What’s In A Word: Hope

I look into words or phrases that catch my interest

Hope2Hope, like the gleaming taper’s light,
Adorns and cheers our way;
And still, as darker grows the night,
Emits a brighter ray.
Oliver Goldsmith, The Captivity

Hope is a desire of something together with the expectation of obtaining it. Despair is the opposite of hope.

Hope flows from the human desire to control an uncertain future. Hope gives us the courage and confidence to take action, no matter what the odds against us. Without hope, we would never take risks, never believe we can change our fate.

“Everything that is done in the world is done by hope,” says Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

But sometimes hope can be counterproductive, even harmful, as you’ll soon see.

Hope Comes In Many Forms

High-flying Hope
“Hope — Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope! In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us… A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead.”
President Barack Obama

Modest Hope
”I hope I’m not late to work Monday morning.”
The noble word hope is grossly overused and cheapened.

Low-flying Hope
“I hope they serve beer in Hell!”
People pervert and cheapen the word love, too.

Worried Hope
“I hope that gun’s not loaded.”
Please comment with your favorite examples of Worried Hope.

Superstitious Hope
When we use hope as a charm or spell for a positive outcome, regardless of possibility or probability. “I hope I win the Lotto! It’s my birthday.”

Reasonable Hope
“Hope is the belief that something is possible and probable, and the recognition that the degree of each is not necessarily equal. Hope supports realistic optimism, a necessary component of success. Optimists are powerful for solving wicked problems, the ones pessimists say can’t be solved.”
Deborah Mills-Scofield, Hope Is a Strategy (Well, Sort Of)

Fraudulent Hope
“Hope calculates its schemes for a long and durable life; presses forward to imaginary points of bliss; grasps at impossibilities; and consequently very often ensnares men into beggary, ruin, and dishonour.”
Joseph Addison, The Spectator, Nov. 13, 1712

Blind Hope
”Blind hope faces a blank wall waiting for a door in it to open. Doors might be nearby, but blind hope keeps you from locating them.”
Rebecca Solnit


Hopelessness or Hope

two-and-a-half years of meth addiction

two-and-a-half years of meth addiction

year and a half of meth addiction

year and a half of meth addiction

three months of meth addiction

three months of meth addiction

Look at these faces ravaged by addiction, the dead eyes.

We can see what’s happening to these addicts, but they can’t — they’re in denial.

Though it’s obvious to everyone else, an addict will stubbornly insist they do not have a problem, or their problems are someone else’s fault.

Denial traps addicts and alcoholics in a spiral of self-destruction. Denial makes them unreachable by any helpers.

Are the people in these mug shots hopeless cases?

When we believe change is impossible, that there are no options, that’s hopelessness.

I’ve known people who, because of alcoholism, were at one time in far worse shape than these meth addicts, people who had sunk about as low as they could possibly go. Families, friends, employers, the authorities — all gave up on them. He’s a hopeless case if ever there was one!

Yet today, these same people are sober, productive members of society, and they help make the world a better place. To look at them, you would never guess their history, the things they’ve done to themselves and to others.

Something happened; somehow they got off the merry-go-round of denial and admitted they had a problem.

At a fork in the road, they chose life over death, hope over despair. You could call it a miracle. “God did a drive-by on me,” a recovering alcoholic explains.

The people I mention, the success stories, they’re not cured. They struggle on a daily basis; alcoholism and drug addiction are a mandatory life sentence. But they have hope, awaken each morning with a desire to get through the day sober and the confidant expectation that — if they take action, take the necessary steps — they will go to bed sober that night.

There are no hopeless cases.

Call me a hopeless optimist, but I can imagine the above booking photos transposed, the before and after photos reversed, and “meth addiction” replaced with “sobriety.”

There is always hope. It’s never too late, no matter how low you go, no matter how many relapses. [With the caveat that you have to be alive and not have screwed up your brain too badly].

And hope, unlike dope & booze, is free.

The mug shots are from Faces of Meth, an anti-drug campaign in Oregon. The people in the mug shots agreed to participate in the campaign, in the hope their story and photos persuade others not to use methamphetamine (see? they are not hopeless cases!). Get more info in my comment to this post.




Most of us are familiar with the story of Pandora’s box. In Greek mythology, the gods give Pandora, the first woman, a gift — a beautifully ornate box.

“The gift is the box, not what’s inside it,” the gods tell Pandora. “Do not – repeat, DO NOT — open this box!”

