Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Word of the In-Crowd

I like words. I like knowing odd words. This knowledge can come in handy. Just the other day my wife was reading a magazine and asked, “What is a monotreme?” I spouted off an answer and as she read further my answer was proven correct. I had filed that word away years and years ago. I got it from the zoology class I took as a junior in high school (thanks Mr. Harris). Just because it only came in handy once during the 31 years I knew the word doesn’t mean it was a waste of time. It proves patience is a virtue because running around telling people the definition of monotreme in the aisles of Dillon’s or on street corners leads to ridicule and possibly even restraining orders.

Sometimes using an unusual word in a usual setting can work as a shibboleth amongst collectors of arcane terminology. What is that? You do not know what shibboleth means? Well, pull up a chair and welcome to the first in our continuing series “Learn an Only Slightly Useful Word.”

The origin of the word comes from a Biblical story. A group of people were being kept from crossing a certain river and since the people being kept out spoke a native language which did not include the “sh” sound anyone trying to cross was asked to say “shibboleth”. If the person said “sibboleth” it was clear they were not the right kind of person and would be killed. The word has much less of an impact nowadays. The first definition listed at Dictionary.com reads as follows: a peculiarity of pronunciation, behavior, mode of dress, etc., which distinguishes a particular class or set of persons.

Think about it for a minute and you can probably come with half a dozen shibboleths. Every job has its own special terminology which folks outside the loop would be pretty clueless about if it was thrown into other venues. My real job is in the world of education and we don’t even use words. This could be an actual sentence spoken by a highly educated professional: My PLC designed some RtI to be delivered during MTSS time in hopes of meeting AYP, EIEIO.

Move out of professions and you still have opportunities to test others to see if they share your background or interests (just please don’t feel the need to kill them if they mispronounce your word they might just have a speech impediment).

Some of the bigger pop culture worlds have a canon bigger and more complex than actual civilizations of the past. You can find out a person’s level of devotion by getting more and more arcane as you test them. Harry Potter has more lore than you can shake a stick at, even a stick eleven inches long made of holly with a phoenix feather core. Some people just got a huge laugh out of that joke and others are even more bewildered than usual at my obtuse description. That, my friends, is a five star shibboleth.

The world of Star Wars has just as many testing points. Do you know who Luke Skywalker’s best friend on Tatooine was before he went off to fight for the rebellion? Do you know what job Phil Tippet did for ILM in the filming of The Empire Strikes Back? Do you know the name of the newsletter sent to charter members of the Star Wars Club? Do you know how long it was before Chris Pyle could get a date after dedicating himself to knowing all the answers to the previous three questions?

Another distinction point is there are the people who liked the prequel trilogy more than the original trilogy and then there are those who are not patently wrong.
Music can also be a great way to see if someone is “our kind” of person. If you mention the Bee Gees and someone else in the room has heard of them you know they are probably from your same generation. If someone else in the room starts flawlessly singing one of their greatest hits you know they are a big fan (and can sing really high). If someone else in the room rushes out only to return moments later wearing a white suit and a black shirt unbuttoned to the navel and begins dancing wildly you know psychiatric intervention might be required.

My final shibboleth: if at any point in your life you wanted to be Rob Petrie we are kindred spirits.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Some Things are Less Equal than Others

There really ought to be double standards. Not everything and everybody merit the same treatment. I am not saying people do not deserve equal opportunities under the law or anything that draconian. If you think the cheese slid off my cracker I have the perfect example. ESPN broadcasting Pop Warner football.

ESPN broadcasts sporting events via the internet which is something I really appreciate as a huge college basketball fan with no television. So this past Saturday I was checking out the schedule for the day when I saw they were, at that very moment, showing a Pop Warner football game. For those of you who do not know, Pop Warner is to football what Little League is to baseball. In the case of the game I “tuned” in to it was boys 9, 10 and 11 years old playing.

I only watched for a few minutes but in that time I got to see little football players who looked more like Violet Beauregard from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory after she turned into a blueberry than anyone from the Green Bay Packers. Truly, a ninety pound boy wearing all those pads has a certain weebles wobble but they don’t get sacked quality to them. Even with that quirky imagery the weirdest aspect of the whole experience was the broadcast was exactly like an NFL play-off game. The play-by-play guy and the color analyst (yes, they had both) were just as urgently talking about the clock management as the final few seconds of the first half were running down as they would if it had been Joe Montana and Bill Walsh making the decisions. (It wasn’t.)

Here is my main problem. When Eli Manning and Ben Rothleis… Rothleesbi… Rothelbee… , uh, Tony Romo are playing there is a multimillion dollar industry hinging on who wins and who loses. When Little Timmy and his best friend Not So Little Jimmy are playing the only thing hanging in the balance should be which set of kids feel happier when they go get ice cream after the game. Unfortunately that is not the case and I happen to believe one of the reasons this is a problem is the big wigs at a huge media entity like ESPN think it is a good idea to show prepubescent kids play a game in the same manner they broadcast grown men (albeit many of whom are rather stuck in barely post pubescent maturity levels) pursue their career.

Sport should be fun and a way to teach children teamwork, engender camaraderie, and create healthier bodies. Sport can be an excellent way to show kids that the effort you put in directly relates to the ability to do something well. This is not the case as often as it ought to be. Sport is too often a way to prove we are better than you, strength is power, and losers are unworthy of respect. I am sure I am overstating things to a degree and that there are still places where competition is healthy and kids have fun but the more often we broadcast ten-year-olds playing tackle football the more often we increase the number of children in the grasp of those who believe winning is everything.

There was one person involved in the ESPN presentation who seemed to realize it was a little ridiculous, the sideline reporter. Yes, they had a pretty girl sideline reporter just like they do for their big money making broadcasts. She was interviewing one of the coaches as the teams left the field for halftime. She asked the normal hard hitting journalistic questions that all the hairdos with a microphone ask of Rex Ryan and Bill Belic…Bellish… Beelich…, John Fox on NFL sidelines. The difference here was the look on her face as the coach answered the question. She was obviously not at all interested in the answer and was much more concerned with the inexplicable turn her career had taken. (A degree in broadcast journalism from Northwestern and here I stand asking a systems analyst who played Div II football but could have gone pro if only he hadn’t had chronic turf toe his senior year how he is going to maintain his lead in a game with a bunch of athletes who would rather be playing Super Smash Brothers or watching Spongebob.) Out loud she says, “Do you think your team can continue to dominate on both sides of the ball in the second half?” Interior monologue, “Somebody shoot me, please.”

It may shock the reader to find out Christopher Pyle never played organized sports beyond his summer playing t-ball. He can be openly mocked at occasionallykeen@yahoo.com.