Misused Words | J = Y | Don’t Double Down Until You Double Check

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Misuse = Abuse = You Are a Boob

Everyone is brutalizing my beautiful husband, the English language!

How is it that something reads “collegiate” when “collegial” is meant? I know how it happens. You think you heard it or saw it that way and eventually start using it with confidence. And next thing you know you’re throwing your misheard/misused word around all over town. But it’s wrong and could be fixed by just checking and confirming it in a dictionary first. Just to be sure, even if you are sure you’re sure.

I am almost always sure, but I like to double check. (Or, to jump in and use a phrase I hate – and discuss below – Don’t double down until you double check.)

I saw a job ad today that put itself out there as a high-end, exclusive luxury branding manager kind of role. But then in the bulleted highlights, it read: “collegiate environment”. I dunno about you, but if I were going to take on a luxury-goods senior brand management role, I don’t want to feel like I’m back in college – kegger anyone? Which is what “collegiate” means.

In a similar vein, my mom did some work for a writer who wrote the line, “She reached into her brazier” when he actually meant “brassiere”. He was offended when she corrected it. But, pardon the pun, would you rather look like a boob… or actually use the right word for what is essentially… a boob holder?

The Swedish J to Y

It isn’t that Swedes cannot say “J” as in “just” or “judge” or “jet lag”. In some constructions, depending on where the “j” comes in the word they want to say, they say the “dj” sound. In many others they pronounce it “y”. Many Swedes pronounce it “y” always. So it’s “yet lag”, “yust”, “yudge”, “yoy” or “enyoy yourself” – or, as I heard today, “yam” when “jam” was meant. There was some discussion that employed the word “jam” – and it was all I could do not to laugh when people quite earnestly said “yam”. Candied yams all around. I should be used to this now, and for the most part I am. I never so much as flinch when I hear the common words from the mouths of Swenglish speakers every day. But this may well have been the first time I heard “jam” as “yam”.

Doubling Down on Dumb – Vernacular Abuse

I was none too pleased quite some time ago when KFC launched a sandwich called the “Double Down” – it is basically two fried chicken patties in place of the bread that would normally house a sandwich. The media has enjoyed the launch and limited-time relaunch of this “sandwich”, with The New York Daily News going so far as to question what constitutes a sandwich, and The Guardian calling it “controversial”, almost as much as the eating, feasting public likes the (as described) “bunless, protein-rich, fat-filled” concoction.

Double Down on coronary artery disease

Double Down on coronary artery disease

All that aside, and my point for even bringing it up, I am not at all a fan of the term “double down”. I noticed it creeping into everyday language a few years ago (and wrote about it) – especially from the babbling mouths of political pundits, usually criticizing other politicians who had a bad idea and then “doubled down” on the same bad idea. (“Double down” is a gambling term – doubling the bet on whatever one was wagering on.)

Double Down Under” – The Crystal Method

Now, this build up of “doubling down” has finally reached its peak (or given how poorly I think of it, its nadir). I sat in a corporate meeting today and TWO executives mentioned that we will “double down” on some part of the strategy. Can we get a collective Nancy “My life really began when I married my husband” Reagan (that is, “just say no”) here? Once its in the corporate jargon lexicon, it’s past annoying. It’s vomit-worthy.

Crushing and cruising – Lazy man food – Sesame noodle prawn salad

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Salad that brings haunting memories to life

Salad that brings haunting memories to life

The lazy man food that is a cold salad of some sort has traveled with me through life from the potluck culture of America (and especially my university, The Evergreen State College). I cannot count how many of these salads I made during those few years – you would think that I would never do it again, considering how often it was required of me in those years. I have one particular memory of having made both of the salads I made tonight (tomato green bean and mozzarella and the sesame noodle with prawns, as shown below). I was taking a “field trip” to Victoria, British Columbia with a couple of classmates and our Russian teacher (who was in the US for a year or half a year or something). Our class consisted of three other students and me – and one of those students, a Polish woman, could not attend. Thus, I did all this cooking, all the driving and off the four of us went. I got the worst, most brutal sunburn of my life on that excursion – on the ferry from Port Angeles, Washington to Victoria on a deceptively overcast day. I also realized the perilous depths of my propensity for seasickness. The one guy in my class, a nice guy apart from his hopeless, shameless and relentless flirtation (presumably one factor that may have led to the demise of his marriage), talked me through the seasickness very sweetly, talking, telling me stories, trying to distract me by singing Marlene Dietrich’s “Lili Marlene”. “Crush” is not something compatible with my aloof, indifferent personality and often laissez-faire attitude toward pretty much everything. But he is one of the few people who caused me to feel the real ache of crushing on someone who is completely out of reach.