Curiosity eats at Pandora, and, unable to resist, she lifts the lid. Out flies all the ills of society– hate, pain, poverty, violence, plagues, telemarketers, debt collectors, DMV clerks – everything that makes our lives miserable.

Pandora’s desire for the forbidden, much like Eve’s temptation in the Garden the Eden, leads her to defy the gods, with terrible consequences.

That, say the ancient Greeks, is how evil and trouble came into the world.

But that’s not the whole story, there’s more to the myth. As the evil spirits fly out, a terrified Pandora slams the lid shut, and traps the one remaining spirit in the box: Hope.

Why was Hope in the box with all those evil spirits? How did Hope finally get out of the box and into people’s hearts?

I’m going to tell you the full story of Pandora’s Box, my version of the myth anyway. I call it Hope-In-A-Box. I’m writing it now. Actually, I’ve been writing it for weeks; slow going, but I’m about half way finished.

I hope to post Hope-In-A-Box early in 2013. So bookmark this page. The link to my story of hope, evil, and crazy gods will be right here.



What’s In A Word: Bratburger

I look into the origin of words or phrases that catch my interest

Definition of bratburger: an obnoxious, out-of-control kid you see running around the supermarket pulling things off the shelves, bumping into you, yelling and screaming

Steve saw the snot-nosed bratburger grab an apple, take a bite, and put the apple back with the others, laughing demonically — the little bastard knew what he was doing.


Mmmm, fresh bratburger. There’s nothing like it!

When you’re in the supermarket and encounter some bawling, brawling, super-annoying, rude and totally offensive child, here’s what you do:

Approach the frazzled, embarrassed mom and say, “Can I have that kid?”

“Please… take it! TAKE IT!” she begs you.

Then you take the kid home and cut its head off.

Gut it and grind the meat up. Fire up and the barbecue and make fresh bratburgers.

Delicious! And you’re doing society a favor, eating that brat. You know the kid would have grown up to be just as crappy as his parents. And gone on to reproduce, creating more and more crappy people.

I say eat them when they’re young & tender! Nip it in the bud!

At least that’s my fantasy.

Anyway, thinking about bratburgers calms me down whenever I come across extremely unruly children and their shameless parents, oblivious to the discomfort their brat’s behavior causes others.

Instead of my usual poopy face — the scrunched up grimace we old folks affect in public, as if we’ve just had a whiff of dog shit (not to be confused with a baby’s poopy-face, that consternated look prior to off-loading into a diaper) – instead of scowling and getting all stressed out over the kid’s offensive antics, I just smile and think …

Mmmm, fresh bratburger. There’s nothing like it!

W.C. Fields

W.C. Fields’ Taste for Children

“Madam, there’s no such thing as a tough child – if you parboil them first for seven hours, they always come out tender.”

“Don’t you like children?” To which Fields replies, “Only if they are properly cooked.”

“I have the heart of a child,” says novelist and screenwriter Robert Bloch. “ I keep it in a jar on my shelf.”
Bloch created the psychopathic killer Norman Bates in his novel Pyscho (1959).

Brat Bans: “No Children Allowed” Movement Growing

There’s a small but growing movement to ban kids at restaurants, theaters, and airplanes. Fans of “brat bans” say screaming children can ruin a night out for others, but many parents have cried foul.

Sometimes old folks can behave like bratburgers, but they’re too tough and stringy to eat

What’s In A Word: Chico The Barking Spider

I look into the origin of words or phrases that catch my interest

Definition of barking spider: What farts are blamed on when no dog is available.

A barking spider is a convenient scapegoat when you’re caught farting.

Here’s how I imagine this expression was born:

The scene is a college fraternity house in the early ‘60s, right out of the movie Animal House.

A bunch of guys lounge around, having a few beers, exchanging the usual raunchy banter, when… fuuurrp!

“Oh, jeesh! Beer fart!” — “OK… who did it?” — “Animal! Was that you?”

“No, man, not mine,” an unabashed Animal coolly replies. “It was a barking spider.” Uproarious laughter

Bodily function humor is best appreciated by staggeringly immature young men who’ve had too many beers.

I first learned about Chico The Barking Spider from my friend John Gallanos. Must have been around 1975 when I met that immensely likable, remarkably talented, and star-crossed individual.

I thought John giving the barking spider a name, Chico, was ingenious — the funniest thing I ever heard.

Especially as Chico is suggestive of Mexican food — all that cheese, beans, salsa, onions. Mex food is a prodigious producer of ass-whistles, butt thunder, and backdoor breezes.

