alfalfa and analphabetism

I am taking a break from this site (holy moly me oh my priorities!) but promise to never lose my curiosity/obsession with communication and language. You many have noticed a few posts here were drifting away from language, meandering ever further into caprine, and other, territories. So I’ve created a new blog, dedicated to all things goat. Here’s the link.

And a final article to leave you with on goats and accents. I am inclined to believe this article was written just for me, to share with you in this particular post. Although coincidences do occur. I am going to start taking notes on goats’ intonation, as well as tone. There’ll be lots to note.


our daily (b)read

“Love the quick profit, the annual raise,

vacation with pay. Want more

of everything ready-made. Be afraid

to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.”
― Wendell Berry


if you don’t love it, don’t do it

That being said, I realize not all of us can quit our jobs. There’s mouths to feed, mortgages to pay, debts piling up around our ears…But if you’re feeling courageous, why not be happier? Quit. Here’s your definition of the day to tell you why: job. (1) A low mean lucrative busy affair. (2) Petty, piddling work; a piece of chance work. [Johnson’s Dictionary]                    NB: (Samuel) Johnson’s dictionary was published in 1755 in London. Ok, so Dickens, who showed us how dreary it all was, came a bit later, but I’m sure 60 years prior was not all roses. What? That’s just the definition of one man, you say? We don’t have enough fingers and toes to count all the people who hate their jobs. And not just dislike, but despise. We all know it. It’s the elephant in the room. What a sad, sorry state we’re in, where we’re putting up with the status quo because we’re scared of change (add your reason here). Devil known. Devil unknown.  How can we keep doing it? Alcohol sales seem to be on the rise. Too bad there’s no laudanum anymore. Oh, this is terribly glum-sounding. I’m so sorry. make a list of your loves. then follow through with them. don’t ever look back. x

Dear Brad Kessler,

This is a love letter, both to you and your goats. Your book was enlightening, and made me fall ever more in love with these herbivores.

I didn’t know that the etymology of tragedy was Greek, although I feel I should have, nor did I know that it meant goat song. I knew something of the complex process of making a tomme (not to advertise for Fifth Town with this link, but they make stunning cheeses. Yes, I’m not ignoring the fact that there was a listeria scare somewhat recently), but you brought poetry and even more meditation to it for me. You reminded me that we are part of the food web, something we mammals, some of us facultative omnivores, are struggling to understand in this awkward stage of our development.

Goats feature in many legends and tales. Tanngrisnir (ety.: Old Norse, “teeth-barer, snarler”) and Tanngnjóstr (ety.: Old Norse, “teeth grinder”), the goats that pulled Thor’s chariot, were eaten by the god himself and then resurrected from their bones the following day. You told of the Yiddish tale that teaches children to follow a goat home if they get lost, and the song גדי אחד : Chad Gadya. One little goat. So precious. You endeared yourself to me with your brief moments of pastoralism (I plan to do the same now), your sensitivity to the interrelationships of the goats that reside with you, and your poetry – your light on language.

Goats are not deserving of all the misplaced stereotypes and expressions that we’ve affixed to them. Scapegoat, to get one’s goat, horny old goat, separate the sheep from the goats (the good from the bad)…we don’t take to caprines too kindly.

But we should, and you have written a beautiful reminder. You’ve painted a masterpiece of wisdom in a tongue so true as to be timeless. I’ve added Birds in Fall and your other novels to my ever-growing reading list.



Time, and the passage of it

Why do we have so many tenses in English? By the time I have completed this entry, I will have thought of many other things I could (and should) be doing (like lesson planning). By the time + future perfect; why are we looking ahead so much, planning and orchestrating our lives? Are we ever in the present moment?

Cat yoga. Maybe this should be a caveat in all areas of my life. I watch cats stretch. I envy them their presence, their sensuality.  Watch a cat, maybe for an hour or so, and you will inevitably wish you had more time to stretch, to watch the birds, to dine. To purr.

Maybe we will take more time to do those important things. Breathing. Dining. Napping. Observing.

On another note, I had a conversation with a student today about the barriers that language can create with talking to one’s children. It was of fewer words, but still very powerful. She, a Kurdish woman from Turkey who speaks Farsi on top of everything else, was telling me about friends of hers, as well as herself, who are chided by their pre-school and school-age children because they cannot understand their parents. Of course, their children are in school for many hours a day, learning English like little sponges, and adults learn at slower rates. But children are still learning empathy. Their world view is immediate, themselves and their proximate surroundings, caregivers, etc.  How do we teach empathy?


