Very Loud

My my, it’s awfully loud in here, isn’t it? I’m not sure I feel comfortable with this sort of . . . vocabulary problem. For all the mental disturbance that extreme boisterousness causes through shrill pitch and interrupting of quiet time, its most egregious fault is in the noun. Despite the frequency of rambunctious volume in daily life, finding an appropriate noun to identify that situation in modern conversation presents a surprising challenge.

This is not for lack of options. Some thoughts and events are so specific as to lend themselves poorly to identification (we don’t have a word to describe the need to hurl a puffin into a Thanksgiving parade because of course we don’t—yet), but situations exhibiting unwanted and untoward noise are so common that they have accumulated many evocative nouns with which they could coat themselves if they really wanted to, from ado on through the alphabet.

So why the language entanglement? Unfortunately, the English language moves and grows a bit like a pool of ooze erupting from under the street. Some fingers of ooze, those containing excitement adjectives or exclamations of surprise, surge down the pavement with great pace and add new terrain all the time, yet other portions remain immobile for what seems like eons.

Displeasing volume falls into the latter category. It doesn’t move or change with nearly sufficient abandon, and no one cares to come up with different ways to be upset by rowdiness. People today. It’s like they’re not even repulsed by everything. As a result, existing volume words have become entrenched in niches or caked in obsolescence. They have all gained specific genres, which makes using them in a casual, conversational, and unremarkable manner nearly impossible. When was the last time anyone casually mentioned an ado?

Many of these words have been claimed by writing. In life, loud situations don’t always require identification because everyone can hear them. There is no need to point out the problem of all those screeching otters (oh, those are people?) because that information can be communicated by a knowing look and roll of the eyes. In writing, however, every moment of loudness must be clearly identified as such, so words like ado, din, and clamor begin to sound solely literary and therefore fail to translate effortlessly into speech. Bedlam, cacophony, fracas, furor, and even uproar and commotion all appear perfectly normal and usable until the moment they escape the mouth and instantly seem far too “governess from 1910” for a simple, unironic complaint about a restaurant.   Continue reading


All the Best Disasters

We have gone far too long without declaring an official human pastime. Sure, the recent millennia have seen many compelling proposals, from the act of bipedal locomotion, to the aggressive maintenance of personal space, to just sort of sitting there, to “Did he cut in line? I didn’t see him there before.”

Quaint suggestions all, perfectly acceptable for those with no interest in excellence, but they become grotesquely pale wraiths when compared to the correct choice, pointedly describing the current circumstances as horrible. Nothing engenders human cooperation quite like a mutual assurance that all of this is the worst. Since it is such a universally effective tool of interaction, we have generated many delectable strategies for expressing the sentiment.

Disaster is stage one, the foundation, the basic catchall. We can all get behind a good, sturdy disaster because its unadorned normalcy gives the word a broad range of contexts. There are many possible disasters, but disaster’s lack of plumage makes it particularly suited for describing things that are legitimately unfortunate while still maintaining the appropriate gravity.

When addressing normal, domestic, endurable types of horribleness, however, several other more exuberant forms of disaster nominate themselves for inclusion. While seeming outwardly congruent, each possesses a subtle difference that makes it perfectly suited for a specific circumstance, a difference that should be taken into account when categorizing the disaster.


The fiasco is an exceptionally popular choice among the disasters because there is an utter totality to its disastrousness. Everything has gone wrong. Instead of an isolated instance provoking frustration or complication, the fiasco involves multiple temporally or thematically linked disasters occurring simultaneously or in rapid succession. The ice sculpture falls down the stairs, tumbles through the back door, and lands on a trampoline, propelling it into a hornet’s nest and dislodging the nest right onto an allergy-ridden string quartet just as a pit of quicksand emerges and everyone loses their passports and underwear. It’s a fiasco. Continue reading

The New Question Mark

The internet is the great bastion of creative punctuation, a society where previously unexplored doubles, triples, and quadruples of punctuation marks are melted down and resculpted into shining new creations, both marvelous and marvelously monstrous, often at the same time. It shows true mastery of the medium.

In reveling in the internet’s grand artistic punctuational spirit, it must be acknowledged that not every piece in the internet’s extensive body of work manages to achieve the exceptional quality we have come to expect. Certainly, what has now become known as the “?!?!?!?!?!?!?!????!” period was far too repetitive and overindulgent and caused even the most fervent admirers to say, “So, maybe less.” That, however, is the nature of art and should not be used to detract from the internet’s occasional but remarkable flashes of true prodigious invention.

The most coveted jewel in the collection is the now-famous sculptural breakthrough that saw the internet finally achieve the exceptionally difficult statement-to-ellipsis-to-question-mark combination, a feat that had been regarded as physically and emotionally unthinkable for centuries but is now mimicked across the globe.

