On this third day after the saddest day of the year, the end of the baseball season, it is time to consider three days that always bring a special light to our existence.
On this third day of pondering the rapidly-approaching time when NASCAR quits racing and the football season ends (unless a favored team is in a bowl or the NFL playoffs) and Sunday afternoons truly become nap times because all that’s left on the telly is the NBA, hockey, poker tournaments, and ultimate fighting, it is comforting to know that there will be time to ponder the beauty, inspiration, and self-reflection that comes from those three days.
They don’t seem to have gotten the publicity in 2015 that they have gotten in previous years although it’s possible it was missed. But in a world where the news is normally all about this candidate, that politico, or another faction or nation shouting with all seriousness, “It’s all about me,’ these three events remind us that life need not be so self-serious, not so demanding, and not so somber.
The three days each year are these:
- The day Beloit College in Wisconsin tells us what the year’s incoming freshman class knows and doesn’t know.
- The day Lake Superior State College in Michigan tells us what buzz words from the previous twelve months deserve to be stricken from the English language.
- The day San Jose State University announces the winners of its Bulwer-Lytton fiction writing contest.
Beloit College’s list is good because it reminds us that our world changes so quickly that our children (and grandchildren) have no idea what we’re talking about. More seriously, it seems to this recorder of the passing scene, it is a reminder that the teaching of history cannot be allowed to be pushed aside by the rush to make sure our children and grandchildren emerge from high school knowing about the STEM subjects. STEM without social context plants the seeds of an ignorant and therefore shallow society that will be short on humanity.
Let’s step off that soapbox, though, and consider some of the things Beloit College says about this year’s new college students (the class of 2019, their parents hope). The study says the students born in 1997 never knew Princess Diana, Notorious B.I.G, Jacques Cousteau, and Mother Teresa as living people but Harry Potter, Ron, and Hermione have always been part of their lives. Hybrid cars have always been in mass production; Google has always existed; postage stamps have always been peel-and-stick (no licking), “four foul-mouthed kids have always been playing in South Park; it is not important to them (but it might still be to their parents) that someone is the “first woman” to do something; television has always been hi-def; and “Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith have always been Men in Black, not their next-door neighbors.”
The entire list is at https://www.beloit.edu/mindset/2019/.
Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan releases its List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness in January each year. One of the top words (phrases also are allowed) this year came from this observer of the verbal scene—Polar Vortex. The list cited two of us:
Kenneth Ross of Glastonbury, Conn., and Bob Priddy of Jefferson City, Mo., were among many who saw this storming in last January. “Less than a week into the new year and it’s the most overused, meaningless word in the media,” said Ross. Priddy noted that it quickly jumped from the weather forecast to other areas, as he said he knew it would: “Today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorializes about a ‘political vortex.'”
Others that the school says must be banished from popular speech include BAE (for “before anyone else” or “before anything else”) whether referring to a favorite friend or a favorite food for example; “hack” (instead of saying “tip” or “advice”) such as, as one commentator noted, “life hacks, home improvement hacks, car hacks, furniture hacks, painting hacks, work hacks and pretty much any other hack you can think of;” skill set (a phrase that was just a word—skills—until some bureaucrat got hold of it); foodie (one observer called it a ridiculous word. “Do we call people who like wine ‘winies’ or beer lovers ‘beeries’?”
There are several other words on the 2015 list. It’s always fun to check the list each year at http://www.lssu.edu/banished/. And a review of the lists from previous years is an interesting exploration of how slang sometimes becomes common language although it irritates the devil out of people when it is first used. It’s also an interesting commentary on the times.
The Bulwer-Lytton fiction writing contest is named in honor of English author Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, whose nineteenth-century novels gave us such commonly-used phrases as “the mighty dollar,” and “the pen is mightier than the sword,” and “the great unwashed.” What made EGB-W special in literary history, however, is the opening sentence of his 1830 novel, Paul Clifford:
“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents–except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”
Should you wish to read the rest of the volume, you can go to http://www.readbookonline.net/read/20417/57414.
This winner of this year’s 33rd Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Award, chosen by English professor Scott Rice and a panel of “distinguished judges” that sometimes includes past winners is Joel Phillips, a New Jersey music teacher. We missed the news coverage in August that Phillips was recognized for writing something 180 degrees from anything that won a Pulitzer Prize this year:
Seeing how the victim’s body, or what remained of it, was wedged between the grill of the Peterbilt 389 and the bumper of the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT, officer ‘Dirk’ Dirksen wondered why reporters always used the phrase ‘sandwiched’ to describe such a scene since there was nothing appetizing about it, but still, he thought, they might have a point because some of this would probably end up on the front of his shirt.
If you’d like to see the runners-up, dishonorable mentions, and other examples of the best of bad writing in this contest, check http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/. And in these dark and stormy days ahead before baseball season resumes, perhaps you will find a creative spark that could propel you to national notoriety as a Bulwer-Lytton winner.