Re: Lawrence Henry's Our Family's Words:
Like Mr. Henry, I also grew up with a family vocabulary that was broader than could be found in a standard dictionary. I remember that my brother and I had an imaginary dog named "Whoowy" (sounds like woo-wee). I have no idea where that came from, either the dog or the name.
We also had polite names for certain bodily functions, too, until the unimaginative numerals took over. My friends and I also mispronounced cuss words, like G-d damn it as "dom dannit." We feared retribution.
Sadly, I eventually had to give up the dog, and after many years of watching the political scene, I learned to swear properly. Psychologists would probably say these are healthy things (unless one only gave up the dog a couple of weeks ago).
Rudy and Fred on the same ticket? Is that too much to imagine at this point? If not, can my name for this imaginary creature be "Frudy"? (Sorry.)
-- C. V. Crisler
Just this week I listened to an interview of Paul Dickson, author of Family Words: A Dictionary of the Secret Language of Families (How America Speaks series) on a morning radio talk show. Lawrence Henry's essay was a nice follow-on.
Apparently I was somewhat nonverbal way past what was a typical age to start talking. My parents had me tested for deafness. When I did start talking, my speech was unintelligible to adults, but my contemporaries could translate for their parents just fine. In 18 days, I will turn 51. While my parents are still alive, I will continue to be reminded of my childish mispronunciations of "hortie" for "horsie," "goggie" for "doggie," and "pewfume" for "perfume." Other more arcane ones include "erphernt" for "elephant" and "ishnishner" for "air conditioner." These remain in my family's lexicon, for better or worse.
-- Evelyn Leinbach
Boy are you going to be flooded with letters on this topic!
The "sing song kitty" refrain was instantly familiar to me, and comes from an old Children's song called "Froggie Would A Wooing Go" (or Froggie Went A'Courting and He Did Ride). I remember singing it, and it is mentioned in a book called Roller Skates written by Ruth Sawyer about her childhood growing up as a society child in turn of the 20th century New York City.
As for our family words -- two of my sisters and I got together a couple of years ago in an airport lounge as one sister was leaving and I was coming in to keep watch as Daddy received his fifth pacemaker in a very iffy operation. It took no time at all for us to start bringing up the Family Wit and start singing songs that probably nobody else remembers, much to the amusement of the onlookers. For example, an old Pat Paulson ditty that goes (in its entirety) "I was standing in the road/when a big ugly man/came up and tied his horse to me." A song made popular by Soupy Sales, "Bachalafika" which is a word apparently "whispered all over Turkey" is another one nobody else seems to know. And then there's the immortal "Your red scarf matches your eyes/you closed your cover before striking; Your father's got the shipfitters blues/loving you has made me bananas!" (That is the whole song.) Finally, we have the family Christmas Carol, which a late brother in law used phone Mama every Christmas morning and the two would sing together: "The Hat I Got For Christmas Is Too Big." This song is sung by Speedy Gonzales, is Politically Incorrect, and can be found on the Internet; we now have it on a CD courtesy of an inquisitive sister.
As for words, Daddy was a notable raconteur, and in the days when cars did not have DVD players and kids did not have iPods or cell phones, Daddy would amuse us on the journey by telling us about the kingdom of Nosmo King (No Smoking) where everything was forbidden, or Chief Falling Rocks whose wife wandered the Virginia mountains in search of him -- hence the prevalence of signs urging you to "Watch for Falling Rocks"; or the mysterious Apache Fog (otherwise known as a patchy fog) that descended on locations frequented by Indians. And we all still greet a sign that says "Stop Ahead" with a shout of "Stop! A Head! Oh my god, they told me if my head wasn't screwed on I'd lose it and somebody did!" We are all over fifty now and it is still just as funny today as it ever was.
With the increasing lack of family togetherness and the growing number of electronic binkies that separate us one from another, this may be a dying tradition. But as long as we girls are alive, it will continue to tie us together.
-- Kate Shaw
What we in the Marine Corps called the drizzling shits, my three-year-old daughter described once, referring to a case her mother had, as suffering from the "dire rear." This was even funnier because that was exactly the way she pronounced the condition and I am certain she had no appreciation at that age for the meaning of the word "dire". No matter, that's what she said and it has remained with me to this day...and I'm 73 now.
-- Gregg Calkins
BEYOND BLAMING THE 'VICK'TIM
Re: Jay D. Homnick's I Beg Mr. Vick's Pardon:
I am neither an animal rights, nor a law and order, fanatic (at least, I hope that I am not), but I cannot imagine any circumstances that would justify a presidential pardon in the Michael Vick case. First, Michael Vick's athletic proficiency and unique talents are not mitigating factors for clemency, but arguments for the unflinching application of the law, which must apply to everyone equally, regardless of their station. Michael Vick had prestige, wealth, and a unique place in our culture. He chose to entertain himself by torturing animals for sport, in defiance of both the law and simple human decency. His contrition came after he was caught, and I have no doubt that he is sorry about that, but is there any doubt that, had he not been publicly exposed, he would have continued his activities?