I was young and staggeringly immature, and rarely let my blood-alcohol level fall lower than what’s known as Irish sober.

I couldn’t get enough to drink. If the Pacific Ocean were Jack Daniel’s Whiskey, I’d worry about evaporation. It was that bad.

I guess you had to be there, to see John’s trademark big, toothy grin and hear him shout “Chico!” whenever someone sat on a duck, shot a bunny, stepped on a frog, or just plain cut the cheese. John was our official fart alarm.

Now, at 62, I’m old and my blood’s alcohol free. But as you can tell by this post on farts and barking spiders, I haven’t matured much.

As my onetime friend Steve Rankin says, “You’re only young once, but you can be immature all your life.”

Boardwalk on Balboa Peninsula

I first heard Rankin say that to a bald-headed, middle-age guy who was walking along the boardwalk on Balboa Peninsula.

I dropped by Rankin’s second-story beachside apartment and found him on his balcony shooting off bottle rockets. One rocket exploded just above the poor man’s head.

The man looked up to see Rankin smiling down, about to light another rocket (embarrassed, I quickly crouched out of sight).

“Dammit! Why don’t you grow up?” the man shouted at Rankin.

“Sir,” says Rankin, “you’re only young once, but you can be immature all your life.” I’ve seen that bit of Rankin wisdom demonstrated many times over the years.

Rankin introduced me to John Gallanos. It figures those two madmen would be close friends.

And one day fifteen years after that introduction Rankin called me at work with sad news about John.

I was surprised to get a call from Rankin. Long estranged from all my old friends, I hadn’t seen John for years, and very little of Rankin.

My life had descended into alcoholism. Like all drunks, I had nothing to offer, wasn’t worth knowing.

“The other guys asked me to talk to you because I’m your best friend,” Rankin told me one day in the late ‘70s. “We’re tired of you coming over and drinking all our beer.”

One of many, many humiliations drinking caused me. And not the worst, by far not the worst.

When Rankin called, I was 7 or 8 years sober, but the damage was done. Some things are unforgettable, unforgivable. Not that I looked for Rankin’s (or anyone else’s) forgiveness. I can’t — I won’t — forgive myself.

Rankin called because he thought I should know: Last night, he said, John drove to a cliff in Malibu and ran a hose from his pickup truck’s exhaust to the cab. Suicide.

I had heard that John suffered back problems, took a lot of pills to kill the pain, couldn’t surf anymore, put on weight and was so out-of-shape, so different from the John I knew, that I wouldn’t recognize him. I heard that he married a horrible woman whom all his friends hated, and that she caused him a lot of pain before she dumped him.

I heard all this, but I had my own problems. Now I kick myself for not reaching out to my old friend, someone who meant so much to me. Too late, too bad.

Rankin said John’s family planned to scatter his ashes at sea.

The sea is where John forever belongs.

John was a great surfer: intense, aggressive, with tremendous strength and agility. He’d often get up before dawn to surf before going to work.

The last time I saw John was at Zunzal, El Salvador, near the legendary surfing spot, La Libertad.

Zunzal, El Salvador. Surfline.com says, “Extremely consistent quasi-world class rock-bottom right point. On a solid swell it can hold up to 10 feet plus, peeling evenly along the rocks. A 30-minute bus ride from La Libertad costs less than a dollar American. Just look for the bus marked “El Zunzal.”

I sat atop a big rock on the beach and watched John, the only surfer out that day, working the waves, tapping the source. I can see him in my mind now.

John surfed alone because he ignored warnings about the sharks.

Sharks were congregating off the beach at Zunzal. One surfer told me he saw a shark leap from the water and corkscrew in the air. He said a shark expert had come to Zunzal to study the phenomenon.

Even visiting Australian surfers stayed on the beach, complaining about all the “snappers.”

A shark had chased Rankin and me out of the surf.

See the waves breaking far on the outside in the above photo of the beach at Zunzal? That’s where Rank and I were body surfing, way out there.

Suddenly, Rankin took off. I watched him swimming madly toward the beach. “Where’s he going in such a hurry?” I thought, then turned around and saw the reason for his abrupt exit.

Thanks for the heads up on the shark, Rankin!

To be fair to Mr Rankin, there’s another angle to this true story that I hesitate to reveal, because I doubt you’ll believe me.

Neither of us was in his right mind. We were both under a chemical influence.

Let’s just say that if that shark had taken a bite of Rank or me, in about fifteen minutes that shark would begin to feel very, very strange: tangerine trees, marmalade skies, cellophane flowers of yellow and green, the works.

