Archive for March, 2011

March 31, 2011

Bachelorette Parties

First there were the bachelor Parties, those questionable events when the guys took the groom for one more night on the town before he got married and had to forever after be a good boy.

Now does that look like fun to you? pic: thepulsemag.com

Rightfully, the ladies wanted equal treatment and so Bachelorette Parties (man, the spell checker here doesn’t even recognize the word bachelorette but gives me one of those red squiggly lines indicating that I goofed up – spelling-wise) came into existence.  I have to confess to only ever having been at one bachelorette party and that was a while ago and civilized affair with dinner in some restaurant and a bit of dancing afterward.

Since things have changed, these days dinner-and-a-dance has been replaced by “Learn how to strip” events where “a professional female” will come to your home and teach the bride and her girlfriends the ancient art of strip dancing.  Pole dancing and lap dancing can also be included.

Then, I learned, there are “passion parties” where a – get that – “passion party consultant” (no gender specified) comes to your house and demonstrates adult toys.

Then, of course, there is the girl equivalent of attending a strip club where some imitation of the Chippendales dance for the ladies.

This all must be very awkward, I mean, how can it not be awkward sitting on the couch of the bride, nibbling on Cheetos, drinking Chardonnay and have some stranger explain or – worse – demonstrate adult toys.

The good old dinner-and-a-dance sounds still best to me.

 

March 30, 2011

Things to do for good luck

In the US – like presumably everywhere else – there are things people do for good luck.  Looking at the most common ones I realized that they are very similar or identical to the things people do in Germany for good luck.  So, I guess, either they work 🙂 or somebody did a very good job at promoting these somewhat random acts.

Lucky me, found a four-leaved clover on the Internet, pic: sciencecontrol.com

In the US people knock on wood if they are talking about something positive or desirable and what that to continue or to happen in the first place.  Like in this context:

“I have never gotten a speeding ticket before – knock on wood – although I have been driving plenty fast at times.”

Wiki lists a whole number of countries where the phrase is used in one version or another.  The possible origin is the ancient belief across many cultures that spirits dwell in trees or guard them and so knocking on wood might get the good spirits on ones side.

Finger crossing is a gesture one does to wish good luck as in “I applied for this really cool job and am waiting to hear back.  Keep your fingers crossed that I get to go in for an interview!”

This one is interesting, though, as the same gesture, done behind one’s back, is used to nullify a promise.  This is fairly popular with kids and teens and a less accepted loop-holes in grown-up world.  The origin seems to date back to the days when crossed fingers were used to ward of witches.

In Germany people don’t cross fingers, they squeeze their thumbs – which ends up looking pretty similar.

That leaves us with a symbol of good luck: the four-leaved clover.  Four-leaved clovers are very rare and bring good luck, especially when found accidentally.  The story goes that each leaf stands for something: the first for hope, the second for faith, the third for love and the fourth, rare one, for luck.

March 29, 2011

Only in America

Now I might have said this a few times already but this time I mean it, I really, really mean it.  Or let me put it another way: can you think of a country, any country where you would find a headline like this:

Christian pole dancing class …

wait, we don’t even need to read the rest, this is amazing enough.  Christian pole dancing – just think about this for a bit.

Advance pole dancing - probably not for Jesus but paying customers, pic: 100treatises.com

Just to make sure everybody is fully appraised to the amazing details: pole dancing is nothing like pole faulting but is a form of dance involving a pole which is generally performed by scantily dressed women in places referred to as  “Gentlemen’s Club” with names like “Stud Ranch”.

Now a bunch of women in Texas are creating a big controversy because they discovered pole dancing for Jesus.  Don’t ask me how that logic works , there was some talk about bodies as temples and taking care of them and being closer to God etc.  I do respect people for taking initiate and getting off their generally overweight butts but pole dancing for Jesus??  Can’t you just go jogging or spend some quality time on a elliptical machine like yours truly?  What is next?  Lap dancing for Jesus?

