Slipups in Your Life

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Butter’s slippery quality explains why those with butterfingers (17thC.) drop things and how we butter someone up (18thC.), lavishing excessive praise on them. But whence came the butterfly? Theories range from the alleged color of its excrement, the first Dutch name for it being boterschiste. Folklore has stories of a mischievous witch doing her thing, stealing milk and butter in the form of a winged insect. Its real origins, however, may be less exotic — one of the most common species of the insect being the yellow flier.

The butterfly effect was first advanced in a paper presented to The American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1979 — “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil, Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” It became the cornerstone of chaos theory; the unpredictable nature of the universe; how small acts lead to large.

     “Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?” you ask. It’s one who goes to great length to accomplish something trifling. First used by Alexander Pope in 1735, it most recently appeared in 1967 as a headline when Mick Jagger was jailed on minor drug charges. As with most nonsense posing as news, it “didn’t have wings” and simply “slipped through our fingers.”

Word Origin Comics: Who Are Those Masked Men and Crusading Women?

Guess who?

“They are the ones who act first and talk later. They are fiercely independent thinkers who know how to fight the lizard brain (to use Seth Godin’s term).

I don’t believe many are born, rather they are products of an environment, or their experiences.

They are usually the people that find the accepted norm does not meet their requirements and have the self-confidence, appetite, independence, degree of self reliance and sufficient desire to carve out their own niche in life.

… Because of their different outlook on life, they often see opportunities and solutions that others cannot. But the downside is that often, because in life there is always some degree of luck in success (i.e. being in the right place at the right time), those that fail are often ridiculed for their unorthodox approach.

However when they succeed they are acclaimed for their inspiration. It is indeed a fine line they walk in life.”

― Ziad K. Abdelnour, Economic Warfare: Secrets of Wealth Creation in the Age of Welfare Politics

As to their identity, just read on…

Educational comics about people by Larry Paros. In So Many Words. Book 6. 7a

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Fish Your Wish

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Fish Your Wish 1.

If you smell something fishy about today’s post, you’re probably right. Our topic, after all, is the herring, once a favorite dish, especially among the lower classes. On certain fast days, it was common for all strata of society to abstain from their staple food: monks, gave up their favorite fish, the general populace, meat, and beggars, their herring. Anything which did not conveniently fit into those three categories was thus determined to be “unsuited to any class of people,” i.e., “neither one thing nor another.” In Medieval England, people began referring to things as “being neither fish, nor fowl, nor good red herring”; later chucking the herring and reducing it to just neither fish nor fowl. Now how exactly would you categorize this post?

Fish Your Wish 2.

The herring’s mad adventure continues. During the 19thC, its oscillating nature turned it into a “non-descript object” or a “wishy- washy person.” But some earlier had found some utility in it. Fox hunters once used to drag a dead cat or fox across a trail to train their hounds to follow a scent. To further sharpen their dog’s discrimination, as part of their training, they often employed smoked herring to destroy or markedly affect the original scent. Add to this the fact that people especially enjoyed having their herring smoked which resulted in a reddish hue. Put it all together and voila, what you have is a red herring (c.1884) something that throws you off the track or draws attention away from the real issue, e.g. my inability to find a graceful way to exit from this topic.

Word Origin Comics: Black Sheep and Bellwethers… and Lambs to the Slaughter

Tend to get fleeced? No sense being sheepish about it. It’s merely time to separate the sheep from the goats. But not without a word of warning.

Harmlessly passing your time in the grassland away
Only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air
You better watch out
There may be dogs about
I’ve looked over Jordan, and I have seen
Things are not what they seem
What do you get for pretending the danger’s not real
Meek and obedient you follow the leader
Down well trodden corridors into the valley of steel
What a surprise
A look of terminal shock in your eyes
Now things are really what they seem
No, this is no bad dream
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want
He makes me down to lie
Through pastures green He leadeth me the silent waters by
With bright knives He releaseth my soul
He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places
He converteth me to lamb cutlets
For lo, He hath great power, and great hunger
When cometh the day we lowly ones
Through quiet reflection, and great dedication
Master the art of karate
Lo, we shall rise up
And then we’ll make the bugger’s eyes water
—–From Sheep by Pink Floyd

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What the *!@?!#: Four Letter Words: Things of Beauty and a Joy Forever?