It was the 1970s, you know.

Though Rankin had a big head start, I caught up with him. I must have ran on top of the water. Entirely possible on a quarter hit of bulls-eye blotter acid.

As we scrambled out of the water, Rankin turned to me and said, “You’re eyes are as big as saucers.”

A Salvadoran walking along the beach witnessed the whole thing. “Tiburon, muy perigoso,” he informed us.

“No shit,” said Rankin.

I threw rocks as far out in the sea as I could, hoping to hit the shark in his cold, coal-black eye, the same eye I stared into, horrified, as the fucker passed a few feet from me, dorsal fin knifing the water, just like in the movies.

I admired John’s hardcore surfer attitude. All true surfers respect, not fear, sharks. Share the ocean.

I’m no surfer. I need a few breakfast beers, maybe two or three shots of Tic Tac, and to drop LSD before I’ll swim with sharks. Well, not knowingly swim with sharks. That was just my usual morning routine in El Salvador.

Tic Tac, the nasty, liver-rotting liquor of El Salvador.        I have sampled this product.

John and I almost died together not far from where he surfed and where the shark chased Rankin and me.

We were exploring caves that went deep into a cliff by the sea. You could tell from the clean-swept sandy floor and dank walls that the caves flooded when the tide came in.

Our timing was off. The tide came rushing in while we were poking around the hot, humid caves. We hustled to escape through a natural-worn tunnel when a rogue wave flushed us both out like turds down a toilet. Ended up a short swim near the beach.

How we weren’t drowned, smashed against the sharp rocks of the narrow tunnel walls, or swept out to sea, I don’t know. But if we had died that day long ago, we’d have both missed a lot of future misery. Too bad.

Odd that John ended up dying on top of a sea cliff at Malibu, when at Zunzal he almost died inside a sea cliff.

For more than 35 years, depending on the situation, I’ve blamed farts — my own or others — on Chico The Barking Spider. Just this morning my wife Lizzie attributed a toot I overheard to “a little Chico.”

I can’t mention Chico without summoning memories of my friend John Gallanos, now gone more than twenty years.

I’m sure John doesn’t mind associating his memory with farts. There are worse ways to be remembered. I should know.

Malibu at sunset. Here, John rides the waves forever. (Photo by Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times)

A man’s character is his fate, says Heraclitus

In 1978, at Rankin’s invitation, John grabbed his surfboard and flew from LA to El Salvador to spend his vacation with The Three Steves during our epic, year-long journey through Mexico and Central America.

I wrote about that big adventure in an earlier post, Monkey Business, which includes photos (I lost the hat I’m wearing in photo below when John and I were flushed from the seaside caves). Check it out.

The Three Steves. From left, Steve Rankin, Steve Call, and me. Photo taken in 1978 at Cahuita, east coast of Costa Rica.


What’s In A Word: Oh, Snap!

I look into the origin of words or phrases that catch my interest

“Oh, snap!” is a sanitized expletive frequently used by the gloriously trashy Joy Turner on the TV show My Name is Earl.

In moments of consternation, shock, surprise, dismay — anytime anyone not subject to network censors would blurt out an “Oh, shit!” — Joy uses “Oh, snap!”

If it weren’t for the prissy censorship of network TV and the seven-dirty-words-you-can’t-say-on-TV, I’m sure Joy would raise the art of profanity to new heights. Blister paint off a wall from fifty feet away, as they say.

I just saw an episode today where new neighbors push Joy’s buttons and she responds with  “Oh, snappity snap! Snap! Snap! Snap!” Joy really snaps!

Joy definitely has a way with words: “Get me up! This mattress is pressing against me like a creepy uncle.” Uttered when a very pregnant Joy gets stuck between the mattress and the bed frame.

And consider this moment of self-reflection:
“You know the kind of woman who could’ve been the next Faith Hill, but somewhere along the way discovered peach daiquiri, put a diaphragm in on her own, and wound up smack dab in the middle of trailer hell raising two kids? Yep, she still manages to look hot and you can bounce a quarter off her butt cause you gotta take of yourself. I mean, come on. Anyway, that’s me. My name is Joy.”

Here’s more Joy:

Joy: I want half that lotto money, Earl.
Earl: Yeah? Well, I wanted a legitimate baby and a wife who didn’t huff paint on Thanksgiving, but I guess life’s full of little disappointments, now ain’t it?

