Which ones do you already use?
A helpful clarification.
Those who know me even a little know that I enjoy reading books and that virtually anywhere I go—especially if I anticipate having to hang out in a waiting area (appropriately masked and socially distanced, of course!)—I will have a book with me. An actual book, mind you, not a digital version. I generally prefer nonfiction to fiction, although, in checking my book-reading log (yes, I actually keep one—call me weird), I see that I’ve read five fiction titles so far in 2020.
Not infrequently, someone will notice my public book-reading–which apparently is as peculiar as public nose-picking–and make a friendly comment. “I see you have a book there. What are you reading?”
Typically, I’ll do a quick show-and-tell. One time, a young medical assistant’s comment was, “Oh, what a pretty book. The cover’s almost entirely white.” It was Rand Paul’s The Case Against Socialism. I was about to give her a 20-second summary of its contents, but at the last second I thought better of it and instead replied, “Oh, yes! I only read pretty books.”
One “pretty book” I’m reading now is The Groucho Letters: Letters from and to Groucho Marx. It was a birthday gift from my son, who shares my peculiar sense of humor (sorry, son) and my appreciation of Marx Brothers movies, which I have enjoyed since high school.
I’ve often said through the years, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that my lifelong mentors are Jesus and Marx. That piques the curiosity of some people. Many younger folks, however, respond with a blank stare or a polite chuckle, so I’ll go on to clarify: “That’s Groucho Marx, the one with the big black mustache and eyebrows, the glasses, and the cigar—not Karl, the one with the big bushy hair and beard, who you’ve been taught about in school.” For those who are still confused, I offer this helpful distinction: “In the twentieth century, Groucho Marx was directly responsible for 100 million laughs; Karl Marx was indirectly responsible for 100 million deaths.” That’s it in a nutshell.
Now, about who Jesus is—often equally as unknown as Groucho—well, that’s another story for another post.
 Some of my friends seem to care about that sort of thing more than almost anything else, so please be reassured.
 I have nothing against digital versions—I’ve read several on my Kindle—they’re just not my cup of reading tea.
 I attended high school in the 1970s, when Marx Brothers movies, made between and 1929 and 1949, were enjoying a brief revival. Just clarifying in case you thought I was 98 years old. Close but no cigar.
My own understanding of this holy day.
I suspect that many people—including the religious and nonreligious among us—are unclear as to why today is called “Good Friday.” Many folks at least vaguely realize it has some connection to Easter, that is has a “religious” meaning. But what makes it “good”? In some minds, it may be similar to Black Friday at Thanksgiving—a time to hit the stores (if they haven’t already done so) and pick up all the last-minute goodies for Easter festivities: food, candy, plastic eggs, new outfits, and so forth. For some (before COVID-19 and forced home-stays) it was “good” because they got the afternoon off from work with pay, or the day off from school. But none of these things has anything to do with its true meaning.
If you google it, you can find a number of interesting explanations about the etymology of Good Friday. Here is the interpretation that I prefer: The church—meaning the collective body of people in the world who profess to believe in and follow Jesus Christ—has always understood that the greatest possible gift God bestowed upon humanity occurred on the day Christ was crucified on a cross nearly 2,000 years ago, the Friday of Passover week in c. 30 A.D. This event in history, which occurred just outside of Jerusalem, is the sine qua non of the gospel message.
Here is that gospel message in a nutshell, as most Christians understand it: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, KJV). The death of Jesus Christ on that day in 30 A.D. effected the forgiveness of and liberation from the enslavement of sin of every person who believes and places their trust in him, repents of (turns away from) sin, and walks by faith in him. And for nearly 2,000 years, that has resulted in the greatest possible “good” for the greatest number of people in the history of the world. It brought hope to the world, the promise of eternal life with God in heaven, and true spiritual freedom.
During these fearful and uncertain days, we need this Good Friday message of forgiveness, and the hope we have through Christ’s resurrection three days later on Easter Sunday, more than ever.
