearing of “cockroach,” when someone hears a language they are unfamiliar with, they automatically search for and attach to familiar-sounding words, whether or not they’re actual cognates. It’s narrow-minded to think words are nothing more than what the Oxford English Dictionary says they are. As a friend of mine said, “Remember that language is no more or less real than math, and words are no more things than unicorns.”

To me, that pretty much sums it up.

Do you have a passion for words? Or are they just tools to get you through the day? Other thoughts?

Scrap Paper Poetry #4: We Proudly Serve the Starbucks Overlords

Starbucks Sleeve Poetry Ramblings

It takes a customer asinine

To get 12 oz. of coffee for 4.89.

But we do it anyway

Because we really are stupid, okay?

So just get back to your overpriced joe

And let the StarBorg through you flow.


WE PROUDLY SERVE
the manufactured addiction to overpriced food and drink
and the creation of a uniform “gathering place”
around the world for people to sit on their laptops “socializing.”

Richard Dawkins is Coming to My Campus (And I Need Your Help)!

This Friday, October 11th, the great evolutionary biologist and pope of the Atheists Richard Dawkins will be stopping by my campus as part of his An Appetite for Wonder book tour. I first heard of this only a week ago in that Atheism class that I kind of sort of mentioned in that one post. If you’re familiar with what I tend to post on this blog, you know I don’t really gush about popular figures. While I admire plenty of people, I don’t tend to have specific idols. (Oscar Wilde may be the closest to an exception, but I’m not very foppish and don’t believe in the mighty sovereignty of aestheticism). However, I must say that I became inordinately excited that Dawkins was coming to campus (and that the event is freaking FREE for students).

Richard Dawkins - Appetite for Wonder US Book Tour

I need your help. 

I first heard about Dawkins in relation to his ideas on religion, undoubtedly through YouTube. It was shortly afterwards that I looked into his books. I have The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype, gifted to me by a good friend of mine and fellow Dawkins admirer of sorts. The only books of his that I have read so far are The Blind Watchmaker (fantastic read to get a better grip on the basics of evolution) and The God Delusion (an entertaining and often insightful look at the arguments against the belief in God). While I don’t agree with every single idea that comes out of his mouth, I do agree with many of his points, his passion for science, and his all-around humor.

What I need your help with is coming up with a question for Dawkins during the Q&A portion of the event. A mic will be given to the audience, so that people can ask him questions. I’d love to ask him a question, but I do not yet know what I want to ask him exactly. I have an idea of what I want to get at, but I don’t know how to phrase it.

This is where your help comes in.

One of my thoughts concerns Dawkins’ continual rejection of the assertion that Dawkins is himself a fundamentalist – just a fundamentalist of science rather than a Christian fundamentalist. I’ve read and heard his replies and I do not want to ask him this question that he has head perhaps hundreds of times.

What I want to get at is whether or not he acknowledges the merits of religion – not a specific religion, but the concept of religion in general. Religion is wildly popular – that’s a gross, gross understatement. It is a worldwide phenomenon and it seems so… natural. Religion appeals to our humanity in a way that science does not quite do. It’s true that science has the capacity to be wondrous, awe-inspiring, and beautiful – poetic, even – but it doesn’t have the emotional oomph that religion seems to have. Humans are magical thinkers. We can not help but to initially attribute phenomena to supernatural forces with workings beyond our human grasp.

Science lacks the spiritual element (figuratively speaking). Sure, scientists hold conferences and schmooze with each other here and there, but it doesn’t provide that connectedness that religion generally seems to have. Of course, unfortunately, pretty much all the major religions are salvationist and guilt-based, teaching people that they are not good enough as they are and that they need to work toward some better transcendental life or some such nonsense. That is no good obviously, but that does not mean that religion in itself is bad, does it?

According to people like Dawkins, science and rationality is enough to amaze us, to keep us enthralled with life, the world, and everything. But where does irrationality fit into all of this? Surely, he isn’t supporting a Vulcan-like existence, where everyone must always be logical at every point of life…

Can you help me formulate a question around this? Or even come up with other questions? What do you want me to ask Dawkins (if I do in fact get a chance to ask him anything)? You have until Friday, October 11th 7PM (PST) to get in on the action, so please, please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!

Speed Dating: Campus Clubs Version

Spread across the lovely Park Blocks in the heart of campus, white tents line the mossy walkways. The rain and the monocloud have decided to skip this part of town (for the time being), leaving us with a glorious day to mingle amongst our fellow academic compadres. The enthusiasm is electric. And it helps to having a rocking live band in the middle of it all.

“Come row with the dragonboat team!”

“Spin the campus housing wheel for some swag!”

“Here, have a frisbee.”

And the two words that college students love more than “bongs” and “beer”: “FREE FOOD!”

I love the Party in the Park that happens during the first week of the fall term each year. While I already have a fairly full-ish plate with classes and a new job, I can’t help checking out what the campus has to offer in terms of stuff that doesn’t include being holed up in the library for three hours. You know, social stuff. It’s all so exciting. All these different groups of people with the common interest of wanting to get together and have a good time. Students flit from table to table, where current club members tell us all about how great and wonderful and fun their club is and why you should join and before you know it, you feel like there was a connection and you give them your name…

What inevitably happens, though, is I sign up for twenty different and equally tantalizing clubs and then maybe show up to two meetings – maybe three. Same thing every year and I know it’s going to happen just like that, and yet, the pattern continues. Why?

