Monthly Archives: December 2015

So buttons


So around the time I was realizing that Star Trek had a “some kind of” problem, I noticed that practically everyone on NPR who is  asked a question begins their answer with “So…”

Diane Rehm: Okay. But how does that adult get Toxoplasmosis?

Guest: So we know that that’s probably not the case in most cases of schizophrenia…

Robert Siegel: And I’m a lot older than you are. So I want you to tell me your encounter with the “Our Gang” comedies – when and where?

Guest: So I grew up in Los Angeles. And, you know, my parents were Korean immigrants. They worked a lot. And so my sister and I would often watch television at home in the afternoons, and often “Little Rascals” was on…

Can’t they answer the question without it? Why do they need that little word to propel their answer into motion?

So then I realized that I do it too.

But why? And when did I start doing it?  And what was I doing before I did it?

The scholars at Lake Superior State University don’t have the answers, but they do recognize the problem. They’ve put “So” at the top of their 41st Annual List of Banished Words, released today.

“So the word that received the most nominations this year was already banished, but today it is being used differently than it was in 1999, when nominators were saying, ‘I am SO down with this list!'” the list’s editors wrote in their annual announcement.

Among the other words on the list (and a few of the accompanying comments):

Conversation (CNN: Join the conversation: What’s ok to wear on a plane?)
“This word has been increasingly used by talking heads to describe every form of verbal communication known to mankind,” writes Richard Fry, of Marathon, Ont. “It has replaced ‘discussion,’ ‘debate,’ ‘chat,’ ‘discourse,’ ‘argument,’ ‘lecture,’ ‘talk’….”

Stakeholder “A word that has expanded from describing someone who may actually have a stake in a situation or problem, now being over-used in business to describe customers and others.” Adds Gwendolyn Barlow of Portland, Ore.: “Often used with ‘engagement.’”

Price Point “Another example of using two words when one will do.” “It has no ‘point.’  It is just a ‘price,’” commented Guy Michael of Cherry Hill, N.J.

Presser A shortened form of “press release” and “press conference.” To which Constance Kelly of West Bloomfield, Mich, points out: “This word already has a definition: a person or device that removes wrinkles.”

As usual, most of the comments seem unnecessarily fussy and humorless. What bothers me is not that the words have other, older meanings, but they’re used repeatedly and without thinking. And the less people think, the more desolate the public space will be.

What’s worse, that walk it back made the list (“Donald Trump walks back Muslim database comments“)? Or that the word it replaced is back-pedal?





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Some kind of some kind of

Star Trek

Is Star Trek speculative fiction? As I watch episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (Motto: They’re just like us, only without smartphones)  it slowly dawns on me all the speculating that goes on during the average day aboard the Starship Enterprise.

Geordi: “I don’t know, Captain. It looks like some kind of energy field.”

Data: “Unknown, Captain. I’d speculate it is some kind of warp displacement conduit.”

Riker: “Could it be some sort of cloaking device we aren’t familiar with?”

I’m not sure the purpose of “some sort of.” Perhaps in the 23rd century they say it instead of “um” or “like,” but it’s scattered through the episodes like molecules in a transporter beam. Is it something that will catch on in the 21st?

“She appears to be wearing some kind of tank top.”

“It looks like some kind of bowl of cereal.”

“Could it be the Republicans are employing some kind of new candidate we aren’t familiar with?”

It turns out that the “some kind of” blight spread to other Star Trek series as well.

Finally, I found a site called Some Kind of Star Trek. There’s no explanation for the name. It looks like some kind of inside reference, though.





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Six Books

Sally Mann's daughter Jessie with a candy cigarette. "Viewers who knew nothing about us interpreted our lives, and the images were scrutinized under the mantle of scholarship or god-haunted righteousness," the photographer writes in her memoir.

Sally Mann’s daughter Jessie with a candy cigarette. “Viewers who knew nothing about us interpreted our lives, and the images were scrutinized under the mantle of scholarship or god-haunted righteousness,” the photographer writes in her memoir.

Among the books I read this year:

A Gentleman of Leisure by P.G. Wodehouse (1910). The coincidences come thick and fast in this story about a wealthy young man, a jewelry heist, idle doings in a British manor and a romance gone right, vindicating those who maintain that everything happens for a reason.

I always confuse Wodehouse with Evelyn Waugh. So I read Waugh’s A Handful of Dust (1934), too. More hijinks among the upper classes, and what you had to do to get a divorce. Plus: the downside of reading Dickens in the Brazilian jungle.

The Girl on the Train (2015), by Paula Hawkins. I heard an interview with the author on NPR one night while driving and was hooked. Through a drunken haze, the our narrator sees a married former neighbor dallying with another man. Soon that neighbor disappears and the unreliable narrator makes every wrong choice available to her to try to solve the mystery.

Hold Still, by Sally Mann (2015). I was introduced to the work of the Virginia photographer about a year ago. In this memoir, she shows herself to be a great storyteller, naive, an obsessive artist with a wonderful way with a southernism (“He was in more trouble than a run-over dog.”). She defends her controversial photographs of her children like a mother defends her children. She’s great, albeit gothic, company.

Run, Don’t Walk, by Adele Levine (2014). Walter Reed Army Medical Center as the 4077th.  Washington physical therapist Adele Levine writes warmly and humorously about her six years treating casualties of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee (2015). Scout Finch, all grown up, travels back south from New York City and discovers her father, Atticus, is not Gregory Peck, but an ossified small-town bigot. I have the same reaction every time I go on Facebook.

What did you read in 2015?




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