In-Vest ‘n Us

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Though they rail constantly about earmarks, Congressmen continue to line up at the trough, a.k.a. the federal treasury, tapping it for pet projects that endear them to their constituents. These fall into the category of pork barrel, or just plain pork.

    During the 19th century, farmers traditionally stored their salted pork away in a barrel, making it a special source of sustenance to which they could turn when fresh food was not available.  It was also treated as a symbol of foresight. Equating the fatness of pork, the stashing of it away, and its availability during thin times, helped contribute to the political largesse, we called pork barrel projects (mid 1850s) which belied the original intent of a prudent management of resources.

Lawmakers gaining monetarily from their office. So what else is new? We first began to graft  in 1475 by inserting a shoot from one plant into another.

By 1865, we were also inserting money  into pockets in exchange for future favors. No wonder that we soon spoke about our lawmakers lining their pockets.

Folk etymology, as always provides a good story as to the origins of the phrase, though it really speaks for itself.  But why pass up a good story?

It begins with the tailor of noted fashion plate Beau Brummel (1778-1840).  Hoping to curry Brummel’s favor, the tailor sent him an especially ornate coat, which he embellished by lining its pockets with money. Reportedly Brummel thanked the tailor, noting his admiration for both the coat and its lining. Whether this sewed up Brummel’s future business is unknown.

Not to despair. As every good lawyer knows, every suit has a silver lining.

Word Origin Comics: Towards a Less Perfect You

We writers spend too much time and effort trying to “get it right.” We labor meticulously over every word, hoping to make them all sing. But many of these well-intentioned efforts often fall flat. And that which was fastidious, soon becomes tedious. In the end, we have nit-picked ourselves and our work to death. What’s behind this dynamic? Read on.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

“If you don’t believe in God, it may help to remember this great line of Geneen Roth’s: that awareness is learning to keep yourself company. And then learn to be more compassionate company, as if you were somebody you are fond of and wish to encourage. I doubt that you would read a close friend’s early efforts and, in his or her presence, roll your eyes and snicker. I doubt that you would pantomime sticking your finger down your throat. I think you might say something along the lines of, ‘Good for you. We can work out some of the problems later, but for now, full steam ahead!”

― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

“Years later, on a Steve Jobs discussion board on the website Gawker, the following tale appeared from someone who had worked at the Whole Foods store in Palo Alto a few blocks from Jobs’ home: ‘I was shagging carts one afternoon when I saw this silver Mercedes parked in a handicapped spot. Steve Jobs was inside screaming at his car phone. This was right before the first iMac was unveiled and I’m pretty sure I could make out, ‘Not. Fucking. Blue. Enough!!!”

― Walter Isaacson

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A Mad, Mad, World

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It’s crazy out there, and getting crazier. Ever wonder how things became so absurd? To the Ancient Romans, surdus meant “deaf,” “silent,” or “dull.”  Adding ab, “away from”, aggravated things further, creating absurdus, which left things “senseless” or “out of tune.”  Making  things even crazier was  their  translation of Euclid’s Geometry. Looking for the right Latin word for Euclid’s alogos, from the Greek a, “away from” and logos, “reason”–”that which is removed from reason”—they selected surdus. Over time, this also made surdus “irrational,” the ab again emphasizing that aspect.

Like the Romans, we also play things by ear, making them offbeat (c.1938). Conventional music accents the downbeat, leaving the upbeat unaccented. During the ‘20s and ‘30s, however, Black jazz musicians broke from the norm with their syncopated rhythm, stressing the traditionally unaccented beats.

This offbeat music was considered so unconventional that offbeat expanded its reach, becoming synonymous with all things nonconformist— even odd or weird, which is as absurd as you can get.

Still wondering what to do?

Now hear this!

The only solution to all that absurdity is to turn a deaf ear to it, knowingly refuse to acknowledge something you know to be real.

But wait. There are also other options. During the naval battle of Copenhagen of 1801, Admiral Horatio Nelson willfully disobeyed a signal from Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, the Commander of the British fleet to withdraw. Nelson was so convinced he could win if he persisted, that he literally ‘turned a blind eye’ to it. In his own words, [Putting the glass to his blind eye] “You know… I have only one eye – and I have a right to be blind sometimes… I really do not see the signal.”

Better yet, double down on all the craziness. The first recorded use of the phrase in the manner in which we use it can be found in More letters from Martha Wilmot: impressions of Vienna, 1819-1829 (first recorded in 1823 and later reprinted in 1935) with a little something extra added to it: “turn a blind eye and a deaf ear every now and then, and we get on marvelously well.”

Word Origin Comics: How to Jumpstart Your Day

Need to lift your spirits and infuse your body my body with energy? There’s no better way than by reading a few motivational words from the experts. It’ can give you some food for thought, channel your creativity in the right direction, and get you pumped up to take over the day.

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.
You’re on your own, and you know what you know.
And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

— Dr.Seuss

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The Line Forms to the Rear

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The great playwright, Noel Coward, often reminded actors, “just know your lines, and don’t bump into the furniture,”

That also holds for you. How well do you know your lines?  At work, you are likely to have been fed or given a line about your company and its mission, something akin to when an actor on stage employs, “a rehearsed statement meant to impress or influence someone, often a potential romantic partner.”

