Just Pause It

For children today, the word “pause” is such a natural part of language that they use it in things unrelated to devices. One day my 7-year-old son and I pretended to be Transformers while he got ready for bed. Naturally, Optimus Prime couldn’t very well tell Ironhide “I love you” and tuck him into his recharging chamber. “Hey, let’s pause the game for a minute,” my son said. I hugged him and kissed his cheek. “Okay, un-pause now,” he said, and again we were good-guy robots from another planet.

When I was my son’s age, we didn’t have Transformers, and we didn’t use the word “pause” in everyday conversation. Though it hasn’t risen as quickly as “delete,” thanks to technology it has become ubiquitous.

Most households in my childhood experience had a pause button on a cassette player, but I’m willing to bet that it was used only by those of us who actually made recordings. That strange double-vertical-dash symbol meant almost nothing to those outside that somewhat geeky circle. “Man, that deejay started talking before I could hit pause. Now Santana’s ‘I’m Winning’ will always have that guy’s voice on the end.”

When VCR’s became popular, the pause button saw more action across various demographics, and I suspect the word did, too. “Hey, ____, I’ll pause this for you while you go fetch me a ______.”

CD players brought their own pause button, with a unique spin. That is, the disc continued to spin but the laser stopped reading the grooves. It harkened back to the original pause “button” — gently lifting the needle from the record. “Why did you pause that?” “Because all you Fred Flintstone motherf—–” are jumping around making my disc skip. Now cut it out.” (Don’t hate the cursing, that’s an actual quote from a college party in an old house with wood floors on a raised foundation.) Other disc-based technologies carried on that same tradition.

Game consoles, PC games, and handheld gaming devices allowed the player to pause a game, often only after certain checkpoints were reached. “Dude, I totally paused our game, so you can go tell my mom to bring us some more beer to stock the basement ‘fridge.” Or, “Little Johnny, pause that game now or you will not get any food at this buffet.”

Then came the one that really changed it all — the Tivo. With it and the many similar recorders that came after, one could pause “live” television. “Hey, pause that, I think Janet Jackson’s boob just popped out.” “Don’t be preposterous, that was merely — oh, my, well I never!”

We can see, then, how pause — as a function and a word — has become such an integral part of lives touched by technology. Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, I couldn’t have predicted it.

What word will our children’s children use every day that we will rarely hear in our lifetime?

The Brevity of the Situation

Some may remember my post, “Had Just Assume Forget.” In it I rant a bit about mangling of popular phrases and of grammar in general. In “You Should of Seen It,” I have fun with common mistakes.

On Monday while on my lunch break, I thought it would be funny to have a character mistakenly say, “the brevity of the situation,” rather than “the gravity of the situation.” I searched for that exact phrase on Google, using quotes, to see whether anyone else had thought of this (which usually reveals that my idea was not new).

I got 206,000 hits, and after clicking down to the third page of results, I realized that the writers were using it incorrectly, not satirically. In one case it was used in a tirade about Sookie, an annoying character from “The Jersey Shore.” There it was not surprising, but often it was used within text that otherwise seemed to be written by an educated, well-read person. (On second thought, perhaps the Sookie comment was a very clever reference to the character who calls himself “The Situation,” but I doubt it.)

Curious, I searched for the phrase “the gravity of the situation.” That time I got 1,200,000 results.

That means that, out of a total of 1,406,000 occurrences of both phrases, “the brevity” was used nearly 15% of the time. I can’t possibly know whether it was used for comic effect or not, but extrapolation from the first three pages of results on that phrase isn’t promising.

Please pardon the gravity of this post. I mean, the brevity. Dang!

Benventions: New Language

“Benjamin, please go throw away your wrappers,” I said. He had eaten granola bars for breakfast.

He reached into the sink and placed an empty drinking glass inside an empty 4-cup/1-liter Pyrex measuring cup. Then he placed a wooden spoon inside the drinking glass. “You know what that means, Daddy?”

