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Fear of Flying
I’ve never been much of a fast food aficionado. There is something about the unrelentlng sameness of each food unit that troubles me. That, and those tales about the uncertain origins of the “meat.”

And there is something else, too. I understand that the uniformity is a natural by-product of the food-factory process employed to make the food fast. While I have no problem with the speed of the food, however, I have become alarmed that most of it appears to be airborne. To my mind, fast food that is flying represents a significant health risk.

Allow me to explain. As I say, I don’t spend much time in these establishments, but my addiction to television confronts me with their advertising on a regular basis. Those commercials (which were no doubt edited for maximum dramatic effect) are filled — filled! — with images of flying food.

The Applebee’s ads, for instance, feature flying fried shrimp, fried chicken “tenders,” and swirling clouds of French fries. It’s the same with the “spicey tenders” at McDonald’s, the “nuggets” at Burger King, and those KFC chicken things, whatever they’re called. In each case the food comes at you, filling my full flat screen with comestibles that rotate and tumble and pirouette in floating slow motion like escapees from the Oort Cloud. I don’t know if these celestial bodies are headed for Earth, but they are certainly taking aim at my head.

Am I the only one who is bothered by this food assault? Sometimes there are even midair impacts with the sailing salad ingredients or gouts of sauce that also seem inhabit the airspace inside these “restaurants.”

To be clear, I concede that the actual interiors of fast food eateries may not be like this. You’d think that, by this time, we would have heard any stories of customers being killed by tiny, chicken-bit asteroids. It’s possible, then, that such events are only imagined by ad departments as appetite enhancers. If that is so, I can testify that none of this excites hunger in me. Instead, it causes me to fear for my own safety, both from internal and external malefactors.

Again, I am only reporting what I see on TV, the most reliable source of information in my life. But pictures do not lie. And while I have never been struck by any of these menu items, much less eaten them, I intend to keep it that way.
The MF-Word
By which I mean “motherfucker.” It was recently dropped by new Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib as a character assessment of our president. I may be revealing my own sexism, racism, ageism, and religious intolerance all at once. but it surprised me to hear this word issuing from the lips of a middle-aged, Muslim, mother of two.

My first take was, as Nancy Pelosi later referred to her own reaction, generational. I may use the word fuck more than I used to, but motherfucker seems like a curse too far for public discourse. Fucking, after all, is a perfectly respectable human activity. Motherfucking is unlikely to ever attain that status. There’s nothing wrong with cocksucker, either, even though it’s a tad harsher than fuck. The honorable Representative from Michigan, however, skipped over both of these lesser obscenities to go for maximum effect. That said, the more I have thought about this issue, the less objection I have to her usage.

Members of Tlaib’s democratic socialist cohort had already come to her defense. The irrepressible Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez declared “I got your back,” and went on to call out the “faux outrage” that was frothing up among the GOP bros. Pelosi herself pointed out that it was nothing worse than the President himself had said and went on to say that she was “not in the censorship business.” I’m liking Nancy more and more these days.

Kim Campbell, another politician in her 70s — and the first female prime minister of Canada — also showed her solidarity with Tlaib by tweeting yesterday that “he really IS a motherfucker!” We should also note that Campbell is a member of Canada’s Progressive Conservative Party. Snoop Dogg chimed in with a motherfucker of his own, and this morning Samuel L. Jackson did the same. Who am I to buck the tide?

I guess you might say that our dialogue has coarsened, that manners and decency have now given way to vitriol and recrimination. Or, you could look at it a different way. You could say that the terms of our dialogue have simply evolved to meet the new reality. What if, let’s imagine, our president is a serial money launderer? What if he abuses his power and violates the Constitution to enrich himself? What if he has jeopardized just one citizen’s well-being so he can protect his own sorry ass? What if he’s a fucking traitor? I can imagine all of these possibilities being true, but even if only one is, then the word motherfucker is not nearly strong enough as an epithet.