[brandishing a weed whacker at Earl] YOU gotta do something! Like provide for me! I am the queen! You are the worker bee! Your job is to feed me, do me, and die!

Joy: Hey, Darnell, can you see my thong when I bend over?
Crabman: What thong?!
Joy: Perfect!

Joy: You that weird guy that likes to watch me take my underwear off my clothesline?
Philo: One of them, yes, ma’am.

“Flavored vodka is for sissies and pregnant women!”
In one episode I saw, Joy brags she was so responsible during her first pregnancy that she switched to Marlboro Lights.

[playing an IQ game]
“I swear to God, I used to be able to do this drunk when I was little.”

Joy: [standing naked in front of Randy] Randy, do you know where babies come from?
Randy: Yeah, the bottom of that fuzzy lightning bolt.

Joy Turner is one of my all time favorite TV sit-com characters. Jaime Pressly, who plays Joy, is a fantastic comedic actress. She turns a one-dimensional role into a tour de force.

Reminds me of what Don Knotts did with the character of Barney Fife in The Andy Griffith Show (if that doesn’t date me, I don’t know what will).

Jaime, a former model, won an Emmy in 2007 for her work as Joy Turner in MNIE.

Unfortunately, Pressly’s personal life is in a bit of turmoil these days. In January 2011 she was arrested on a DUI in Santa Monica (where I once lived long ago and briefly describe as part of an earlier post). Following her arrest, she filed for divorce.

I hope, like Earl, she turns her life around. I’d like to see her in other roles, something where she can really stretch her comedic skills. I hope Jaime isn’t typecast as Joy. Don Knotts never did escape from Barney Fife.

Now some of you are saying, “Where have you been?” My Name is Earl ended in 2009 after four seasons.

Yeah, my pop culture IQ is about as high as Earl’s brother Randy’s standard IQ (which is, of course, room temperature).

I only recently started watching reruns of My Name Is Earl, accidentally discovering Earl, Joy, Randy, Crabman and the other dippy denizens of fictional Camden (21st-century America’s version of the idyllic Mayberry in The Andy Griffith Show) when one day my wife broke from her usual line-up of daytime TV programs. Yes, it’s quite a life I’m having.

I can see why I’m so drawn to My Name Is Earl, a comedy about life at the bottom of the barrel. And redemption.

Joy’s trailer park (set built for TV show)

I live in what some (mostly elitist snobs) would call a trailer park, though it’s actually a mobile home park.

Even better, the park’s name is Oasis Mobile Estates. Estates, mind you. Much nicer than the Camden trailer park that’s home to Joy and Crabman and assorted lowlife, the typical stereotypes people have of “trailer park trash.”

We mobile home park residents get no respect.

But many years ago, during the lowest point of my life, I did live in a trailer park much like Joy’s — the Star Trailer Park in Ontario (that’s Ontario, California).

The Star Trailer Park is right behind the Capri Motel on a dreary, disreputable section of Holt Blvd., a street that runs from Despair directly to Degradation. At least that’s how I remember it in the late 1970s, early ’80s.

What a falling off was there: I was a lowlife loser much like Earl, bankrupt in every department.

And like Earl I had an epiphany of sorts. I turned my life around, though it wasn’t a straight line up. Recovery took a lot of time—it’s still going on, in fact.

As Earl discovers as he works through his list of wrongs to right, becoming a better person is a constant struggle to escape the tyranny of self — to turn away from pride, self-will, self-centeredness, all that self crap.

That’s the redemptive power of selflessness, of paying more attention to others than to yourself, of  unconditional love — the message Jesus keeps hammering on. “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

Today, my wife and I were in the area and we drove through Star Trailer Park, the first time we’ve been back in 27 years.

We could have been on the set for My Name Is Earl.  I almost expected to see Joy on one of the rickety stoops yelling at her kids.

As we slowly drove through the park, Lizzie and I remembered with fondness the many characters who inhabited the Star Trailer Park in our era: Chuck & Linda, Nita—all three bartenders at the infamous Orange Hotel (which burnt down more than 20 years ago, much to the relief of the city fathers); Skin Boy (the most minor of minor criminals: Skin Boy looked menacing, but I suspect he never got so much as a parking ticket — like Fonzie on Happy Days);  irrepressible and hilarious Shorty, the World War II vet, with his gigantic nose and rattling, raspy voice that sounded like crunching gravel; and Dolores, another bartender (Club Tahiti Cocktail Lounge, also long gone — the site of that dive bar where I spent so many hours — and paychecks — is today a parking lot).