She wanted to go . . . ?

What talent. What vision. The internet created this piece of found-object beauty by repurposing the old dialogue cliché of trailing off in the middle of a question the way no one has ever done in real life (“But then what if we . . . ?” he asked, suddenly realizing why he had been holding that trout all day). Replacing the half question with a full declarative statement renders this a brand new construction with a new meaning, different from what could be communicated using a statement, ellipsis, or question mark alone.

Merely providing a statement with an immediate question mark and turning it into a non-question question is an age-old tendency, a request for confirmation of an assumption or unbelievable sight. (Tortillas? You’re taking a bath in tortillas?) The addition of the ellipsis, however, steers the sentence in a different direction, employing a calculated pause to change the sentence from a simple request for confirmation into a squinting commentary about the quality of the statement itself.

Technically, an ellipsis should be used to indicate the omission of text from a passage, but more casually, the ellipsis can take on several other purposes: the interruption of a thought, the building of suspense, or the indication of hesitation. When placed at the end of a statement, this hesitation is the ellipsis of implied judgment, a stand-in for everything politely unsaid.

Evelyn borrowed it again . . .

The ellipsis takes a normal statement of fact, that Evelyn borrowed the cement mixer again, and folds in an entire history of Evelyn borrowing other things without returning them or even without asking in the first place. The ellipsis means “So we know we’ll never see it again, and please notice my raised eyebrows, sideways head position, and eye roll,” without having to be so crass as to engage in that behavior. Every dot in the ellipsis emphasizes slightly more pronounced derision.

Using this ellipsis of implied judgment to separate a statement from its question mark (She wanted to go . . . ?) serves to revolutionize the function of the question mark. It is less beholden to the words and may become instead an independent thought building upon the judgment inherent in the ellipsis. It acts not as an indicator of an interrogative sentence but as a detached editorial comment about the previous statement.

She wanted to go . . . ? is not asking a question in the way callous and mundane minds lacking artistic vision may think it to be. It assumes her wanting to go as fact, follows that fact with an ellipsis to pause for reaction, and follows that pause with a question about the advisability of her decision making. I understand that she wanted to go, but now we need to take a moment and ask whether that’s a good idea. P.S. It isn’t.

What a world of useful meanings contained in a single splatter of punctuation. Of course, the statement-ellipsis-question-mark must be used with caution. Help . . . ? is a common misunderstanding of the premise, a cheap knockoff. It is an attempt to separate the question mark from the word help and express the sentiment, “Help. [Pause] I have a question,” but it ends up seeming self-judgmental. Help. Wait, is that what I need? Why do I need help? What’s my problem? Never mind. What’s help? Who are you?

When this invention is used with full understanding of the judgmental ellipsis and the inherent skepticism of the question mark, however, it takes on scowling and eye-rolling capabilities so useful and expansive that we are only beginning to unlock the beauty of the medium now presented to us.

A Glut of To

The English language can be a beautifully egalitarian society sometimes, one where even the very smallest things may rise up and become just as irritating as the great things as long as we give them the opportunity. Take the minor to, a seemingly unobtrusive double blip of letters clinging with caked-on tenacity to all the better words. The language currently has such a surplus of to that obese folds of it are bursting from their casings with such fury that they spill into all manner of unnecessary situations, turning the word into a monstrosity.

Many are at work stomping the unnecessary to out of famous horrors like “Where are you going to?” where it serves only to vex. We’re just going, not going to. Going already includes the to concept.

This going to project is a noble mission, but it cannot be the sole focus of the movement. It’s an argument so obvious and justified that it can hold the attention for only so long. To has pushed its way into many other less obvious, just as upsetting situations that deserve scrutiny.

↓ to Level 6

Parking garage signs love their prepositions, maybe a little too much and often in spite of a repetitive and superfluous nature, as is the case with this to. Here, the double act of and Level 6 provides all the required information. Level 6 exists, and it’s down there. The sign needs no to because the word to is used to express direction of motion, a task the arrow accomplishes with much more detail and efficiency. “ Level 6” provokes no question as to the relationship between the two pieces of information. What else is the sign going to mean, “ away from Level 6? Continue reading

When Breakfast Is Breakfast

Our meal priorities are entirely askew.

We have developed what would seem to be a quiet and orderly system of food consumption with three major meals and various subcategory meals, each with its own specific dishes, style, and accepted level of formality, yet we insist on ignoring these well-defined social conventions when it comes to defining our meal language. Rather than adhering to culinary expectations, we define and separate meal words from each other based exclusively on the time of day, which puts a great deal of emphasis on a secondary atmospheric characteristic.