It was on the trip home from what was a beautiful day in Victoria that we stopped to have a picnic of sorts and ate these lazy salads. We contentedly sang together the rest of the way back to Olympia. We started off with songs we all knew (the Russian songs we were learning in class, for example) and moved on to the entire Cowboy Junkies’ catalog (although by the end of that I was the only one singing since no one else knew the songs).

Usually songs capture moments and events in a way that vividly awaken a hear-taste-touch-smell-feel sensory overload that cannot be replicated in any other way, as though you have been transplanted back into that moment. In this case, though, it is a noodle salad taking me back. I briefly relive the beauty and ache of that day – and then my memory shuffles through a few other memories of that year, those characters, the prickly, painful moments that shine a bright light on my awkwardness during that period. I cannot call it anything other than “trying too hard”. I tried so hard to be likeable that I am fairly sure I wasn’t. I kept giving and volunteering and twisting myself into someone I wasn’t and someone I did not even like. I remember spending a lot of money buying gifts for these people (the Russian class, among others), somehow imagining that that would make me more endearing, memorable? It didn’t, of course. I actually lost touch with all these people within a year of the course ending. The other girl in the course, with whom I thought I was close friends, was apparently bullied by her boyfriend not to be friends with me (or anyone who might encourage her to think for herself). The instructor went back to Russia. The flirtatious guy went on with his studies, I suppose, got divorced (maybe remarried and divorced after?) – but I did not really keep up. (We briefly connected on Facebook before he disappeared from there.)

Reflecting on this – thanks to my noodle salad – it’s interesting to compare how people so often meet their life partners in college. I cannot even begin to imagine. (Scarier still that people who meet in high school manage to pair off. To each his/her own. I get it but at the same time don’t get it.)

Interested in making your own salad – whether or not it ends up being inextricably linked to stirring and sharp memories, made while eating it – follow the recipe below.

Sesame noodle salad with prawns

A large package of Asian egg noodles or four packages of instant ramen noodles
One packet of seasoning from a ramen packet
1/3 cup rice vinegar
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 clove of minced garlic
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Cooked prawns (as many as desired)
Chopped green onions

Mix all ingredients together (other than noodles, prawns and green onions). Cook the noodles according to instructions (or very slightly undercook them, as they will soak up more of the dressing). Cool the noodles, rinsing under cold water. Drain well. Mix the dressing into the noodle and refrigerate for a few hours. Cook the prawns, chop the green onion, toss into the noodle mix. Refrigerate overnight if desired as it helps flavors develop. Or eat immediately.

The American way – a light extinguished

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“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-Emma Lazarus, from “The New Colossus”

I like to ignore the realities of America now that I don’t live there, but it is true that what happens in the US does affect the world.

Brainwashing in the US begins early. Most people don’t think of it that way – and even rather anti-American people I meet in Europe sometimes think I am going too far when I describe the US system as a form of slavery (especially if one compares it to actual slavery, which of course is an entirely different, toxic and horrifying institution/monstrosity). It might be better to call it indentured servitude, with the indenture owed to student loan companies and increasingly inhumane workplaces. People are too brainwashed to know that that is the machine they are a part of – indoctrinated into the idea that they are would-be millionaires (as John Steinbeck said, ““Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires”) or that “anything is possible” if they work hard enough – and taught from an early age to value material goods over anything else, so that, unless they are actually hit by real hardship, an average American thinks he is prospering because he managed to buy … a new Jeep or something.

I often tell the disembodied and soulless story as one in which you are born and are told from the earliest time that you must get an education, so you go to public school (or whatever form you attend) and basically learn how not to think while a lot of nonsense is hammered into your head and creativity is systematically removed – stay in line, be quiet, color inside the lines, do what everyone else is doing, no that is not the right interpretation of this, there is only one right answer and only one way to get there). Then you are told you have to go to college or else you will not get a job. You go into great debt to do so. Naturally after that your hands are tied by the debt, so you take whatever job you can get rather than whatever job will make you happy – but you are also convinced that you will be happy if you buy the aforementioned Jeep. And of course unquestionably America is the greatest country in the world (and if you question it, get out because you’re no patriot!), so it does not matter that you don’t have the money or time to travel to see the world. You have a Jeep you can drive around with since you have cheap oil! And since you are stuck wherever you are anyway paying your student debt, you might as well do what everyone else does. Buy a house. Get married. You might start to question whether you are happy in your job, but you know you won’t find another one easily anyway … and now you have a kid or two, so you need to stay in your job to keep your healthcare. Then you play the tug-of-war with yourself about whether you can be a good parent, whether you have enough money for their daycare, whether one of the parents should leave their job (if there are two parents, of course) until you enroll your own kid into the same system that produced you just the way you are now and the same story repeats. And repeats and repeats.