I am no prude, I am European, if you want to pole dance, pole dance, but don’t make it into a religious exercise – that is just so wrong and hypocritical on so many levels.  An now I am going to the gym, 45 mins on the elliptical ….

March 28, 2011

Muffin top

Muffin top: yes!, pic: wearepajamas.wordpress.com

If you think something yummy and sweet to eat your are off, but not by too much: the dreaded muffin top is the consequence of too much to eat (or pants that are too tight – you can choose whatever explanation suites you better).

Muffin top non-no, pic: mandevillefatloss.com

A muffin top is a slang term – and not very friendly one – for a roll of fat spilling out over the waistline of pants or skirts.  That roll of fat looks like the upper part of a muffin that raised during baking and spilled over the paper casing.  Muffin tops are a big fashion and taste “no-no” in the best of cases, combined with a mid-riff free top they are a fashion/taste catastrophe and to be avoided at all costs.  If hidden under a wide sweater or t-shirt they might be okay – just as long as nobody sees them.

For once my fellow Americans did not come up with that term but our friends downunder.  The term is fairly new – created in 2003, made Australia’s Macquarie Dictionary (why is every other thing, street, university, building in Australia called Macquarie??  I guess I need to look into that) word of the year in 2006, the American Dialect Society honored it as one on the most creative words the same and our British friends finally caught up this year – 2011 – by including the term in the Oxford English Dictionary.

March 27, 2011

Third Rail

The third rail: touch it and your dead! pic: railway-technical.com

If you have ever taken mass transit in an American city 9and few of us have outside of New York, San Francisco and a few other places) you have encountered a third rail. The third rail is an extra rail used for supplying electricity to trains.  Something that supplies electricity to trains also supplies electricity to body when touched – so, you heard it here, never ever touch the third rail.  In fact, just don’t touch rails at all and you’ll be fine.

Like litmus test the expression third rail has a metaphorical meaning in politics.  A topic is a “third rail” when it is controversial and charged that anybody how takes a position, or even “touches” the subject will suffer gravely if not terminally in politics.

There are in fact plenty of such third rail topics and here are the most well-known ones:

  • enacting gun-control laws
  • proposing tax increases
  • views on abortion
  • suggesting to cut spending on defense
  • views on immigration
  • proposing “socialist” program such a more secure state-funded social security net
  • being an atheist

The list goes on …

Other countries might have third rail topics, too, but the US seems to have a remarkable number of them and on topics where one would assume that reasonable people could disagree without getting nasty about it.

March 26, 2011

Litmus test

The good old Litmus test of the non-political kind, pic: chervokas.typepad.com

Scientist among you know litmus tests as simple and easy tests to indicate the pH, i.e. a test lets let you test a liquid and decide whether it is acidic or basic/alkaline.  Blue litmus paper turns red under acidic conditions, blue under alkaline ones and purple if the solution is neutral (pH 7).

Where am I going with this, this is not a Science 101 blog.  Right, so lets turn to the figurative usage of the term litmus test in politics.  There a litmus test is a question asked of a candidate that shows his or her opinion on a certain – often controversial – topic.  Depending on the answer to such a Litmus test question the voters/those who approve the nomination of the  candidate might choose to support the candidate or to withhold that support.

Litmus tests are frequently used in American politics – be it expressedly stated or not.  Candidates for any type of higher office face them and especially judges.

Here are some examples: for many conservatives abortion is a litmus test, if a candidate for office is pro-choice he/she failed the litmus test and will not be supported by the majority.

Gun control is another such litmus test for conservatives.  If a candidate is for gun control chances are slim he’ll/she’ll be a conservative politician.

In summary, a (political) litmus test is a test in which a single factor (as an attitude, believe, opinion, etc.) is decisive

March 25, 2011

Raining cats and dogs

It's raining cats and dogs, pic: nashvillescene.com

It has been raining very heavily for days without end in sight – so the old idiom “it is raining cats and dogs” came to my mind.  It means just that: very heavy and persistent rain.

