WOTD: Spam

When I was little I sometimes went to stay with my great-grandmother for a day or two. She was in her 80s but she was a lot of fun. Everything in her house was old, but she came from a time when things were built to last. Her refrigerator was an ancient propane gas Servel from the 1950s, which still worked prefectly. She had held on to a lot of stuff from days gone by: boxes full of fascinating old clothing such as arm-length satin gloves, shoe boxes of old photographs, and even a few old magazines full of pictures of women in Christian Dior New Look dresses. Eventually all this ended up being given to my mother. I loved looking through the magazines and at the old pictures, mezmerized by the faces of people who were long dead.

Anyway, one day I was flipping through one of my great-grandmother’s old Harper’s Bazaar magazines from the 50s. In the midst of all the advertisements for cigarettes and liquor was an ad for Spam. I clearly recall what was written on the ad and will probably remember it forever:

Spam: The Ham that Didn’t Pass its Physical.

Isn’t that great?

Back in those days Spam was a canned meat product. Its name is a combination of the words “spiced” and “ham.” To me it’s always been one of those foods that older people eat. In fact, the only occasions on which I ever ate Spam was during those visits to my great-grandmother’s house. She always seemed to have some and she used to make us fried Spam, which was actally pretty good. It didn’t taste anything like ham, though.

Today, lower-case spam is something completely different. Wikipedia defines it as “unsolicited or undesired electronic messages.” These can come in many forms including emails and comments on blogs. We at Random Misanthrope use an application called Akismet which politely and discreetly moves comments which smell like spam to their own special folder. Today I saw that we had six comments sitting in our spam queue, so I thought I’d take a look. This one comment caught my eye because it reads like it was written by a Nigerian prince:

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All this was apparently the introduction to the last word, hydraulic, which was a (now broken) link. As you can see the comment is written in the all-too-familiar awkward style associated with Nigerian spam emails. Most of the language is sort of correct but definitely not standard English, “completely rather interesting”  being a key example. One wonders if this was generated by a spambot programmed to make the comments or emails read like that.

If so, then why?

Oh why?

WOTD: bureaucracy

Unfortunately, today’s word is something that has become a fact of life for most of us living in the modern world. Dictionary.com defines bureaucracy as, “government by many bureaus, administrators, and petty officials.” Hehehe…I love how they used the word “petty” in their definition.

Additionally, bureaucracy can be associated with all large organisations and not just with government. Thus it is further defined as,  “administration characterized by excessive red tape.”

Ahh…red tape. That’s a colloquial synyonym for bureaucracy and is defined as, “excessive formality and routine required before official action can be taken.” Much of this red tape is manifested in the form of letters from large organisations such as insurance companies or banks. Since so many must be sent out daily, such letters are automatically generated and sent out by computer. At no time are these letters seen by human eyes. This must be the case, otherwise why would dead people continue to receive letter after letter despite frequent and repeated attempts to inform the sender that the recipient of their letters is in fact deceased?

The following exchange is a classic example. It’s a bit long but definitely worth reading to the very end:

My father died on Jan 02, 1995. He left no forwarding address.

Therefore, it fell to me to collect his mail. I didn’t expect much really, since my sisters and I had been careful to notify his bank, insurance agent and a host of other businesses that one of their customers was no more. You would think a death notice would cut down on the amount of correspondence from those firms. Quite the contrary. Instead — for months, mind you — my deceased father continued to receive mail from companies that had been told of his passing but pressed on, determined to contact him anyway. The first to hope for a reply from beyond the grave was my father’s bank.

Dear Mr. Hanson,

Our records indicate payment is due for overdraft protection on your checking account. Efforts to contact you have proven unsuccessful. Therefore, we are automatically withdrawing your monthly $28.00 service charge from you account. Please adjust your records accordingly.

Sincerely,

The Phoenix Branch

Dear Phoenix Branch,

This is to notify you once again that Mr. Hanson died Jan 02, 1995. It is therefore unlikely he will be overdrawing his account. Please close his account, and adjust your books accordingly.

Sincerely,

Scott Hanson

Later that same week, I receive this note from Dad’s insurance company. Again, this is a firm that had been told in no uncertain terms of his death.

Dear Mr. Hanson, It’s time to renew your auto insurance policy! To continue your coverage, you must send $54.17 to this office immediately. Failure to do so will result in the cancellation of your policy, and interruption of your coverage.

