Archive for ‘Culture’

September 13, 2012

Moral High Ground


“Taking the moral high ground” is an expression you might hear used in discussions about controversial topics where ethics/morals play a role.  I realize that a discussion about different baseball teams or the advantages of certain cars over others can be controversial as well, but the opportunity to take/claim/seize the morale high ground are less abundant in these situations.

The clearest definition I found (and I found a bunch of confusing ones) is the following: The moral high ground, in ethical or political parlance, refers to the status of being respected for remaining moral, and adhering to and upholding a universally recognized standard of justice or goodness.”

And that, I might add, despite the fact that this position might not be the most personally advantageous one could possibly take.  The phrase implies a critique of other, less moral positions and a person who takes the moral high ground may come across as a bit of a snob.

I was looking for an example and only found ones pertaining to politics, seems that field is ripe with moral high ground but remains in dire need for it.  So here is one:

“Under the leadership of President Bush and Vice president Cheney, the United States has given up the moral high ground that we used to occupy as an international leader.” Marty Meehan 

September 11, 2012

Dirty words

dirty words, no longer just the usual suspects and now featuring what used to be honorable words like government and liberal, pic:

In 1972 the comedian George Carlin defined seven “dirty words” – offensive or indecent words – that could not be used on TV.  To this day most of the words on Carlin’s original list remain taboo on American television and are bleeped out should they happen to escape somebody.

What these seven words are I leave up to your imagination or the power of a Google search or – as a shortcut – the clicking on the following link.

If that was it, this wouldn’t be much of a post but things have become a little more complicated as new “dirty words” in the second sense of the word – namely ” things regarded with dislike or disapproval” – are added all the time.  Good old terms like “government” and “liberal come to mind.  I thought of this as a rather recent development but at least for liberal I found an article complaining about this 10 years ago (here).  It is still quite unclear to me how liberals could let that happen, especially considering the definition (type define Liberal into Google) “Open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.” – who wouldn’t want to be that?  And who would want to be the opposite (that would be conservative then): “closed to new behavior or opinions and unwilling to let go of traditional values”.

Government as a dirty word goes even further back, it has it roots in the 60s but the person who made this way of thinking popular was Ronald Reagan in the 80s.  Here is a NPR article about this topic.

The worst of all dirty words appears to be atheist.  But that is a long story and deserves a separate blog post.

September 9, 2012


No swearing allowed, “egats1” should be alright, pic:

I haven’t heard that in a while and when I read it in a blog the other day I thought “wow, that is a good one and so quaint!”

One uses the expression “egads!” in place of another swear word or expression of profanity which would be much worse or offending.  In polite conversation, or in business it is rarely opportune to swear or use profanities and so a word with a reduced level of objectionable quality might just be what is needed.  especially since people will generally know what you really want to say and will understand that you feel rather strongly about that topic.

The good old “egats” is said to derive from the expression “oh, god” – itself not a profanity but in a society that is so sensitive to the slightest hint of disrespect against religion (at least some) still not something to be said lightly, casually or frequently.

Other such words include “shoot” for the good old “sh..” – you get it,  frigging or flipping  for the f-bomb, and heck for hell.  Examples are abound: “let’s get the heck out of here”, “Shoot, it’s starting to rain and I forgot the flipping umbrella.”

If you want to check out an example for egads have a look at the blog I found it in.

September 7, 2012

Splitting Hair

And I don’t mean the literal splitting of the ends of hair when they get to dry and need a trim.  But while we are on that topic that conditions seems to be called Trichoptilosis.  Greek of course, tricho = hair and ptilosis = falling out of the eyelashes.  But that was an aside.

In the non-literal sense it means to focus on and argue about small, tedious details, to concentrate on tiny, unimportant details to find fault with something.  Splitting hair implies an element of being pedantic and overly precise.

As always I cannot resist an example that mentions Daniel Craig and so here is an example for splitting hair from Casino Royale (link here):

In the James Bond book “Casino Royale,” Bond sips a martini and tells a bartender, “Excellent…but if you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better.” He then adds, “Mais n’enculons pas des mouches.” This phrase means “But let us not split hairs” in French.  (the again the phrase might not even be in the movie – just the book.  Never mind.)

