Monthly Archives: June 2013

Rack My Brain

How many times in this life have we forgotten where we put the keys, that piece of paper, that book to read, and we can not remember. We can “rack my brain” to try to remember, but, really, do we rack our brains? When I think of rack, I think of slots I can put my papers into — remember, I write, I deal with paper, I need a place to put my paper, so I think of racks. I can understand how I can “rack my brain” when I am looking for a misplaced object because I imagine my brain as having compartments where I store differing information. I must have racks (not rocks) in my head! But this is not where the term came from.

Some time ago I went to London, and while there I went to Madame Tussauds Museum. A fabulous place to visit; if you ever have the chance to go, go. In the museum there is a room of horror — a room filled with contraptions and racks that depicted how people were tortured. Freaked me out, but it was good to discover how far we have come as a civilization. (That may be questionable.) There was one rack I vividly remember — it looked like a wheel and there were places to strap the wrists and ankles to — but, where “rack my brain” originates is the racks they used to put people on to stretch their body, thereby, stretching their limbs from their sockets. OUCH!

According to James Rogers in his book “The Dictionary of Cliches”,  in 1680 William Beveridge said, “They rack their brains…they hazard their lives for it.” A term was born.

So, when we rack our brains, we are stretching those neurons to remember where we put those keys, that piece of information that was so neatly tucked away in the racks of our brain. No wonder we feel drained after a session of racking our brains! For me — I am still racking my brain where I put my paper dolls when I was a child. I never could find them.

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To Vacillate or not to vacillate, that is the question.

Vacillate is another of my favorite words. I really like what it means, and possibly it is who I am. I vacillate, fluctuate, oscillate my thoughts on a daily basis, sometimes on an hourly basis. My reason to constantly waver in thought is how my thought process  developed. I learned some time ago that I am more than one constant energy, I do not think in terms of oneness, I think in terms of being more than one. I am probably more than two, but definitely two — I am an educator and a writer. They can go hand-in-hand, and they can be separated if only one is developed. But, I have two spheres where both are developed, and it is who I am. So, I vacillate. I oscillate like a fan on a hot, summer day, tirelessly spinning my wheels between lessons and words, words and lessons.

My mind is not indecisive, it is not flighty or fickle, and definitely not inconstant. I can make a decision and make it stick. My feet are firmly planted on this earth, settled in who I am in this life. Fickle, well, I forgive myself for being fickle as a young girl — I was simply getting my feet wet, but after I stepped in the affection field, I knew what I wanted, and I waited.  Oh, how sweet affection is! I know of no one who can say I am inconstant. I can never remember being without purpose, without drive. It is that drive that led me to vacillate, to fluctuate, to develop into two.

I really wonder if it is good to vacillate in thought. Maybe it is best to know one subject and only one. There are no questions there, there are no choices. It seems to me that the Wall Street minds of today are good at one thing, and one thing only — making money. They do not make a choice on whether to write a story or to develop a course of study. They make money. That is it. Period. Hailey wants to be an orthodontist (is that the braces guy?). She has not vacillated in thought. It is the only career she has talked about for a number of her 18 years. She works very hard, and her steadfastness will be rewarded probably long before I ever felt my rewards. (Remember, I was a writer, then an educator, then a writer, then an educator, before I realized I was both — I vacillated!).

Then, there was a dear friend who was brilliant by my standards. He changed like the wind because he could do anything. He did everything and nothing. He was fickle with his love, unsettled in his life, and changed his purpose when he knew something could be better. We discussed his ability to do anything and everything at great lengths, and he knew he was the epitome of vacillation. But, he could not change, no more than I can change being two in one, and no more than Hailey can change her sole desire to be an orthodontist.

So, to vacillate or not to vacillate, that is the question. In between time, though, my oscillating fan is calling! 

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Obsequious

Since the CWS (College World Series) has misspelled college as “colllege” in their banner, I thought I would play with words today. I like words: I like how some sound (like the word banana — the syllables just roll off my tongue), how some are spelled (like Mississippi — thank you Jimmy Cricket for that spelling), and the meaning of some (like obsequious).