Sincerely,

Your Insurance Agent

Dear Insurance Agent, This is to remind you that Mr. Hanson has been dead since January. As such, the odds he’ll be involved in a collision are quite minimal. Please cancel the policy, and adjust your books accordingly.

Sincerely,

Scott Hanson.

The next day, I went to my mailbox to find this:

Dear Mr. Hanson, Let me introduce myself. I am a psychic reader, and it is very important that you contact me immediately. I sense that you are about to enter a time of unprecedented financial prosperity. Please call the enclosed 900 number immediately, so I can tell you how best to take full advantage of the opportunities that are coming your way.

Sincerely,

Your Psychic Reader

Dear Psychic Reader, My father regrets he will be unable to call you 900 number. As a psychic reader, I’m sure you already know my father is dead, and had been for more than three weeks when you mailed your letter to him. I sense my father would be more than happy to take you up on your offer of a psychic reading, should you care to meet with him personally.

Sincerely,

Scott Hanson

P.S. Should you be in contact with my father in the future, please ask him if he’d like to renew his car insurance.

A few months of calm passed, and then these arrived:

Dear Mr. Hanson, Our records indicate a balance of $112 has accrued for overdraft protection on your checking account. Efforts to contact you have proven unsuccessful. Please pay the minimum amount due, or contact this office to make other arrangements. We appreciate your business and look forward to serving all of your future borrowing needs.

Sincerely,

Your Bank’s San Diego District Office

Dear San Diego District Office, I am writing to you for the third time now to tell you my father died in January. Since then, the number of checks he’s written has dropped dramatically. Being dead, he has no plans to use his overdraft protection or pay even the minimum amount due for a service he no longer needs. As for future borrowing needs, well, don’t hold your breath.

Sincerely,

Scott Hanson

Dear Mr. Hanson, Records show you owe a balance of $54.17 to your insurance agent. Efforts to contact you have proven unsuccessful. Therefore, the matter has been turned over to us for collection. Please remit the amount of $54.17 to our office or we will be forced to take legal action to collect the debt.

Sincerely,

Your Insurance Agent’s Collection Agency

Dear Collection Agency, I told your client. Now I’m telling you. Dad’s dead. He doesn’t need insurance. He’s dead. Dead, dead, dead. I doubt even your lawyers can change that. Please adjust your books accordingly.

Sincerely,

Scott Hanson

A few more months, and:

Dear Mr. Hanson, Our records show an unpaid balance of $224 has accrued for overdraft protection on your checking account. Our efforts to contact you have proven unsuccessful. Please remit the amount in full to this office, or the matter will be turned over to a collection agency. Such action will adversely affect your credit history.

Sincerely,

Your Bank’s Los Angeles Regional Office

Dear Los Angeles Regional Office, I am writing for the fourth time to the fourth person at the fourth address to tell your bank that my father passed away in January. Since that time, I’ve watched with a mixture of amazement and amusement as your bank continues to transact business with him. Now, you are even threatening his credit history. It should come as no surprise that you have received little response from my deceased father. It should also be small news that his credit history is of minor importance to him now. For the fourth and final time, please adjust your books accordingly.

Sincerely,

Scott Hanson

Dear Mr. Hanson, This is your final notice of payment due to your insurance agent. If our firm does not receive payment of $54.17, we will commence legal action on the matter. Please contact us at once.

Sincerely,

Your Insurance Agent’s Collection Agency

Dear Insurance Agent’s Collection Agency, You may contact my father via the enclosed 900 number.

Sincerely,

Scott Hanson

It has now been a couple of months since I’ve heard from these firms. Either the people writing these letters finally believe my father is Dead, or they themselves have died and are now receiving similar correspondence. Actually, there has been a lesson in these letters. Any one of them would be cause for great worry, if sent to a living person. The dead are immune from corporate bullying. There’s nothing like dying to put business correspondence in its proper perspective. Perhaps that’s the best reason not to fear death. There’s no post office there.

Until next time…

WOTD: skitbra

The English language may have many more words than the Swedish language, but there are some words and phrases in Swedish which don’t really have an equivalent in the English language, and which I particularly love. One of those phrases is “skitbra,” which translates to “shit good.” It’s common in Swedish slang to place the word “skit/shit” in front of the adjective of one’s choice. The word “skit” functions as an auxiliary sentence modifier that emphasizes the meaning of the adjective. Therefore the word “skitbra” means not just good but rather good, thank you very much.