This story, even if it differs from individual to individual, is somewhat amazing to incredulous Europeans, who actually don’t think of the details and intricacy of how this average American mind is formed/created. They often just imagine that “Americans are dumb” (broad strokes of generalization, of course) but fail to take the whole system into consideration. When I tell this story to the average American, it is equally amazing because the semi-awake one never thinks about the fact that each chain in the link of his life is some spot where he has been further handcuffed into the, shall we say, chain gang? University costs – mostly free in much of Europe – healthcare – largely free in Europe – daycare subsidized by the state – lots of vacation time and maternity/paternity leave … sure, taxes are slightly higher (but honestly not that much) – and most do not feel like they are enslaved by their jobs. You can leave any time without risking health coverage. These too are generalizations, especially in this era of steep austerity cuts and unemployment at unheard of rates in much of mainland Europe (Scandinavia is not quite in the same position).

The general theme here, though, is that there is a tremendous freedom to this and an impetus to then really think. But how could an average American be expected to think with that whole backstory forming and informing his life?

The American lifestyle and system creates a certain kind of constant fear. Fear of losing one’s job, fear of violence, fear of being sued, fear of in any way being out of step with the norm. I thought about this one night as I was driving my long-distance commute back home and saw a guy hitchhiking trying to get from a town called Bengtsfors to Årjäng (none of which will be familiar to or mean anything to anyone reading this). It may not be charitable of me not to have offered a ride since I was driving right through Årjäng. But hitchhiking is dangerous territory. I have no idea if this guy posed any danger, and maybe anywhere in the world, it would be foolish to chance it, but even if it were almost a guarantee that it would have been safe, I still would not have done it. You can take an American out of America but not shake the full American paranoia out of them. I have more than my share of this paranoia, assuming that everyone has bad or dangerous intentions and ulterior motives. Being American has taught me never to trust anything.

Maybe it is crazy and sounds like I am looking for the boogieman around every corner, particularly in the working world. Somewhere in me, I find it fun to search and apply for (and interview for, if called) jobs. It did not start as a fun hobby – it was more out of necessity when I searched like mad to find a job (as was always the case in my earlier life – applying for 100 jobs and getting maybe one interview or something). But eventually when I did not need to worry about it anymore and did not need a job, I decided it was partly fun, a bit of a game and one can always use interview practice (and potentially a free trip somewhere). But it was partly this paranoia showing its face – companies go under, companies downsize, industries change – you need to be ready and out there and know what the bloody hell is going on. Be ye ever ready, right? And I am.

Before the big crash of 2008, I was living in Iceland and actually went on a lot of interview trips around Europe… Dublin, Antwerp, Brussels, Paris, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, London, a few times to Helsinki… cannot complain. While it is not always practical, it usually pays off. I have never once been blindsided. If you are paranoid (and/or American) enough, you will always see the writing on the wall and READ IT.

One of my freelance/side “careers” has ended up being job counselor/life coach/resume-and-interview consultant. Not that I ever wanted to do that. Europeans especially need a bit of coaching in this department because they have never experienced the dog-eat-dog American work culture (and I hope they never reach a point that they experience something quite like that). But Europeans are too soft, and there is no doubt that some things in Europe are slowly moving in a more American direction (although I don’t think it will ever go to the extremes). In my last job, there was a huge reorganization a few years ago, and something like one-third of the company was laid off. When this happens, employment laws offer considerable protection, and most decent employers extend protection and assistance beyond what the law requires. Despite the “helping hand” and the clear signs everywhere that change was afoot, those affected by this first reorg (which they euphemistically called “right sizing”) were completely blindsided because they have never been taught (how nice for them) to read the signs of what is coming. I think most aware Americans in a corporate environment are always paying attention to little things because paying just a bit of attention may pay dividends one way or another. Of course Europeans might be told pointblank that change is coming but never imagine that it will have any effect on them. Many of them were devastated in the first round of layoffs, even though they were poised to get at least half a year of pay (even if they got a new job the next day, they would still get the full pay). And the Norwegian economy was not affected much at all by the global economic downturn – so most people found jobs immediately. Their sense of panic was almost cute in its “working world naivete”. Not that I think it is great that I am so on my toes and ready for anything all the time.

It turned out for the best, of course, when I was sort of part of a later “right sizing” process. I was, as always, prepared. It was rather hilarious when my manager called me to give me the “bad news” – kept saying stuff about how I must feel so devastated and would feel it when the shock wore off. But all these strategies and acute situation awareness enabled an automatic prewarning. I was not shocked; I was not surprised. I was ready.

As we know (or should know), life is not defined by work – or should not be. Somehow, this is where American life and “ideals” derail. Increasingly, people work and work and don’t get anywhere and won’t be able to afford (in terms of time or money) some way out of the situation they are in (this is probably already the case, and I am just out of touch). When I consider that people who work in the service industry do not come close to earning living wages, I am appalled. But the system is set up this way – to glorify and maximize corporate profit, to supply consumer demand for impossibly cheaper and cheaper goods sold in stores staffed by people who cannot afford to eat.

Lovely. What a happy Thanksgiving, America.