Today’s Word of the Day is extemporize which means, “to improvise.” This is of course where we get the word “extemporaneous” from. I can’t claim to be very good at extemporizing, whether it’s a speech or something else. I like to know what I’m doing while I’m doing it, or if I’m giving a speech or presentation, I like to have at least some notecards or something outlining what I’m going to say. Coming up with something on the fly is not my strong suit. Robert F. Kennedy was an amazing extemporaneous speaker, and his speech in Indianapolis after MLK was assassinated was completely made up as he was giving it. He had no notes, no anything already thought up. He just stood in the bed of the pickup truck and started talking. I think that’s part of why that speech is so highly regarded today. It wasn’t a cynical, planned, highly scripted moment. He was speaking from the heart, about a topic he knew too much about. It was also the first time he’d ever publicly spoken about the fact his brother had been assassinated, which had to take guts.
Today’s Word of the Day is totem which means, “an object used as a family or clan emblem.” I would gather most people in North America are familiar with the word totem because of totem poles, which I have to think everyone’s seen at least a picture of once in their lives. I’ve never actually seen one up close, which stinks because in photos they’re beautiful. I can only imagine in person they’re even more striking. They were also carved by hand and are incredibly tall, which had to take a lot of painstaking, delicate work. I wasn’t entirely sure what totem poles represented, so I looked it up — that would be a lot of typing to try and summarize it, so instead, you can read it all here. I will say I didn’t know that they are indigenous to the Pacific Northwest of North America; I thought they could found all over both Canada and the United States.
50 years ago today, human beings first walked on the moon. It was the greatest technological achievement of modern humanity next to the invention of the Internet. It scares me that people believe it didn’t really happen, that it was filmed on some Hollywood soundstage or out in Area 51 somewhere. I can’t imagine what kind of emptiness of imagination and intelligence one must possess to immediately doubt the veracity of anything that they can’t personally understand. I don’t know how the hell we got to the moon, but we did, and we did it more than once. It’s painful that Neil Armstrong isn’t still with us to celebrate the 50th anniversary of such a monumental achievement, but considering how private and retiring he was, if he was still with us, he wouldn’t want a ton of attention dumped on him. He said back in 1969 that the 400,000 people who got him to the moon were the real heroes, not him. The engineers, designers, mathematicians, even the women who sewed the spacesuits they wore. I know Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins probably feel the same way. At least they’re still here to help commemorate this. Speaking of, if you go to Google, the Google Doodle is all about the moon landing, and it’s narrated by Mike Collins. You should definitely check it out. It was very well done.
Today’s Word of the Day is gnomic which means, “characterized by aphorism.” Hmm. I think this is the first time in Word of the Day history where I’ve had to look up what a word means in the definition of another word. So, aphorism means “a pithy observation that contains a general truth.” The example given was, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Certainly pithy. Definitely true. I’m still not exactly sure how best to use “gnomic” in a sentence, so I’m completely changing tack and dedicating today’s Musical Interlude Friday to three very special and important people. Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing (I’ll be doing a special about it in the morning), so I thought, in honor of that, I’d play for you my all-time favorite song that has “moon” in the title. Now, you can argue who did it better amongst yourselves, but for me, the answer is clear. Here is “Fly Me to the Moon” by Tony Bennett. Enjoy!
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!