Category Archives: Rambling Prose

“BARGAIN”

[A fanciful and fake etymology from my series Devil’s Derivations: Etymologies from Hell (found here: https://paulwhitberg.wordpress.com/fun-with-etymology-devils-derivations/)]

“Bargain”
Although no longer used as a compound, “bargain” was originally formed in the early 1700s by combining “bar” and “gain”. While the meaning of “gain” is clear, the relevant sense of “bar” is less certain. Two prominent theories disagree about the correct meaning of “bar”: one theory suggests that “bar” refers here to the legal term associated with lawyers (or “barristers”), while the other theory asserts that the relevant “bar” is the one at which alcohol is served.

Both theories agree that “bargain” referred originally to an agreement disadvantageous to a swindled party and that “bargain” gradually shifted in denotation and connotation from the negative “that which is unjustly obtained at a reduced price” to the more positive “that which is obtained at a reduced price”. The “Legalists”, as they call themselves, argue that “bargain” originally referred to the type of deals sly lawyers managed to obtain for clients. If a clever person swindled someone else, people would say that the beneficiary had gained the sort of deal usually obtained only by “the bar”—a shortened form of “members of the bar”, i.e. lawyers. “Alcoholics,” on the other hand, insist that “bargain” was the sort of “gain” a person might obtain from someone who had been drinking heavily at a “bar;” the Alkies—as many know the group—has found evidence that con artists would pace their drinking carefully to remain more or less sober while befriending drunken people at bars. The con artists would then convince these drunken people to sell or exchange valuables at low prices and coax the intoxicated dupes into making imprudent bets and investments. A successful con would often brag that he or she had walked away with a “bar gain”—i.e. the type of gain one was mostly likely to obtain at a bar.*

*Regardless of the term’s origins, the Alkies’ explanation is the one that most early moderns accepted. Supporting the Alkies’ claims is a well-known example from Anaximander Snope’s An Essay on Witticism:
When fellows get themselves a little drunk,
Transactions smelling foul as any skunk
Obtain with ease their signed and sealed consent
[A fact for which they later will repent]—
…For, while the lads are drinking to my health,
I’m busily depriving them of wealth.
The morning after, dupes will blame their stars,
And I will count the gain I got from bars.

“Decadent” and “Downfall”

“Verbal Ticks” Prompt: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/verbal-ticks/

“Decadent”
While I grant that common usage can change words’ meanings, I object to using a word that means “in a state of decay” to signify richness of flavor. It seems that people at some point associated rich food with the extravagant, wasteful spending that ruined some empires. Perhaps people read about the decadence of the Roman Empire, for example, and associated “luxurious food” with the luxuries owned by the wealthy.

Examples of misuse: 1.This chocolate is rich and decadent.
2.
Oh, how I enjoy decadent sweets!

Downfall”
Many people seem to think that “downfall”—a term best reserved for the literal or figurative destruction of powerful nations and people—has replaced all the words meaning “trivial flaw,” “slight misfortune,” and “minor weakness”.
Examples of misuse:1.He is a nice person, but he is sometimes late . Tardiness is his only downfall.
2. Although he is lactose intolerant, he could not resist drinking milk. One day he drank some and had an upset stomach. His love of dairy products was his downfall.

[Ambition led to the downfall of Julius Caesar. To be assassinated at the peak of one’s powers is to experience a downfall. The milk-drinking protagonist of “Example 2”, on the other hand, will most likely enjoy a long, healthy life after recovering from his minor bout of gastrointestinal discomfort]

 

How to Write Limericks: a Brief Introduction to Poetic Form

“What is a limerick, and why do you write them?”
As my followers have likely noticed, I write more limericks than any self-respecting person should. Some people might wonder why an otherwise normal human being would dedicate so much time and thought to writing absurd poems. The answer is simple: limericks are fun and easy to write, composing them is an enjoyable mental exercise, and sharing them can brighten a person’s day.

Perhaps some of you would like to give writing limericks a try. If so, you might enjoy this guide clarifying the form’s distinguishing features. [Those interested in poetic form, in general, might also benefit from this brief guide’s explanation of essential poetic terms and concepts.]