Second, to apply a pardon to such a man in order to pander to African-American voters is absurd. Vick didn't torture dogs because he was black, he did it because he was a sadist, and to free him because he is black is to imply a link between the two. African-American voters will not remember it as an outreach to their community, but as condescension that implies moral equivalence between race and criminality. This is the argument of white liberals, who equate punishing crime with racism.
If Republican candidates wish to engage African-American voters, they must get the message out into that community, where it will resonate with those who are receptive. There is a huge black middle class that works, pays taxes, raises their children responsibly, serves honorably in the armed forces and loves their country and despises the gang-bangers and thugs who claim to represent them. We can and must speak to them as respected equals in venues where they will receive the message.
-- Mike Harris
So George Bush should pardon a loutish thug whose major accomplishment is playing what is basically a kid's game for adults. Whoop-de-dam-da. Meanwhile, two Americans, Ramos and Campean, who put their lives on the line every day protecting the border, languish in prison. Apparently, America needs football much more than dedicated lawmen who see fit to serve the American people.
The priority train has left the station...
-- Susie Q
In response to the article, "I Beg Mr. Vick's Pardon" by Jay D. Homnick, I would like to suggest that it is a presumption of the first order that Mr. Vick "is not even a threat to dogs at this time," unless the author's reasoning is that he is now behind bars and is physically restrained from getting his hands on innocent animals. I have no reason to believe that if Mr. Vick had received a slap on the wrist, he would be sufficiently deterred from ever engaging in animal cruelty at some point in the future.
I might like to suggest that the severity of the sentencing in question serves to put others who engage in dog fighting on notice that our society will not tolerate this kind of barbaric and inhumane behavior.
Please understand that I love a good steak and, if I was at a restaurant in an Eastern Country which served dog as a menu item, I might actually be inclined to try it. However, electrocuting, drowning, and strangling dogs for the simple motivation that it didn't kill other dogs as viciously as desired is, in our society, (and appropriately, I might add) absolutely unacceptable behavior the penalty for which the President of the United States would have no business whatsoever interfering with.
I understand that Mr. Homnick is a humorist, and perhaps this article was intended to be funny. In all honesty, however, I cannot grasp the humor in it may have been intended to contain. And believe me, nobody enjoys a good joke more than me -- except for perhaps my wife and a few of her friends....
-- Thomas Claypool
I wish to second the recommendation of Jay Homnick in his article about pardoning Michael Vick. My feeling is that Mr. Vick is a good man gone wrong by association in life with some bad actors. I believe he is sincerely sorry for what he has done, and that he will not be a repeat offender. He is young enough to rebuild the goodwill he had before this incident, and I for one would give him the chance if it were my place to do so.
-- Bob Martin
Somebody please check Mr. Homnick's meds. Last week he shills for the Writer's Union and this week he wants us to believe that Michael Vick is just a "good guy" who deserves "a chance to repair his mess without sitting in jail." Just how does Mr. Homnick suggest he do this? Does he have the power to raise the dead? What good guy strangles dogs with his bare hands? If President Bush wants to start pardoning the deserving, let's start with Scooter Libby and the two federal marshals sitting in jail for shooting at a drug smuggler. President Bush can't afford to waste his political capital fighting PETA and their ilk over a thug who just happened to be blessed with athletic talent that he chose to squander.
-- Ralph Alter
What an intriguing idea! At first I felt the revulsion I am sure is common to everyone who reads this article, but after some thought this might not be a bad idea. We could show the quality of mercy and at the same time impress some of the blacks in this country...assuredly, the Democrats will not be ready for this one.
What a wonderful dilemma to stick them with: Here is a victim, Michael Vick, belonging to one of their constituencies who has done a dastardly deed and the Republicans want to pardon him. Their other constituencies, for example PETA, will be apoplectic and the Democrats will have to back off their support for a black criminal. The convolutions and permutations of this will reverberate for months to come.
As I said, what an intriguing thought. Good one, Jay!
-- Judy Beumler
On one hand, there is the National Geographic "Prison Nation" with the liberal line on what having so many people in prison is going to do to us, and then you have the Animal Rights activists, perhaps many of the same people, wanting to dump Mike Vick in jail and throw away the key.
What threat does this man pose to society and his neighbors? What purpose is served by putting him in prison for that length of time, apart from prison being the solution to every perceived social problem and every wrong act? People will argue that we have sympathy for Mr. Vick because he is a football hero; so we will stick this man in prison for a misguided sense of social equanimity.
