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?

The Call: What to Do When You Get Caught by a Mentally Unstable Dude

This isn’t so much a movie review as it is a hypothetical thought pot. In any case, spoilers may abound. Just a head’s up.

I just recently saw the movie The Call to take a break from the stress of finals and it surprisingly didn’t suck (I mean the movie, not finals. Finals just suck period.) It’s no Silence of the Lambs or Seven in the psychological depth and storytelling, but it was still surprisingly intense. Perhaps it was the setting of being in a largely empty movie theater in front of a 20′ by 30′ screen with chesticle-shaking surround sound – maybe that contributed to a lot of it. I’m sure some impact would be lost on a smaller screen with a lesser quality speaker system because a lot of this movie relies on sound; it’s called The Call. 

The Call Movie Poster

The movie revolves around a 911 emergency call center in California (don’t remember which city). The crying, breathing, emotion and panic are of the 911 caller are mostly captured through voice alone – through the speaker of a cell phone into the 911 operator’s ear. It’s pretty intense, if only in a cheap thrills kind of way. And the ending (semi-spoiler) is kind of like the ending of Saw. If you see this movie and have seen Saw, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen either, don’t worry – everyone gets to keep their limbs.

In summation about the movie itself, it surprisingly didn’t suck, so I’d say go see it if you like 90 minutes of basic emotional intensity. And Halle Berry’s pretty good in this. Her performance is very emotional, but not too overwrought and helps you really appreciate the stressful work of a 911 operator.

And now that we’ve established that I’m no Roger Ebert, here’s what really got me thinking:

What would you do?

Watching movies that involve kidnapping or breaking and entering always make me wonder: What would I do? It’s easy to yell at a supposedly vapid character in a movie not to check out the strange noise upstairs, but that’s because we’re the audience. With the help of some dramatic, crescendoing violin strings, we know the character ain’t going to find something pleasant on the other side of that door. It’s Hitchcockian. It’s dramatic irony. It’s suspense. We feel somewhat superior to the character because we can see what they cannot, even though we know we have an unfair advantage of being able to see everything the director wants us to see, while the character only sees as far as what the director tells them to see (which isn’t much, if you’ve seen enough B-grade horror flicks).

In The Call, Abigail Breslin’s character – and wow, Breslin ain’t no Little Miss Sunshine anymore! – is kidnapped by a guy with a very sad obsession over his once-beautiful sister, who wasted away from cancer. She’s grabbed, chloroformed, and thrown into a truck. When she wakes up, she dials 911 and then Halle Berry gets involved and does her thing. Through out the movie, situations kept coming up that brought back the thought “What would I do?” After the fact, you can say she could’ve elbowed the side of his head, kicked and screamed a little more, should’ve seen the guy’s actions coming from a mile away. There were so many instances in which she could have gotten away from the bastard.

But she is in the moment. She’s there. We are not. As much as we can try to sympathize and step into her shoes, we simply cannot. We’re sitting in our cushy seats, while the terribly unexpected happens to her. We’ve been expecting it ever since the trailers came out.   So while I’d like to say that I could keep a clear enough head to act rationally, to use my surroundings to maximum utility, and kill the bastard when I get the chance instead of tapping him on the head and trying to run away, I doubt that it would work out that way. Indeed, characters often do frustratingly irrational things just for the sake of advancing the plot, but sometimes those frustratingly irrational things are the reality. We aren’t perfectly tuned and calculated machines. We can’t see and know all. We are human. We can learn and practice all we can, but until the time comes when we actually need to act, how reliable are we really? Fight? Flight? Or open the door with that ominous music playing in the background?

On a semi-side note: watching The Call (and The Strangersmakes me want to take self-defense lessons.

Seen The Call? What are your thoughts on movies like it? God forbid you ever do, how do you think you’d fare in a life-threatening situation?

Read more:

A Cigar’s Just a Cigar

Last night, I had a really weird, but interesting dream. However, about five minutes after waking up, I had already forgotten 96.8% of it. What I did remember is as follows:

I was Hugh Laurie making out with an attractive woman on a sofa. 

And that is the extent of my memory. So, anyone care to take a crack at that? What do dreams really mean, for God’s sake? Is it like obscure, arrogant literature – it’s all symbolism; everything stands for something; you falling into a gaping hole in the ground is obviously indicative of the social strife that you perceive in this empty society around you?

But what if it just means you’re afraid of heights (and getting sucked into the earth)? I think dreams do have meaning, but you can’t analyze it like you do a novel in your junior English class. I wish I could find the source, but I remember reading a theory that something that happens in a dream could be completely unrelated to what it really “means” in the “real world.” Maybe you falling into a gaping whole means you’ve been craving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – just the way momma made them. How are we ever to know?

Does dreaming that I’m the ever luscious Hugh Laurie mean that I wish I were him? Plausible. His life doesn’t look too bad – not that I would really know what his life is really like. If I were him, I’d be able to switch between gruff and sexy American accent to kind, intelligent English accent in a snap. I’d have a wide following of adoring, rabid fangirls…

Hugh Laurie posing sexy on a bear rug

“Do I distract you?”

But I digress.

Perhaps it has something to do with my inner masculine. Biologically, I am female. I identify as female, but there is no denying some masculine aspects to my personality. Everyone has their own mixture of feminine-masculine traits. Some can be seen more clearly than others, but then there is always a gray area. And it is unfortunate how stigmatized it is at times. In general, it is definitely more acceptable for a woman to act “manly” than it is for a man to act “girly.” So get off your high mares, feminazis; guys don’t always have it better.

Anyway, to get back to talking about dream interpretations (much more important than discussing actual social issues, obviously, obviously) – what does it all mean? And does it even really matter? Unless you’re having legitimate premonitions about the fate of a bus of school children careening off a cliff or about lottery numbers, I say don’t stress about it. Maybe a dream is nothing more than just some chemicals sloshing around in your head as your brain cleans up the day’s mess and prepares for a new day ahead. Maybe we should just enjoy being able to survive a fall into a gaping hole in the ground or, better yet, getting attention from the ladies while in the form of Hugh Laurie.

Yeah, let’s just enjoy it. Maybe Hugh is just Hugh. Yep, enjoying it.

-SOS

Had any crazy dreams lately? What do you think about dream interpretation?