Happy Resurrection Day (Easter) to you and yours! I hope you can attend a church service online this Sunday where you can learn more about and celebrate the true meaning of Easter. Most evangelical churches will be live-streaming services.
May God bless us every one.
 Some Bible teachers suggest Christ was crucified on Thursday, an opinion not shared by the majority of Christian scholars.
 Sine qua non – literally, without which not. It’s something absolutely essential or indispensable – as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is indispensable to the gospel message, and, in turn, to the Christian faith.
02022020: A very special day.
Some folks believe that Super Bowl Sunday ought to be a national holiday. Not only should the day itself be a holiday, they argue, but it should be observed on the day after
the Super Bowl so that those who indulge in too much revelry on Sunday can get Monday off with pay (if they should be so fortunate) and without guilt. Ha! The arguments go back and forth, pro and con; after a while they sound like so much blah-blah-blah-blah, with a yada-yada-yada thrown in for good measure. Boring. It gives me a headache.
Now, if you want to talk about a different national holiday I can get behind, it would be February 2, 2020, but for a different reason. Continue reading “Should Palindrome Day Be a National Holiday?”
What do the famous lyrics mean?
As we ring down the curtain on yet another year, many of us will hear, play, or sing what is sometimes dubbed “the most famous song that nobody knows.” With lyrics traditionally butchered by millions at midnight on New Year’s Eve—”Auld Lang Syne” was the title and key phrase of a Scots poem written by Robert Burns in 1788. The phrase itself had been around for 200 years before Burns’s poem popularized it.
“Auld lang syne” (“syne” can be pronounced either “zine” or “sine”) translates literally into English as “old long since” and means essentially “days gone by” or “long, long ago.” It’s historically a drinking song—the phrase “we’ll take a cup of kindness” isn’t referring to warm milk—but feel free to enjoy it without alcohol. It suggests reminiscing about good times with old friends and loved ones that we promise never to forget. “Should old acquaintance be forgot?” Never! is the implied answer. The song has five verses, but no one sings—or shall I say attempts to sing—anything but the first verse and the chorus, which follow: Continue reading ““Auld Lang Syne” on New Year’s Eve”
There is almost nothing you can’t do with it.
We native speakers of English are often guilty of taking jabs at our mother tongue—whether good-naturedly or otherwise—because of its many oddities and peculiarities. We sometimes forget that English is the international language of trade and commerce for reasons that go beyond the fact of America’s preeminence—and before that, the British Empire’s preeminence—on the world stage. English is an expressive, robust, flexible language that is relatively easy for non-native speakers to acquire and use with facility.
In my reading recently, I came across this quote on the exceptional nature of English. Although written seventy years ago, I believe it’s still relevant and worth sharing with you:
You are fortunate because your language is English. English is a great language; among the world’s languages it is perhaps the one that gives the individual the greatest freedom. It is poetic and practical at the same time; it is tremendously rich; it’s a sort of all-purpose language. One hundred years ago, the German writer Jakob Grimm wrote of English: “In wealth, good sense, and thrifty order no other of the living languages may be put beside it.” He was just one of the many foreigners who envy us our language; there is almost nothing you can’t do with it.
I’m an advocate of learning foreign languages; I’ve formally studied several of them. If you haven’t done so, please do study another language, if for no other reason than to keep your mind nimble or to deepen your appreciation of a different culture. But remember: if you read or speak English, be humbly grateful. It is a great language.
 Rudolf Flesch, The Art of Readable Writing (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1949), 206. In fairness, there are contrary opinions, such as this one by a noted linguist: “The common idea that English dominates the world because it is ‘flexible’ implies that there have been languages that failed to catch on beyond their tribe because they were mysteriously rigid. I am not aware of any such languages.” (John McWhorter, “English Is Not Normal,” November 13, 2015, https://aeon.co)
© 2019 by Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.
Do you know where all ten of these Christmas terms came from?
