Archive for January, 2011

January 31, 2011

Funny words, scuttlebutt

The perfect place to exchange scuttlebutt, pic:

When I first heard the word scuttlebutt I thought of some type of ugly but reasonably well-tasting fish.  I was off with that association as I soon learned, however, I wasn’t as far off the mark as I first thought when I heard what the word actually means: gossip or rumor.

Here is why: in the olden days the water for consumption was kept in a cask (also called butt) which had been scuttled by making a hole in it.  Through that hole the water could be taken out.  Now it seems the sailors back then and the modern office worker have at least one thing in common: they talk, gossip and exchange rumors when they are at the water cask or cooler.  So gathering by the scuttlebutt became the navy slang for rumor.

Here is an article called “Scuttlebutt Advantage” about the advantage of collecting scuttlebutt for investment decisions.

January 31, 2011

Bigger is better, part 3

This could be a short blog.  All I really would need to say to convey the idea of “bigger is better” with food and drink is two words: Trenta and Starbucks.

For those of you who have missed the recent discussion about this topic here is what happened:

Feel like filling your stomach to the rim with coffee - here is your answer, pic:

By popular demand (! – for once it wasn’t the marketing people who dreamed this up but the customers asking for it) Starbucks introduced a larger size beverage: the Trenta.  The Trenta is – with 916 ml – a big step up from the Venti who at 591 ml is a total leightweight.  The Grande (473 ml) seems to be for toddlers and hardly anybody other than me and some of my crazy friends ever consider ordering the Tall (354 ml, also the size of a can of soda).

To put a Trenta in perspective you need to know one additional piece of information: the average capacity of an adult human stomach is about 900 ml and with that smaller than the Trenta.

Makes sense much?

One more example, a bit anecdotal but real: there is an Italian restaurant not to far from where we live.  My husband and I went there once and ordered an appetizer salad to share plus a main course to share knowing the place had a reputation for large portions and we wanted to keep room for dessert.  Both of us were hopelessly stuffed after the salad, took the main course to go and had dinner twice more eating the left-overs.

That isn’t normal.  Nobody needs that much food.  It’s a huge waste.  I furthers rampant obesity – its wrong on so many levels and yet it is so common.

Wasn’t such a short blog after all.

January 30, 2011

Funny words, mollycoddle

This definitely looks like a mollycoddled dog, pic:

Now here is a funny word that sort of sounds like what it means. If you say it a few times you will start to intuitively start getting what it might mean, namely to overprotect, pamper somebody or treat somebody – often a child or a spouse – with (over)indulgent care.

The element of overprotection is important in this word, it implies not just spoiling somebody but doing so to an extend that might ultimately be harmful to the mollycoddled person because they aren’t prepared for the harsh reality after being mollycoddled for too long.


“His mom mollycoddled him far too long.  Now he is 35 and she still does his laundry and cleans is bachelor pad every week.  He’ll never grow up.”

The origin of the word is not very exciting, Webster says that it derives from the diminutive name for Mary plus coddle, which is related to caudle, which is a warm drink of gruel with wine, eggs, etc for invalids.

Here are

January 30, 2011

Bigger is better, part 2

When I grew up we had a 3-bedroom apartment for our family of four plus a cellar and a bit of an attic.  The apartment was about 1,000 square foot – it was huge!  Much larger than that of most of my friends – we were very lucky.

A typical house in California, pic: © Paul Moore |

Now I live in a place were families of four move from 2,700 square-foot “starter homes” to 3,500 square foot places with a triple garage because, really, how could one possible make due with just 2,700 square foot and a double garage (admittedly, no cellar, we don’t do cellars here in earthquake riddled California).

I wondered for a long time what people do with all that space until I had seen enough of these houses to understand: they don’t do anything useful with it.  The new houses all have the same basic lay-out: you enter into a “Great room” which is two stories high and often three steps above the rest of the ground floor.  In many cases these rooms are empty for one to two years after people move in because they simply haven’t figured out what to do with them.  Their height makes them uncomfy, and their designation as Great Rooms makes people feel like they should do something special with them, like that “formal dinning room” they dreamed about after reading too many interior design magazines.

But this is California and I can’t remember the last time anybody I know had a “formal dinner” or a “formal anything”.  We live in the State of shorts and t-shirts at work, the State where jeans plus pumps are considered  “evening wear”.  People don’t do formal dinning here.

So generally the Great Room is the Great Empty Room or the Great Empty Room with the piano/karaoke machine/drum set in it.

Everybody hangs in the kitchen, often a eat-in one, big enough to dance the polka in.  There seems to be an direct relationship between the increase in convenience food bought (as measured in hours of microwave usage) and kitchen size.  One should think otherwise but apparently frozen pizzas are best microwaved in kitchens equipped with professional cooking ranges and two sinks.