I have always liked words. When I worked with words on a daily, hourly and minute by minute basis, I would continually search for a new word, browsing through a dictionary, a thesaurus, or a magazine (Vanity Fair — when Tina Brown was editor — produced a myriad of great words — loved that magazine then). And there was one other place I learned new words.

I don’t remember his name, wouldn’t be able to pick him out in a crowd, but I can sure remember what he taught me. At that time, I was an editor for a trade magazine and most employees were engineers or architects. During the course of compiling information for one of his research projects we talked and discovered we both enjoyed words. We began a daily tease with each other. He would walk by my desk, really a stroll if I remember his walk, and he would simply say a word (vacillate, misnomer, adjure) and continue on his way. He had an office so I would walk by his door, make sure he did not have a guest, and say my word (ubiquitous, precipice, consort). It was fun, sometimes thought provoking.

But, there was one word that I will never forget. It was a day when I stepped inside his office to give him his daily word. He looked at me and said “obsequious”. I had never heard that word before. Never. I asked him what it meant and he told me to look it up in the dictionary. He spelled the word for me and I went back to my favored book, the Webster dictionary — “overly submissive”. I needed to make my way back to his office. This time as I walked in, he said “a boot-lickin’ whimp, huh?” I smiled, shook my head, and went back to my desk.

He did have a way about him, didn’t he? He could take a word and give an accurate meaning where I would never forget its introduction and significance to my world. Today, obsequious is “a boot-lickin’ whimp” to me and always will be even though Webster has a different way of defining the word.

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Execute

First, I need to say that I am sorry it has taken me so long to get back to my blog; but, I want you to know that I have thought of my blog most days. Life does get in my way. There are so many new ventures I am pursuing where all the roads lead back to my loves of writing and teaching; so, bare with me during the lean times, and I shall unveil all as we travel this journey together. 

I have mentioned before that I tutor a young man with autism. We have been together now for nearly a year, and as I get to know him more, he is amazing. We talk about so many topics and explore so many towns, cities, and countries we have both experienced. He can give me dates of discoveries — such as, when we were talking about King Tut, he gave me the date of 1922, telling me that was when King Tut’s burial chamber was discovered. He continued to inform me that the display was now at the museum in Cairo, Egypt.

I tutor him in reading and math, emphasizing more math than reading. The reading outside of his studies gravitate towards ghost stories and history. He really likes history, especially stories about our presidents. So, the other day while we were talking about the presidents, he asked me, “What does it mean to execute the duties of the office of the President of the United State of America?” I have learned during the past year that he usually knows the answer to his questions, so I asked him what it meant. He gave me an example of duty as taking care of the people, but he did not know the definition of the word “execute”. Actually, the word threw me for a loop. 

I told him the word meant “to do” (in its simplest form), but it also means to kill, to put to death. It seems to me that I am so familiar with the latter definition — to put to death, that I totally forgot about the original #1 definition (according to Webster) — “to follow out or carry out; do; perform; fulfill”. It seems to me that words are losing their definitions as we substitute the popular connotation of the word. We could execute a musical recital, or we could perform a musical recital, or we could play a musical piece at a recital. How often do we hear or see the word “execute” in today’s language as at pertains to fulfillment or performance, but certainly, we hear or see the word as a “mass execution-style killing” or “sentenced to death by execution”.

You could argue that execute/performance is similar to execute/put to death because both are a fulfillment, but execute/put to death is negative in connotation, and execute/performance is an action that is not necessarily negative. There is a world of difference in what the word means. One is to create/do; the other is to get rid of.

There’s a bit more to this story. The next morning, I was listening to the news on the radio when the broadcaster said that someone had to be executed from the car when that person was in an accident. Okay, I said to myself, is there another meaning to this forgotten word? This time I had to refer to Webster. No. Wrong word — the broadcaster probably meant the person had to be extracted (to pull out) or extricated (disentangled) from the car. Whew! I thought I was really forgetting those definitions.  

What does all this mean? To me, it means that our language is ever-changing as we push the popular connotation of the word to the front and shelf the original definition. I know that the next time I hear “execute” I will see the word as a fulfillment of action rather than the death of an individual or individuals. I wonder if it will be difficult to change my thought process? 

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