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Archive for December, 2009

Thursday - December 31, 2009

Finally, the End of the Whatchamacallit Decade

I was born in what we sometimes refer to in English as the sixties, that is, the 1960s. I went to grade (elementary) school and high school in the seventies, went to college in the eighties, and worked and went back to college in the nineties.  All that is easy to explain.  But what do Americans call the next decade (ten years), from 2000 to 2009, that ends today?  How do I say, for example, I began working on a podcast during this time period?

This question was often asked ten years ago, in 1999, and various words were suggested then.  One idea was to call this decade the “aughts,” since aught is a British English term for zero.  But Americans almost never use this word, and it did not catch on (become popular).  Other solutions include “the two thousands,” “the double ohs” (oh means zero), and “the double zeros.”  Again, none of these became popular.  The truth is that, at least in the United States, there is no commonly accepted term to refer to the decade that ends today.

In Britain, where “aught” is actually used as a word for zero, the term “noughties” has become popular to describe this decade.  “Noughties” sounds like “naughty,” which is a word you might use with a young child to describe something bad or wrong (for an adult, it is also an informal, somewhat humorous term for something that is related to sex).  No doubt (probably) the British think they are being rather clever (smart) in choosing that term.  But Americans have not adopted it.  Right now people just avoid referring to this decade with a single name.

Another solution would be to see what we called the last “00” decade, 1900-1909.  Unfortunately, Americans one hundred years ago had the same problem we have today, and they never really came up with (invented) a good term!   And what about previous centuries – say, 1800-1809 or 1500-1509?  Apparently, it was not common to use a single term to refer to a decade before the 19th century, so the question never came up (was never asked).

I therefore propose we call the years 2000 to 2009 “the Whatchamacallit Decade.”  Whatchamacallit is an very informal term we use for something that we can’t think of or don’t know the name of.  It probably comes from the expression “what you may call it,” and is sometimes used humorously (as a joke).  You might say, “Give me that whatchamacallit sitting on the table there” to refer to something on the table.  It can be used with any object.  Since we don’t really know what to call this decade, whatchamacallit seems as good a choice as any (as good as any other choice).

There! I’ve solved the problem of the decade – you know, the Whatchamacallit Decade.  (You’re welcome, America.)

May you and everyone you know have a happy and peaceful New Year!


Tuesday - December 29, 2009

A Stowaway Cat

630px-Olhos_de_um_gato-3Here is a story that appeared in the Los Angeles Times recently that caught my eye (got my attention).  The headline is:

“Cat stows away (hides and rides without paying) on cross-country (across the country) flight”

This is what happened: The manager of a medical office in Chicago, Illinois, opened a package of supplies that the office had received by a mail delivery service and found a black and white cat inside!  The package had come from Dallas, Texas.

How did Cody, the cat, get into the box?

From the Los Angeles Times:
The cat had jumped unnoticed into the roughly (approximately) 2-by-3-foot box as it was being packed, said Marie Webster of Dallas, whose daughter is Cody’s owner.

“She taped it up, put the label (sticker with name and address) on it and off he went” via (by) UPS (the name of the mail delivery service), Webster said.

When Webster received the call that Cody was safe, she assumed he’d been found wandering (walking around without a destination) in Dallas.

“I didn’t know he was in a suburb (neighborhood with mostly homes) of Chicago!” she exclaimed (said loudly in surprise).

Cody spent the night at a veterinarian’s (animal doctor’s) office and flew back home, this time in a cat carrier (small pet container).
Why did the cat jump into the box?  Where was Cody going?  I think we all know.

No doubt he wanted to ring in the new year (celebrate the start of the new year) with Jeff and stopped in Chicago on his way to Minnesota.  Too bad Cody got waylaid (stopped or detained), but no doubt he’ll make it to Minnesota (or L.A.) sooner or later.  Get ready, Jeff.  He’s coming for you.

In the meantime, I wish you all a Happy New Year and a fantastic 2010!

~ Lucy

* 2010 is pronounced “two thousand (and) ten” or “twenty ten.”

Thursday - December 24, 2009

Jeff’s Favorite Christmas Carol

Lucy shared with you her favorite Christmas carol (song) on Tuesday, so I thought I would talk about my favorite one today, on Christmas Eve (eve is short for evening, but here means really the day before Christmas, December 24th).  Like Lucy, I found it difficult to choose my favorite because I like so many of them.  And like Lucy, I thought about my childhood and the carols I first learned to love.

