Originally Published: August 31, 2016 5:58 a.m.
During my summer vacation, I had time to think about words, one of my favorite subjects. Unlike Donald Trump, I make no claim to having “the best words.” Any fool who makes such a statement is akin to a 4-year-old blurting it as a “cute” remark, which would be appalling at any other age. I know there are people out there with better words at any given time.
While traveling, I listen to audiobooks. One of my current listens is “The Art of X-Ray Reading,” by Roy Peter Clark, on how to get the most out of classic writing. The author analyzed the poem “The Second Coming,” by the Poet’s Poet, William Butler Yeats. I’d always thought it a poem about religion, but it’s actually more centered on politics and the “rough beast” that can arise from elections. At least two books have titles derived from it, “Slouching Toward Bethlehem” and “Things Fall Apart.”
Tom Wolfe, the prolific writer of the ’60s and ’70s, and inventor of psychedelic phrases of the era, has a new book that examines language, called “The Kingdom of Speech.” In it he explores theories on how speech developed among humans and arguments that evolution cannot explain it. Everything he writes actually is full of the “best” words.
Nowadays, young people are the most prolific inventors of new words. Rap may have had some influence on this, but also their world is so very different from that of their parents in terms of technology, opportunities and ideas.
While I’m no stranger to the internet and Facebook, I learned a couple of new terms recently — “LULZ” being one of them. Most tech savvy people know LOL means “laughing out loud.” Those who don’t become fodder for people like talk show host Jimmy Fallon, who has a segment on “#MomTexts” because they are so awkward and uncool. Using LOL a lot is the mark of a rank tech amateur. But “LULZ” is the equivalent of multiple LOLs. Plus the “z” on anything is a marker of being in the know.
To “brick” something is to make it useless, as in “I accidently downloaded a virus and bricked my computer.” It’s also fitting because a lot of the old technology is about as useful as a brick.
“Apps,” or applications for your smart phone or computer, are a word most people know. I decided on this trip to make the most of them, and it was a revelation. I started with Uber.
“Uber” used to be a German word for “above” and was used as a superlative for “supreme,” but now it’s used only to reference the taxi service app that employs drivers as independent contractors. I used Uber on my vacation in New York for the first time, and it was awesome. On Long Island, every one of the half dozen or so rides I took had drivers who were foreign men with accents, impeccably dressed and polite, showing up faster than any cab I’d ever taken and driving immaculately clean cars.
I also downloaded the American Airlines app, which updated me on gate changes automatically and reminded me to check in. The Google app kept me apprised of restaurants, bars and entertainment nearby in Manhattan — very helpful. The Enterprise app showed availability of rental cars — none, in my case. The Ticketmaster app made it possible to book Broadway shows in five minutes. The OpenTable app enabled me to make a restaurant reservation on the way there.
The only app that failed me was Airbnb. I’d used it before, but despite seeing the rental room online, it was not what I expected. First, there was no air conditioning. Second, a cat or some other creature had been in the space and my husband had an immediate allergic reaction. When the “hostess” refunded the money, she said she hadn’t listed air conditioning as an amenity. Only desperate travelers with no other options must use it.
Back to words — recently I learned another new one in reference to the annual Burning Man festival in Nevada: “Sparkle Pony.” It refers to young women who go to the festival without enough water or food and depend on others. They also run away to avoid conflict caused by their behavior. I’ve known a few Sparkle Ponies in other contexts, and the Urban Dictionary confirms that it is a term used to denote a lazy worker who is the butt of office jokes.
On a rainy day in Boston during vacation, we turned on the TV and found that only basic cable and internet-based channels were available. The YouTube channel was one of the few free ones worth watching.
So we watched Carpool Karaoke for a while. One of the funniest gags I’ve seen in a long time, Carpool Karaoke features famous singers, bands and regular people talking about music and gossip with late night talk show host James Corden driving around LA. Stevie Wonder, Red Hot Chili Peppers and First Lady Michelle Obama have all appeared in it. My favorite was the one with Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas, in which they actually sang well and talked about relationships and lyrics. Jonas explained the lyrics of “Cake by the Ocean” as originating from a Swedish band misinterpreting “Sex on the Beach.”
All in all, it was a fun and educational vacation.