Could it be from a deep, inner longing to be a part of something – to belong? All these people in all these groups, these mini-tribes- can I be a part of it, too? Will you be my friend? Or will you reject me, like I absolutely positively irrationally know you will…

Ahem, excuse me, my fingers must have slipped on the keyboard.

What I’m getting at is that… Well, I don’t have a single, solid point. So let’s bullet point this bitch:

  • Everyone should join some sort of club, especially if you’re new to the school – spending your whole day studying won’t help you reach fulfillment, Poindexter
  • Or at the very least, have a friend – or if that’s overreaching, just an acquaintance – to small talk with once in a while [Even a small talk curmudgeon like me enjoys some light conversation with someone once in a while]
  • I miss being a part of student government [Sometimes. And then I remember why it’s ultimately unhealthy for me, but that’s a topic for a separate post]
  • Macadamia nut cookies are the bomb
  • No matter how antisocial a person like me seems, I still love people [Really, I honest-to-goodness do, but don’t tell anyone]

All in all, the world is beautiful, people are awesome, school is… school, and the meaning of life is still 42.

What clubs are you in or have you been in? Any interesting experiences? What is the importance of clubs and other social gatherings to you? 

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The Purge, or How I Stopped Murdering and Loved Civilization [Warning: Caps Lock Abuse Ahead]

Hi folks, it’s been a while. Let’s watch this trailer together:

[I’ll give you a moment to let that soak in, think about it, take a bathroom break…]

Back? All settled in with your tea/soda/lager/drink-of-choice? Good. Let’s begin.

JESUS W. CHRIST. IF I HEAR ANOTHER WORD ABOUT HOW TERRIBLE HUMANITY IS, I’M GOING TO- I’M GOING TO- sit at my computer and tell the handful of you who read this blog how wrong it is.

Truly though, it is annoying seeing depictions and hearing accounts of how ugly and evil human nature is. AND DON’T YOU DARE TELL ME IT’S TRUE. (Not until after I’ve stated my case, of course. Feel free to tell me what you think in the comments all you like.) The mere concept of “evil” is ridiculous. It’s man-made. There is no such thing as “good” and “evil.” These are concepts people long, long, long, long ago came up with to try to make sense of things that happen, to try to justify further actions. And at the most general, these concepts do help. However, it’s like trying to reinvent the wheel – in this case, the wheel is natural selection.

Natural selection, most simply, is this: whatever works continues.

If people had a natural instinct to just kill each other off, we never would have survived this far. If people had a natural instinct to avoid other people at all costs, to never share food, to go on a murderous rampage everyday, homo sapiens would have become extinct eons ago. We wouldn’t have stood a chance against natural selection.

Which is why portrayals of humanity as bloodthirsty, solely selfish, xenophobic morons grind my rustily churning cogs and gears. And this pessimistic view has existed for a long time. You can look back to Hobbes and the overused “nasty, brutish, and short” idea of our ancestors and even Rousseau, who got it less wrong than Hobbes, but still fell for the view of original man as a loner. WE ARE NOT LONERS. WE ARE SUPER SOCIAL ANIMALS. Everyday is a party for homo sapiens. Even introverts like me need people. We might not want to be around people 24/7, but we need community and a healthy support system just like everyone else.

But it’s the quiet ones you gotta look out for. Do you know why the “quiet ones” crack and do terrible things such as shoot up schools and theaters? Because they are ALONE. In our individualistic, capitalist society, we are all alone. They don’t blow places and people up because it’s in their inner nature to do so; they do it because that is what our society molded them to be. If you have fallen under the impression that humanity is shit because of the existence of suicide bombers, school shooters, and terrorists, it is because you do not realize that THESE ARE THE EXCEPTIONS, NOT THE NORM. The reason why violence is so sensational is because it ISN’T NORMAL. For every person who bombs a marathon, hundreds of people rush in to aid the victims.

Why? Is it because we’re monsters, who would happily kill others if given the chance? HELLS TO THE NO.

It’s because we are social, compassionate animals, who – like all other generally successful animals – want to keep our species alive, even if we are not conscious of it. Sometimes this is hard to see. Sometimes it is hard to sift through the bullshit that the media and the powers-that-be play before our eyes and shove down our throats. They want you to think that without corporations and stricter government, we’d all be evil animals that would turn on one another in a heart beat. [The only thing preventing people from killing and stealing are laws, of course!] They want you to forget that it’s because they control the food supply, the security, and the wealth that we sometimes resort to acts of desperation to be released from our suffocation. It is hard to see what humans are like in nature because we have fought so hard to be distinct from nature. The narrative we are fed is the one where humans are not at the top of the food chain, but that we are transcendent of it (or some such nonsense). This is where the conflict and dissonance arise from.

We are animals. We are not murderous. We are not evil. We are simply animals. And all we want is to continue living, satisfied and fulfilled.

In summation, at the time of my writing this, the movie The Purge hasn’t been released, so I haven’t seen it. Maybe the message of the movie really is that humanity isn’t so bad. Who knows? I don’t know, but if you see the movie I’d actually like to hear what you think of it. The trailer just triggered that whole response up there, but we all know that trailers can be terribly misleading. Thank you for reading this far and I promise I will return to the lighter stressful college stuff soon.

Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear what you think, even if you disagree – especially if you disagree – because I really want to explore this issue in depth. 

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