Twitter, democracy

When it comes to social media, I never liked Twitter much. I’ve been an avid user of Facebook for years, but never “clicked” with Twitter. I didn’t like being limited to 140 characters, for one.  But over the years, I’ve noticed:  it’s great for democracy, freedom, and getting real information right away. When I want to know what’s happening in Syria, Iran, other places where voices of individuals are quelled, I can hear. People in otherwise oppressed places can share their cries and speak where they’re otherwise silenced.

And, for this, I ❤️ Twitter. #oppression #setfree


Oh, sacred smell

When I was in Germany last year, I found myself thinking over and over, “I wish I could capture this smell” — instead of a snapshot, a bottle I could stuff it down into and take back home with me.  Whether deep down in the forest, in a smelly subway — or at my grandparents’ house.  The power of smell — it must be that subconscious nature of it, that you ingest into your soul, without even realizing.  Smell has a way of transporting us back, even turning us into a different person, that we no longer are now.  It can remind us of who we were, of who we are.

My grandparents’ house was still intact as it always was — all the decorations, dishes, photos, bedspreads — all that made it home — that sacred place, untouched, unbroken, complete.  I relished every moment I had there and remembered all the special times spent — really lived — there — from the neighbors across the street, to the balcony and the drying laundry, to the china, to all of those childhood — and later — times.

I gathered many important items, although not enough, packed them in bags and brought them back.  When I arrived home and opened them, I realized that I HAD brought the smell back with me, that sacred smell.  It sounds crazy, but I’ve kept the bag packed and, sometimes, open and take a big breath.



What’s “y’all” got to do with “thee” and “thou”?

  • In my morning routine, in the hustle and bustle of getting myself to work, it hit me, y’all… In linguistics, basically, language/words/parts of speech are a function of human behavior. When our language is limited, we bend the rules to get around it. For example, there’s no pronoun that includes he/she in one word, so the great debate ensues, should we use “they,” alternate between he/she, use “she” only? Our language doesn’t fit the function. It occurred to me that “y’all” is another way we get around what our language can’t do to get what we want. And, it seems to me, it all leads back to “thee” and “thou.” Many languages distinguish between “you” singular and “you” plural … French has “tu” and “vous,” German has “Du” and “Ihr,” and in these cases, for example, the formal (vous) = plural (vous). English, in its democratizing, pragmatic way (direct, to the point), when it got rid of the formal (Thee and thou), at the same time, it got rid of our “you” plural; this left us with ambiguity, which, it seems, some of us have a problem with. We’d like to distinguish whether we’re inviting just one (you) or a whole crowd (you) to dinner! So some opt for “y’all.” And so language changes and evolves — all to fit the function for which it exists.

What’s in a Name? Be My Valentine

Valentine’s Day – another commercialized holiday. That’s how I’ve seen it. But there’s more to it than that. Remembering the name of my German aunt’s father – Valentin – and his Catholic “Namenstag,” or name day, reminded me that its roots run deeper.


Valentine originally appeared on the calendar when Pope Gelasius I, in AD 469, wanted to eternalize the memory of the martyr Valentine during Roman times. Valentine had continued marrying couples, even though the Roman emperor, Claudius, had forbidden it because he believed it was keeping men from entering the military.

The giving of flowers and notes may be associated with Valentine because of the weddings he performed and an alleged note he left the jailer’s daughter, signed: “Your Valentine.” She had befriended him when he was in jail.

Valentine’s Day later served as the day to bless marriages.

Valentine’s Day in the English-speaking world was first alluded to by Chaucer in his poem: The Parliament of Fowls. And the giving of notes for Valentine’s Day became widespread during the Victorian era. Here, some examples:


English settlers then brought their tradition with them to the United States.

So what’s in a name, you say? There’s a story.






The Secret Life of Words: Phonological Discord

img_0166If you live in Chicago, you know what a “pączki” is — the jelly-filled donut celebrated every year on Fat Tuesday. With a large Polish population, the pączki has become popularized throughout Chicagoland: available across supermarkets, shared with family, brought into the office. But how does “pączki” (Listenbecome “punchki”? (Yes! that’s how it’s commonly pronounced.) Year after year, as a “language person,” always categorizing origins, tracing meaning, I couldn’t enjoy the donut without getting over this roadblock. It didn’t quite add up.

My initial theory was that there was some cross-pollination with the Russian “ponchiki” (Listen), which comes close — transliteration possibly?

After some research, it turns out the little accent on the “ą” (often omitted in English) makes all the difference. This guy explains it quite well:

So as it seems, the quasi-transliteration into English as “paczki” is to blame. I feel much better now (and a little more schooled in Polish phonology 🙂 ).


For more history on the “pączki,” seeączki.





Yesterday at work, I went to lunch and, to my surprise, there was a priest standing in the crowded hallway, long, flowing white habit and all, applying ashes to anyone interested passing by. It caught me off guard. In the split second that I passed by, I was enamored. It was striking — people in business suits, coming out of the room, unashamedly, with the mark — the mark of the cross applied to their foreheads, and continuing with their day. I was touched to tears at the sight. It reminded me of God becoming flesh, so the priest, a representative of God, came into our workplace. Emmanuel. It was a meeting of inner world and outer world. #sacredmeetsmarketplace