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Four-letter words and their ilk are everywhere. They have come to occupy a formidable role in our culture–in our everyday language, entertainment, literature and music. Where do they belong–limbo, hell, or whatever? Be that as it may, it is now time to put them and their ilk into proper perspective. What better way than through a manifesto? …So Ta-Da!

The Bawdy Manifesto

We hold these truths to be self evident: That all words are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights among which is the right to life — to simply exist free of harassment; liberty — the right to be seen and spoken freely and used whenever deemed desirable. And happiness — the special joy that comes when they happen to say best what is in one’s heart.

That the four-letter words and their friends are especially deserving of attention and protection. They include but are not limited to the seven of Supreme Court Fame: “fuck,” “shit,” “piss,” “prick,” “cunt,” “cocksucker,” and “motherfucker.” Few other words have their force, directness, or clarity of meaning.

That for this reason, these words are deserving of special status as endangered species; to be treated with respect and their use encouraged in those circumstances for which they were intended.

That there is no such thing as “bad” words, only bad usage. No word is “obscene” by itself. Like all other words, those of the four letter variety should not be judged as separate entities but in the context in which they are employed.

That what is “obscene” is language used not to communicate but to obfuscate, to cloud our minds, to lie to us and manipulate us to buy useless and destructive products.

What is “obscene” is not these isolated dirty slang words but the sanitized language of government and the media and the hucksters who control it: disinformation, sound bytes, weasel words. spinning, puffery, and a style of speaking characterized by a former President of Yale as “candid evasion,” all of which may be safely subsumed under the rubric “bullshit.”

That respect for language is respect for our humanity. Honor our words as we would honor ourselves. Deny none a hearing.

Do Your Part!
Give us your tired, your poor,
your much maligned phrases
Your shop-worn clichés and scabrous puns
Your huddled masses of vile and ill-tempered expressions
Your blasphemies, obscenities, and profanities
Your censored, your edited, your outright banned
Wretched refuse from the editorial cut
Struggling words yearning to breathe free
Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed to us

Encourage both the use of the four-letter words and their protected status. But also temper it with the awareness that they are not to be used frivolously, nor overused, to the point where their power and meaning is diluted. They are not a substitute for substance or something a comedian can fall back on when his material falters.

Expand and sophisticate your bawdy vocabulary. There are times when other sexual expressions and phrases might serve you better than those of the four letter variety. Become acquainted with these synonyms. Use them, saving the more incendiary words for those special moments when they alone say it best. Context and intent is everything in determining your choice of curse words.

That language of, by, and for the people shall not perish from this earth… Fuck yes!

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Word Origin Comics: What’s So Kind About Kindness and is it Only for Your Kin?

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” – Henry James

There is no more hokey and maddening a tune than “Small, Small, World,” especially when confined to a small vessel at Disneyland and having it hammered over and over again at you. Yet if you pause for a second and listen carefully to the lyrics, you will find a very simple but profound thought contained therein.


It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears
It’s a world of hopes and a world of fears
There’s so much that we share that it’s time we’re aware


It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small, small world


There is just one moon and one golden sun
And a smile means friendship to everyone
Though the mountains divide
And the oceans are wide
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small, small world

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Teachers Wanted… Forget It, I’ve Got Better Things to Do

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Recent headlines scream out: “Teacher Shortages Spur a Nationwide Hiring Scramble (Credentials Optional).” A day later, there’s a follow-up in an op-ed piece in the New York Times by Frank Bruni, “Can We Interest you in Teaching?

Together, they hit a nerve. God, I would like to teach again! Teaching is my passion. I love young people, and I have dedicated a large portion of my life to them. But I am an octogenarian and …

Age aside, however, even if I had the opportunity, I would not teach again; not because of any lack of desire but because there is simply no place any longer for me or others like me in education.