I hardly ever use this idiom because I thought that it  is an old-fashioned expression and that nobody used it anymore and likely people wouldn’t even understand it anymore.  The first is true, the latter not necessarily as was proven to me the other day when my 6-year old said:  “Mama, it is raining cats and dogs!”

“Where did you get that expression?” I asked

“In school, from a book” he answered  – so obviously the idiom is still widely enough used to make it into kids’ school books.

The origin of the phrase is unknown and – as usual in some cases – a number of theories have been put forward.  One explanation that has some credibility as there is a documented source is that in England of the 17th century sewage and drainage systems weren’t very efficient and so when heavy downpours happened the streets were turned into rivers of doubtful water quality carrying with it all sorts of things, including the corpses of drowned cats and dogs.

Here is the reference: Jonathan Swift’s 1710 poem ‘Description of a City Shower’, in which he describes “Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,/Dead cats and turnip-tops come tumbling down the flood.”

This might or might not be the explanation but somehow it doesn’t matter.  I just wish it would stop raining cats and dogs.

March 24, 2011

A few Definitions

More examples of metaphors, pic: proprofs.com

I have been throwing around the terms idiom, expression etc for a while now and so I figured, it is time to actually define them once and for all, both for my own benefits as well – hopefully – for yours.  The definitions might not be completely exhaustive but I personally find it rather tedious to read through seven bullet points for one term and have forgotten the first definition by the time I read the third anyway.  So let’s focus on the most relevant ones.

Let’s gets started with idiom: an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements.  Examples are: kick the bucket or go with the flow.

Simile: a figure of speech that expresses a resemblance between things of different kinds  and is usually formed with like or as.  Running around like a headless chicken is one example.  “The kid was as quiet as a mouse” is another.

Metaphor: a figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity.  The simplest form of metaphor is: “The [first thing] is a [second thing].”  Example: “Their home is their castle.” and another: “The United States have always been a melting pot.”

March 23, 2011

Headless chickens

Frenzied chicken - with head, pic: mypetchicken.com

Running around like a headless chicken is a very colorful figure of speech for running around frenzied and without a plan.  It implies that the person behaving like the headless chicken is doing whatever she or he is doing very quickly and distractedly and without without thinking carefully about what you are doing

The origin of that expression is pretty obvious: after decapitation poultry sometimes runs around for several minutes in an uncoordinated and frenzied manner.

Another way of saying the same thing is: running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

Here are some examples:

My colleague has been out sick the last week and so I have be running around like a headless chicken trying to do both my own work and his.

She lost her purse at the airport and was running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to find it.

March 22, 2011

Friends

Trekking Antarctica - not a hard requirement for friendship in Germany, but it helps :-), pic: http://www.adventureblog.org

In Germany when you know somebody for roughly a decade, have spend significant time together doing stuff like walking across Antarctica, studying for midterm and finals together – for the duration of your studies (that would be several years) -building a house together or hosting each others families for extended vacations, you are in each others wills and you would trust your life and that of your loved ones to the other person – then you have made a friend.

Alternatively you can grow up together sharing early memories of the sandbox, the 2nd grade math teacher and your respective first loves.

Everybody else are either colleagues (who in rare cases can become friends – given time) or acquaintances.  That woman you meet three times a week at the playground and talk to about pretty much everything – acquaintance!

In the US you meet somebody twice, exchanged a few friendly words about something other than business, you maybe have a coffee together some day, you might be willing to lend the person your pen for a few minutes  – then you have made a friend.

When I left Germany to go to business school I had maybe 10 really good friends (and lots of acquaintances).  When I started business school a few days later  I had 360 new friends – overnight, most of them I never met before.

Neither one approach to friendship is better than the other.  They are just different, very different and one needs to be aware of.   And the end effect might be just the same: after almost 14 years in the US I don’t have more than 10 really really good friends, German-type friends, the kind whom I entrust my live to.  In Germany you build them up slowly, very slowly; in the US you start big and then pare them down coming out at approximately the same number.

Just so you know.