I Know I Had It This Morning

I Know I Had It This Morning

I’d like to think …  well, that’s kind of the subject of today’s discourse.  I’d like to be able to think.

I started writing a novel I intended to title Time To Forget, set on a college campus, in which I would describe a popular professor’s growing concern about the deterioration of his memory.  In the early chapters he lost the occasional word; by the middle, entire concepts had disappeared.  The experience was not so much of memories erased, but of memories so slight and fragile that in attempting to recall them, they floated further into obscurity.

It wasn’t hard to come up with examples; they’re all around me.  Identification with the character came much too easily.  I backed away.  The novel is still-born, not without merit, but too disturbing to finish.

I quite liked this section at the start; you’ll catch the overwrought tone of a weary academic.

In the dead of night, in the hour of the wolf, startled awake, I try to bring any of it back.  I get no purchase.  As I sit at my desk today, I recover shards of it, but the likely possibility that I’ll lose it all again brings the familiar thrill of terror. It takes an act of will to shake it sideways.  I have learned to distract myself by flipping on  the light next to the bed, staring purposefully at the window, half-closed, imagining myself raising and lowering it, raising, lowering.  

My time is about to run out, and, in an egregious piece of bad planning, the universe intends for me to linger long enough to realize that not only will my experience of being end, but that my own memory of my existence will fade before my time runs out.  

Uh, too close for comfort.

Yesterday’s plan was to drive to my brother’s house for a short visit.  It’s not a bad drive, about two hours each way.  When driving alone, I like to listen to an audio-book, but when with my daughter, I count on her to invent a challenging and diverting exercise-of-the-mind, pretty much her stock in trade as one of the nation’s most engaging and provocative conversationalists.  In but a moment she presented what ought to have been a reasonably straightforward exchange:  She presents an actor, I am to reply identifying a film in which the actor has appeared, she then responds with another actor also in the film, I come back with another film in which the second actor has appeared, and so on, we are to hope, ad infinitum.

The first hint of imminent disaster came within seconds of her lobbing me an easy first actor, thus:

She:  Dustin Hoffman

Me:  (OK, I know a bunch of films with Dustin Hoffman, but I have to pick one that features an actor that will leave her speechless, incapable of response …. No … I want the game to continue … OK, OK …  Mrs. Doubtfire should work.  That gives her a couple of options.  She’ll get Robin Williams.)   Robin Williams

She:  No, you give me a movie.

Me:  I did, from Mrs. Doubtfire. Robin Williams

She:  (Already wary) OK, so, you’re saying Mrs. Doubtfire?

Me:  Yes.

She: Sally Field.

Me:  Got it now!  Soap Dish!

She: (OK, this might work) Robert Downey Junior

Me:  (Cleverly) I’m not going to give you Gwyneth Paltrow

She:  Good. (Hey, he remembers to name a movie)

Me:  Mark Ruffalo

She:  You want me to take the movies and you take the actor?  There are only two of us, two jobs, whatever one you want.

That part got better; that was actually the easy part.  The hard part was coming up with names that I knew perfectly well, familiar names, obvious names.  Endlessly patient, the quiz mistress gave me a great deal of latitude in working my way from the clumsy approximations to something close to an actual name.

Given Ben Affleck, for example, I wanted to get cagey, show my teeth just a bit, avoid any of the obvious roles, so, remembering that he appeared in an odd and disturbing fantasy comedy, I began the work of bringing the title to mind.  I knew everything about it:  It was condemned by the Catholic League even before it was released, directed by Kevin Smith, had a bunch of my favorite actors – Matt Damon, Alan Rickman, Linda Fiorintino, Janeane Garofalo – all I was missing was the title.

Me:  I know this.  I know this.  (Then told her all the information above)

She: (Nodding, willing to be helpful)  OK, starts with a “D”

Me:  Starts with a “B”.

She:  Think of Password.  Not Catma, but …

Me:  Batma?

She D!  D!  D!

Me: Oh!  Dogma!

Sainthood will fall upon her.  We continued to play.

Mangling the work of countless artists, I suggested answers such as:

“Cameron Diaz. Got this.  There’s A Problem With Mary … No … What’s Wrong With MaryThere’s This Thing With Mary“.  With latitude again rather than attitude, she responded, “There’s Something About Mary?”

“Penelope Cruz.  I know, I know … Velvet Sky!”  No response.  “Violet Sky?”  Nothing.  “Violent Sky?”  Again with charity, “You mean, Vanilla Sky?”

The disturbing part is not that I have faulty recall of titles I once, and intermittently still, know; the problem is that only a short while ago, if I had issues with recall, it had to do with finding the proper noun.  That was easy enough to negotiate; I could use all-purpose words, You know, Whatcha-ma-call-it, Thing-a-ma-jig, What’s-it, Whose-it, Thing-y.

“Honey, where did you leave the Whose-it that was in  the kitchen?”

That actually called for several more passes before the item was identified as a spatula, which, to be fair, is not a word that comes up often in daily conversation. No, the search for absent nouns was challenging enough; disappearing adjectives are a whole other order of misplacement.  Not much room to fake it.


Unlike the professor in my stunted novel, my concern is not appearing purely competent to the outside world, or as was the case on our trip, in quickly trading film titles, but in losing access to the richness of language. Aside from my family and best friends, I love words, and I will miss them if the days bring increasing ____ uh _____ you know ____ Whatcha-ma-call-it.






