Tuesday, December 21, 2004

War and Remembrance

I was riding the bus across the Key Bridge when I saw a long string of luminarias along the side of the road. There was a small group of people, some signs, and a large banner which read "Remember the Iraq War Dead." I took some pictures from the top of one of the skywalks; the luminarias marched along the edges of the triangular median, sometimes three or four rows deep.

I asked the people standing among them, who had a table set up with refreshments, what brought this about and was told that it was spontaneous. Which group was behind it? No one, really, just individual members of churches and local peace activist organizations. How long did it take? Only three or so hours to get organized and everything lit up.

Some of the cars honked as they passed. I didn't see any rolled down windows or middle fingers flashed.

What an interesting idea it is, to force people to remember a war while it is ongoing. Before the swords have been beaten back to plows and the soldiers are aging and fading back into a civilian life and death, the front page still has the death toll of soldiers and civilians if the attack is big enough. You can feel it fading under the white noise of non-war life, as Christmas muscled in before Thanksgiving this year and nothing seems to get quite completely done anymore and family is beckoning.

A small group of people never stopped feeling that there was something wrong and that the little brain tic that we can't address has a name. The ill-at-ease, the restless, the mildly depressed have many reasons for feeling as such; the American life is a full one, a sea of somethings and someones that drowns Buddhas and invades nations unbidden for better or worse. A small group of people took a day from their Christmas shopping to remind us that the world doesn't stop at a border. Since this doesn't seem like the sort of thing that will make the paper, here is my journalistic salute to them.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Grammar Fun for All Ages

There is great wealth to be found in languages, dear reader. In fact, the word for “vocabulary” in German is “wortschatz,” which translates to “treasure of words”. How cute! Especially for Germans! I will always, of course, stick up for my native language of English; to quote Warren Ellis, it “expresses hate well” and it will increase its slow inky blot on the rest of the world. There is one particular absence in our language, however, that I find ably represented in other languages. This concept is the diminutive.
The diminutive is a grammatical expression that makes whatever you tack it on, in non-grammatical terms, cute and tiny. A smidgen, really. In Spanish, it’s the suffix –ito, as in “I couldn’t eat a whole burro, I’ll just have a burrito.” In French, it’s the ubiquitous –ette, as in kitchenette and coquette. Some would say that this feminizes things, but mon dieu!! Tre sexist!! I seem to remember that in Latin the suffix is –ela, but nothing comes to mind, which means you Latin nerds can leave some examples in the comments if you’ve really got a dead language mojo working. In Arabic, it is the addition of set long vowels before the last consonant. And in German, the suffix is –chen, as in “wortschatzchen.” This would mean “little treasure of words.” I’ve been tempted to call my girlfriend this, but I have refrained because she is also a “wutechen,” meaning “cute little ball of rage.”
English has no diminutive particle that I know of. You could make an argument for –ish, but this demarks a “sort of” that is less the “cute as a button” connotation that I’m looking for. So, I’ve decided to make one and try it out on the English speaking world to see if it sticks. This is similar to the experiment carried out in “The Chimpy Corollary,” which I highly recommend that you read.
Why not –bit? It already has wide use as an adjective/noun, but its use often requires the cumbersome “of” in between it and what it makes diminutive. From now on, just tack it on the back of the word for instant cuteness. Try it on food- pizzabit, steakbit, or stewbit. Drinks? Of course! Beerbit, juicebit, coffeebit, or teabit will slake your thirst. Surely you know people that these would apply to: kidbit, girlbit, tardbit, bitchbit. Even thoughts and feelings are a perfect fit and just roll off the new tongue I have gifted the world with! Lovebit, ennuibit, thoughtbit, deepbit, and deathbit are the new “I love her, but we’re not in love,” “Feh, dunno,” “Wait, I just had a great idea,” “I'm not capable of great ideas,” and “nickel hot dogs.” Just give it a try and spread the word; or, in this case, the grammatical particle. I’m sure that you’ll find yourself in lovebit.