The form: Limericks are five-line anapestic poems containing three lines of rhyming anapestic trimeter and two lines of rhyming anapestic dimeter. The rhyme scheme is AABBA.

“What is an anapest?”
An anapest is a metrical foot. Before explaining anapests, I will familiarize you with poetic feet. In poetry, a foot is a pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables. The most common foot in English-language poetry is the iamb, which contains an unstressed syllable (usually notated as “u”) followed by a stressed or accented syllable (usually notated as ´); for readers’ benefit, I will use capital letters to indicate stressed syllables and lowercase letters to indicate unstressed ones. Some examples of iambs would be: reCEIVE, beLIEVE, the CAT. Prepositions, articles, and conjunctions tend to be unstressed. To determine which syllables of a polysyllabic word are stressed and which unstressed, divide the word into syllables and pronounce the word while paying attention to the length of each syllable’s sound.

While iambs contain two syllables, anapests contain three that follow a pattern of unstressed, unstressed, stressed: the beLIEF, to deCEIVE, with a BROOM, in the WOODS. Since anapests occur less frequently and naturally in regular speech than iambs, the consecutive anapests in limericks’ lines have a musical and often whimsical quality that distinguishes them clearly as poetry and makes them fun to recite.

“What are dimeter and trimeter?
“Meter” refers to the number and type of poetic feet in a line. Two-part names are used to identify meter: 1. Type of foot [anapest=anapestic, iamb=iambic]; 2. Numerical prefix + “meter” [monometer, dimeter, trimeter, tetrameter, pentameter, etc.]. If the foot is, for example, an iamb, one might refer to the meter as “iambic pentameter.” A line of iambic pentameter—the most common meter in Anglophone poetry—contains five [“penta-“] iambs; for example, “She’d MURD/ered PEOP/le JUST/to WATCH/them DIE” (from my poem “Portrait of a Mass Murder”: https://paulwhitberg.wordpress.com/2014/06/03/portrait-of-a-mass-murderer/ ). Scanning the previous example will reveal that the line contains ten syllables divided into five iambs.

In limericks, anapestic trimeter is the meter of lines one, two, and five. The following limericks, which you might recognize from my blog ( https://paulwhitberg.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/5-limericks-a-day-to-keep-the-dr-away-by-paul-oburgess-day-14/), will serve nicely as examples. For now, please study lines one, two, and five; the slashes divide the lines into anapests.
at the EDGE,/ he said, “JUMP/ now and DIE!”
But the GIRL/ still reFUSED/ to comPLY.
To make her obey,
He yodeled all day,
And she WAS/ thus perSUAD/ed to FLY.

Please note that many limerick writers substitute an iamb for the first foot of some lines; this substitution is especially common in a limerick’s first line:
a MAN/ who had BROK/en some HEARTS
DeCID/ed to SELL/ them at MARTS.
“Though unable to beat,
There’s no tastier meat,”
he’d SAY/when proMOT/ing those PARTS.

Notice how the first foot (“a MAN”) is an iamb, but the following feet (“who had BROK/en some HEARTS”) are anapests. Despite the initial iambic substitution, the line’s meter is still considered to be anapestic trimeter.

The meter of lines three and four is anapestic dimeter: “though unAB/le to BEAT” and “there’s no TAST/i er MEAT”).
“What is an AABBA rhyme scheme?”
“Rhyme scheme” refers to the pattern of ending rhymes, and ending rhymes are simply words concluding a line that rhyme with words concluding other lines. The traditional method for indicating rhyme schemes is to assign different letters to lines that end with different sounds. If two lines contain the same final sound, one should assign the same letter to both lines. Since it is the first line, “A man who had broken some hearts” would be labeled “A,” and since they rhyme with the first line, the following lines would also be labeled “A”: “Decided to sell them at marts” and “He’d say when promoting those parts.” Line three—“Though unable to beat”–is labeled “B” because it does not rhyme with the first two lines.

“Here endeth the guide”
Thank you for reading, and feel free to contact me with any questions about limericks and poetic form. Please let me know if you would like for me to clarify anything in this guide or write explanations of other forms.

by Paul Burgess

 

“The Underdog Effect”

A prose reflection by Paul Burgess
– Consistent winners are often polarizing. While hated by many, they are loved by others who enjoy sharing vicariously in their glory. Consider the envy and hostility many spectators feel towards athletes and teams that seem indestructible, and think of the appeal of the ‘underdog’ with whom many identify.