Other uses of the “skit/shit” modifier can be found in the following examples:

1. skitdåligt = shit bad

Den här filmen är skitdåligt! (This film is not very good.)

2. skitkallt = shit cold (referring to the weather/climate)

Fy fan, det är skitkallt idag. (My goodness, it’s cold today.)

3. skitvarmt = shit hot (ditto the above)

Fan också! Det är skitvarmt! (Dear me! It’s rather warm!)

More on Swedish slang and profanities later…

WOTD: intoxicated

Yesterday at an after-work barbecue party, myself and a few colleagues were trying to come up with as many slang, figurative, and colloquial phrases we could think of for the adjective “intoxicated,” which is the most proper and clinical way of describing someone who has had too much to drink. Some of us were sightly intoxicated when this discussion came up and I found out that it’s difficult to pronounce “intoxicated” when one is intoxicated.

So I’ll have a go:

Drunk

Full som en kastrull (strange Swedish expression that translates to “as drunk as a saucepan.”)

Hammered

Smashed

Wasted

(And my personal favorite:)

Shitfaced

Of course there are more. Many many many more. But I don’t want to have all the fun. What amusing phrases can you come up with?

WOTD: California

I very rarely choose a proper noun as a featured word, but this article over on Dictionary.com about the origins of the state name California really caught my eye. California is a Spanish word so I probably assumed the state was named after some Spanish missionary. However, the story behind the California name is actually quite fascinating.

Apparently, when the Spanish began exploring the Pacific Coast they mistakenly thought California was an island. In fact, some of the earliest maps of this region depict California as separated from the mainland. “This is considered one of the greatest, albeit short-lived, cartographic errors.”

Not only that, they decided name the newly-discovered “island” after the mythical island of California from the novel Las Sergas de Esplandián, “The Adventures of Esplandián,” written by Spanish author Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo.

In the book, the mythical California is ruled by Queen Califa and populated only with female warriors who brandish gold weapons. They even harness their animals in gold because it is the only mineral on the island.

The legend of Califa and her island was well known among New World explorers. In 1536 when Hernán Cortéz arrived in Baja California, he believed he had landed on the legendary island.

Labeling it “California” on the charts led to future explorers thinking this was the actual island from the story, inhabited with Amazon-like women almost drowning in gold. Of course 300 years later gold was discovered in California which led to the Gold Rush, statehood, and the state’s nickname, “The Golden State.”

The State of California's bizarre flag.

Until next time…

WOTD: superstition

There is superstition…the writing’s on the wall…

Today’s word is a noun, a concept really, defined as, “a belief or notion (not based on reason or knowledge) in or of the ominous significance of a particular thing, circumstance, occurrence, proceeding, or the like.” I find superstition as a concept to quite fascinating. The idea that certain objects or actions could possibly affect the outcome of random future events is something that occurs in every nation on earth. However, like art and literature and other things created by humans, superstitious beliefs are culturally specific. Things that considered bad or good luck in one country have no significance whatsoever in others.

In the United States for example, it’s said to be bad luck to open up an umbrella indoors. Certain numbers are considered good or bad luck. The most well-known of these is the number 13. I’m not sure if it’s really true or just an urban legend that certain tall buildings and sky scrapers deliberately leave out a thirteenth floor because of the ominous significance of that number. However, in Japan the number 13 has no significance and the number four is bad luck. This is because the Japanese character for the number four looks similar to the character for death, or something.

Anyway, what I find really interesting about superstitious belief is that even people who swear they aren’t superstitious nevertheless find themselves altering their behavior because something is considered good or back luck in their culture. When I was living in Japan I remember being at a department store picking out an umbrella. Several others were there and they were all opening and closing different umbrellas in order to try them out. I’d heard people say that opening an umbrella indoors was bad luck, though I never seriously believed it. Yet, I found myself reluctant and almost uncomfortable with the idea of opening the umbrella inside the store. It was weird. How can the action of opening an umbrella indoors possibly have any affect on anything? And yet, I hesitated.

Some of the most superstitious people are actors and sports people. They might have been wearing a particular pair of socks and had an unusually good game or performance, so they decide that those socks must have certain powers and if they wear them for every single performance or game then they’ll have a greater chance of succeeding. Of course it’s all bullshit, and often they realize it’s bullshit, yet they still don’t feel ready to perform unless they’re wearing their totemic item.