The Christmas season is “the most wonderful time of the year” for many of us. Just think of the many words we associate only with Christmas. The following ten words are among them. (This article first appeared in my blog three years ago.)
1. Advent – Advent is derived from the Latin adventus, meaning “arrival” or “the coming.” By the end of the sixth century, Pope Gregory I had instituted in the Roman church the practice of conducting a special mass on each of the four Sundays leading up to “the coming” of the Christ-child. Similar to Lent, the season of Advent included fasting and penitence followed by a time of celebration. Eventually, the penitential nature of Advent gave way exclusively to the celebratory nature. Today, Advent is still celebrated in many churches, with each Sunday featuring a different theme, such as the prophecies of Jesus’ birth, the Annunciation to Mary, the visitation of the angels and shepherds, or the gifts of the wise men—with a candle lit for each theme. Continue reading “Ten Christmas Terms Explained”
Origins of common words.
As millions of Americans will be counting their blessings and gathering with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving Day this week, I thought it would be fun to investigate the origins of several words commonly associated with the holiday. Please enjoy this post first published on Thanksgiving Day two years ago.
Thank comes from the Old English word thanc, which is derived from the prehistoric Germanic thangk, with a root idea of thoughtfulness. The English word think comes from the same root. It’s easy to see how our word for expressing gratitude originated from the concept of thinking or giving thoughtful consideration. A twelfth-century translation of Matthew 15:19 reads, “From the heart come evil thanks.” By the early sixteenth century the same verse was rendered, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts” (KJV). To give thanks is to think about and express one’s gratitude for something. And what better way to say “thank you” than by enjoying a big feast. Continue reading “Five Thanksgiving Words”
It takes 60 seconds. How will you do?
Test yourself on the following use of apostrophes. It will be easy for some, a challenge for others. (Answers are below.)
- Which is the correct way to write the photo caption?
(a) Here we are at the restaurant with our friends the Johnson’s.
(b) Here we are at the restaurant with our friends the Johnsons.
- Which is the correct way to sign the Christmas card?
(a) Merry Christmas from the Zimbardos.
(b) Merry Christmas from the Zimbardo’s.
- Which is correct?
(a) We enjoy watching movies about superhero’s.
(b) We enjoy watching movies about superheroes.
- Which is correct?
(a) We had hamburgers and French fries for dinner.
(b) We had hamburger’s and French fry’s for dinner.
- Which is correct?
(a) It’s easy to use apostrophes correctly.
(b) It’s easy to use apostrophe’s correctly.
What’s the punctuation rule? Adding apostrophe + s does not make a word or a name plural. Leave the poor apostrophe out of it. Just don’t do it. Leave it!
But there is one exception to the rule: When writing the plural of a letter, it can be helpful—and is acceptable—to use an apostrophe. For example, “Mind your p’s and q’s“; “Mississippi has four s’s, three i’s, and two p’s.”
How did you do? Here are the answers:
1: b 2: a 3: b 4: a 5: a
For further reading on the topic, see my article: Apostrophe Use and Misuse.
© 2018 by Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.
Miscellaneous musings on our culture’s spoken and written language.
Facebook invited us to toss words into the dust bin when they created those cute little emoticons or emojis. Now, let me say from the get-go that I use those cute little emojis. I am a user. But what do they really mean? Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry. The words—and underlying concepts—are virtually meaningless.
Hang onto your britches and let me explain. FB invites us to express supposed emotions with a single symbol, to save us the time and mental effort involved in using vocabulary to formulate sentences to express thoughtful replies. No need to do that when we can express displeasure by inserting an angry-face emoticon, or astonishment with a wow-face emoticon—when we may not feel anything like true anger or astonishment, in which case we’re conveying pseudo emotions. They’re not real.
Sometimes the feelings involved are deep and genuine—I’m not suggesting we’re all phonies on social media (but I think a lot of us are a lot more unreal there than we care to admit). Continue reading “Meaningless, Lazy, Inflammatory, Taboo Words”