I thought for a moment. All those things nestled inside one another could only indicate a convergence, which implies agreement. “It means, ‘yes,'” I guessed.

“That’s right,” he said.

He reached in and removed the spoon from the glass, then the glass from the measuring cup, and set them down separately in the sink. “Know what that means?”

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1000th Post

(those reading “Shootings” may go on to Part Nine)

This is post number 1000, or, as my son put it Monday night, 10 hundred.

I began this blog on July 7, 2005. That means that in four years and nine months writing for this space, I have averaged four posts per week. Sometimes I cranked out six or more, sometimes two or less, and for the entire first month there were only seven entries. Were I reader Simon, you would be seeing a chart or graph somewhere near these words.

But Simon has completely let his blog go, so no graphs any time soon on that front. We won’t even touch Moksha’s blog because, apparently, neither will he. Dave soldiers on, seemingly only to rub readers’ noses in his latest cruise plans, but at least he’s out there.

Lately I wrote why I might be slowing down a lot, only to turn right around and ramp it up. It’s almost like it has a life of its own. To be honest, several of those recent posts have been shortwinded (is that a word?) due to the time I’ve spent writing my latest fiction. Once I have that out of my system, more words will flow over here.

But seriously, guys, just kidding about your blogs.

1000th post. W00t!

While Salinger Sleeps

“There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.” – J.D. Salinger, 1974

After publishing The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger certainly lived up to this quote. No hypocrisy there. Now that he has died, questions have popped up about the unpublished writing he has done since his renowned work of fiction first took the literary world by storm.

The quote made me think about why I write. I do it because I enjoy it, but I’m not as pure as Salinger. I enjoy knowing that someone, somewhere, has read my words, and even more so when I hear that they enjoyed them. This goes as far back as the first time I received an “A” on a paper graded by a teacher. Nothing thrilled me more than seeing that letter atop my work.

Perhaps Salinger truly felt no need for such validation. Maybe he had only one great book in him and, as soon as his subsequent publications revealed that, he withdrew and wrote solely for himself. One great work of art is certainly one more than most of us ever produce.

Occasionally I craft a sentence that makes me smile when I read it back. Not because it’s funny, but because it’s well-written. Even less frequently, I relish an entire paragraph. I idolize authors who fill page upon page with such work while telling a compelling story filled with interesting characters.

Salinger kept writing all his life, but socked it away for all the world not to see. Apparently the intrinsic reward was enough for him. For me, putting the words out here, and knowing there are at least a few who will read the next entry, provides needed motivation.

Perhaps many writers would do as Salinger did had they written one book that paid the bills for the rest of their lives. This obviously doesn’t include the likes of Stephen King and Michael Crichton and Nicholas Sparks, who certainly could have stopped writing years ago and still lived quite comfortably. Then there’s Anne Rice, whose religious writing seemingly is trying to make up for a former life of capitalizing on readers’ most lustful desires.

There definitely are writers who have only one book in them. Usually these are the ones that gain critical but not commercial acclaim, and win awards but not spots on the bestseller shelves. They also often are the most thought-provoking and moving works out there.

There are writers who do what the bestsellers do, or what the critically-acclaimed do, but give it away for free. Whether weaving a fascinating tale or making us care about the key players (or both), they put their work out there for anyone to read, and often open it up to comments. Some offer their work for sale in on-demand printed editions, but rarely do they make a living from it.

My favorite example is Cheeseburger Brown (a pseudonym), who cranks out quality prose that keeps readers coming back and forms the basis of a vibrant online community. His day job has slowed him down lately, but core fans have kept interest alive.

J.D. Salinger’s stance on privacy certainly would have prevented him from using such online tools had they been available in his day. As one who writes “just for myself and my own pleasure,” he would have eschewed such self-publication.

In many more ways than one, I’m no J.D. Salinger.