Enough for now…

WOTD: toothsome

Today’s word is an adjective. It’s old-fashioned slang for sexually attractive. The word toothsome originally meant “pleasing to the taste or palatable.” I’m not surprised that the word toothsome has sexual connotations because hunger and sexual desire are often equated with one another.

In ye olde days a young man might say the following to an attractive young lady he wishes to court:

I do declare, Miss Mary, you are looking most toothsome this evening. 

Miss Mary would then blush coquettishly and either 1. retreat, or 2. ask him to bring her another glass of rum punch.

These days a strapping young dude on the make might say this to a smokin’ hot babe with whom he wishes to hook up:

Goddamn, Mary, you look so fucking good I could eat you with a spoon. 

Mary would then lean sexily against the bar and 1. say, “That’s right, honey. You can look but you can’t touch.” or 2. Ask him to buy her another Cosmopolitan.

 

WOTD: money

I walked into the staff computer room at work today to find two colleagues having an interesting discussion about money. Or rather, how far would they go to get a large amount of it. How far I’d go depends on how big of a whore I am. Would I (they were anxious to know) come to a dead stop while walking down the aisle during my wedding ceremony and let out a huge loud fart if I got paid five million dollars? Of course I would. My god, I was expecting them to say a much lower number like, say, five thousand dollars.

Yeah, I’d do it for five thousand dollars. But not five hundred. My humiliation is worth more than that.

Anyway, one of the more interesting facts about modern money is that all of it is more or less worthless. This means it has no intrinsic value. In the past, there was no paper money and coins were made of precious metals such as gold and silver. These days coins are made of base metals, and with very few exceptions, the value of the coin is more than the materials that went into making it. The only reason why those worthless coins and pieces of paper in your wallet can be used to pay for stuff is because the government says they can. This is called a fiat system of currency, from the Latin word fiat, meaning, “let it be done.”

There’s a great song on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album called Money:

“Money. It’s a hit. Don’t give me that do goody good bullshit. I’m in the hi fidelity first class traveling set. And I think I need a Lear jet…”

Stay tuned…

WOTD: vegetable

Today’s word is a noun that is defined in general terms as, “any plant whose fruit, seeds, roots, tubers, bulbs, stems, leaves, or flower parts are used as food.” It comes from the Late Latin word vegetābilis which means “able to live and grow.”

Basically a vegetable can be any edible part of any plant. This means that all fruits are vegetables. However, not all vegetables are fruits.

A fruit is the fleshy part of the plant that develops from the flower or blossom. The strawberry is a typical example of a fruit.  Fruits are meant to be eaten and are essential components of the plant’s reproductive system. The sweet fleshy part is merely window dressing for the all important seeds. Mother Nature has it all figured out, you see. In theory, an animal eats a fruit, seeds and all. Later on that same animal excretes those seeds completely intact and conveniently encased in their own little envelope of fertilizer.

Many of the things that we think of as vegetables are actually fruits. Examples include tomatoes, avocados, and red hot chili peppers. The fruit that is, not the band.

One of my favorite quotations is, “Knowledge is understanding that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”

The Swedish word for vegetable is “grönsak” (literally “green thing”) despite the fact that not all vegetables are green.

Remember to eat your veggies…

WOTD: raphanizein

Here’s another word off the request line, brought to you by Poet Master Blitzken. Today’s word is a noun that I defy any of you to copy and paste into Google and search for images.

On second thought, that might not be a very good idea.

Rhaphanidosis, you see, is the practice of inserting the large roots of plants into the anus. This is not for sexual/bondage purposes. During the 4th and 5th centuries B.C. in Ancient Greece it was a common punishment for adultery. Apparently, they took adultery REALLY seriously back then. Getting a large horseradish root shoved up your ass sounds a bit worse than having to wear a scarlet letter A on your chest for the rest of your life.

This word isn’t used very often these days, but one could perhaps use it to describe a situation that feels (hopefully metaphorically) kind of like having something large and bulbous inserted into your backside in the most painfully unwelcome way.

Oh man, watching that movie was a raphanizeinian experience.  (Baffle your friends.)

Incidentally, raphanizein wasn’t the only punishment for adultery back then. Sodomy by mullet fish was also common. And both the large radish and the fish would eventually run you through. Imagine having to choose between the two. Like having to choose between death by plague or cholera?

*shudders*