Important notes on the phrase "scantily clad"

Five important notes about the phrase “scantily clad” that are worthy of your attention:

1. “Scantily clad” has been done. It’s been overdone. It’s absolutely, positively finished. Beaten like a dead horse. It’s moved past cliche and into the realm of tragically unoriginal. It’s a phrase that you should never, ever use again.

2. It’s weird that the word “scantily” is never used without the word “clad.”

Right?

3. It’s weird that the phrase is almost exclusively used to describe a woman in a certain state of undress when men are just as capable of being in similar states of undress. Some might actually consider me scantily clad as I write this very sentence, but no one would ever think to use those words to describe me because I’m not a woman.

That’s weird.

4. The phrase “scantily clad” is also a little creepy. Not a lot creepy. Just teensy-weensy bit creepy. It’s the kind of phrase that mouth-breathing teenage fantasy writers use to describe the inexplicably half-naked girl being held prisoner by the dragon, and that makes it a tiny bit creepy.

Enough to also avoid using it.

5. If you’re still not convinced, do a Google image search of the phrase “scantily clad.” The images associated with the phrase should make it clear that this is not a phrase that you should be using.

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This sign is amusing but otherwise pointless

This sign can be found at the entrance to the historic carousel in Bushnell Park in downtown Hartford.

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There are so many things wrong with this sign:

  1. I don’t think the sign’s target audience - the kind of child who would put a ticket in their mouth - is willing or able to read this sign.

  2. I don’t think a parent would allow their child to put a ticket in their mouth, see this sign, and only then instruct the child to remove said ticket. Parents are either going to prevent the ticket-to-mouth connection from the start or they are the kind of parent who really doesn’t care.

  3. I don’t feel like there is any kid in the world contemplating putting a ticket in their mouth and then deciding against it upon seeing this sign. The ticket is either instantly in the mouth or not. There is no careful weighing of the pros and cons of a ticket in the mouth, so this sign would at best only limit the amount of time that the ticket might spend in a child’s mouth, but even that is highly improbable (see #1).

  4. This sign is at the entrance to the carousel itself. In other words, it’s positioned in the the exact spot where the child must relinquish the ticket to the ticket-taker. At this point, it’s too late. No child places the ticket in their mouth just seconds before handing it over to the adult in charge. If a ticket has spent any time in a child’s mouth, that happened long before the transaction between ticket taker and child takes place.

  5. I also find it amusing that the sign is placed beside a sign encouraging parents to host their child’s next birthday at the carousel. It’s a sign indicating that children are disgusting alongside a sign inviting parents to being many more disgusting children to the carousel.

  6. All that said, the sign brought joy to my heart, so at least in this regard, it was appreciated.

N-word bingo

It's not hard to avoid using racial epitaphs. Words that offend enormous swaths of humanity for justifiable reasons.

Despite this, people still do.

Sometimes it's because they are racist, and they use the word as a means of denigration. 

Sometimes they are thoughtless and inconsiderate, and they use the word without thinking about what it might mean to another person. These are the people who toss around the N-word because they hear others using it and therefore assume it's okay. 

Sometimes they are arrogant, ignorant pseudo-intellectuals who use the word to push buttons or claim some right that does not require claiming. These are the entitled white people, for example, who are angry that African Americans can use the word with impunity but they cannot, so they aggressively use the word in an effort to claim some linguistic territory because they have never been denied territory before. 

Think Fox News pundit. 

Mostly, though, they're just racists. People who believe that human beings of a certain skin color are lesser than them. Ignorant scumbags. Insecure, hate-mongering evil doers. Really, really, really stupid people. 

Like the President of the United States, for example. 

A new Quinnipiac University poll has found that 49% of people said they believe President Donald Trump to be a racist while 47% believe he is not. More Americans, and HALF OF ALL AMERICANS, think the President is a racist. The only thing more shocking is that 47% of Americans don't think he's a racist.

Apparently these are the people who don't read, listen, or watch the news, because there are only so many times that a human being can defend the Nazis in Charlottesville, retweet white nationalist conspiracy theories, attempt to ban all Muslims from our country, lie about Muslims celebrating on rooftops during 9/11, separate Mexican children from their families on the border, put brown children in cages, refer to Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, question the impartiality of Mexican-American judges, question the intelligence of African American politicians, entertainers, and athletes, and run an administration almost entirely bereft of people of color before the racism is undeniable.  