With her blonde beehive and skin-tight jeans, Dolores was stuck in her heyday of 1962.  She even drove a turquoise ’62 Ford T-Bird convertible. Dolores would be perfect as Joy’s grandma, circa 1980.

Roseanne Barr as Millie Banks, the crazy manager of Earl’s trailer park. Mean, strict Millie reminds me of Mrs. Hitler, a park manager who tormented me 30 years ago.

We passed the manager’s trailer at the park entrance. In my time, it was the home of the authoritarian and much feared Mr & Mrs Hitler.

That’s what we Star Trailer Park residents called that power-mad couple, whose mission was to relentlessly harass us about every little infraction of park rules.

Mrs. Hitler, an ugly, heavy-set woman who never smiled, was especially intimidating.

I told Lizzie the Hitlers are now managing a trailer park in Hell, and she laughed appreciatively. A pleasant thought, though it can’t be pleasant for the sinners in Hell’s trailer park, condemned to eternity under their regime.

Oh, snap! I’ve strayed far from the subject matter.

I did some research and found that Joy Turner doesn’t have a monopoly on popularizing oh, snap. Far from it.

Long before MNIE, oh, snap was heard on the Dave Chappelle Show and even earlier on In Living Color. From what I learned it’s been used regularly by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

In Edward Champion’s online article The Mysterious Origins of “Oh Snap!” he traces the phrase back 60 years to England and says oh, snap was first popularly used in America by the hip-hop community in the 1980s and 1990s.

Wikipedia doesn’t even mention Joy Turner or My Name Is Earl.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Oh snap

Oh Snap or Aw Snap may refer to:

  • Tracy Morgan, a Saturday Night Live comedian who popularized the phrase
  • Biz Markie, who popularized the phrase with his career-defining hit “Just A Friend”
  • Oh Snap!, an indie rock band from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
  • Oh Snap (EP), an EP by the Christian rock band Philmont
  • Aw, Snap!, an error message in Google Chrome
  • Aw Snap, a game on The Ellen DeGeneres Show

Meanwhile, at Sunnyvale Trailer Park in Novia Scotia…

Ricky and Julian of Canadian TV’s Trailer Park Boys. Perpetually drunk, loaded and unemployed, Ricky and Julian, along with their friend Bubbles, are too busy doing crimes to worry about karma and redemption. The show follows the lovable lowlifes’ misadventures at a Canadian version of  Joy’s trailer park. Click on Ricky & Julian to visit Sunnyvale Trailer Park.


What’s In A Word: Stone the crows

I look into the origin of words or phrases that catch my interest

Stone the crows

An exclamation of incredulity or annoyance.
Well, stone the crows it’s five o’clock already!

I first heard the expression stone the crows a few weeks ago in reference to the Chinese revealing a snazzy new stealth jet fighter.

Bryan Suits, host of Dark Secret Place, a weekly radio talk show (Sunday afternoons on KFI 640AM Los Angeles), used stone the crows to characterize how surprised military analysts were when China publicly unveiled its J-20 advanced jet fighter, a harbinger of China’s growing military might.

Stone the crows! China has developed its own stealth fighter jet, the J-20.

Bryan’s two-hour show covers the War on Terror, diplomacy, and all things military. It’s an incredibly informative as well as entertaining show.

But, stone the crows, I’m drifting away from my main subject. Let’s see if I can get back on track:

To discover the meaning of this peculiar phrase, I went directly to The Phrase Finder, an indispensable website for anyone interested in the meaning and origin of phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions. Here’s what I found:

Origin of Stone the crows
”There have been a few attempts to explain the origin of this odd phrase,” says Gary Martin, creator of the Phrase Finder.  “A croze is the groove at the end of a wooden barrel that holds the end plate in place. It has been suggested that the expression was previously stow the croze, i.e. break open the barrel. I can find no supporting evidence for that idea though and have to consign it to the realms of folk-etymology. The more prosaic suggestion – that it alludes to the practice of throwing stones at crows – is much more likely.

“Crows were unwelcome guests at sheep farms as, given the chance, they will kill and eat newborn lambs, so the association with annoyance isn’t hard to see. The link in meaning to surprise isn’t obvious, but then there’s no particular reason to expect to find one. Stoning crows was a commonplace enough activity and calling it up into a phrase could have been done for no reason other than that the person who coined it just liked the sound of it.

“There are other expressions of surprise or annoyance like I’ll go to the foot of our stairs, strike me pink, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle or if that don’t take the rag off the bush. None of these have any sensible literal meaning and stone the crows is another to add to that list.”