I find myself instead adrift in memories. The year was 1960; the place, West Haven High School, just outside New Haven Connecticut. I was somewhat new to teaching. I identified myself a “math teacher,” a misnomer of sorts, given that my primary background had been in history and political science and I was then currently enrolled in graduate work at Yale in International Relations.

I had become a math teacher by default, accepting a position in a small mill town in the Berkshires, shortly after graduating as a history major from college, in order to escape the tedium of a temporary factory position and to avoid having to make a hard and fast decision about a future career.

I really had no business teaching the subject. I was not born to the calling. As a student, I hated the subject and received my poorest grades in it. My cover was provide by a temporary emergency teaching certificate, testimony to the scarcity of credentialed math and science teachers and the abundance of those in the humanities.

West Haven high at the time was then bulging at the seams and unable to accommodate all the students within the course of a normal school day. It scheduled double sessions. Teachers were to be in school by 7:30 AM. Classes began at 8AM and concluded at Noon. This was followed by a quick lunch, after which the school cleared to make way for the second wave which began at 1 PM and ran until 5 PM.

The principal was a grizzled veteran from WWII who was sealed off in his office bunker, in his very own fortress of solitude and seldom heard from or seen. Much more evident was the assistant principal, an ubiquitous figure who roamed the corridors in search of miscreants, calling out both students and teachers. Suffering from severe arthritis, she made the rounds, clutching her cane much like a swagger stick, lacking only a pith helmet to complete her image of a reigning colonialist. Each night she stood outside the school, peering at the window shades making sure they were evenly drawn, calling out teachers the next day whose judgment was askew.

It was she who gave me my assignment. It was pretty straightforward: Five periods of Algebra I and Geometry I and one of General Math just before lunch. Second shift was Algebra II, all six periods–a total of more than 250 students and a school day that extended for more than eight hours.

After a brief orientation, she passed me on to the head of the department who went to great lengths explaining my responsibilities, primarily preparing these kids for the SATS and college. And, oh yes, there was also the section of general math. It was composed of the kids who were not good enough for Algebra or Plane geometry.

These were the kids who had stumbled and fumbled their way through the system. They took general math, each year adding a few more numerals and decimal points, tedious and mind-numbing exercises. “Keep them busy and you’ll be fine,” she added. “Don’t take it personally, you’ve been assigned these kids, because you’re the rookie in the department and lack the seniority of the other teachers.”

They were the “black leather crowd”–white kids from working class backgrounds–“dese” girls heavily made up and “dose” guys, featuring D.A.’s, haircuts, culminating in a pattern similar to the rear end of a duck formed by combing the hair back on the side of the head and holding it with place with hair grease (hence also the general term for these kids as “greasers”).

They were the kids caught smoking in the lav. The ones you hated to have in a large study hall at the end of the day, given to pranks dropping books on signal and doling out noogies on unsuspecting classmates. The ones responsible for the sorry state of the lavs, the graffiti on the stall doors and the tossing of rolls of toilet paper into the toilet, causing backups and flooding. Forget about teaching them anything. They were the walking dead of academia.

What to do with them? What to teach them and how? I mulled the situation over and over, getting nowhere fast.

I finally went for a walk, eventually ending up at the local bookstore. There my eyes came to rest on a new volume on the bottom shelf. It was entitle “The Trachtenberg Speed System of Basic Mathematics.”

Ask and you shall receive.

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I love books, embrace ideas which engage my mind and the off-beat and the peculiar. I also have a particular place in my heart for the outlier, the pioneer, and the gadfly, those who think and live outside the box. I love those who look at things with fresh eyes, see them without prejudice or prejudgment. Jakow Trachtenberg and my general math kids–what a potentially beautiful perfectly odd fit!

Born in Odessa, Russia, Trachtenberg had risen to the position of chief engineer of the Russian navy under the Czar. But with the Revolution, he was forced to flee Russia, finding refuge in Germany. There he made a good life, but with the advent of Hitler, of whom he was an outspoken opponent, he escaped to Vienna. Captured by the Nazis, he was shipped in a cattle car to a concentration camp.