There may also be a tape of Trump using he N-word while on The Apprentice. If that tape ever surfaces (and when it comes to Trump, it seems as if every tape eventually surfaces), this clever, hilarious, and tragically accurate bingo board might be very useful. 

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Open mouth. Insert foot.

Someone recently told me that I always know just what to say in any situation.

"You can talk your way out of anything," he said. "Or into anything. You're good that way."

This may seem true, but I assure you that it is not. 

Case in point:

Earlier this week, I met a person in real life who I have known for a long time online - via email, social media, and even a podcast interview.

My first words upon meeting him:

"Wow. I thought you were a lot taller." 

These words were especially dumb. Elysha was standing beside me and wanted to kill me. Thankfully, the person in question is a very kind, very confident human being who didn't seem to mind my moment of extreme stupidity.

But I assure you that this moment wasn't exactly unique. These gaffs happen more often than you think. Perhaps not as often as they once did, but still too often.  

I promise that I can be just as dumb (or even dumber) as anyone else.

Right, Elysha?

Never trust alliteration

Elysha is looking for a teaching job for the first time in 9 years. Now that the kids are off to school and settled into their routines, it's time for her to return to the classroom.

Recently, she was looking at a school district that expects classroom instruction to be "rigorous, relevant, and respectful."

Excellent standards for instruction, but one problem:

I don't trust alliteration when it comes to policy. I will never understand the need for schools, teachers, principals, and other educational leaders to constantly use alliteration when setting forth standards. I don't understand how alliteration makes a set of standards, expectations, goals, or the like any better or more memorable. I can't understand know how or why a stylistic literary device, most often used in poetry and verse, has somehow crept into into policy and procedural standards. 

I have attended meetings where valuable time has been spent trying to wedge a set of standards into a list of words that all begin with the same letter. Conversations that go something like this:

Educator A: "So we all agree. The content of this unit should be timely, topical, and culturally diverse."

Educator B: "Sure, but can we find a way of saying that diversity part with the letter T? Maybe... treats everyone equally? Or tolerant? How about timely, topical, and tolerant. Or tolerance centered? Tolerance focused? Tolerating tolerance? Yeah, that's two T words! Timely, topical, and tolerating tolerance!"

I'm not kidding. I've watched this insanity in action. Many times. 

I'm not saying that "rigorous, relevant, and respectful" are not excellent standards for instruction. I just can't help but wonder what standard might have been left off the list because it didn't begin with the letter R.

Or which of these R words were added simply because when someone was brainstorming a set of standards, the unconscious desire for alliteration took hold. 

Or if one of these standards isn't needed or isn't nearly as important, but the desire for alliteration altered the policy of an entire school district and the means by which thousands of children will be instructed.  

Never trust alliteration. It's a signal of vocabulary manipulation that is never required and often less clear and less precise than the original, less alliterative list. 

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I am nonplussed about the shifting definition of nonplussed.

In the last 24 hours, I've read two professionally published pieces of writing - a collection of essays by David Sedaris and a news article - where the word "nonplussed" was used incorrectly. 

Nonplussed means to be surprised and confused to such a degree that a person is uncertain about how to react.

When you are nonplussed, you are startled. Befuddled. Shocked. Discombobulated. 

Not unaffected. Not calm. Not bemused. Despite how so many people - including experienced writers and their editors - might think. 

Websters offers an alternate definition of nonplussed (not bothered, surprised, or impressed by something) but also indicates that this definition is chiefly used in the United States.

Then it adds:

NOTE: The use of nonplussed to mean "unimpressed" is an Americanism that has become increasingly common in recent decades and now appears frequently in published writing. It apparently arose from confusion over the meaning of nonplussed in ambiguous contexts, and it continues to be widely regarded as an error.

In other words, Americans have screwed up the use of this word so often that we must acknowledge that there is alternate, albeit ridiculous definition used only in the stupid Americans. 

I understand that language is constantly evolving, but are we really going to entirely reverse the definition of this word? Changes in the meaning and usage of words is a normal part of an evolving language, but to shift the opposite meaning seems a little ridiculous to me.  