That bit about crows killing and eating newborn lambs really rang a bell.

In a recent interview on NPR, author and humorist David Sedaris talked with host Steve Inskeep about his book, Squirrel Meets Chipmunk, a collection of short stories in which Sedaris uses animals to point out, in a hilariously dark and biting way, familiar human foibles and personality traits.

One part of the interview really stuck with me. Here’s a transcript:

“You know, we have a farmer across the road from us in Normandy,” says Sedaris, who lives part time in that French province. “And he told me years ago that you always want your lambs to be born in the lambing shed, because when they’re born in the field, crows will come and pluck out the eyes of the newborn babies.”

Even Sedaris seems momentarily sobered by that mental picture. And then:

“So I wrote a story about that, because to pluck out the eyes of a baby lamb — I mean, that’s cold.

Sedaris goes on to relate a bit of the story in which a mama crow strikes up a conversation with a mama sheep about her newborn lamb.

A snippet of The Crow and the Lamb:

After circling a few times, the crow landed in the pasture and pretended to pick at something in the grass. The old ewe looked her over for a moment, then returned her attention to the newborn, who was receiving the first and probably the only bath of its life.

“Cute kid,” the crow called out. “Is it a boy or a girl?”

The ewe sighed in the way of all parents who expect their baby’s sex to be obvious. “He’s a boy. My second.” Normally she was more sociable, but something about birds put her off—their uselessness, she supposed.

“Well, he’s an absolute lamb, if you don’t mind my saying so,” the crow said, and she hopped a bit closer. “Tell me, was it a natural childbirth?”

The ewe had wanted to remain aloof, but what with the subject matter—that is to say, herself—she found it impossible to hold out for more than a few seconds. “Oh, yes,” she said. “A hundred percent natural, but then again, that’s just my way. It makes it more ‘real’, if you know what I mean.”

The crow nodded. “And the placenta?”

“Oh,” the ewe said, “I ate it. Tasted like the devil, but I think it’s important for, you know, the bonding process.”

“Definitely,” the crow agreed, and she lowered her head to scowl into the grass. Nothing irritated her more than these high-and-mighty vegetarians who ate meat sometimes and then decided that it didn’t really count.

This story ends badly. And horrifically. Get the book to learn the grisly (and illustrated!) details. Also read the story Hello Kitty for the best send up I’ve ever read of the personalities and tired aphorisms encountered at any AA meeting.

Listen to the David Sidaris interview on NPR  here.

Pharoah: Stone the crows, Joseph!

I found these lyrics to a song titled “Stone the Crows” from the musical Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat by Andrew Lloyd Weber.

Well stone the crows
This Joseph is a clever kid
Who’d have thought that 14 cows
Could mean the things
He said they did
Joseph, you must help me further
I have got a job for you
You will help me through this crisis
You shall be my number two

Hear a podcast of Bryan Suit’s Dark Secret Place radio show. Bryan’s military experience (wounded in Iraq), his self-described “jaw-dropping brilliance,” the in-depth research and knowledge he brings to each subject he covers on his show, Bryan’s stories about combat and military life, even his acerbic wit and twisted sense of humor, open up new perspectives. I get insights into world events, especially in the Middle East, that I just don’t find in mainstream media.

Facebook: The Dark Secret Place on KFI Los Angeles


What’s In A Word: Belittle

I look into the origin of words or phrases that catch my interest


1.      To represent or speak of as contemptibly small or unimportant; disparage: a person who belittled our efforts to do the job right.

2.    To cause to seem less than another or little: The size of the office tower belittles the surrounding buildings. See synonyms at decry.



Thomas Jefferson was belittled
for first using the word belittle

Origin: 1782

In our infancy as a nation, to balance our sense of grandeur and moral superiority, we had a little bit of an inferiority complex. We lacked the corruption of the Old World, but also its sophistication. We were country cousins at the courts of Europe. But at least we had our grand spectacles of nature: forests and mountains, lakes and waterfalls, teeming herds and flocks of animals stranger and more numerous than any seen in the worn-out continents on the other side of the ocean.

Or did we? Our sense of American pride was especially stung by a condescending European notion that even our wildlife was inferior. Thomas Jefferson could not let this insult pass unchallenged. “So far the Count de Buffon has carried this new theory of the tendency of nature to belittle her productions on this side the Atlantic,” Jefferson wrote in 1782 in his Notes on the State of Virginia. Jefferson then replied to the buffoonish count, expounding for many pages on the grandness of American animals, noting in particular the enormous bones of the mammoth, so much bigger than those of any Old World elephant. (In 1802 the MAMMOTH would come to life in the American vocabulary in a new way, thanks also to Jefferson.)

