I was just wondering:

What does the “knee-jerk” part of the phrase “knee-jerk liberal refer to?  Or, in other words, what is a liberal like myself supposedly jerking her knees about?

It makes me imagine a form of folk dance with lots of bouncing involved.  And little bands of bells around the ankles to jingle while those knees are doing their thing.

But this is a derogatory term.  So what’s the story?

trees

cut

They had to cut down a huge old tree that grew in front of the local gay/lesbian/queer/trans/etc. community center, where I am teaching a poetry class. It makes me a little sad every time I walk past there because I used to enjoy seeing the rainbow flag peeking out under the branches. I guess it was a problem, though. The tree was growing right up against the porch. But losing this one big tree has got me thinking about how I’d really like to plant some lovely oak or maple or something in front of our house here, but the yard is so small, there’s probably not really room for one. Maybe a small tree? I could settle for that, probably. A fruit tree? An ornamental tree? And I wonder whether that little pine tree we planted at the last house will survive. One of the hard parts about renting houses is that you have to leave your garden behind when you move.

But, anyway trees: Do you believe that trees can speak to you? Or that a tree can hug you back when you put your arms around it? Sometimes I do almost believe these things, even though I find it difficult to be a believer in general. But I do feel peaceful around trees. It could be just the clean air and the shade or it could be something more.

just the sounds

shoes

I know that these are just the names of shoes, but I was rather attracted to the rich sounds of the language on this sign when I walked past it this afternoon.  So many nice vowels.  Ooooloooo.  Uuugg.  Uurth.  Booooots.  I guess reading a lot of poetry trains you to think like this?  But I think I’ve always loved language.  Oooooloooo.  MerUuull.  Ooooloooo.  Uurth.  And a happy afternoon to you.

refining my vocabulary

I was washing the dishes earlier today (one of my least favorite chores) and I started to think about the word “clean” along with the word “cleanse” and how they mean pretty much the same thing don’t they, or do they have a difference in meaning, and why do we have both words, and what’s the essential difference between the two words?  Is “cleanse” an archaic form?  And if so, why do we still use it?

Thank goodness for that ultimate reference tool, the internet, to stop these spinning questions in my head!

First I did a google search, and found this information from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Synonyms: “Clean is the word in common and literal use for the removal of foreign matter (as dirt, litter, and debris) typically by washing, sweeping, dusting, or clearing away…  Cleanse in this relation seldom wholly loses some hint of its basic notion of making morally or spiritually pure: it is, therefore, the term of choice when the matter to be removed is or is felt as foul, polluting, or noxious or the action is rather one of purifying than of merely restoring to order, freshness, or neatness…  Unlike clean, cleanse is common in essentially metaphoric extension in which it always retains the suggestion of removing what is vile, harmful, or obnoxious…”

From that I was reminded of the spiritual use of “cleanse,” which feels rather obvious in retrospect.  Maybe this experience of looking it up will cement the concept in my memory.  Actually, this was probably one of those cases of knowing how to use a word, but not being able to define it, like the meaning only existed at an unconscious level of my brain.  Isn’t it strange how that happens?  Does that happen to other people?  Sometimes I’m perfectly confident using a word in conversation or in writing, but if I was asked to define it I would be stumped.  And then when I do look it up I find that I’ve been using it correctly after all.

Anyway, the Dictionary of Synonyms is an interesting and exciting book to have discovered through my clean/cleanse distinction quest, and I’ll probably seek it out again for similar questions.  It seems more useful than just a basic thesaurus.  Or has a more refined purpose, anyway.

I also logged into my school email account so that I could access the Oxford English Dictionary and read old English usage examples and such.  The OED seconded what the Dictionary of Synonyms had said, of course, and also gave me a few more examples of differences between “clean” and “cleanse.”  “Clean” can be used to mean “streamlined.”  It can also be combined with other words: “clean out” is to clean by emptying, “clean up” has financial connotations, etc.  “Cleanse,” on the other hand has the distasteful relationship with ethnic cleansing, its purification meaning corrupted by prejudice.  Yuck.

Again, I knew all these meanings already, but it was interesting to read about them again.  It was satisfying to have a thought, a question, and then to go and answer it for myself.

Eyes: how beauty is–yes–variable by whose behold it

There was a long line at the post office and I had several packages to assemble and address and whatnot, so I was standing in the lobby for quite a while watching other people come in and out and move through the line with their envelopes.  I couldn’t help sort of staring at this one girl.  She was wearing bright red eyeliner both above and below her eyes.  She looked freakish to me, all bloodshot and bulging and painful, like she’d been crying and smoking and not sleeping for weeks on end.  But this was a conscious decision.  She decided to do that to her eyes, to make that fashion statement, decided that it looked good, decided that was how she wanted to present herself to the world.  I don’t even understand why there is such a thing as red eyeliner, but the experience of noticing this girl made it, again, clear to me that my perception of beauty is my own and not necessarily shared by all.  Philosophically, I’d like to believe that there are some universals in the question of what’s beautiful, but life would be boring if all opinions were universally shared, so I’m grateful to the girl with red eyes and all her kin in the world for their power to surprise me and get me thinking.