Am still catching up with Sunday’s paper. The story, “Loss Leaders on the Half Shell,” about the current oyster craze, captured my attention today even though I am not a fan of oysters, raw or otherwise. The writer, Karen Stabiner, quoted a Chicago restaurateur as saying about certain oysters: “They’re coming from great growers who are developing their own terroir, like wine growers.” Unfamiliar with the word, I raced to Webster’s New World Dictionary but it wasn’t there. A Google search immediately turned up a definition: “The conditions in which a food is grown or produced and that give the food its unique characteristics: grass-fed beef with an Idaho terroir.” Of course, I should have known, given that terre means earth. A search of the New York Times also turned up at least six previous uses of the word in the past two years. Where have I been? Oh, well, now I know. It’s a great word and will surely come in to more popular use given that all sorts of foods these days are marketed based on their terroir.
What consumer hasn’t listened to a medical professional and wondered: What the heck did that person just say? Too often, much of what a physician or other medical professional says sounds like “Blah, blah, blah, Heart Attack blah, blah, blah Cancer.” to the patient, notes Theresa Brown in her Bedside column, “Lost in Clinical Translation.” I’ve certainly had those experiences as a patient. As she notes, “I don’t mean to blame doctors and nurses; it can be very hard to slow down and tune in to a patient’s wavelength when you have other patients and countless pressing tasks to get to.” I take her point not simply to heighten awareness of this issue within the medical community but to consider that everyone does this. When did you last notice someone with whom you were talking had a blank expression? What I realize about myself is that too often I have kept talking. I have not taken the cue that all my listener was hearing was “Blah, blah, And then Blah, Blah.” Noise and nothing else. Clear communication requires that the speaker makes certain the listener is engaged in listening. Something to ponder in my next conversation. How about you?
I couldn’t help but be struck by Charles M. Blow’s use of “othering” in his column today. He put it in quotes most likely because it isn’t a word, at least not according to the dictionaries I checked. Here’s how he used it in referring to how Republicans treat President Obama: “This lawlessness talk is simply another iteration of the ‘othering’ of this president.” I don’t remember seeing this as a word before but I didn’t have trouble picking up the meaning, which could be one criterion for whether it works as a word. A Google search turned up a lot of references, however. According to Geek Feminism Wiki, “Othering is a process or a rhetorical device in which one group is seen as “us” and another group as “them.” How about it? Should it be a word?
Headed to my dictionary today to look up “obdurate” used in a direct quote from Liz Diller, the poor architect who had to defend demolishing the American Folk Art Museum building before a crowd of 650 people, many of them architects. See Architect Defends Plan To Demolish Museum According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, obdurate is an adjective that means 1. not easily moved to pity or sympathy; hardhearted; 2. hardened and unrepenting; impenitent; 3. not giving in readily; stubborn; obstinate; inflexible. To me, I don’t think she used it correctly. Here’s the sentence: “It’s a damn shame that the building is obdurate.” Hmmm. Can a building be stubborn, inflexible, not easily moved to pity or sympathy? I don’t think so. Perhaps, the word has its own meaning among architects, but I am not clear what she means here. With any luck, this word can now become part of my vocabulary, so thank you Ms. Diller. What do you think?
Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television for Masterpiece
Gotta love Maureen Dowd for her vocabulary. She frequently sends me to the dictionary. And she did it again today with “forfend.” One can grasp the meaning from the context of the sentence, “So heaven forfend that I would enjoy watching Lord Grantham erupt in horror when his youngest daughter wants to marry the cute Irish chauffeur.” But I always find it wise to look it up. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines “forfend” as 1. to forbid; 2. to ward off; prevent and says it is archaic. I say bring back these archaic words. It also fits beautifully given that she was expressing her views about the popular PBS hit, Downton Abbey, which takes place in the early part of the last century. She refers to last week’s review by her colleague, Alessandra Stanley, of the show’s new season. Stanley defined it as a “show about class differences that panders to contemporary notions of democracy and equality.” Personally, I have been enthralled with the show but not because of its focus on class differences. Rather, I love it for showing human relationships in all forms, among the characters upstairs and down. The frosty relationship between the sisters, Lady Mary and Lady Edith; the American-English differences between Cora and Robert…errr should I say, Lord Grantham and Lady Grantham; the sweet counterpoint relationship of Anna and Mr. Bates; the stifling but still lovable stodgy butler. By the way, my favorite line from Stanley’s review was the “show could easily be dismissed as a Harlequin romance novel in morocco leather binding, but it casts a spell on viewers not unlike the allure of a Harry Potter novel.” The show is, indeed, worth watching for many reasons. The writing is superb. Maggie Smith, who plays the dowager, has hilarious and most of the priceless lines, the latest one being, “Grandmothers are meant to interfere.” I second that. Now, I have to figure how to incorporate “forfend” into my vocabulary. Let me know if you figure it out.
I couldn’t agree more with this Huffington Post piece.
This Story Corps conversation, recorded in Boise, Idaho between Liza Long and her 13-year-old son she calls Michael, which is not his real name, is nothing short of extraordinary for its frankness. Most anyone who isn’t in this situation can gain a new level of appreciation for what life is like with a mental illness. I love the lack of judgment that they have for each other. But a broader question arises here for me. What would the world be like if every parent and child could talk so candidly with each other about what doesn’t work in their lives. Clearly, to do that love must be in the background.