-Perhaps the underdog effect is related to its ability to inspire in people the following thought process: “I, little lowly me, could also succeed at slaying the big dragon. People might look at me as meek, but I have potential. Look at those other underdogs who’ve proven the world wrong! I’d love to obtain similar vengeance on public opinion […or what I’ve perceived as public opinion when I’ve narrated my life’s dramas to myself]. I’d love to have “them” feel that they were wrong […although they likely never think of “me.”]

– Sometimes people who are not underdogs like to feel that they have been in order to experience a sense of vindication  in defying the supposed expectations of the doubters; they imagine the abstract crowd of doubters –often dubbed ‘the world’– thinking to itself, “I sure was wrong about so and so.” What fantasies and narratives we weave about ourselves!

-Might some people’s love of underdogs be motivated by pleasure derived from opposing prevailing opinion? Betting on the underdog means to go against “the crowd” while remaining in the security of another crowd (i.e. the “underdog’s supporters”). Some people might side with the underdog because they enjoy fantasizing about the malicious joy of taunting the mighty. Whether mighty or meek, people often indulge in thinking of themselves as underdogs whose failures can be attributed to their participation in a rigged game; when they succeed despite facing ostensibly long odds, they expect “the World’s” applause to ring more loudly than it would for the entitled victors of “the Establishment”–an abstract group containing miscellaneous “types” with whom they do not identify.

“Life: A to Z”

A prose poem in response to the following prompt:
http://zealousscripts.com/2014/06/03/114/

Achievement is not the child of conquest
Bravery is not the brother of aggression
Courage is not the spouse of violence.

Do not underestimate the mundane
Experience the miracle of breathing
Feel the breaths come and go.

Getting even—becoming an account in need of balance
Hurting those who hurt you
Injuring those who injure you, is never
Justice.

Kings are often miserable
Lords just as sad, but
Maids might smile sincerely.

Narcissism drowns people in themselves.
Obsession drowns them in others
Paranoia drowns them in delusions about themselves and others.

Quiet when listening
Respectful when speaking
Silent when enraged.

Termites bring down houses
Unseen amoeba destroy humans
Vices bury heroes
Water erodes mountains.

Xenophobia freezes hearts to stone
Young smiles gently melt them to soothing liquid
Zealotry boils hearts, leaving a dry pot.

 

I planned to write this in series of 3, but I noticed too late that I had left two letters out…I ended up adding those two to existing sets of 3.

 

P.S. This is a first draft. I welcome feedback.

“What if it’s true?” and “Join the right club!”

PLEASE NOTE: The following post is not about religious beliefs. Careful readers will understand that the post criticizes the ways in which some people express their beliefs and phrase their attempts to convert others.

I. “What if it’s true?”

This phrase, which I have often seen on billboards and bumper stickers, resembles the “persuasive” words an armed robber uses to influence his victim’s way of thinking. When the robber says, “Give me your money, or I’ll shoot,” the victim likely wonders, “What if it’s true? What if he will shoot me?”; unwilling to take such a risk, the victim fearfully surrenders his money. The robber might hold an empty gun, and he might not have the “guts” to shoot, but he succeeds because he understands the psychology of fear. [Do you really think the best analogy for religion is that of a casino in which cautious gamblers must be talked into making what seems to be a safer bet?] Our world has enough fear in it. Preach of peace and love, or remain silent.

II. “Join the right club!”

Another phrase found on several bumper stickers reads: “I believe in God. Join the right club.” While I respect people’s right to express their beliefs, I wish that these people would use less childish and petty ways of appealing to others. Phrases like “Join the right club” prey on insecure people’s need to belong, to avoid feeling inadequate, or—in schoolyard language—to be “one of the cool kids”. Is the point of spirituality to be right, to be popular, to be praised by others? Christianity has dominated the last 2,000 years of Western civilization; considering that many of the Europe and America’s greatest writers have been Christians, there surely must be a wealth of inspiring phrases that can top something on par with the taunts of a playground bully. [One must also consider whether such phrases are likely to convert nonbelievers or only to “pump up” and amuse believers. Implying that people belong to the wrong club—i.e. that they, their parents, or their culture chose poorly—is more likely to provoke them than convert them. True communication occurs only when no party feels disparaged or threatened. ]