It was there that he developed his system of mathematics. To maintain his sanity and peace of mind amidst the horrors of confinement, he found refuge in a world of his own–one of logic and order. There he used every spare moment developing and refining his simplified system of mathematics, devising shortcuts for everything from multiplication to algebra.

Lacking books, paper, pen, or pencil, he scribbled his theories on whatever scraps of detritus he might find lying about; most of the work, however was done in his head, arranging and re-arranging his beloved numbers, manipulating them in new and creative ways.

He visualized gigantic numbers to be added and he set himself the task of totaling them. And since no one can remember thousands of numbers, he invented a fool-proof method that would make it possible for even a child to add thousands of numbers together without making a mistake without, in fact, ever adding higher than eleven.

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Stirring further interest in me was that after his release, Trachtenberg first taught his new and simplified way of doing arithmetic to children who had a history of doing poorly in their school work; those used to failure, many of whom were shy and withdrawn; or boastful and unmanageable.

My first day of general math, most of the 30 plus students stared blankly out at me, Others cradled their head in their arms in mock-nap like fashion on their desk. A few glared defiantly: “Bring it on!” their eyes said, “We’ve been there before and we’ve done this shit a hundred times over.”

I told them we were going to try something different. I related the story of Jakow Trachtenberg. They sat quietly and listened intently. It was a great story. But they were not yet convinced that math could be interesting, challenging or hold their interest.

Arithmetic is one of the poorest-taught and most hated of subjects in our schools and there has been little or no progress in teaching the subject in this country in the past century, despite a succession of “new maths.”

In Trachtenberg, there are no multiplication tables, no division. To learn the system you need only be able to count. The method is based on a series of keys which must be memorized. Once you have learned them, arithmetic becomes delightfully easy because you will be able to “read” your numbers.

The important benefits of the system are greater ease, greater speed, and greater accuracy–all without having to learn or have a reliance on the multiplication tables. I loved how it challenged most of the givens, long standing fundamental assumptions about arithmetic.

It took several sessions to convince the kids. But after things kicked in, things went like wild-fire. They quickly saw the magic in it and took to it like a game. The feeling of accomplishment was accompanied by a poise and assurance, and each level of success built and led to the next. It awakened a new interest in mathematics, instilling them with confidence, and offering a challenge that spurred them on to mastering the subject

They loved junking the basic assumptions and starting from scratch. They were fascinated by the fact that the course was not a series of unconnected tricks, but a complete system.

Trachtenberg took the drudgery out of arithmetic. Most days the kids came to class eager and excited to learning something new, great attitudes and great sense of humor about it. They had new eyes on math and new eyes on themselves.

The class was held just before lunch. The bell for lunch would ring, but rather than jump from their seats and rush for the door, most of the kids would instead stay in their seats and continue with the exercise, often in rapt competition with their fellow students. It came to be my favorite class, the one I most looked forward to.

I graded accordingly. When I gave Frank Paglia an A for the term (which he fully deserved based on his accomplishments in the course) , he rushed up to me after class and gave me a big hug. “Holy shit…I never got a fucking A in my whole life!” he screamed out. “You deserved it,” I told him as he ran from the room.

The word soon got out, and the head of the Department called me in. She was irate. “How dare you give Frank an A,” she fumed. This was general math and A’s were reserved for real students studying real subjects such as Algebra and Geometry. I argued how this was a real subject and how Frank deserved an A for his work in it. She remained unconvinced, however, arguing how I did not understand how the academic world worked, and if I did not learn quickly or was unwilling to accept it, there was no place for me in it.

We all move on. When I left West Haven High, I stopped by the principal’s office as a courtesy. The principal rose from his desk, firmly grasped my hand, patted me on the shoulder and said, “You were one of the best teachers in the school. We will miss you.” “I don’t mean to be disrespectful, I asked, but how did you arrive at that conclusion? I don’t remember you ever having been in my classroom.” “That’s easy, he said. You never sent anyone to the office.”