It is used in the negative form “let’s not split hair” to express that one does not want to argue about minutiae.

September 1, 2012

Party Pooper

Party pooper is another of those funny words – at least my 8 year old thinks so.

A party pooper is somebody who ruins the fun and the enjoyment of a social situation, most notably a party, for everybody by being negative, gloomy, foul mooded or nagging.  People can be one-time or occasional partypoopers – which is bad enough – or habitual party poopers which means it is likely their personality rather than a bad day/week/month that makes them so unpleasant to be around.

The term can obviously be abused to try and pressure people into doing things they don’t want to do or don’t feel comfortable doing.  It is a way of exerting peer pressure.

“Oh, come on Jason, just because you had five beers doesn’t mean we can’t take a joyride in your dad’s Porsche now.  You are such a party pooper.”

There are other words for such people but none quite as graphic as party pooper.   Spoilsport would be another, or killjoy – both convey their meaning pretty unambiguously.

Searching for a fitting picture I found a lot of toilet humor.  Kind of disgusting so I leave you to image who a party pooper situation looks like

August 28, 2012


As a DIY-er, Left Coast liberal, environmentally conscious do-gooder I had to come across the term “upcycling” sooner or later.  It was rather later than sooner to my surprise as I found the term – not too long after I had heard or rather read it for the first time here in the US – in a mainstream German women’s magazine.

Upcycling at its best: a purse made from drinking pouches,

As for a definition, upcycling is the re-purposing of a material into a product of higher quality.  Examples of upcycling include purses made of all sorts of materials such as drink pouches or candy wrappers, coasters from wood scraps, fancy dressers from old drawers and, I guess, my recent project of making a lamp shade from leather strings and copious amounts of fabric stiffener (I also used – and ultimately had to sacrifice – my son’s inflatable pool ball. Oh well, the summer is almost over anyway).

Upcycling seems to be quite the trend around here, especially in San Francisco but I am sure the New Yorkers have their share of the movement – and apparently so does germany.

Here are some of the websites/blogs I recently looked at and thought inspirational:

Have a look, maybe you’ll find your own favorite project to be creative nd work with your hands after a day spend hammering away on the computer.

So, and now I’ll go and make cutesy little tea light holders out of old lace, balloons and – you guessed it – copious amounts of fabric stiffener.

August 16, 2012

…And The Rest Is History

“.. and the rest is history” is another little (American) English phrase that can be very useful in conversation.  The phrase is used to refer to a story or event everybody is familiar with and therefore does not need to be repeated.  Everyone is not necessarily everyone in the world or even the country or town but everyone (or almost everyone) taking part in that particular conversation.

I just recently used the phrase (or rather would have used it had this conversation happened in English) in the following context: My oldest girl-friend was telling my son how she move from one country to another when she was only 10 years old and how she had to leave her best girl-friend behind. To give the whole story a optimistic spin she then continued to say “but then, two years later, I met your mom in school” to which I would have added “and the rest is history!” meaning everybody around the table knows that we have been best friends ever since and knows many stories about our adventures – both silly and serious.

I like this phrase, it seems like it is the closest thing to telling an insider joke without actually telling a joke.

No picture this time, for the life of me I couldn’t come up with a picture to illustrate this phrase that wasn’t completely cliche or unrecognizable.



August 9, 2012

In Defense of Californias Elementary Schools

I have pretty much given up blogging about the California school system and it’s shortfalls, specifically the political correctness which often lies like a sticky blanket on everything that should be fun from candy to a good playground fight.

Mobbing is nasty, pic:


Today, though, I have to raise my voice in defense of the political correctness and mollycoddling which surprises no-one more than me.  I have spent the last four weeks with my family in my native German town.  My parents live in a small, save cul-de-sac with kids my son’s age around.  “Perfect”, I thought to myself, “‘precious only son’ will have some buddies (or should I say mates) to play with and I will get to do – whatever.”  What I never even considered was the fact that the lovely little neighborhood brats would gang up on my child, whose only crime it is to be a stranger


with the occasional strange idea about how German language should be used.  Five of them mobbed him, were absolutely nasty from the first moment on, stole his toys, refused to include him in their games, shoved dirt down his shirt and similarly nasty stuff while their parents sat by looking and saying smart and enlightening things like “that’s just how kids are”.