“A Brief Reflection on Nihilism”

“A Brief Reflection on Nihilism” by Paul Burgess
Some people are like hypothetical astronomers who have convinced themselves that life could exist  on only one other planet. They focus their instruments on Mars and fight to prove the correctness of theories devised before adequate instruments were available. Once newer technology allows thorough exploration, these astronomers often react in one of the following ways to the apparent absence of life on Mars: some contort reality by insisting that life is only visible to the virtuous or faithful astronomer, while others conclude that there is no life anywhere else…even though they have looked at only one possibility among millions.

“On the Futility of Anger”

“On the Futility of Anger” [The Rambling Prose of Paul Burgess–entry 7]
I. There are two ways to deal with the past: We can learn from painful, destructive errors that changes in mind and action need to become a priority if we want a brighter future; or we can decide that the dark past—despite being irretrievably gone—should become the dark present, which in its turn becomes the dark future.

II. Punishing someone might make the punisher think that “justice’ is being served, but revenge is not true justice, and attempting to heal one’s emotional wounds by making others suffer is as ineffective a remedy as stabbing someone else to heal one’s own stab wounds.

III. If a house burns, we should seek the cause of the accident and rebuild the house more securely rather than kick and curse its ashes. Kicking the ashes seems superficially to be futile, yet harmless, but—viewed rationally—such an act clearly harms its agents by throwing dust in their eyes, soiling their clothing, and maybe even burning their bodies.

 

“Childhood and Golden Days” –The Rambling Prose of Paul Burgess [Entry 6]

I.
People often view childhood nostalgically as a happier, less troubled time, but few of them when children enjoyed the carefree, exuberantly happy existence that they associate with childhood. Adults often trivialize children’s problems and think, “I wish had problems as ‘serious’ as those of the children.” What these adults fail to recognize is that a child’s pain when, for example, not picked for a playground sports team is sometimes as acute as that felt by an adult dealing with social or sexual rejection.
II.

When adults think that they would like to be children again, they likely mean that they would like to be a child/adult hybrid. They would need their current perspectives to appreciate being children; after all, children usually want to be adults. Adults have the freedoms a child wants but have little time in which to enjoy them, and children have the time an adult would like but not the freedom to use that time as they please.
III.

It is easy to remain nostalgic about “Golden Days” of history or one’s life because these times cannot be repeated. In other words, there is no danger of experience clashing with and contradicting one’s idealizations because there is no possibility of putting the imagination to the test of reality.

“Skepticism” (the Parable of the Boulder Explained) [The Rambling Prose of Paul Burgess]

“Skepticism” [The Parable of the Boulder Explained…as if someone need or wanted an explanation;)]
-Skepticism would benefit from being rebranded “suspension of judgment.” [“Agnosticism” would not be an adequate substitute because the term, now associated almost exclusively with religious beliefs, carries a negative connation—likely resulting from some people’s conflation of it with “atheism”. ] Despite the popular misunderstanding that skeptics insist on contrary positions’ correctness, true skeptics refuse to assert confidently that any position is beyond doubt.
-Considering skeptics’ reservations about proclaiming truths, I find it bizarre that so many people call skeptics “arrogant” for having the audacity to challenge “certainties” that have held for centuries. One might more appropriately attach the label of “arrogance” to the skeptics’ “humble” critics who defer arrogantly to traditional authority. The “endurance=truth” equation falters because beliefs—after becoming part of a culture’s inheritance—were placed in the realm of the untouchable, and anyone who would question them would face powerful opponents. Traditions often last so long because they are defended fiercely and remain unchallenged. If a fort is never attacked, should we praise its endurance? Endurance in the realm of ideas should mean little if a position endures only because it has not been considered honestly by those holding it. A rock might lie on the floor for centuries if no one touches it, and it might eventually come to seem immovable. Much of the rock’s apparent strength derives from its defenders who—despite claiming to believe in its immovability—zealously guard the door to the room in which it rests. Why not let people handle the rock to experience firsthand its immovability?

[To be continued and probably revised…]