-- Paul Milenkovic
With all the reluctance Bush had with a pardon for Scooter Libby, I think you can forget about one for Michael Vick.
-- Paul Dolittle
Re: P. David Hornik's The Pointless Negativity of Atheism:
Mr. Hornik's complaint against dogmatic atheism has merit to the extent that militant atheists present a harsh view of reality that leaves no place for feelings that are of great importance to many of us. Atheism, however, is still a sensible position for anyone who believes in the scientific method. In the developed world, our lives are enveloped by centuries of benefits accrued from scientific progress; as a civilization, we arrived where we are today not by praying frequently, but by thinking clearly.
While the dogmatic atheists rub our noses in the basic incompatibility between science and religion, there is still a middle road: accept science in the public domain, but keep your religion private. In my opinion, this is the essence of the doctrine of separation of church and state. Like it or not, religion is essentially irrational, and faith-based actions only put us in the same camp as Osama bin Laden. When you descend into the morass of deciding which religion is the True religion -- which is an oxymoron from a rational perspective -- you may as well give up.
I suggest to Mr. Hornik and all theists that they recognize that their religion may appear a fantasy to others. They have a right to that fantasy, but they should never try to impose it on others, particularly in a democracy. I am appalled how our political candidates must pay homage to ancient superstitions in order to get elected.
-- Paul Dorell
P. David Hornik's piece on the "Negativity of Atheism" is a beautifully written and to my mind persuasive demonstration not simply of the emptiness of "atheism" but of the special meaning given to life through religious experience. His description of those special moments of in Wordsworth's words "seeing into the heart of things" make too for a profound reminder of how our lives may be exalted and enriched through our gratitude to God.
-- Shalom Freedman
Mr. Hornik's observation's on atheism's essential negativism are right on point. The atheist offers nothing but nullification in espousing their faith (atheism is a faith in that there is as much, or as little, empirical certainty of God as there is of no god). But to take atheism at its word leaves one in a vacuum where there is no room for even the possibility of God (possibility is the agnostic's domain). To deny even the possibility of God is to accept the loser's payoff in Pascal's Wager, both in this life and the putative afterlife. Acceptance of a possible God, however, opens the mind and heart to hope and beauty which the atheist, by definition, must resolutely shut out. Such a hardened nature seems almost impossible to imagine, so much so that one wonders whether such persons truly exist. But the atheist demands that I have faith that his nullification of God is genuine...and I accede, albeit with a grimace. The problem with most atheists is that they will not (and, by definition, cannot) return the favor where the believer is concerned -- a conceit which is alternately annoying and condescending, and an effective dodge to avoid the subject of God altogether.
-- Peter R/ McGrath
Winter Park, Florida
Mr. Hornik's point, that our minds are limited, is forever escaping atheists. They seem well versed in philosophy, but they tend to forget the very Rationalist arguments they offer to deny God lead to only (self) doubt and nihilism. Emmanuel Kant wrote extensively about the limited nature of the mind and comprehension (please see Critique of Pure Reason). David Hume takes the point to its natural but absurd conclusion: nothing is truly knowable. Yet atheists are absolutely certain that God does not exist because the idea of God is not rational in their worldviews. When shaving with Occam's razor, one has to be sure not to cut oneself off at the throat.
When I served in theater during Desert Storm, as a Religious Program Specialist (administrator in peace and a chaplain's body guard in war) I was deeply immersed in existential philosophy. I found my daily duties and existence to be a great burden. Not because I was in a war zone, but because I was doubting everything. Fighting for a cause is difficult when you are not even sure you exist. I spoke to my chaplain and he said give the existential reading a rest and go back to the Psalms. I found great comfort in the Bible, then, and I continue to do so today. My experience does not prove anything, but I did learn belief is much more comforting, and at least, equally rational to non-belief. The mind is indeed limited, so we must be careful what we store there.
I like to leave breadcrumbs and seeds out for ants. Ants can in no way appreciate that a human has left them food or given them comfort. The lack of appreciation in no way diminishes human existence. How much more does the lack of man's recognition leave God's existence unaffected?
-- Ira M. Kessel
Rochester , New York
I have to say that I was disappointed by Mr. Hornik's essay. I'm not at all clear on where he picked up his notions of what atheists believe and say. Certainly I can understand his rejection of the position he describes -- I, too, would reject it -- but happily it bears little resemblance to actual atheism.
