Posts Tagged ‘Words’

The Greatest Word Ever

Much to my chagrin, we’ve had a preponderance of UHT milk in our house lately. For the uninitiated, UHT stands for Ultra High Temperature, which is what you need to subject milk to in order to give it a nearly indefinite shelf life at room temperature. My chagrin is largely due to the fact that UHT brings back unpleasant memories of being at sea. But with three members of our household eligible for WIC, we get more free milk than we can consume each month. Perhaps more precisely, we get more milk than we have room to store in the refrigerator. Hence the UHT stockpiling.

Anyway, the other day I found myself reading the carton during breakfast (don’t scoff – you know you’ve done it!) and made an interesting discovery. The words are all printed in three languages, which is certainly not interesting in itself. Almost everything you buy in Europe is printed in at least two; what was interesting was the languages used. The UHT brand sold at the commissary, Arla, comes from Denmark, so naturally one of the languages was Danish. The second was of course English, the linguistic common currency of Europe. Can you guess the third? German? Nope. French? Nope. Dutch? Spanish? Italian? No, no, and no. Nor Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish or Portuguese. The third language printed on all the UHT milk in our U.S. army commissary is of course…

Gaellic. Yep, apparently they store a lot of milk out there in rural Ireland. Or they don’t have electricity. Or they just love that kinda odd aftertaste that makes me feel like I’m back in the wardroom of the USS Mount Hood enjoying some delicious oven-baked breaded meat patty on a ceramic plate. Anyway, I’ve had little exposure to Gaellic outside of chillin’ out to some Enya, and I have to say, that is one strange looking language. So my new favorite word for the week is (make sure your browser is on full screen): assigiiaaqqissqarsimasuuvoq. That’s right, a double U and a double Q in one word. You need at least four sets of scrabble tiles (and two boards) to play that baby.

I’m pretty sure it means homogonenized.


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Friday night I violated my Legend of Zorro-induced vow to never again watch a movie without checking it out on rottentomatoes.com first. I think this play was justified in this case, because the film in question may be the ultimate “Logomanikos” movie: Wordplay. In case you missed it, Wordplay is the 2006 documentary about Will Shortz (editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle) and whole world of crossword fanaticism. For the uninitiated, the Times is considered the gold standard of crosswords. The Monday puzzle is fairly straightforward and then they get harder each day of the week. When I taught at the Naval Academy Prep school, we used to receive the NYT digest by email, and doing the crossword was a common (though not quite daily) ritual for me. I could crank through Monday pretty fast; Wednesday was just about right for me – challenging but doable. Friday was diabolical. I don’t know if I ever finished one.

Anyway, Wordplay was a wonderfully endearing look at crossword puzzles, the people who make them, people who do them (such as Ken Burns, Bill Clinton, Indigo Girls), and especially the people who are obsessed with doing them insanely quickly. We watched a guy finish a whole puzzle in under two minutes and ten seconds. (He’s never broken two minutes, he laments.) And yes, there is a crossword puzzle tournament scene. In many ways it’s like the Scrabble tournament scene, of which I’ve taken part in the past and plan to rejoin someday when I’m back in North America. Similarities abound: the folders full of notes and hints everyone carried through the hotel ballroom, the commiserating during the breaks of mistakes made during the previous round, the lighthearted atmosphere belying the ferocious intensity of the competition, the careful monitoring of opponents’ progress, the fact that at the expert level men seem to outnumber women about eight to one, despite overall equality throughout the whole room. (Are men just more easily obsessed at a trivial recreational pursuit?) As the movie covered the Stamford, CT, National Crossword Championship, I felt so at home from my Scrabble days

[Mild spoiler alert for this paragraph] But the most pervasive likeness with the Scrabble world is simply the existence of this diverse array of people from all walks of like who share this quirky – yes geeky – hobby that outsiders don’t quite get, and hence delight in coming together to play. Old friends greet each other warmly; new friendships are quickly made because of the instant connection of this shared interest and its specialized base of knowledge. When one contestant comments that returning to Stamford each year is for these men and women like “finding their lost tribe,” a chord resonates deep within the viewer: a connection with something far deeper than a black and white grid of numbered squares. It is a picture of the fulfillment of what I think is one of the deepest needs we have as people: community. This film captured the camaraderie of this gathering perfectly. The genius of Wordplay is not simply making this world interesting, but making you care about these people and how they did in the tournament. I was already thoroughly enjoying this movie when about an hour and quarter in, an unexpected twist jolted me from the realm of entertainment to sublime empathy. I sat there thinking, “I cannot possibly be getting choked up about this middle-aged guy losing a crossword puzzle tournament!” But I was. And an hour later as Shannon and I talked about it, I was choked up again! And the next morning, I felt deeply satisfied reflecting on this little celluloid slice of life. Because ultimately, the movie is not about crossword puzzles; it’s about people and passion, and one need not be a hopeless logomanic to completely identify. At least I think so. If you aren’t a word freak yourself, you’ll have to watch it and let me know.

Tonight, not surprisingly, I discovered this film would have passed my RottenTomatoes filter anyway. Wordplay scored an extremely high 95%, which makes me feel a little less dorky for saying it’s the best movie I’ve seen in at least six months.

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A couple years ago, my friend Jeff introduced himself at a ministry staff conference as, among other things, a “recovering Evangelical.” Now I actually have no idea if what he meant by that phrase is anything like my thoughts in this post, but those two words resonated deeply with me, and have stuck with me for two years since. I privately adopted them as my own. I believe they concisely describe how God has transformed my mind and soul during the past few years. So much so, that I included those words in my “Meet Steve” page. I’ve felt self-conscious about actually typing them and posting that page ever since. I’ve thought more than once about about deleting those two little words, but every time, I felt that they were too honest and too much a part of what this blog will be all about to remove them. However, the mere existence of those two words without further explanation has been the single thing that has kept me from widely advertising my blog during its first two months. I’ve had visions of parents and pastors and supervisors and (gulp) donors reading those words and wringing their hands and wondering if I’m losing my faith or whether they can trust me to teach their kids or (gulp) if they can continue to support our ministry. I have in fact already gotten an email asking about that phrase. What do you mean by “recovering Evangelical” anyway? The phrase may be concise, but it’s also a bit ambiguous; it’s time to expound and clarify. (more…)

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What’s UP?

Received this email forward yesterday. Seems appropriate given the title of this blog:

Lovers of the English language might enjoy this…How do non-natives ever learn all the nuances of English??? There is a two-letter word that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that word is “UP.” It’s easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP? At a meeting, why does a topic come UP? Why do we speak UP and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report?

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