I remember each year my family and I would go to St. Columba Church (just a few blocks from our house) on Christmas Eve and hear these wonderful songs and hymns (religious songs, usually sung as part of a religious service or event).  The church was always crowded (usually with people you didn’t see in church except on Christmas!), but the mood (atmosphere, feeling) was one of joy and real happiness to be celebrating this great day of Christmas.

The choir (group of singers) was always joined by a man named Connelly, a singer who was a member of the church community who had a beautiful, deep, powerful baritone (very low-sounding) voice.  (Everyone called him “Pops,” but I’m not sure why.  Pops is an (old) informal term meaning “dad” or “father.”)  Toward the end of our celebration, Pops Connelly would have a solo (singing by himself), and it was always the song, “O Holy Night.”  (Holy means sacred, dedicated to God, very good.)  Each year when I heard it, it reminded me of the “true” spirit of Christmas, of why we were there.  The song was written originally as a poem in French in the 19th century (1800s) and was later translated into English.

This rendition (version, performance) was done by the incomparable (unable to be compared to anyone else, because he is so great) Nat King Cole, a popular American singer in the 1940s and ’50s.  Cole doesn’t have the same deep voice, but he always sings with emotion, and it is difficult not to be moved (affected emotionally) by the way he interprets (performs) this carol.

A very Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it on this “holy night”!


“O Holy Night”
sung by Nat King Cole

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angels’ voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O  night divine, O night, O night divine!

Fall on your knees! O hear the angels’ voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O  night divine, O night, O night divine!

Saviour = someone who saves or rescues you from some danger; here, Jesus Christ
long lay = for a long time there existed/there was
pining = experiencing some pain (mental or physical) because you have been disappointed in love; wanting or desiring the return of someone you love
felt its worth = believed that it was valuable
weary = tired
rejoices = celebrates
yonder = over there, at a great distance, far away (old-fashioned, poetic term)
breaks…morn = begins a new morning, a new day, with the sun rising
Fall on your knees = kneel, put both knees on the ground as if to pray
divine = relating to God
Christ = literally the “anointed” or chosen one; here, Jesus Christ, whose birth is celebrated on Christmas (the “mas” is short for Mass, the Catholic religious service)

Tuesday - December 22, 2009

Our Favorite Christmas Carols

Although Christmas is considered a Christian holiday, in the U.S., many people who are not Christian celebrate it as a secular (non-religious) holiday.  One thing people love about Christmas, even if they are not religious, is the Christmas carols, songs to celebrate this holiday season.

When I was young, it was not uncommon during the weeks leading up to (right before) Christmas for carolers to come to the front door.  Christmas carolers are groups of people who go from door-to-door (one house to the next) singing Christmas songs.  School groups, church groups, groups of neighbors or friends, would get together, usually informally, to go Christmas caroling.  When a group of carolers come to your door, you and those in your house become the audience–you applaud and if the group is small or if you know some members of the group, you may offered them a snack, such as a cookie or slice of cake, or even a holiday-related drink, such as apple cider (like apple juice) or eggnog (drink made with egg, cream, spices, and sometimes alcohol).  Then, the carolers move on to the next house.  These days, it’s less common to see Christmas carolers, and I can’t remember the last time I had Christmas carolers come to my house in Los Angeles.

In the Christmas spirit, Jeff and I agreed that we would each pick our favorite Christmas carol for the blog.  (Jeff will post his on Christmas Eve, December 24th.) I found this to be a very difficult choice to make because I love listening to and singing carols, even when it’s not Christmas, to the dismay (distress; pain) of anyone around me.  To choose just one among so many is nearly impossible.

After a lot of thinking, I picked “Little Drummer Boy.”  A drummer is someone who plays the drums, of course, which is the musical instrument where you hit a round top with sticks. (The lyrics “pa rum pum pum pum” represents the sound of the drum.)  I love its melody (main notes in the song) and the story of a poor boy who wants to honor (pay respect to) someone important (in this case, Jesus), but all he has is his music to give.

