Normally, I would post today’s Word of the Day (it’s kinetic, BTW), but today is the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings, and that, I feel, deserves comment. I spoke about it last year (you can read that post here), and my feelings/opinions have not changed in the interim. I don’t know how those young men did what they did. I really don’t. They probably knew that 7 in 10 of them would be killed, and when those landing crafts opened and they saw the Germans had the high ground to fire down on them at will, they had to have been scared shitless. I would have been. It’s also the 51st anniversary of the death of Robert F. Kennedy, a death that had a profound effect on politics that year, and on the Democratic Party for a long time. Last year, I referred to today as an “inauspicious day.” Perhaps I need to come up with another word for it.
Today’s Word of the Day is putsch which means, “a secret plot to overthrow a government.” The most famous putsch I can imagine people have heard of is the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, led by Adolf Hitler. It failed, and while he initially got away and escaped arrest, he eventually was arrested, convicted of treason, and sentenced to five years in prison. For treason. Maybe they should have thought of a stiffer punishment. While he was in prison, he dictated Mein Kampf, so, the failed coup d’état turned out to be a rather propitious event for him. Not so much for the rest of Europe and anyone who didn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes. It’s easy to look at an event like this and wonder how the course of world history would have changed if any one variable in this whole play was different. What if it had succeeded? What if Hitler had been killed? What if he’d never been involved at all? I think that’s what sometimes makes a historian’s job so difficult. You have the facts of what happened, then all the conjecture surrounding the what-ifs. I thought for today’s Musical Interlude Friday selection since we’re talking about Germany, I’d choose a song by a German artist. Here is “99 Luftballons” by Nena. Enjoy!
Today’s Word of the Day is shanghai which means, “to trick or force into doing something.” To quote Merriam-Webster:
“The word shanghai comes from the name of the Chinese city of Shanghai. People started to use the city’s name for that unscrupulous way of obtaining sailors because the East was often a destination of ships that had kidnapped men onboard as crew.”
So, unlike what people assume it means, it has nothing to do with the Chinese at all. It actually refers to what other people did to trick or coerce someone into doing something. For example, you might say you were shanghaied into attending a bachelorette party because the person who invited you said it was a different function altogether. The Chinese as a people aren’t involved in any aspect of this word, other than one of its cities lending its name to the practice. On Twitter, I saw quite a few people comparing it to words like “Indian-giver,” “gypped,” “shyster,” and the expression “to Jew down,” which I don’t agree with at all. Those are all based on harmful and bigoted stereotypes about various ethnic and religious groups. “Shanghai” has nothing to do with anyone from China who has ever lived or ever will live. As important as it is to understand how language affects us and how it affects others, it’s equally important to understand the history of language to better understand where words come from and what they mean. I don’t know anyone who uses the word “shanghai” in everyday conversation unless they’re specifically referring to the city, and I could think of half a dozen other words that mean the same sort of thing that I would use instead. So, YMMV on this one.
Today’s Word of the Day is despot which means, “a ruler with absolute power and authority.” We’re fortunate here in the United States to not be ruled by a tin-pot dictator or military junta, but that could change. One hopes it doesn’t, but I’m sure those other countries didn’t think they’d have rulers like that…until they did. Things aren’t nearly that dire right now, though it can sometimes feel like it’s headed that way. That’s where you have to hope the people (read: the electorate) understand what’s at stake and do the right thing. Of course, depending on a large group of people to “do the right thing” can seem like a Herculean task, but it’s happened before, and it can happen again. I suppose that’s a ringing endorsement for voting in every single election, from town dog catcher to President of the United States. The only way you can prevent the next Hitler/Mussolini/Stalin/Pol Pot/etc is by voting. Don’t let demagogues and despots rule the day.
It occurred to me after I submitted my blog post for today that I totally forgot what today was. It’s March 15, and if know anything about Shakespeare (or ancient Roman history), then you know that today is the Ides of March, the day Julius Caesar was assassinated. Had I remembered that while I was typing my entry, I’d have made this the Musical Interlude Friday selection, but it’s never too late to share it anyway. So, in honor of today’s auspicious date, here is “Vehicle” by The Ides of March. Enjoy!