Now I hate to say this but where we live every parent would be mortified by such behavior and every teacher would call a conference with the parents if they observed such despicable acts.  Kids would be impressed upon that mobbing is unacceptable and that message would be delivered in no uncertain terms.  Kids learn in Kindergarten to be open and tolerant of others.  This is part of the curriculum.  Does it always work and do we have a bunch of little angles floating three feet off the ground in California?  No, of course not, but at least a serious attempt is made to train them from an early age to be caring and inclusive,  call it mollycoddling if you like but at least it isn’t mobbing and indifference.

I am very glad, I have to say, that the first day of my son’s third grade will be in a political correct school in politically correct California.


July 16, 2012


Where we live we have play dates for our kids.  They don’t just go out and visit their friends’ and classmates after school and homework as we used to do, no, generally, you have to make a “date” for such an important event.  This involves two parents – mothers, mostly – taking out their smart phones and scroll through their and their busy off-spring’s  calendars.  A conversation like this ensues:

Parent 1: “Monday and Thursday Jimmy has soccer training, Tuesdays is piano class and afterwards  we go to the library, Friday is his Chinese class and Saturday morning a soccer game.  We could do a week from Wednesday but not before 4:30 because of art class every other week.”

Parent 2: “Let’s see, a week from Wednesday … that won’t work, Danny has swim practice.  Maybe Friday after Jimmy’s Chinese class and Danny’s chess club.  Or maybe on Saturday between 2 and 4 pm – before the birthday party at 4:30 pm.”

The Fallacy of play dates, (c

So a date is set for a week from Friday at 4:45 pm for an hour or so before Jimmy or Danny has to run off again for some special event or another.  Chances are, though, this play date will get canceled at some point before Friday: “i am sorry , we won’t be able to make it on Friday after all, Jimmy has an extra chess club training event to get ready for the tournament.  Maybe we could reschedule for four weeks from now when the tournament is over.”

The funny thing is, almost all the parents I ever ask about that practice hate it (admittedly most of them are either Europeans or from India – given where I live and whom I hang out with) and all fondly think back to their childhoods when they would come home from school, eat, do homework, do whatever else kids have to do and the jump on the bike or run on over to the neighbor’s house, or go to the local park where a bunch of buddies were already kicking or tossing a ball – or whatever kids would do.  All without calendars and schedules and a multitude of enriching afternoon activities.

Yet, the play dates continue unabashedly.

July 14, 2012

Of Thongs and flip-flops

Recently I spend some time with Australians and terms like “bloke” and “mate” are rolling off my tongue with ease.  I learned a few bad words, too, well not too bad, like wanker, which is used pretty broadly for annoying guys who are full of themselves.

Flip flops, thongs or both?

The most fun I had, though, with Australian English was over footwear and this is how the story unfolded: I was with a group of people in business wear and the plan was to walk from here to there, with “there” being a ways away.  One of the ladies considering the distance said something along the lines of  “I am just going to slip into my thongs.”  Now in the US thongs describe a certain kind of underwear, namely the one that has but a string or very narrow strip of fabric on the backside which runs between the buttocks.  Now, even if she would consider thongs a better choice of underwear for a bit of a walk then whatever she was wearing, the mere idea of mentioning this to a mixed group is shocking in the US.  Since I am not American I am not that easily shocked by risky underthings – but I was a little puzzled.

Well, turns out that thongs are to Australians what flip-flops are to Americans:  comfy flat shoes worn on or to the beach.  It took us a bit to sort this out but ever since I enjoy casually mentioning something along the lines of “just quickly slipping on my thongs” or saying “did you see that bloke (guy) over there in the thongs?” and getting really confused looks from people.