For example, Mr. Hornik writes, "[E]ven to allow the existence of free will is to grant the sphere of mind some autonomy, separateness, and power over the body... So if the mind has some degree of separateness and autonomy over the body, then it is reasonable to hope that it is not entirely dependent on the body/brain and could survive its death..." If Mr. Hornik were to investigate what Dennett and others actually believe (and in Dennett's case have written about at length) about consciousness, he might find that the contradiction he sees is more in his understanding than in their positions. Atheists can (and in my experience, most do) believe that conscious exists more as a pattern, as a process, rather than as a discrete object. Rivers and waterfalls exist as a pattern of moving water, in a sense independent of and at a different level than the individual drops of water that make them up. But that does not mean that they could exist without the water. As Frank Zindler put it, "To believe that consciousness can survive the wreck of the brain is like believing that 70 mph can survive the wreck of the car."
It's true that not everyone accepts this. In Mr. Hornik's words, "In representing this hope for my mother, the rabbi was contributing to keeping her spirits up and making her last span on earth more pleasant. I can't see that the negations of the dogmatic atheists had anything to add to this scenario." C.S. Lewis, in "The Screwtape Letters," warned against this kind of thinking. "'Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.' That's the game." Perhaps it is more pleasant to believe in a life after death, but that has little to do with whether or not it's true. (The are those who think truth should have some relation to belief.) And perhaps accepting the idea that life is finite -- and therefore each moment is all the more precious -- might have positive effects on how one spends that life. Even if there's no benefit (or even a detriment) at the end of life -- which I don't think has actually been established -- that does not imply that there might be positives before that time that balance or even outweigh such harm. For example, it might "add both serenity and energy, and... enhance the sense of purpose."
I also wonder exactly how he determined that any atheist anywhere actually proposes "....do not feel what you feel, do not believe, do not hope, there's nothing out there, our (self-)limited minds comprehend everything there is and it's not much; above all, do not seek a consciousness beyond your own." I personally have a great many feelings, beliefs, and hopes -- as do all the atheists I know. Atheism is characterized by a lack of belief in a specific kind of being. It does not require that "there's nothing out there"; atheists are just pretty sure about one kind of thing that isn't out there. What seems to characterize the atheists I know is not that they reject the unknown -- I and others cheerfully admit that there is much that we don't know, indeed more than we do know. What we reject is the unknowable -- the notion that some things cannot ever be understood by humans and we should not even bother to try. One more quote, from the author Roger Zelazny in "Lord of Light": "The four points of the compass be logic, knowledge, wisdom and the unknown. Some do bow in that final direction. Others advance upon it. To bow before the one is to lose sight of the three. I may submit to the unknown, but never to the unknowable."
I personally am glad that Benjamin Franklin and others did not adhere to the conventional notion of lightning's supernatural nature and causes, for now we have lightning rods. The great physician J.S. Haldane insisted that no 'mechanism' could explain cell biology and that the phenomenon had to be 'spiritual' in nature; but Watson and Crick (and Wilkins and Franklin) decided to investigate further and discovered the structure of DNA. Perhaps it's true that the nature of consciousness is forever beyond human ken...but maybe I can be forgiven for hoping otherwise.
-- Raymond Ingles
We humans resort to religion because we prefer hope of immortality to naked helplessness before an indifferent, ultimately merciless universe. Though science can help with the latter, though never the former, the conceit of rationality is but poor armor.
-- David Govett
You capture the essence of the atheist's perverse assertion, Mr. Hornik. If I may plant my tongue firmly in cheek, I'll believe there is a God when Hillary Clinton loses her bid for POTUS. Of course, He may have a different idea, in which case, I guess I would, like you, just continue exercising my free will, taking inspiring sunset walks on the beach, only it may be in Australia.
-- Mike Showalter
Thank you, P. David Hornik for a thoughtful, interesting article. Your article touches on issues that confront all religious people -- hope vs. certainty, faith vs. empirical knowledge, free will vs. determinism.
Unlike many articles I have read in The American Spectator about best-selling authors who espouse atheism, yours was the not defensive about your faith and religion in general.
Why are so many religious people in American today defensive, angry and quick to claim that they are victims of the atheists and humanists? Is their faith is little uncertain? Are they being manipulated by religious and political leaders? Is their theology too immature to accommodate the modern world?
Given attendance at churches, synagogues and mosques in this country, the collective wealth of our religious communities and the fact that Mitt Romney was compelled to defend his faith in spite of the fact that the U.S. Constitution prohibits a religious test to hold office, I find this defensiveness and anger puzzling.
-- Mike Roush
Thank you for the fine essay by P. David Hornik. Beginning it by juxtaposing the image of his dying mother with the idea of hope, he points out the essential hopelessness of atheism -- confronted with one's own mortality, hope ends up being the validation of a life's worth of choices. Hope not only springs eternal, it points to the eternal as well.
-- Leroy Hurt
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