About our names

Photograph of B.J. Smith
AKA B.J.

Let us suppose you like your first name, your “given” name.

It’s yours. You respond to it.

You feel good when you hear it, except maybe when a parent says “Bernard Joseph Smith, you’re going to be sorry…!” for whatever you just did.

Even then you might not mind the tone so much if your first name is pronounced correctly. In my experience, you can count on parents getting it right.

Also in my experience, most people get Bernard wrong when talking to me, at least for the first time. They default to the common U.S. pronunciation, as if we’d all been named for a legendary breed of dog that rescues people in the Alps.

Some members of my extended family, and maybe your own, can attest to how important it is to at least attempt to pronounce names correctly. It’s a matter of courtesy and respect.

A tiny, tiny percentage of people who see my full first name in writing ask how to pronounce it. I smile, pronounce it for them, and thank them profusely for asking.

It’s understandable, of course. There is more than one way to pronounce many names. You can’t tell from the spelling if Bernard is BER-nerd or ber-NARD, but to me they are quite different. One is mine, the other is not.

If you don’t know for sure how to say someone’s name, just ask.

B.J.

P.S. A man of many names and nicknames, I’ve been known to some as B.J. since U.S. Navy bootcamp in 1973 when one of our first chores was stenciling last name and initials on every shred of government-issued clothing, down to and including the white boxer shorts. Recruits on laundry detail would yell out names and initials so you’d get the right skivvies back.

That time I tried to meditate

This morning I returned home from a routine visit to the doctor determined to keep an open mind about his suggestion that I try some meditation. That he might recommend this at some point was no surprise; I caught a glimpse of the prayer flags in his office the first time I saw him a few years ago.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

I decided to give it a try on my lunch break. As he said, guided meditations are easy to find on YouTube and elsewhere. I got down to business, found a short video, and decided I could easily spare five minutes.

Nearly every second of that time, one of the first few words the guy’s soothing voice said ran through my brain, again and again and again.

Thank you for gifting yourself these next few minutes.

This was not relaxing. I want those five minutes back, dammit.

I grudgingly admit that people have used “gift” as a verb for a long time, but I’m one of the people Merriam-Webster mentions here. It was good to see I’m not alone, but I do imagine I should probably go meditate some more.

Take it easy, my friends.

B.J.

The issue is survival, not winning or losing

The words “win” and “winning” are losing their meaning through overuse and misuse.

So is the notion of war. The idea that nations are fighting a war against a virus and can actually win is preposterous.

A well-prepared nation can limit the death and social and economic havoc that result from a pandemic. That is not winning. A nation certainly does not win anything by being so unprepared that thousands of people die before civic leaders accept their responsibilities and act. That is called failure.

The issue is survival, not winning or losing.

This nation and other nations can survive or not. Individuals will survive or not.

We can do either with honor and dignity. Our choice.

Image by jhenning from Pixabay

Advice for writers: Don’t call yourselves something else

A documentarian is someone who makes documentaries, right?

That’s what I’ve always thought and my favorite dictionary agrees with me, which makes it an excellent dictionary.

Some time ago, however, I came across a group for writers called Write the Docs – a “global community of people who care about documentation.”

Just a suggestion…

The people call themselves documentarians.

I get their monthly newsletter and that word bugs the hell out of me. (I know what Wiktionary says on the topic, but I don’t care and neither should you. It’s Wiktionary, for crying out loud.)

I’m sure WtD is an otherwise fine organization that meets the needs of some thousands of humans who write and edit documentation and so on. The website has lots of links that various types of writers will find valuable.

What I don’t see on the site under the “Job listings” heading are any jobs for documentarians. That use of the word may catch on more widely someday, and even land in my favorite dictionary, where you can already find documentalist.

My advice? Don’t use either of those words on your résumé if you want to find a job.

Write on,

B.J.

Motorized bicycles that are ‘non-motorized’? Say hello to my ‘cat’

This morning was perfect for a bicycle ride from Longmont to Lyons, a distance of about 10 miles if you start at the Smith place. It’s always great fun to be on the road with nearly as many cyclists as motor vehicle operators. Mrs. Smith and I aren’t the slowest people on bicycles, but we’re not so fast that we miss the scenery, the road-killed snakes, and all the yellow skins apparently shed along the way by bananas that no longer need them.

We’re also noticing more and more of those e-bike things, which I thought were referred to as such because they have electric motors. Silly me.

I read in the Denver Post after our human-powered morning ride that the U.S. government has decreed that e-bikes are actually “non-motorized.”

And up is actually down, unless I have that backwards.

My favorite and funniest part of the article, even though this is no laughing matter:

“The Interior statement said riders must use the motor only to boost their pedaling on the trails, and not zip along on motor power alone.”

The absurdity is obvious: The Department of the Interior has determined that the riders in question don’t have motors. What’s more, we all know that cyclists, motor vehicle operators, and even riders of non-motorized contraptions that do have motors routinely fail to do many of the things they must do.

I wouldn’t deny anyone the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, as much as or even much more than I do. The arguments in favor of using e-bikes to get around are numerous, and many of those reasons are actually good.

As a writer and editor who cares about language, however, I do take exception to calling things and people something they are not.

By the way, I thought I’d share a picture of my cat, since people love cat pictures so much.

Pedal on, my friends.

B.J.