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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Modern Trends and Reality

I'm glad I lived to the internet age, as it provides so many topics to ponder that I would not know about without it.  Yes, I still read the New York Times and the Tampa Bay Times (most days and always when it is in print), but I nonetheless see things online that are worth sharing.  You can read some below, but first I want to tell you about an opposite experience.


We've needed a new icemaker in the refrigerator for a long time, even before Hubby went into the hospital never to return.  When it quit dispensing, he got out the ice cube trays from the old refrigerator in the garage, and we procrastinated.  Then he died, two siblings died, and I had unsuccessful surgery.  With COVID disrupting the supply chain, an icemaker was way down on my priority list.  I recently decided to do something about it, though, and went online to inquire about "Kitchen Aid appliance repair near me."  I clicked on something that sounded reasonable, made an appointment, and printed out an estimate that was less than I expected.


You can guess the rest of the story.  The day of the appointment came and went, and no one confirmed or canceled.  I halfway expected that, as meanwhile, my inbox had been inundated with e-mails from "Angi."  I later figured out that this was the former Angie's List, which presumably she sold to robots who think that if they do the electronic response, they also have done the job.


As it happened, the old-fashioned postal mail recently had delivered an old-fashioned book of Yellow Pages for my area.  I looked up "appliance repair," called a number whose address was in my neighborhood, and got a nice woman about a mile away who ordered the icemaker.  She called a few days later to say that it was in, and we made an appointment for her husband to install it.  Let's bring back phone books and truly local businesses.




Among my daily reads is "Morning Brew," which probably was the source of a note I made re poverty in Florida.  It mentioned the poorest county in our state, and I expected Glades or Hendry, where migrants toil to produce our food.  To my surprise, it is Hamilton County, which is a little west of Duval and on the Georgia line.  If I had picked a North Florida county, it would have been Gadsden or Liberty, east of Tallahassee and also close to Georgia.  That Panhandle area has a lot of African Americans who generally are poor.  So I looked up the demographics for Hamilton, our most impoverished county.  It has no plantation history and is 59% white.


On another topic, I think that the internet and other forms of flooding information, as well as urbanization, has led to a great decline in awareness of seasonality.  Pundits discuss the Supreme Court as though it is in session, never mentioning that it adjourns at the end of June, doesn't return until October, and nothing important happens in summer.  Similarly, the month of August always has meant that Congress leaves Washington.  These schedules date back to the days before air conditioning, but there seems to be little acknowledgement of that now.  The 24/7 people have to fill their time slots, so they create news where none exists.


Similarly, the people who produce television and movies clearly did not grow up in farm country with any cognizance of seasons.  In the limited amount of time I spend watching Netflix and other TV, I've seen such examples as county fairs held in spring:  instead, they always are in the fall, when harvests are ripe.  One of these fairs had a guy winning a prize for radishes – a very early spring vegetable – at the same time that another guy won for a pumpkin, which is the latest to mature.  And don't get me started on flowers!  Tropical plants in England, and English plants in the tropics.  Daffodils in bloom at the same time as mums.  I have to remember Hubby's advice that I follow Harvard philosopher William James in adopting "a willing suspension of disbelief."




I've seen and heard a lot of debate about whether or not the January 6 invaders of the Capitol are criminally guilty.  Rarely, though, is there a reference to the crime of treason and its constitutional definition.  The Founding Fathers thought this issue through and were intellectually honest enough to acknowledge that they had committed treason against the established government.  As Benjamin Franklin said, "We must all hang together or we shall hang separately."  They rightly expected to be executed if their military mission failed, and they did not try to evade responsibility. 


They would have scorned anyone who dismissed their actions as "tourism," the way that some Republicans have excused the lawbreakers at the Capitol. Thus the men who defined treason in the Constitution were careful to separate speech from action.  Words are lawful, but treasonous behavior is constitutionally "two witnesses to an overt act."  I believe there were millions of us who witnessed a Trump-loving mob commit a couple of overt acts in trying to overturn the election.  If that isn't treason, what is?


And speaking of hypocrisy and double-talk, I was amazed to see Ron DeSantis and other anti-maskers use the slogan, "My body, My choice."  They are free to spew germs on the rest of us because their bodies have the right to choose, but what about the right to choose for women?  At the same time that DeSantis signs on to a court case that would overturn Roe v. Wade, he asserts his right to jeopardize the safety of others?  Abortion does not have endangering consequences for those who didn't have one.


Again, I didn't make my notes carefully enough to source this quote – but I don't think today's internet bloggers expect that same citation notes that were required back in the day.  So, without credit, here's an analogy that I really liked.  Comparing new state laws that restrict voting to restrictions on lethal weapons, the writer said:  "You can only purchase a gun one time every two years.  It can only be the first Tuesday in November.  You must go and wait in line.  There is only one place in your county.  You must have multiple forms of ID.  No one can give you a drink of water while you wait."




Another essay I read on the internet and now can't find for attribution was about the evolution of the English language.  Like many people who want to be writers without actually writing, I've often wanted to be a linguist without learning languages.  I'm interested, but not enough to do the work.  And I'm absolutely worthless at imitating sounds, which kind of puts a stop to speaking more than my native language.


I have, though, listened to recordings and leafed through dictionaries to get enough words to travel.  I've found that if you learn the equivalents for food and sleep, you can get by with a smile and a dollar.  This is a bonus for us English-speakers, as other languages are fairly simplistic in comparison, and I've often felt sorry for newcomers to English.  The language has so many synonyms and the rules of grammar and especially spelling are so inconsistent.  Learning it really reflects a deep desire to transform one's self.


When we were very young and living in Washington, Hubby and I volunteered to teach English as a second language.  The administrators who ran the program didn't really want people who were proficient in another language, as it is too tempting to revert to that instead of forcing the student to express thoughts in English.  One of our students was a guy who worked in a restaurant, and he asked if there were two words that sounded alike, "cabbage" and "garbage."  Hubby, who hated cabbage, replied that they were the same thing.


But back to this essay.  The author asserted that English is complex because it adopted words from invaders.  I don't think she really proved that point, though, as speakers of other European languages also had invasions from Roman times onward – and even before.  There always was more war on the continent than on the island, and I see no reason why English should expand because of conquerors, while German, Spanish, and French did not. 


So of course, I went to the internet again.  Also of course, various sites on the net have various numbers, but the pattern shows English to be the most extensive language. The Oxford English Dictionary defines more than 170,000 words, plus some 47,000 that are obsolete.  In comparison, German has about 135.000, French has fewer than 100,000, and Spanish some 93,000.  Languages on other continents are even more limited:  Chinese counts some 85,000 and Arabic about 80,000.  Russian claims to be second to English, but then who trusts Russia? I'm sure the Germans and English would disagree, and certainly few Russian words made their way into other languages.


In contrast to the continent, where war was perennial, England never was invaded after 1066.  So, even though the author did not prove to me that conquest was responsible for the expansion of English, she did have a wonderful line that I think indicates the true reason:  the greater curiosity and aggressiveness of the English.  After the Protestant Revolution of Shakespeare's time, they also refused to bend to Rome and its Latin language in the way that Catholic countries did.  Instead, English speakers assertively picked up everything that came their way.  In the author's words, they "pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle through their pockets for a new vocabulary."


And this usage of "rifle."  That one word alone could offer us a long conversation about language.



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