Your superiors have taken great efforts to impress on you those important deadlines which have to be met (c.1920), a time beyond which it’s no longer possible to act.  Deadlines, in fact, can be fatal. In Civil War prison camps there was an actual line which no prisoner was permitted to cross.  If he dared do so, he would be shot dead. That’s what happens when you get out of line (late 18thC.), “behaving improperly.”

A few internal critics dare to speak out, by laying it on the line, speaking frankly and firmly about its downside, calling for some limits by drawing the line (c.1793).

Most, however, take the line of least resistance (17thC.), “the easy way out.”

The only way out of this column is to get to the main point as succinctly as possible, from an accounting term referring to the earning figures that appear at the end of a statement. And that’s the bottom line (1984).

Word Origin Comics: The Wages of Sin: What Are You Really Worth?

How do you go about ascertaining your value? What do your salary, wages, or pay say about you? Read on.

“After reading the salary, I’ve decided that I must refuse. The reason I have to refuse a salary like that is I would be able to do what I’ve always wanted to do — get a wonderful mistress, put her up in an apartment, buy her nice things… With the salary you have offered, I could actually do that, and I know what would happen to me. I’d worry about her, what she’s doing; I’d get into arguments when I come home, and so on. All this bother would make me uncomfortable and unhappy. I wouldn’t be able to do physics well, and it would be a big mess! What I’ve always wanted to do would be bad for me, so I’ve decided that I can’t accept your offer.”

― Richard Feynman

“A salary is, to a man’s employer, what his wife’s vagina is to his wife: a tool used to (1) reward; and (2) control him.”

― Mokokoma Mokhonoana, Divided & Conquered

“I bargained with Life for a penny,
And Life would pay no more,
However I begged at evening
When I counted my scanty store;

For Life is just an employer,
He gives you what you ask,
But once you have set the wages,
Why, you must bear the task.

I worked for a menial’s hire,
Only to learn, dismayed,
That any wage I had asked of Life,
Life would have paid.”

― Jessie B. Rittenhouse

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Counting Down

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It’s never too early to post this reminder for next XMAS:

Still haven’t done your holiday shopping? The time is ripe as first noted by Shakespeare ( I Henry IV, 1:3). It’s the eleventh hour, the last possible moment to get things done. You may not be as fortunate as the laborers in the Vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16) who though they did not begin work until the eleventh hour of the day, received the same wages as those who had worked all day.

As you go down to the wire (1900), approaching the tape stretched across the finish line, you expect to make a last minute spurt allowing you to get everything done, finishing just under the wire (first half of 20thC.) like a horse straining forward to just make it across the finish line.

You’ll probably do so just in the nick of time (c.1687). Nick is an obsolete word for a critical moment, possibly deriving from the notches people once cut into a stick to record credits or debits.

Paying one’s debts, as indicated by the nicks, was critical—failure to do so possibly leading to loss of one’s home or even imprisonment. Given people’s propensity to wait to the last moment to pay their bills, they did so in the nick of time; which In this case happens to be —Saint Nick.

Word Origin Comics: Is Work Not Working for You? Why Labor Over It?

Laboring over work? You’re not the only one.

“I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.”

― Jerome K. Jerome

“Get going. Move forward. Aim High. Plan a takeoff. Don’t just sit on the runway and hope someone will come along and push the airplane. It simply won’t happen. Change your attitude and gain some altitude. Believe me, you’ll love it up here.”

― Donald J. Trump

“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”

― Alan W. Watts

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Word Origin Comics: Is Life a Bummer or Are You Simply a Bum?

Is the bum about to make a comeback? Hey, a bum by any other name would still smell– or wouldn’t he?

“I am a worthy cause,” said Jack. “No. You are a bum,” said the man.”

― Janet Schulman, Jack the Bum and the Halloween Handout

“Stenchgator, the Great Unwiped Bum… was listed in the Bumper Book of Bums as the stinkiest bum in the world. Most bums only registered one or two points on the Rectum scale, but Stenchgator came in at a nose-bruising 9.8 points.”

— Andy Griffiths

When I was growing up, my mother would always say, ‘It will go on your permanent record.’ There was no ‘permanent record.’ If there were a ‘permanent record,’ I’d never be able to be a lawyer. I was such a bum in elementary school and high school… There is a permanent record today, and it’s called the Internet.

— Alan Dershowitz

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Hay There

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Looking to make some hay? It’s easy. Just cut some grass, clover, or alfalfa and spread it out to dry. What really speeds things up is the sun. Making hay while the sun shines (c.1546) means making the most of things, taking full advantage of a situation before it passes.

You do however have to consider the aftermath. Math in this instance is Old English for “a mowing” or a “crop gathered by mowing.” We simply took the first part of the Old English verb, mawan, “to mow” and  added the suffix -th.; just as  we had with “grow,” creating grow-th, “a growing,”

This made an aftermath into an “after-a-mowing” or “second mowing,” the crop of grass that grew up and was cut after the first had been harvested. We liked the word so well we adapted it as an appropriate figure of speech for after-effects or consequences in general.

What the hey? (c.1932), you say. That ain’t hay! (first half of 20thC.)—“a great deal of anything, mostly money.” There’s lots of hay around, and it’s not worth much, except to the cows. Comparing anything else to it makes the other item seem even more valuable.

As to the aforementioned “hey”? It’s simply a euphemism for “hell.”… Hey, why not?