“Uh-oh”

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Etymologically, I’m infatuated with “uh-oh”. I choose to imagine its formation thusly:

Glory begins in an “uh”—the involuntary spasm associated with confusion or unfamiliarity, it’s a commonplace verbal crutch oft extinguished with any formal public speaking training. It’s negative space before a cohesive thought, like a dial-tone waiting for instructions. And, with regard to “uh-oh”, this monosyllabic overture intonates a forthcoming thought still too primitive for higher linguistics or verbiage. To the poor souls who utter it, their minds grope at the ineffable harbinger with horrifying deftness.

Notice singularity in purpose of the “uh” and the “oh”: there’s no space. A space affords a pause… and if there’s time for pause, there’s time for action. But, in this moment, action is meaningless, so the a hyphen is used only to service grammarians and readers. It’s certainly not useful nor pertinent for its utterer who, clearly, has more pressing matters to attend to.

“Oh” is the moment of clarity when dire incomprehension shifts into sharp focus. “Oh” isn’t acknowledgement of a mistake—that’s “oops!”—or understanding that everything’s going to be ok. Quite the opposite, in fact: the “oh” is the implicit acceptance that this, whatever it is that is now harrowing down upon your consciousness, is not good. This much you know. There is little, if nothing, to immediately do or solve, and your mind accepts the eventuality. What will happen will happen, and the most amount of action you can muster is to vocalize your fantastic impotence with a word so fatalistic that it does not employ a hard consonant.

Revel in the uh-ohs. They’re the only moments when you can resign yourself to the fate of your circumstances.

Better Off Dead?

11 babe ruthIf resurrection becomes permissible, would reanimating legends diminish their utility?

Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Ben Franklin, and other pioneers all had measurable impact in our world. Their contributions continue to resonate through time; but, if we had the power to bring them back, I’m skeptical that their intellectual currency kept pace with inflation—perhaps they work best in our memory.

Let’s draw an example:

It’s often said by baseball pundits that Babe Ruth, arguably the best player of all time, couldn’t hold a candle to modern major leaguers. They argue that these days, it’s hard to fathom him edging-out stars who’ve been trained in highly-competitive talent development leagues since diapers.

If Babe Ruth—The Great Bambino—were to miraculously return to baseball, we’d be risking what he means to baseball, possibly tainting what he is to so many people. (Just ask any three-year-old who the best baseball player of all time is.)

In this way, Babe’s most useful as an ideal, not as a player.

Reanimating the thinkers and doers first mentioned in this entry could have a similar effect: it’s not that restoring Albert Einstein wouldn’t be beneficial to science and mankind; it’s that in all likelihood, he’s no smarter or able than modern scientists who have followed in his footsteps.

A living Einstein couldn’t possibly create the edifice as a dead one could; much less could he meet demand for his time. Likely, his active involvement in the scientific community would be lackluster compared with the great expectations for him; and, likely, he’d on-par with the rest of the active community.

Like Babe, Einstein’s most useful as an ideal, not as a player. To further the risk, if Einstein proved not to be a modern-day Einstein, his reanimation could detract from his story.

Perhaps this is true for living legends as well.

Though, as an afterthought, a postmortem comeback to the top would be an impressive feat, one that would create a new benchmark for legend; but, we do need to recognize the possible (and likely) deleterious effects associated with returning the idea of a specific person—an idealistic person—into human form. Having it be a net benefit would be a long-shot, one pragmatism should prohibit in almost all circumstances.

Form v. Function v. Font

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Composing in a specific aesthetic influences tone, so select your font and format before you write.

It’s probably been a while since you’ve used a word processor as your primary vehicle to process words. More likely, you’re using a webmail client, IM chat, or an e-mail client where the formatting’s fixed and the written word rules. I challenge you: change your font—see what happens.

This is Times New Roman, Microsoft Office’s default font. This font has been beaten to death and does nothing for you. It doesn’t hurt you, either.   Helvetica and Arial fit into the same camp: standard word processor fonts. Their ubiquity and blandness doesn’t hurt nor help your writing. This blog, for compatibility and web-readability reasons, relies on sans-serif’s friendliness on the web-o-sphere. (I also like to think my imagery transcends the page in all cases, regardless of font selection; but, we’ll leave that for you to decide.)  However, switch to Cochin, and you will find that your sentences read more intelligent because the font face is under fewer writer’s employ. Its serifs and subtle curves gently emphasize your free-form prose, and flowery language doesn’t seem as flowery when it’s written in a flowery font face; rather, it flows. In addition, you will notice a proclivity towards logorrheic phrasing and a dearth of contractions; thusly, take heed that these types of font faces are not for novices, but rather the ruthless darling-murdering red-faced penmen who do not wait for second-passes as it is far too easy to get carried away.  Contrast that with Impact. Tell a story, but tell it quickly. Use it for headlines. Use sparingly.    By the same token, everything looks stupid in Comic Sans MS. Also, we often write stupid things here. And we never get away with it. ROFFLES!!11!!1!1!!eleven

Interestingly, the font face influences you more in the composition phase than it influences the reader when reading. Consider:

I’m having a terrible day. My dog ran away and I miss him. I’m having a terrible day. My dog ran away and I miss him. I’m having a terrible day. My dog ran away and I miss him. Im having a terrible day. My dog ran away and I miss him.

To me, all of these sentences have the near-equivalent emotional impact.

I’ll admit: the aforementioned examples are a bit contrived. But, for me, I find that if I compose in a particular font modify margin width and line height, your writing will tailor itself to the message’s function.

For general writing, I use Helvetica Neue (Light) size 12, set to 6.5 inches of writable horizontal space (1 inch margins on an standard 8.5 x 11). For news and newsletter-style stories, I’ll break the page into two columns and my sentences become 30% shorter, my paragraphs drop to a sentence or three, and I’ll get to the point within the first vertical inch. For book and paper-writing that demands a bit more clarification (but not necessarily ‘clarity’), nothing has yet beaten Cochin (or Sylfaen, for those on a Windows box).

Succinctly, your language accommodates the area you have to work with. So form your working area accordingly.

(It’s true for me, at least.)