I feel the same about the phrase "Begs the question." While it's so often used to imply that something someone has said or done has prompted a question or wonderment (His inability to hit the baseball begs the question: Does he belong in the major leagues?), it's actually a phrase that defines a certain type of circular logic. 

For example, "The death penalty is wrong because killing people is immoral" is an example of begging the question because it argues that the death penalty is wrong because the death penalty is wrong. 

As a former debate champion and lover of logic, I am a huge fan of the proper use of "begs the question."

Despite my strong feelings, I fear that the true meaning of "begs the question" is a lost cause. It's far more likely to hear someone use the phrase improperly these days, and I suspect that in another decade or two, the proper definition will be lost forever. 

I'm willing to cede ground on "begs the question." Grudgingly. 

But nonplussed? That is a hill I'm willing to die on. A fight that must be fought. A battle I'm willing to wage, and you should, too. Shifting definitions is a perfectly acceptable result of an evolving and ever-changing language, but reversing a definition entirely is something I cannot abide.

I am nonplussed about the shifting definition of nonplussed. I am outraged. Defiant. Activated and ready to fight.

I'm sure you find this as important and pressing an issue as I do.  

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The answer to "How dare you?"

I hate "How dare you?" I hate it so much.

How dare you is a meaningless bit of outrage. Argumentative spittle. A waste of three words. A ridiculous rhetorical question designed to express overdramatized personal outrage.

We must stop "How dare you?" in its tracks. Bring it to an end. Remove it from the lexicon.

When faced with, "How dare you?" your response must always be to answer this stupid question. 

Something like this:

"How dare I? I'd hardly call what I said daring. I'd characterize it more as a valid argument contain vast amounts of truth and wisdom. How dare I? Who even says that? Who relies upon rhetorical questions of such little meaning to make their point? How dare I? I dare with the strength and conviction of a person who knows he is right and is fighting for truth, justice, and the American way. That is how I dare. Now perhaps you could say something of substance and meaning rather than spitting rhetorical drivel."

Maybe not exactly that, because it's a lot, but something like it.

In the case of Kellyanne Conway, a simple, "How dare I? I dare because children are at stake, and I am a journalists whose job it is to ask hard questions and point out bigotry, intolerance, and cruelty wherever I see it. I dare because it's my job to be daring." 

I would've loved that so much. 

So practice. Prepare yourself for verbal combat. Be ready to fire off a response when faced with this stupid bit of rhetoric. I've had the great pleasure of pulling off a "How dare you" rant more than once (including a college classroom once in the midst of a debate), and it is truly a glorious thing.  

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Constantly frowning and avoiding dogs at every turn

Grammar is important, especially when it comes to the design of memorial plaques. Ignore a few basic rules of grammar and you could end up with this:

A woman who both never saw a dog in her entire life and never cracked a smile.

Quite the departure from what this foundation was presumably intending. 

When I asked my nine year-old daughter to read this and tell me what she thinks of Nicole Campbell, she said, "A grumpy, dead person."

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The best way to rewrite this plaque is probably this:

In loving memory of
Nicole Campbell
Who never saw a dog that didn't make her smile

"Who never saw a dog without smiling" also works, but I like the seemingly irresistibility of dogs that the first option implies. 

Either is far better than portraying Nicole Campbell as some unsmiling monster who managed to avoid dogs for her entire life. 

When the words are important and permanent, you need to get it right. 

The Trump administration has been the most type-ladened organization that I've ever seen. Not only is Trump's Twitter feed ("official statements" according to his press secretary) filled with capitalization, spelling, and punctuation errors, but typos abound in this administration.

Just last week, Sarah Huckabee Sanders read a statement containing this:

“Iran has a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people.”

Unfortunately, the "has" was supposed to be "had."

Big difference. 

A statement from Sanders’s office on the death of former first lady Barbara Bush was dated April 17, 2017, a full year prior to her death.

A White House press release last May said that Donald Trump was traveling to Israel to promote “the possibility of lasting peach.” 

A lasting peach sounds great, but not quite as good as lasting peace in the Middle East. 

An ever-updating list of public typos and spelling errors, verbatim, from the Trump White House, can be found here.

 My favorite so far is Trump's official inauguration portrait. At a time when he was forced to lie about his lackluster inauguration attendance and his post-inauguration parade route was so visibly devoid of human beings, Trump released his portrait containing a typo so obvious that you had to wonder if anyone in the new administration had a brain. 