For this defense, Jefferson himself was belittled–because of his use of the very word belittle. Jefferson, apparently, was the inventor of belittle, and Notes was its first appearance in print. TheEuropean Magazine and London Review denounced the word so strongly that decades later American commentators on American English still claimed that nobody but Jefferson used it. They were wrong, however. Belittle had become an unobjectionableword on both sides of the Atlantic before the nineteenth century was half over. Today nobody belittles belittle.

From answer.com http://www.answers.com/topic/belittle


Be-ing: The Bemusing, Busy Prefix be-

Common prefixes—such as un- (lacking; uncoordinated), co- (with; cohabit), and trans- (across; transatlantic)—can be explained with one or two words.

Not so the prefix be-.

When I bestirred myself to research be-, I became bewitched and bedazzled with the bewildering number of ways this busy little prefix shapes our language and communicates our thoughts.

“Be-” as a prefix goes back to Old English, apparent in such ancient-sounding words as betwixt, betroth, and bereft.

We see it in so many common verbs we use everyday: begin, behave, become, believe, befriend, belong.

And in common prepositions and adjectives: beneath, beside, below, between, beyond, beloved, bereaved.

The prefix be- can act as an intensifier, indicating something is thoroughly or excessively done, as in bewitch, bewilder, bedazzle.

It can show a verb is affecting or causing something: bedevil, bedim, befoul.

The prefix be- also expresses position: beside, below, between, beneath, behind. Or that something is covered all over or all around: bejeweled, bespattered, bewhiskered.

And be- can indicate creation, beget, begin, become, or removal, the end of existence, as in begone,  bereave (to take a loved one, especially in death), bereft (deprived of something) and, of course, behead.

The multi-tasking prefix be- can turn an intransitive verb into a transitive one (a transitive verb takes an object, an intransitive verb does not) as in bemoan and belie.
”Seeing the the rush hour traffic on the eastbound 10 Freeway, she wailed.” Intransitive verb
”She bewailed the rush hour traffic on the eastbound 10 Freeway.” Transitive verb

And be- can also turn nouns and adjectives into verbs: befriend, belittle, becalm.

Sometimes people use this prefix colloquially: “Suddenly, somebody notices bejacketed custodial employees approaching with trash bags, and the excitement mounts.”

Whew! That’s one hard working prefix.

What piqued my interest in the prefix be- was a couple of news stories in the local newspaper, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. The stories appeared almost side by side, and though they were on completely different subjects, the opening sentences of both articles used beloved.

First, “Burros are beloved in Reche Canyon but residents worry about how frequently they are maimed or killed by cars speeding on the windy two-lane road that connects Colton and Moreno Valley.”

Second, “One of the city’s most beloved dives is moving.”

That’s “dives” as in “dive bar.”

I had just finished reading the obituaries (I always read the obituaries, don’t you?) where the deceased are almost always beloved, when I came across those two news stories  on the same page, I thought, “There’s “beloved” again! Twice!”

And looking at the word beloved I began to wonder about the prefix be-. I went to my The New Oxford American Dictionary and, along with spotting a surprising number of words with the prefix be– (the first one I spied was becalm), I found this definition…

be-: prefix forming verbs. 1 all over; all around: bespatter.
1 thoroughly; excessively: bewilder.
2 (added to intransitive verbs) expressing transitive action: bemoan.
3 (added to adjectives and nouns) expressing transitive action: befool, befriend.

Bemoaning a definition so bereft of passion for the beguiling, bemusing and bewitching be– prefix, I just had to dig up more about be-.

Along the way I turned up this list of be-prefix words:
bedight (means “adorned”)
bedizened (see comment to this post)
beget, begot
belittle (a word coined by Thomas Jefferson! Click to learn story)
berate (be– as an intensifier + the Middle English rate, meaning “to scold angrily”)
beshrew (make wicked; deprave)
besprent (archaic, “sprinkled”)
bestow (“stow” is OE for “to place”)
betray (from the Latin “tradere”—to hand over)

But I have to say that my favorite word with the be– prefix doesn’t even begin with “be”:

Beloved burros and a beloved “dive” bar called The Green Frog got me started on researching the prefix be-.

I explain it all right here.