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.
This David Brooks column in the New York Times tells of a fascinating study about the words we use and what that says about our culture and society. Across the page is a column noting that 50 million Americans live with food insecurity yet Congress continues to sequester and want to cut funds for the food stamp program. How can this be? I just don’t understand it. Are Americans really that callous? At any rate, I suggest we start using more words — “decency,” for example — that support the common good and more concern for each other. What words would you like to see used more frequently?
This article, “How to be gracious,” in Esquire reminds me of how much I love this word. Whenever I am feeling stingy or the little voice in my head is coming up with “small-minded” thoughts about someone, I can shake off my selfish and mean-spirited self if the word, “gracious” pops into my head. Then, it’s easy: Who would I rather be: mean-spirited or gracious? And the shift in mindset comes instantly. “Generous” is another powerful word that moves me to a higher order of thinking and being. What words move you to that higher place?
Glad to see one of my heroes is still kicking. At age 90, William Zinsser, author of “On Writing Well,” is blind but still helping writers avoid clutter. He is featured in the New York Times. The book is a classic, and I am proud to have it on my shelf. It is well worn. I can imagine the reporter’s trepidation about writing an article that he knows Zinsser will assess. Here’s a line from the story quoting Zinsser: “Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.” Priceless.
What to say? It’s unimaginable that anyone would be put in this situation, but Francine Wheeler, whose six-year-old son, Ben, was murdered alongside 19 other children and six educators in Newtown, Conn., four months ago, offered a clear and powerful message delivered with an authentic and appropriate tenor. The question is: What effect will this have? Thoughts, anyone?
Language is something to celebrate, and March 4 is the perfect day to do it, say the folks who are sponsoring National Grammar Day. It’s not only a date, it’s an imperative: March forth on March 4 to speak well, write well, and help others do the same!
Or, better yet, send a National Grammar Day E-Card to the Language Lover or Worst Language Offender in Your Life
Couldn’t have said it better myself. Thank you Ragan’s PR Daily for this reminder of some pesky “words” that continue to be in use. This piece offers a good reminder. Any of us can get sloppy. I had forgotten the correct word is “minuscule,” not “miniscule.”