To all of you, our wonderful listeners, I wish you a very happy holiday and a wonderful new year!

~ Lucy

P.S. This is another wonderful version of the song sung by the Vienna Boy’s Choir.

“Little Drummer Boy”
by the Harry Simeone Chorale

Come, they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A newborn King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest (best) gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before (present to) the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit (appropriate) to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?

Mary (Jesus’ mother) nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time (to maintain the tempo or rhythm), pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.

Thursday - December 10, 2009

Your Typical American: Grocery Shopping

StoreisleI recently found a book called What Americans Really Want…Really: The Truth About Our Hopes, Dreams and Fears. It’s a review of polls (surveys, questions asked to some group) and focus groups (small groups of people who come together to give their opinions about something for a business or a survey company) on Americans and the things they – well, we-like and dislike. One part of the book talks about Americans shopping for food.  Here are some facts about Americans and food that I thought were interesting:

  • Americans spend on average (typically) 25 minutes when they go to a supermarket (food store) to buy food.
  • Although much has been said about the equality of men and women in the United States in the past 30 years, the large majority (70%) of food shoppers are still women. Among married couples, women almost always do the majority of shopping.  (That’s not true in my marriage, let me be quick to add!)
  • About 75% of Americans spend more than $100 a week on groceries (food).
  • When Americans are shopping for food, they try to get the highest quality at the lowest price (but then again, who doesn’t do this in any country?).   Moms tend to (typically, usually) pay more to get higher quality, whereas (but) seniors (older people) do not.
  • Americans say that they shop for groceries several times a week. About a third of Americans say they go to the grocery store five times a week or more, spending about $20 per trip. This seems like an awful lot (too much) to me.  I don’t think I go to the grocery store more than twice a week.
  • More and more Americans are buying organic (grown mostly without chemicals or artificial processing) food. This is especially true in the more politically liberal enclaves (small areas where one particular type of group is the majority) such as Berkeley, California; Boulder, Colorado; and Burlington, Vermont.  Organic is becoming more popular, having grown from a $1 billion a year business in 1992 to a more than $23 billion business in 2008. However, it is still a relatively small percentage of American food sales. The most popular place to buy organic food in large American cities is the store called Whole Foods. It is sometimes jokingly called “Whole Paycheck,” since it is so expensive it will require that you spend all of the money you make each week — that is, all of your paycheck!  (We have several of these stores here in Los Angeles, but I don’t go to them very often – they really are more expensive.)


Thursday - December 3, 2009

An Easier Way for Internet Reading

I hate reading things online. I don’t mind (am not bothered by) reading short articles and emails, or a paragraph here and there from a blog post, but if the article is more than one or two pages long, I hit the “Print” button and read it the old-fashioned (out-of-date, no longer popular) way: on a piece of paper.  And yes, this is probably bad for the environment (imagine all the trees I’m killing!), but I don’t think I’m the only person who hates reading a 20-page article by looking up at a computer screen at one’s desk.

Here’s the problem with my approach: Web pages have lots of things on them besides (other than, in addition to) the text I want to read.  There are links, graphics, photos, menus – all things I don’t need to print out or even have on my screen in order to read the actual article.  Wouldn’t it be great if there were a way to look at a web page and have just the actual text (words) of the article I wanted to read, without all of the other things on that page?

Now there is.  It’s called Readability, a free web service that magically gets rid of (eliminates) everything on the web page but the words of the article you want to read.  It’s an amazing service! I’ve been using it for about three months.  Whenever I want to read something online or (more likely) print something out to read from a web page that doesn’t have a “printer-friendly” option (the ability to print out only the article, without all the extra stuff on the web page), I just click on a special link on my browser and the page appears with just the actual article.  I can then read it online, print it, or email a link for that page to a friend.

How do you use this service?  There is an excellent explanation in simple English here from Warren Ediger’s website for ESL students,  Take a look at how it works and an example of the magic Readability can perform.

One more thing: Readable means “able to be read,” or “something that can be read without difficulty.”  Readability is technically the measurement of how easy something is to read, often expressed in school grade levels (for example, when we say something is at a “second-grade reading level”).  While Readability won’t make the English easier to read,  it will make it easier for your eyes to see what you want to see on the page.


P.S. Thanks to listener Pedro who told me about this service several months ago.