Next to the kitchen is the “family room” whoever isn’t in the kitchen is in the family room because that’s were the toys and the TV are and the older couches that one can crumble cookies on without anybody going into cardiac arrest.  The rest of the first floor is taken up by a laundry room, a guest bathroom and a large stair well to the second floor. There you will find surprisingly small bedrooms because the Great Room below takes up half the space and a couple more bathrooms.

Here you have it, the typical Californian house – bigger, but not better.

January 29, 2011

Cultural concept: wholesomeness

Now here is a word that is as American as apple pie: wholesome.

Merriam Webster defines it as:  1) promoting health or well-being of mind or spirit, 2) promoting health of body, and 3) sound in body, mind, or morals.  Wiki has similar definitions:  promoting good moral, mental and physical health and well-being; sound and healthy; promoting virtue or being virtuous.

So food can be wholesome, when they have good, nutritious ingredients, maybe even organic or locally grown, or both and are preferably home made (“homemade style” of prepared food seems to count, at least that’s where one often finds the attribute “wholesome” attached to). I am generally thinking of apples picked from the own pesticide-free tree in the back yard.

wholesome fun for the whole family and the animals, pic: midianitemanna.

Where the word becomes more of a concept and – in my mind a very American one – is when we start talking about “wholesome” people, behavior, activities.  That’s when the morals mentioned in the definitions above come into play.  In that context “wholesome” often implies rather strict morals.  For example, if somebody tells you that the show they say was  “wholesome fun for the whole family” you can be absolutely sure that no off-color joke was made, no questionable connotation was to be found, everything was squeaky clean, and appropriate for the average 3 year old.

Here is another example where wholesome far exceeds red-cheeked apples and ventures far into morals (although not virtue): there is such a thing as wholesome swimwear, which, in case you wondered, is also called “modest”, in other words covers you up from neck to knees or if you prefer even down to your calves.

The word has become closely liked to strong Christian believes as this website about wholesome words shows.


In this case it might be instructive to have a quick look at antonyms, that is words that mean the opposite.  Dictionaries pretty uncreatively list words like: bad, impure, indecent, unhealthy but that list isn’t telling the whole story, I would definitely add words like: edgy, though-provoking, provocative, stimulating, different.

January 29, 2011

Bigger is Better, part 1

This is one of the seemingly deeply ingrained cultural norms of the US that I had (and at times have) the hardest time to understand in the sense of really getting it: Americans love big things! Bigger is better, pretty much always.

The examples are countless but most obvious to me in three things: cars, houses, and portions.

Bigger is better, especially with cars, pic:

Let’s talk about cars today: in Europe people drive cars that wouldn’t even be called cars here they are so small.  In fact they are frequently referred to as “shoeboxes”.  Here you pretty much have to own an SUV or a minivan in addition to your “sedan” , especially if you have children (or even one child).  The correlation between being pregnant and buying a minivan is pretty much perfect.  These cars are considered better, safer, more reliable, and more comfortable, more convenient (“when baby Jayden is 8 I want to be able to get his whole soccer team in the car to drive them to practice”) when in fact they are neither – they are just bigger.

Same with trucks.  I can see why somebody working in construction or a gardener would need such a vehicle.  But why does every other family guy who trims the trees once a year and needs to dispose of the twigs needs to own a Ford F-250?

For a long time I struggled to understand why people choose to buy these vehicles, when study after study shows them to have safety issues, be overpriced for what they are, and to be gas guzzling monsters to boot.   I missed the point, people buy them because they are big, the rest is just justification along the lines of:

“I could go off-roading with that car, I don’t, but it is good to know that I could, if I ever wanted.”

“As a parent I want the best for my child and that’s why I need a minivan to drive Amelia to piano class.”

“When our parents come to visit for Thanksgiving we want to be able to fit everybody in one car.”

“A guy always has something to haul around, that’s why I need a big truck.”

Deep down I still don’t get it.

I still don’t understand why size is a value unto itself.  I have, however, learned that that’s the way it is and stopped getting into useless discussions about off-roading, hauling stuff, the non-existent causal relationship between being a good parent and owning a minivan, and the relative cost of renting a larger car for a week when the parents are around versus buying one and paying for it all year.

January 28, 2011

Once burned

twice shy is an idiom used to explain people’s reaction to a bad experience.  Generally it is to be more careful the next time around and not to make the same mistake again.

Risking a burn, pic:

In fact, the second time over you might be extra careful to avoid the same mistake, hence twice shy.

The origin of that idiom is pretty obvious to everyone who ever burned their hands on a burner or stove and after that never forgets to use the oven mitt – ever.