A few years later, I was in a local bank to make a withdrawal, and lo and behold if one of the tellers standing before me was a former student from that same class. “Mr. Paros!” he blurted out excitedly. Would you believe where I am?” I smiled and told him how cool it was. “I love it,” said he. Great course you taught!” The line behind me was growing longer and slightly edgy with the wait. The former student handed me some money. “You count it, said he, you’re the teacher.”

In reference to today’s teacher shortage, Carlos Ayala, dean of the school of education at Sonoma State University, noted that, “There are not enough people who will look at teacher education or being a teacher as a job that they want to pursue,”

Frank Bruni’s wish list for adding more allure to the profession included better pay, career growth, and greater prestige, including higher licensing standards. Mentioned also was autonomy.

Autonomy is really at the nub of it all. Teaching is an art, and we need to respect the artist and give him full reign in his expression. What repels many of our best and most creative prospective educators is the fundamental distrust of the teacher as a free-wheeling artist, opting instead for the passive employee who will digest and regurgitate pre-cooked curricula, worship at the altar of standardized tests, and uncritically accept quantifiably verifiable indices of success as the gold standard for evaluating student growth as well as their own worth. Why would any free-wheeling educational artist search out work under such conditions? Only the drones need apply. Creative and independent thinkers should look elsewhere.

I eventually became a pretty good math teacher, but not because I knew anything about math. Math-challenged Larry had to reinvent the subject matter, to make it come to life for him so that it in turn might resonate for his students,. He taught math as he would have like it to have been taught to him. And it worked.

There may no longer be any place for arithmetic, even speed arithmetic in the educational process. Calculators, GPS, and Siri have rendered such skills obsolete. I would have liked, however, to believe that there might still be a place in today’s educational world for me or a variation of Jackow Trachtenberg…but apparently there is not.

So for now, I’ll just have to pass on any job offers.

More from Larry Paros on education:

Larry Paros is a former high-school math and social-studies teacher. He was at the forefront of educational reform in the 1960s and ’70s, during which time he directed a unique project for talented underprivileged students at Yale and created and directed two urban experimental schools, cited by the U.S. Office of Education as “exemplary” and later replicated at more than 125 sites nationwide.

Word Origin Comics: Thoroughbred or Mutt? Your Family’s Lineage Finally Laid Bare

Take pride in your lineage? All well and fine to honor those on whose shoulders you stand. But let’s not get carried away with it. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson noted, “If you need to invoke your academic pedigree or job title for people to believe what you say, then you need a better argument.

The pedigree of honey
Does not concern the bee;
A clover, any time, to him
Is aristocracy.
— Emily Dickinson

Pedigree, whether familial or academic, has more to do with perceived worth than with reality. Investigate its actual worth in the few well described lines which follow.

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Making a Name for Yourself

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Try to do some good in this world, and what does it get you? There once was a dedicated public servant trying to curb profligate government spending. But his proposals were unpopular, especially those forcing a reduction in the allowances of government pensioners. You won’t find many pictures of the man. But Etiènne de Silhouette, Controller-General of France in 1759, lives on, his stinginess embodied in the form of the stark black outline that bears his name.

Thirty years later, during the French Revolution, an eminent Paris physician and member of the National Assembly, championed a more “merciful” beheading device. Partially in response, Doctor Antoine Louis invented a machine with a heavy blade that dropped between two parallel uprights. The public briefly dubbed it “La Louisette” in honor of its inventor. But a popular song celebrated the first Doctor instead, and Joseph Ignace Guillotin found the instrument referred to as the guillotine. His heirs worked strenuously to disassociate the family name from the instrument. But when they petitioned the French government to change the name of the device, their request was denied. They were instead given permission to change the family name — the meanest cut of all.

Word Origin Comics: Bread and Butter Issues for the Sexes

How did men come to lord over women? Why is there nothing special about being a lady? How did man come to be considered the “breadwinner? For the answer to these and a few more intriguing questions about men and women and their relationship to one another, just read on.

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