The key theme of any meal is surely the style and quality of the food present, not the position of the sun. We don’t hear, “How was lunch?” and respond, “12:15.” That information is circumstantial but is bestowed the highest level of importance when classifying the differences between the meals.

People become so consumed by strictly delineated meal times that they feel obliged to invent entirely separate words to describe food consumption occurring even vaguely outside the prescribed time periods. They heave upon us the vulgar brunch, that oh-so-creative mash of the words breakfast and lunch because this is the language of Shakespeare. What, was lubreakfast taken? Though it pretends to be its own meal, brunch is breakfast, only it features larger amounts of food with the occasional paltry and pathetic allusion to lunch. There is so little to lunch about with brunch that using four whole letters from lunch must constitute some form of plagiarism.

Brunch’s only real claim to separation from breakfast is the minor difference in time of day, and yet vacuuming up a wobbly hillock of some impressionistic sausage and egg composition that too well retains the shape of its serving utensil and doing so marginally later than some people might have otherwise is an exceptionally feeble justification for creating a new meal. Continue reading

The Truth about the Plural of RBI

Oh, RBI. What trouble you cause everyone.

It’s bad enough that the run batted in, baseball’s toxic little runt of the statistical litter, insists on parading around in broad daylight as though it thinks it’s useful in spite of its poor reflection of individual performance. That alone would be worthy of prison time in a majority of states and even a few protectorates, but the RBI is a serial offender. To consolidate its reign as an insufferable nuisance, it has built a backup strategy: intentionally troublesome construction in the plural.

The RBI and its band of not-particularly-merry-because-they’re-too-busy-rubbing-their-hands-together-in-a-maniacal-fashion henchmen strive to cause unending consternation by contending that the plural of RBI should also be RBI, like it’s a sheep now. Because the plural of run batted in is runs batted in, they argue, RBI cannot become RBIs in the plural since that would attribute the s to the incorrect portion of the initialism and imply a plural of run batted ins.

Fortunately, these people are mostly wrong and only a little bit right, and we can take solace in knowing that even when they are a little bit right, they’re right for all the wrong reasons. Certain cases do exist in which the RBI should stand as a sturdy, un-s­-ified object regardless of the number of runs batted in, but those cases have nothing to do with where the s falls in the spelled-out version. They are a result of how we treat all shortened units when attached to numbers.

In numerical contexts, abbreviated units of measurement are invariant, meaning they don’t change between the singular and the plural. The abbreviation for centimeters is cm whether it refers to a single centimeter or to fifty centimeters. That is why, in lines of statistics, we see .300 BA, 15 HR, 88 RBI even though that is clearly a plural number of runs batted in. If the s location mattered in cases like this one, then the 15 home runs would have no trouble becoming 15 HRs, but that doesn’t happen because nothing needs to be made plural. A player can run 164,580 cm over the course of 15 HR without requiring an s anywhere. Outside of this specific context, however, there is no cause to dismiss the plural RBIs. Continue reading

What Is the Meaning of This Fruit?

The peach and the lemon, greedy little misers. They may pretend to be the gentle beacons of a colorful and idyllic countryside, with the birds and the trees and the elderly men leaning on pitchforks and chewing stalks of wheat, but in reality they are spiteful creatures secretly controlling a definition dictatorship. By what rule are they the only fruits allowed to take on secondary, non-fruit definitions, while the rest are destined to languish in the niche obscurity of bushes and orchards? It’s just not fair. When an entire class of words possesses so many distinct and evocative personalities, as the fruits do, we cannot permit a select few to prevent the natural seeping of those varied identities into the outside world.

Peach and lemon barely begin to encapsulate all the possible meanings fruits can convey, and they certainly can’t claim to have excelled in the fruit-transcending arts to such a degree that no other fruit could dare match their brilliance. The peach, aside from its official duties as a peach, gets to be “any attractive and enjoyable thing” for no legitimate or justifiable reason other than that peaches are also attractive and enjoyable. That’s feeble, peaches. Any fruit could come up with something that lame. A strawberry could just as easily be an attractive or enjoyable thing, but the closest a strawberry gets to having another definition is as a style of bruising, which is slangily nonstandard.

The peach’s non-fruit definition is so obvious, unmemorable, and unimpressive (like naming a dog Doggie or naming an airplane Melissa) that it has become almost entirely sarcastic. “She’s a real peach” has never been genuine, but that mocking use does little to undermine the sovereignty of the peach, much as the aura of ramshackle quality does little to undermine that of the lemon. These are strong secondary definitions, much more interesting than a simple positive context would be, and watermelon would kill to have either.  Continue reading