OnWords

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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?”

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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.

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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.”

macrophile, flickr Creative Commons

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.

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We shouldn’t be surprised that Paula Deen lost her culinary empire because of racist remarks during an interview. We should, however, be surprised by the media’s reaction.

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Wealth is a social relationship.

For as much as we obsess over the subject, you'd think we'd know this by now.

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The power of hype is its ability to radically lower our expectations.

I remember vividly the 1980s TV show That's Incredible! featuring a yogi so flexible he was able to fold himself into a tiny Plexiglas box.

Espen Moe / flickr Creative Commons

Aside from being the name of a long-forgotten New Wave band, scandal has become the primary means for the party out of power to stay relevant on the political scene.

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Innocence is much more about a grown-up sense of loss than a precious quality of childhood. At best, our ideas about innocence evoke a pining sort of regret; at worst, they're used to make nostalgia a form of tyranny.

After all, it's a child's job to grow up, and so he's active every day trying to lose that innocence that he sees as keeping him away from adult freedom and power. Our attempts to preserve that child's innocence just reinforce his sense of powerlessness. This only serves to exacerbate his little rebellions, his need to prove how grown up he is.

Gavin Llewellyn / flickr Creative Commons

Even if we can agree that jargon is absolutely necessary, we still can't help but be annoyed by it.

Every profession has jargon: specialties and sub-specialties are shot-through with special terms like “endoplasmic reticulum” or “moment of inertia” particular to them.

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