Words We Should Use and Those We Should Not – Snoot Part III

Words We Should Use and Those We Should Not – Snoot Part III


The folk at the Merriam Webster Dictionary asked a sample group of some size and definition to come up with words they had heard as a child that seemed to have disappeared from ordinary conversation.  Ah Hah!  I thought.  Finally!  A chance to recover perfectly good words from the slag heap of time.

I enjoyed reading the list, but the words presented elicit nostalgia rather than the satisfying endorsement of usage Snoots find so endearing.

Their list?  Dungarees, Hootenanny, Britches, Gallivant, Ice Box – fading perhaps, but recognizable for the most part.  Dungarees are a variety of britches now called denims or jeans.  Hootenanny is still used at folk festivals to indicate informal jammimg in the folk mode.

They also trotted out” Ten Words You Can’t Live Without.”  It turns out that you probably can as none are unlikely to be of much use in most circumstance:.  Pulchritudinous (having beauty), Omphaolpskepis (considering your navel when meditating), Trichotillomania ( compulsive pulling out of one’s hair), Myrmecophilious (close relationship with or fondness for ants), Psychotomimetic (anything that brings on psychotic behavior), Polyphiloprogenerative (spawning many, many offspring), Tirgiversation (evading the truth), Consanguineous (descended from the same ancestor), and Milquetoast(an extremely timid person).

No, I’m interested in past participles in the present perfect tense,  those that describe in the present moment actions that have already happened.  William Safire actually wrote about issues such as this in the New York Times/ .  Here’s his elegant explanation:

“For the irregular verbs shrink and sink, the simple past tense is “He shrank the material and sank the boat.” The past participle is the form of the verb used in the present perfect tense, which shows action completed at the time of speaking: “He has shrunk and has sunk.” Thus, the natural progression is shrink-shrank-shrunk, sink-sank-sunk.

At an embarrassing moment for the prosecution in the O. J. Simpson trial, Christopher Darden gulped, “The gloves appear to have shrank somewhat.” Incorrect; the past participle is shrunk or shrunken.”

Want more?

I sneak out every day.  I have sneaked (not snuck) out every night as well.

I have drunk (not drank) all the punch in the bowl.

I have dived (not dove) into a rain barrel.

I have got (not gotten) an A in every course this year.

I have swum (not swimmed) that lake until I was ready to grow gills.


Some verbs offer more than one correct form of the past participle.  It is equally correct to say, ” I have woken at six throughout the holiday,” as it is to say, “I have awakened at six throughout the holiday.” ” I have pleaded that case/ I have pled that case.”  ” I have proven that problem/ I have proved that problem.”  “I have shaved every cat in the store/ I have shorn every cat in the store.”

Others include slink/ slunk,  sped/ speeded, spit/  spat, strewn/ strewed, striven/ strived, sweat/ sweated, swollen/ swelled, trodden/ trod, woven/ weaved.

Hung/ hanged?

Here’s a tip to know and trade:  The stockings were hung by the chimney with care/  Santa was hanged when he dropped from the air.

Now, on to egregious errors in choice of word.  These are commonly heard words used in the wrong context or with the wrong meaning.

I was nauseous when we drove to Duluth.  Since nauseous actually mans causing a state of nausea, the speaker is intimating that he/she is a toxin of some sort, a carrier of disease on the way to Duluth.  The careful speaker will say, “I was nauseated by the fumes that crept into the car on our way to Duluth.

The conversation about aliens left me completely disinterested in all other Science Fiction.  Disinterested means having having no conflict of interests, impartial, neutral by virtue of having no personal (or financial)  connection to the event.  If the speaker means she has no interest, she is uninterested.

I was bemused by the very funny comedian.  The speaker intends to declare amusement but uses a word that means a state of confusion or bewilderment.

That story is so cliche.  Cliche is a noun, not an adjective.  the adjectival form of the word is cliched.

“I was delighted that the teacher finally honed in on the real subject.”  To hone is to sharpen.  Getting greater focus is to home in on a subject.

“It was ironic that it rained on our wedding day” Inconvenient or even coincidental, sure, but not irony.  Irony conveys a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning.

He was literally destroyed by that report.  Hmmmm.  Not unless the sentient report tracked him down and carried out unspeakable acts of unkindness that forced the subject into financial and personal ruin.  Literal does not mean figurative.

OK, a few parting shots.

Verbal does not mean oral.  Things put into words are verbal.  Oral describes things that come out of or go into your mouth.  You do not take medicine verbally.

And that leads us to… Feelings, whoa, whoa, Feelings …

A careless driver can have both sympathy and empathy for the rabbit twitching on the side of the road.  If you can feel the rabbit’s pain, you are empathetic.  If you regret the rabbit’s pain, you are sympathetic.

The rabbit’s passing, however young the rabbit, charming the rabbit, attractive the rabbit, is not tragic.  The course of the rabbit’s life has been essentially unchanged throughout – until the point of impact.  Too bad / so sad, but not tragic.  Had this hypothetical rabbit had a sudden, soul altering set of insights that had only recently brought significant change, yes, the untimely death might be considered mildly tragic.  Rome and Juliet?  Tragic.  Kardashian weight gain?  You know.

Can we talk?  I know the difference but no longer care about fewer and less, among and between.  Am I a backsliding Snoot?  Now, that would be tragic.