Today’s Word of the Day is minion which means, “a servile follower or underling.” I think everyone at one time in their lives will meet someone who could charitably be described that way. It might be someone at school, it more than likely will be someone at work. I know we’ve all heard someone described like that, particularly when talking about politics or world leaders. The Pixar movie was cute, but minions aren’t really adorable or worthy of being turned into a collectible figurine. They’re actually very dangerous and have done horrible things throughout history because they have no moral center, no principles. Think of the Nazi high command during WWII. At some point they figured out Hitler was batshit insane, but their job was to follow orders, follow commands, not question him. So, they did what he demanded, no matter how unconscionable it was. Now, part of the reason they did it was because they personally agreed with him and felt the same way, but there were more than a few that didn’t, but did it anyway. To break away from the rather dreary and depressing turn this blog entry has taken, I thought for today’s Musical Interlude Friday selection I’d pick a song that has a title that kinda sorta goes along with the Word of the Day. Here is “Follow You Follow Me” by Genesis. Enjoy!
Today’s Word of the Day is charisma which means, “special magnetic charm or appeal.” I can’t say I’m a very charismatic person. I wish I was. I’d have a difficult time leading a cult or giving a pep talk to someone because that sort of energy doesn’t come naturally to me, and faking it just looks worse than not having it at all. I can’t even get my dog to listen to me when I take him out for walks, I sure as hell couldn’t convince one or more people to do anything, dangerous or otherwise. That’s why I’m fascinated (in a purely historical sense) about how people like Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson, David Koresh, and Jim Jones were able to do the things they did. How did they convince otherwise mild-mannered people to give up all their possessions, follow them, do anything and everything they told them to, and then in the case of Jim Jones, kill themselves afterward. Charisma is a very powerful thing, if wielded responsibly. JFK had charisma. Barack Obama has charisma. Bob Hope had charisma. The difference between them and the people I named earlier is how they used that power and to what end they used it for.
Today’s Word of the Day is boycott which means, “to refuse to use or buy (something).” When I think of boycotts, I think primarily of the Civil Rights Movement and how blacks were able to slowly chip away at Jim Crow laws in the South to gain access to serving counters, restrooms, schools, department stores, public transportation, you name it. What I don’t think about are all the dumb-ass boycotts you hear about in the news nowadays, whether it’s of Starbucks or Keurig or Nike or some other company that has done/said something to piss off the right-wing in this country. Boycotts used to be effective tools for social change. Now they’re just pathetic wastes of time that exist more on social media than they do in real life. I wonder if any of these people are students of history. My guess would be not.
Today’s Word of the Day is valorous which means, “courageous or heroic.” Today is not only Veterans Day, it’s the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I. I don’t think people nowadays really understand how bloody and horrifying that war really was. Time has dulled its savagery, I feel. An entire generation of young men were dead in a few short years. It was a war that the United States didn’t enter until very late, and a war whose effects we didn’t really feel, not like France, Britain, and Germany. Of course, it was the winning nations’ desire to punish Germany for their role in starting the war that led to what ultimately became World War II. Germany had been so beaten down, so demoralized and utterly bankrupted, that a charismatic figure like Adolf Hitler was able to say all the right things to all the right people, thus bringing about a horror that eclipsed even the brutality of trench warfare. There are several documentaries on YouTube about World War I that are worth watching, and I’ll link one of them below. It’s important that it isn’t forgotten.
Today’s Word of the Day is emblazon which means, “to inscribe with heraldic bearings.” Now, I’ve most often heard this word used in the context of a t-shirt or a wall “emblazoned” with something, usually words or a logo or some kind of art piece, so not quite how Merriam-Webster says it should be used. Back in ye olden days of course, and by that I mean the Middle Ages, heraldry was a huge thing, and most noble families had their own coat of arms, each with specific meaning to either their family names or regions they came from. For example, Prince William’s coat of arms has three seashells on it, as the seashells come from the Spencer coat of arms, which was his late mother’s. Trying to find a good song to come up with today that ties in some how to it was difficult. As such, I had to think outside the box. For today’s Musical Interlude Friday I give you “Cover Me” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Enjoy!