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"Once or twice" is the sign of a lie

I overheard someone say on a plane last night say he had visited Africa "once or twice."

I didn't believe this person. I almost never believe someone who claims to have done something "once or twice."

There's a big difference between doing something of significance (like visiting Africa) once or more than once. Had the man said, "I've been to Africa three or four times," I would've accepted his statement. Even "two or three times" would've been okay with me.

But to be uncertain about doing something of import once or more than once?

No way. I don't buy it. 

 I think that when someone says they've done something of meaning and significance "once or twice," they've actually done that thing just once but want to give the impression that they may have done it more.

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It hurts to ask sometimes.

You've heard the expression, "It never hurts to ask." Right?

I'm here to report that this expression is nonsense. It hurts to ask.

At least some of the time. 

I despise this expression because some of the people who I find most annoying in this world are the ones who ask. Not for your occasional favor. Not for the unlikely rescue. Not for the appropriate request. 

It's the pushy people who annoy me. The nervy folk. The ones who ask for things that shouldn't be asked for. The ones who ask again and again even after being rebuffed the first time. The ones who ask for things that any sane and decent person would never think of requesting. The ones who make requests that cause everyone around them to cringe.

Occasionally an addendum is attached to this terrible expression:

"The worst they can say is no." 

Wrong again. The worst they can say is, "No."

And then they say to themselves: "Damn this person is a pushy, nervy jackass of a human being. Who says something like that. I need to cut this loser out of my life as soon as possible."

That is the worst they can say. Not directly to you, but damaging nonetheless. 

Don't believe the nonsense. It hurts to ask sometimes. It hurts the people who you're asking, and it probably hurts yourself in the process. 

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I learned about "onset" this week

I learned something new this week:

"Onset" is a word that signals the beginning of something, but it specifically signals the beginning of something unpleasant.

Unpleasant only.

I did not know this. 

For decades, I've been writing sentences like:

"At the onset of my drive to New York City, Elysha handed me a picnic basket full of bologna and cheese sandwiches, Oreo cookies, and Doritos."

Or...

"At the onset of the long and glorious weekend, Elysha went to 7-11 to surprise me with hot dogs and Ben & Jerry's chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream." 

Or...

"At the onset of our wedding anniversary, Elysha proposed that we spend most of the time drinking prosecco and playing poker naked."

More than one of those sentences might have been more aspirational than realistic. 

"I'll do the salmon" is stupid. I might be, too.

Elysha and I were having dinner in a restaurant last week. The couple at the table beside us was ordering their meal.

The woman said, "I'll do the salmon."

Can we all agree that this is not how regular human beings order food?

I'll "do" the salmon? 

"I'll have the salmon."
I'd like the salmon."
"Could I have the salmon, please?"
Even "I'll try the salmon," would be fine.

Not "I'll do the salmon." Never "I'll do the salmon."

Why? It just sounds stupid. Self important. Pretentious. It's the use of an action verb that has nothing to do with the actual action taking place. 

That woman would not be "doing" the salmon. She wasn't going to catch, filet, prepare, bake, or deliver the salmon to the table. Her entire involvement with the salmon was limited to saying the word "salmon" and then eating the salmon.

While someone else was "doing" the salmon, she would be sitting patiently, sipping wine, nibbling on some bread, and presumably making every attempt to avoid nitpicking tiny language choices that mean little and interest no one because that might make you sound like a stupid jerk. 

Right?

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A sign. A tee-shirt. A business opportunity. A business partner.

Local television anchor Dennis House tweeted a photo of this sign from this hockey rink where his son was practicing .   

This big, beautiful, wonderful, fantastic, brilliant sign. 

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My first thought: Put this sign on a shirt! 

My next thought: Ask kids what they really want to say to adults. Stuff like this. Put that stuff on tee-shirts. 

My third thought: Too bad I have like nineteen jobs because this feels like a good idea.  

My final thought: If you steal my idea, I deserve 5% of your company.

On this Thanksgiving, I choose to be thankful to Taryn.

I've made it an almost annual tradition to spend a portion of my Thanksgiving writing about the people, places, things and institutions to which I am thankful. 