Here are a couple of examples for this idiom:

“Let’s ski down this double black diamond route here, it is really fun.”

“No, not really, last time I skied a double black diamond I fell badly.  Once burned, twice shy!”

“I had five tequila shots last nights with my buddy and now I am feeling terrible.  Won’t be doing that again any time soon.  You know, once burned, twice shy.”

January 28, 2011

Another rant about convenience

Maybe I am somewhat obsessed with this topic now but once you notice that kind of stuff it is hard to let go again.  It is sort of like realizing that everybody you know and a significant portion of the people you don’t know all of a sudden have the latest gadget or the cool boots that for the life you you can’t seem to be finding in any store.

Making your own coffee, who wants that hassle, pic: © Donnarae |

Anyway, today I saw an add which was targeted at those poor souls suffering tremendously from the inconvenience of having to either make coffee in the morning – imagine that – or – no end to annoyance – stand in line somewhere to purchase one.  Can you imagine the inconvenience of that?  I don’t drink coffee so I can’t understand the sheer horror of it all but the anguish was clearly written in peoples faces as they incompetently spooned coffee in a filter or impatiently waited in line for their double extra large with skimmed milk, no sugar, and a pinch of cinnamon.

Thankfully some creative soul came up with the solution to this unbearable situation in form of convenient, small containers containing in one sip all the caffeine the average coffee addict needs to function.  So it is just rip-sip-chuck and your done.  The happily smiling guy then plonked down in his chair, grabbed the newspaper and started reading.

Isn’t convenience beautiful, now we don’t even have to worry about enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning.  Soon they will offer single-use injectable caffeine ampules.  That way we can safe ourselves the hassle of swallowing.  Got to love it.

January 27, 2011

Shooting straight

In a conversation about a friend or colleague you might hear that phrase: “He/she is a straight shooter”.

Let's hope she is a straight shooter, pic: © Paul Moore |

If you first reaction is to believe the person joined the NRA (National Riffle Association) and spending his/her days on the local shooting range ever improving their skills to a level, where they can actuall shoot straight – you would be mistaken. They might have done all that but it doesn’t follow from the description “straight shooter.”

A straight shooter is a honest and forthright person, an upstanding citizen.  Somebody you can rely on and who will generally tell you the truth.  A straight shooter can also be somebody who follows all the laws and might be a trifle inflexible.

Here are a couple of examples:

“Somebody cooked the books so the bottom line looks better to the investors. I wonder whether it wasJack.”

“No, not Jack, he is such a straight shooter, he’d never do that.”


January 27, 2011


Selection – a good thing you would think until you enter a typical American supermarket, like out local Safeway around a couple of corners.

If, after walking in, you keep to your right you’ll end up in the fruit and veggie department.  That is the beginner class for selection.  I mean that one department is roughly as big as a our local supermarket in my German hometown, maybe not including the beer section – which is quite extensive there – but with five varieties of apples we are barely scratching the surface of selection yet.

Nobody ever said live was easy, pic:

There a several good departments to full immersion classes in selection so let me point out a couple: cereals.  The other day my son and I went to buy cereals and spend a solid half hour walking the aisle, all 20 meters with five shelves so lets call it 80 to 100 meters full with cereals: flakes,  crispies, cheerios, granola, muesli, honey-combs, loops, bran, oats with honey, raisins, strawberries, bananas, nuts, yogurt, chocolate, extra protein, more fiber, low-fat, vanilla,  frosted, and that is before you look at healthy section with whole grain.

In the end, overwhelmed by indecision we bought the old-fashioned corn flakes.  That way we are free to throw in bananas one day, raisins the next and on a particularly daring day add a dash of vanilla.

Another good aisle to study selection are the chips.  I grew up with potato chips. Period. That was it.  Now we have: potato chips, Russett potato chips, soy crisps, taro chips, sweet potato chips, rice chips, blue corn chips and regular corn chips, pita chips and Kettle chips with salt and sea salt, vinegar, jalapeno, sour cream, onions, less fat, no fat, variety packs, portion packs, 100-calorie packs, whole grain, good health, good fiber, no-transfat, no salt, lightly salted, regular salt, extra salt, kosher salt, extra kosher salt, with cheese, cheddar cheese, extra cheese, Mexican spices, Japanese flavors, regular flavor.  If you aren’t dizzy by now, I am and so I stopping.  You get the idea.

Selection is good, we all appreciate it.  But sometimes I long for the day were we could just go to the supermarket and buy a bag of chips, take it home and eat it without having to explain why today we got the low-fat blue corn chips with extra Mexican spice and a dash of lime instead of our usual high-fiber, low-fat, guilt-free pita chips with kosher sea salt and malt vinegar.