Word-A-Day

For many years now, one of my standard holiday gifts to Kish has been a “word-a-day” calendar.  It’s a calendar that features a different, typically unusual word each day, gives you the definition and the pronunciation — if you can decipher those weird pronunciation symbols, that is — and then provides a quote that uses the word in a sentence.

It’s an interesting thing to check out each day, and a chance to engage in a little vocabulary building.  Typically the words on the calendar fall into three categories:  words we already know and use, words that you would never try to work into a conversation, and words that you actually think could become part of your standard word-stock.  The first category is easily the smallest in size, but when the calendar does use a word we already use — yesterday’s word, for example, was rarefied — you feel a certain sense of accomplishment.  The second category is the largest.  Sometimes the words are so technical that there really is no chance to use them in everyday conversation, and others are so high-falutin’ you can’t imagine dropping them into a discussion.  Tomorrow’s word, for example, is faineant, with an accent over the e, which means idle and ineffectual or indolent.  I doubt I could even pronounce that one properly, much less find an opportunity to use it correctly.

But the third category is why you buy the calendar.  Today’s word, quiddity, falls into that category.  My favorite recent word in that category is gorgonize, which means to have a paralyzing or mesmerizing effect, and is synonymous with stupefy or petrify.  I’m saving that one up for a choice opportunity — like when one of my friends tells a long-winded story about people I don’t know at lunch and I confess that their tale gorgonized me.

 

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To The Victor Goes The Hand

I prevailed in our Game of Thrones Death Pool at work, and in addition to invaluable bragging rights and a modest amount of cash, I won this nifty Hand of the Queen/King pin. Accordingly, I am now ready to offer sage advice to any bloodthirsty tyrant who might sit on the heap of melted slag that once was the Iron Throne.

Breaking The Bad News

On the TV show House, House’s oncologist pal Wilson was reputed to be so humane and caring when giving patients bad news about their condition that, when he was done, patients actually thanked him.  Studies indicate, however, that there aren’t a lot of Wilsons out there in the medical profession.  Instead, many doctors botch one of the most important parts of their job — giving patients truthful information about their medical condition when the diagnosis is grim.

photo-hospital-doorwayTelling patients that they have untreatable cancer, or some other fatal disease, clearly is one of the toughest parts of a doctor’s job — and research indicates that doctors just aren’t very good at it.  Some doctors will break the bad news indirectly or use medical jargon that leaves the patient confused, others will do it with brutal directness, and still others will sugarcoat the news with treatment options.  As a result, many cancer patients aren’t well informed about their actual condition, and their prospects. A 2016 study found that only five percent of cancer patients understood their prognoses well enough to make informed decisions about their care.

Why are doctors so inept at giving patients bad news about their condition?  Of course, it’s incredibly hard to be the bearer of bad tidings, especially when the bad news is about a fatal illness, but there’s more to it than that.  Communications skills apparently aren’t emphasized at medical schools, and many doctors see a diagnosis of an incurable disease as a kind of personal failure on their part.

It’s interesting that, in a profession so associated with the phrase “bedside manner,” so many doctors regularly mishandle what is arguably the most important part of their job and so few medical schools make sure that their graduates are equipped to handle that task in a genuine, caring, and understandable way.  I hope I never receive a devastating diagnosis, but if I do I hope it comes from a doctor who knows how to break the bad news.

Focus On The Farmers

It’s pouring in Columbus right now, and the weather forecast is for more of the same — all day, and for that matter all week.

As I sat on my back porch listening to the rain pound the roof this morning, the phrase that popped into my head was: “It’s good for the farmers.” When we were kids, that was Mom’s inevitable response to a rainy summer day. Forlorn kids would be staring out the window, saddened by the fact that a precious day of summer vacation would be lost to thunderstorms, but Mom would try to put a happy spin on the showers. She was a master of the power of positive thinking In the days before spin even had a name.

Here’s to you, Ohio farmers! Let’s hope the rains produce a bumper crop this year.

Watching One Of Dad’s Favorites

Dad’s favorite actor was Humphrey Bogart.  I don’t think anyone else was even a close second.  And his two favorite movies — both of which featured Bogie, of course — were Casablanca and The African Queen.  So when Kish and I went with friends to see Casablanca to kick off the Ohio Theater Summer Movie Series last night, at the bargain ticket price of only 50 cents a person, of course I thought about Dad.

It turns out Dad had pretty good taste in movies.  Casablanca is generally considered one of the very best movies ever made, and if you get a chance to see it on the big screen, you shouldn’t pass it up.  The tale of star-crossed lovers set in exotic, desperate Casablanca, with the grim early days of World War II as its backdrop, is a terrific, timeless classic that is filled with memorable lines and characters, from Dooley Wilson’s warm and decent Sam to Sidney Greenstreet’s fly-swatting Ferrari to Paul Henreid’s impossibly noble Victor Laszlo.  The chemistry between Bogart and Ingrid Bergman’s Isla Lund crackles and almost jumps off the screen, and stands in sharp comparison to many of the modern romance movies where the “chemistry” is either forced or totally lacking.  And Bogart’s depiction of Rick — the tough, fearless, gravel-voiced American who will stick his neck out for nobody, but turns out to have a conscience and a heart of gold — has become so iconic we tend to take for granted what a fantastic acting performance it was.  Watching the scenes where the anguished Rick is drinking to try to forget the painful wound that Ilsa has reopened should be required study for anybody who wants to become an actor.

One other thing about Casablanca that you notice in comparison to today’s Hollywood fare:  it somehow manages to combine a compelling personal narrative that grabs you by the collar, and real potential peril from believable villains, with great humor.  Claude Rains as Louis, the jocular Prefect of Police, gets most of the laugh lines, but Bogart has some and other characters do, too.  How many modern films can you think of that successfully feature drama and humor side by side — or even try to do so?  It’s one big reason why Casablanca typically ranks right up there on the GOAT lists.

Lettering In BBQ

Most of the varsity teams in American high schools involve sports that have been around for a long, long time.  Baseball, football, basketball, wrestling, and swimming, among others, have all been around for decades.  Now some high schools in Texas are introducing a new varsity team to the mix:  barbecue.

30629807_346739375833962_402609782687286108_nThe high school BBQ teams in Texas sound like a combination of vocational education, home ec, and shop class, with a little rah-rah school spirit thrown in.  Students on the team build and weld their own metal barbecue cooker, design and create their own team t-shirts, and work with teachers to come up with recipes and techniques and develop their pitmaster capabilities in the competitive cooking categories.  At cook-off competitions, the teams are judged on best beef brisket, pork ribs, half chicken, best beans, dessert, best pit, most school spirit, and best t-shirt.

High school barbecue teams sound odd, at first, but I think they’re actually a pretty good idea, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more schools in other states adopting the concept.  The BBQ teams have got to be a lot of fun, and they offer a chance for boys and girls to be on the same school squad, competing together for their alma maters.  The modern world is a lot more about inclusion, and a varsity BBQ team would have room for anyone who likes to cook — regardless of their physical condition, height, weight, coordination, or general athletic ability.  And every kid who letters in BBQ will end up being pretty deft with a grille and smoker and probably can make a pretty mean sauce, besides.  It would be a nice skill to have as you move into adulthood.

Varsity barbecue has been rapidly growing in popularity, especially in north Texas.  One annual tournament drew teams from more than 100 high schools.  I bet it drew a lot of hungry fans, too.