On this Thanksgiving, I'd like to give thanks to just one person:

My literary agent, Taryn Fagerness. 

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It occurred to me while writing the acknowledgements for an upcoming book that Taryn is directly responsible for making my wildest dreams become a reality. 

This is no exaggeration.

When I was a boy, I dreamed of one day becoming an author. The writer of books. A person whose thoughts and ideas and stories would be of interest to others.

It was a ridiculous dream, of course. I wasn't given the opportunity to go to college after high school. At the age of 18, I was already on my own, living without a safety net, struggling to make ends meet. I was managing McDonald's restaurants, working 60 or more hours every week, constantly dreaming of bigger and better things.

But even so, I was writing. Since my senior year of high school, I have written every single day of my life without exception. In those early days this writing took the form of letters to friends, journal entries, zines, newsletters, and even a blog (though it would be years before "blog" would even become a word) on an early, localized version of the Internet called a BBS.      

I wrote constantly. Still, I never thought my writing would amount to anything of value. 

A few years later, I found myself homeless, jailed, and facing a possible prison sentence. I didn't have a penny to my name. My ridiculous dream of one day becoming an author seemed utterly impossible. 

Years later, after a lot of hard work, the impossible became possible again. I finally wrote my first novel. But it turns out that writing a book is only the first step. It's a huge step, to be sure, and worthy of celebrations, but without a champion of your books, it is likely that your stories will go unseen and unread by the world.

Enter Taryn.

Taryn was working at a large literary agency on the west coast in the summer of 2007 when she discovered my query letter and the first three chapters of my first novel, Something Missing, in the slush pile, alongside hundreds of other letters from hundreds of other hopeful, desperate writers. It was Taryn's job to read through these unsolicited submissions, searching for a diamond in the rough. She liked my query letter, and she liked my first three chapters, so she wrote to me and asked to see the rest of the book. 

Other agents had made similar requests, but as the summer drew to a close, nothing had materialized. After sending letters to 100 literary agents, it looked like I'd be sending out my second batch of 100 letters before long.

Then, on the very last day of my summer vacation, Taryn called and said that she would like to become my literary agent. 

There have been many important phone calls in my life, but as I look back on my life, Taryn owns the top three spots in my personal pantheon of life altering phone calls:

  • That night when she called and became my literary agent
  • The afternoon when she called to tell me that my first novel had sold to Doubleday
  • A frantic, excited phone call she placed immediately after reading the first half of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, telling me that I had written something great.

Each of these phone calls changed my life. 

In each instance, Taryn changed my life. 

Yes, it's true that my hard work was also required. I had to write the books. I spent 17 years of my life writing every single day before ever publishing a story. But Taryn has become the champion of my work, and that role cannot be overstated.

Taryn is not only my literary agent, but she is also my collaborator. My co-conspirator. My friend in words. Before an editor ever sees one of my books, Taryn sees it first, offering her advice on plot, characters, and story. 

She makes my stories better. She makes my writing better.  

Taryn is also directly responsible for the publication of my novels in more than 25 countries.

She is responsible for the film options on three of my novels.

When my third novel didn't sell and I thought my writing career was over, Taryn's words to me were perfect:

"You just need to sit down and write your best book ever."

It is no exaggeration to say that the relationship that Taryn and I have is the envy of so many of my author friends. They cannot believe my good fortune. While they often describe their literary agents as difficult-to-reach, slow-to-react, and less-than-supportive, Taryn is exactly the opposite.

I have often described our relationship like this:

Taryn and I own a company together that publishes books. We are partners in the creation and dissemination of stories. I admittedly own more shares in the company than Taryn, but the company would not operate without each one of us doing our job. 

Taryn is my business partner. She is also my creative partner. She is also my friend. We stand together. We make stuff together. 

On this Thanksgiving, I give thanks to Taryn Fagerness, a person who has made so many of my dreams come true. I have become the thing I never thought I could be. 

I hope you are all lucky enough to find your champion. Your creative co-conspirator. Your dream-come-true maker. 

Just the kind of conversation I want before sunrise

Nothing to see here.

Just a pre-sunrise conversation with my eight-year old daughter, Clara, about what the word "stillborn" means, followed by a flood of tears over the fate of Elizabeth Adams, the stillborn daughter of Abigail Adams.

I love parenting.

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