So yes, I too say motherfucker. In fact, the more motherfuckers the better. After all, it’s not as if we are saying something that isn’t true. To quote Canada’s first female Prime Minister. “he really IS a motherfucker!”
Just Say Suck
Perhaps I should be more forgiving. At this point, however, I think it’s too late to change. I am perfectly happy, it seems, to hold people fully accountable for their sins of pronunciation.

The day I have dreaded for so long arrived last week. I knew it would come eventually, but it still hit me hard. I actually heard someone say that they had managed to successfully “access a web page.” That may not seem alarming because you are reading this, not hearing it. My torment came from how the word was pronounced — “assess,” rather than “ak-sess.”

I had waged a brief, hopeless war in the 90s against the conversion of “access” into a verb. I knew I could not win against any coinage backed by the full force of the digital revolution, which had adopted the new usage without question. Part of me recognized that it filled a growing need in that province of our brave new world. I still don’t like hearing it, but I have come to accept (“ak-sept”) it.

This new experience with the word, however, has delivered a setback to my belief system. As an avowed Prescriptivist, I tend to fret over any change to the language, including to its pronunciation. Perhaps I just like having a reliable set of rules that we can all go to when communication needs to be clear and precise. Or maybe I’m just a control freak. Either way, I don’t feel comfortable with the Descriptivists’ philosophy. For them, acceptable standards of usage are simply reflections of whatever convention happens to be current at any given moment. If enough people are using the language in a certain way, then that fad becomes a guidepost for other users.

To me, this is chaos. There are no rules in a Descriptivist universe, only whims that shift with the latest meme. I have no doubt that those subscribing to such a doctrine lead lives uncomplicated by stress or lexemic guilt, but such an existence is not for me.

My theory is that the trend away from the hard /k/ sound in access and other similar words began with some folks’ dislike of the sound of the word succinct. The correct prescriptive pronunciation here is “suck-sinct.” It is my belief that people didn’t like to hear the ugliness of “suck” come out of their mouths and began (mis)pronouncing the word as “sussinct.” This misplaced value judgment has now opened the door to a changed pronunciation of other double-c words.

Descriptivists no doubt shrug their shoulders at such mutations. It is my curse that I cannot. What is happening here is a loss of clarity. I prefer the use of “ak-sess” to “assess” because assess is already a word, and it means something entirely different from the new one. Among other things, this is highly unfair to a perfectly good word. Assess has now lost its integrity, at least as a spoken word. It has become two-faced, with two etymological lineages, and two confused meanings.

There would be no such confusion with the mispronunciation “sussinct,” of course. Saying it, in fact, simply creates a whole new word. Still, I sense that it is wrong to do this. Do we need a new word? Do we just forsake the old word? Is the only reason for this change our delicate sensibilities? Do we really want to abandon the opportunity to say “suck” any time and place we want without fear of objection?

So, you see that there are consequences to these willy-nilly changes in our language. I do not endorse the Prescriptivist view just because I am a control freak (that’s just a happy accident [ak-sident]). In my view, we are tempting the forces of darkness each time we countenance these “harmless” alterations to our native tongue.

Let me acknowledge, however, that spellings that employ the double-c are a problematic oddity in the English language. As you know, the unaspirated allophone for the phenome /k/ with an accompanying palatal coarticulation is not always called into play in such a configuration. Accordion, tobacco, impeccable, accuse, and many other words fall in this category. So do some of our Italian imports, such as broccoli and piccolo.

Yes, it’s confusing, but are we going to let that keep us from doing the right thing? Of course not. There are layers and layers of sound linguistic reasoning we could delve into here that explain how all this works, but I don’t want to bore you with that. Instead, let me bore you with this sad truth: follow the rules, or everyone will suffer.

There is no Language God to enforce this edict, and no Language Hell to threaten as punishment. As a control freak, then, my only power is your common sense. I know I can count on you to try to do the right thing. In that, I wish you suck-sess.
View from the Solstice
The nights
Will be shorter now
As we push on
Toward the light

Let the sun
Grow strong
Let it illuminate
Cleanse, purify
Let it kill
Let the corruption
Wither and die
Let the lies
Be burned away
So we can
Start again

Just be sure
To get it all
Because the long nights
Will return
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon