The Alanis Morissette song “Ironic” has spoiled the word “irony” for a whole generation. Rather than the mere misfortunes her song depicts, irony is a very powerful device, one with a rich history in literature and entertainment.
Sometime in my lifetime, we almost completely stopped using the word “supper.”
This is a tragic loss, if for no other reason than it has led to confusion.
Besides “brunch” and “lunch,” the only other post-breakfast word we have is “dinner,” and dinner can alternatively mean a noon meal or an evening meal. Importantly, dinner has a generic root that is still extant: to “dine.”
So while we can “sup,” that would be archaic, and it could create confusion with the common slang contraction for the phrase “what’s up?”
When I was a kid, the word “behavior” still had a mostly neutral meaning. You might hear the word when Marlin Perkins on Wild Kingdom described the doings of a parched hippo during the dry season, for example.
But even then another, much more accusatory, meaning of the word behavior was establishing itself. This behavior referred to things kids did that grown-ups didn't like. “You'd better change your behavior, junior!” an evil vice-principal might yell, when we thought we were just having fun.
While we throw the word around like it’s a good thing, nothing threatens us quite like brilliance.
At a recent youth leadership conference for kids with psychiatric diagnoses, I met a young man nobody seemed to know what to do with. During breakout sessions, he wrote bizarre responses to the questions we asked and gave similarly inscrutable answers when we reconvened.
When we asked what you do to help yourself feel well, most of the others mentioned normal kid stuff: “Go to my room,” “Play a video game,” “Call a friend.”
Stories are quick, powerful ways to present complex, human themes, so why do we often insist on using discrete, numerical approaches to complex, human problems?
A case in point recently aired on NPR's Morning Edition. Shankar Vedantam covered a study in which the techniques of Cognitive Behavior Therapy were used to help at-risk youth think through conflicts in order to prevent violent acts.