We are into the complex topic of testing language proficiency in my TESL course. A whole slew of acronyms pours out…DELE, TOEFL iBT (CBT, PBT), CAE, MELAB, DEFL, IELTS, CELPIP, TORLF (rhymes with awful). ETS is behind the pinnacle of these, the TOEFL. I’ve yet to think up an appropriate acronym for this gruelling 4-hour stress-fest. But…how they are a “non-profit” is a mystery to me. They run millions of tests internationally. (They are also behind standardized testing in Canada.) Do they really put all their profits into R&D? Cannot be. I think their wishy-washy status under US tax law is at fault.

Complaints about TOEFL to come. My intent was to look at the act of interlocution. Communicating. Bantering, witty or otherwise. This point came up in relation to language proficiency being a complex and multifaceted thing, as it includes such things as grammatical usage, circumlocution (being able to talk around something if you don’t have a word/phrase), gestures, knowledge about the world, and “sensitivity to one’s audience”. Um. I think most of us might need some sensitivity training. We do listen (often only when we have something to gain/learn), and some of us choose our words before we utter them.

But how much do we consider the other?

Tannen talks about high involvement and high considerate speakers. Members of the former group will all talk at once, talk over each other, interrupt and generally not consider the other. High considerate speakers, on the other hand, won’t speak until they are sure the other speaker is done. Obviously it’s a spectrum, and in certain situations one could be at one extreme or the other, or happily in the middle. I’ve witnessed conversations where two people are talking, but neither are listening. It’s a cacophonic nightmare. We do fear the “awkward silence” in English, and will do a lot to avoid it. Some languages have more silence than speech, which one would assume makes for much better listening. I am happier as a listener, at extremes fear the power of words, and attach a lot to not being listened to.

One interesting thing to note is the expression “talk at”. To be talked at, at least to me, means the speaker is forcefully trying to get their point across, without taking me or my contributions (stated or potential) into consideration. We have a few verbs in English that can take two prepositions. Yell, talk, throw, among others, when coupled with the preposition “to” are neutral, but the addition of “at” suggests aggression. Don’t yell at the tigers, they might attack.

What is the purpose of communication? Is it just to state your opinion? Often it seems to be. When do we speak from place of wanting to be heard, listened to and understood, and when do we just say whatever genius idea is in our beautiful minds at that moment and then try to negotiate meaning or understanding, if at all? When do we have communication breakdowns, and why? Perhaps it’s not language that gets in the way of communication – it’s a neutral facilitator. It’s us. Putting aside oneself – one’s ego, one’s history, one’s ideals, means that you are completely present to listen, and maybe even speak. Bon courage.



Word trends, like food trends, are a point of interest in the land of change that language (and food) reside in. Food trends drive me a little mad, because they don’t do justice to the true value of food; they trivialize it, make it a commodity…but they do put the fear in neophobes, which I like. Just as a side note, I dearly hope the nose-to-tail and stem-to-root trends will stick around. There’s more to food than just the pretty bits.

I just cancelled my subscription to urban dictionary’s word a day. I originally subscribed because I was interested in seeing what sorts of word trends those inventive teenagers and twenty-somethings would generate; what fit in with their current state of mind and world view (self-absorption is another matter entirely). I was growing so tired of all the wretched, base utterances about food abuse, sex, deceit, etc that I had to cancel. Which leaves me stuck. I very much like Anu Garg’s A Word a Day, but the words don’t have too much practical application, unless you read masses, or work in the kind of institution where it may help to throw such words out there to sound clever. Alas, why don’t we have a verb for this? Maybe we do. Google doesn’t know. But we do it all the time! We should have a verb for it. I like wordasterate (-aster being a negative suffix, like poetaster), but it’s awfully clumsy sounding. Word abuse doesn’t quite explain the social context, which I think needs to be included. Does precise, beloved German have such a word for this phenomenon?

I would just love a dictionary of neologisms across age boundaries. The OED is great, but it’s only every three months. I suppose I should be happy with this. I’m too demanding. I like these three words right now, of my own coinage. Please remember simultaneous coinage is possible.

shmotki pl. n.: useless consumer goods that people buy to fill the void in their 9-5 lives. (ety. Russian. In Russian it is somewhat neutral/pejorative, but in English, because of our phonetic bias, it sounds derisive).

sexetarianism n. the practice of having only sexual relations. NB: UD defines it differently.

theory-practice gap n. The difference between what one believes or knows and what one actually does. NB: this term already exists in the workplace. I would just like to popularize it as a neutral alternative to hypocrisy. We all have a theory-practice gap, after all, but the questions are: how aware of it are you? how big is it? and what are you doing to narrow it? Dime-store psychology is a hobby of mine.

To coin is the act of giving birth to a thought, a perspective. Whether or not your word will actually blossom is another matter entirely.