Monday, February 25, 2008

Play with Your Words

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love words and those who don't.

I admit it, I am a logophile — a connoisseur of words, both written and spoken. From Fortune magazine to fortune cookies, I believe good writing is an art, a craft, a science, a philosophy, a religion, a mission and a passion.

While working at a bank during college, it occurred to me that almost every business problem I encountered related in one way or another to miscommunication. Muddy manuals, inadequate instructions and derisory documents confounded the workplace, so I decided to major in business communications.

But words aren't all business for me. I like to play with my words, and my favorite gift of all time was a single-volume edition of The Complete Oxford English Dictionary (that even came with it's own magnifying glass). As much as I treasure my OED, I am finding new online resources that allow me to wangle my words in all kinds of interesting ways.

At, for example, in addition to definitions, you can look up rhymes and synonyms and homophones. I also love, an online search engine of more than 900 dictionaries that provides hours of fun. I once heard a comedian say that "K" words are funny. At, you can search *k*k*k* for words that contain at least three "K"s, with results that include kickback, knickknackery and skunkworks.

I love Scrabble®, too, although my brother and stepson beat me at it regularly. It turns out that it's not enough to have a first-class vocabulary, you have to be able to strategize, too. Big words are fine, but it's those pesky two- and three-letter Scrabblisms, properly placed on bonus squares, that will lead you to victory — words like zax and xi and qat (a "Q" word that doesn't require a "U"). For the record, my best ever Scrabble® word was "hosiery" on a triple word score.

My husband hates Scrabble® and other such word-related endeavors. He says English is his second language — he doesn't have a first. He doesn't get excited by finding a quirky synonym for alphabetical (abecedarian — pronounced A-B-C-darian). He does not fall on the floor laughing when I tell him about the sign over the aisle at the grocery store that reads: "Feminine Hygiene/ Incontinents." He doesn't even crack up over my mother's inadvertent puns:  "Frankly, I think I'll have a hotdog."

I say play with your words. At, you can play a word game, improve your vocabulary and help end world hunger, all for free. Click here to share your favorite word or email me at

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Shoe-bie Doobie Doo

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love shoes and those who don't.

I have never understood shoe lust, and this has severely limited my experience of popular culture. Sex and the City references to Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik were completely lost on me. I hate everything about shoes: shopping for them (boring), paying for them (expensive) and wearing them (uncomfortable).

I know, as a woman, I stand virtually alone on this side of the shoe aisle. I have several friends who live for shoes. "My shoe size never changes, no matter what I weigh. I love that about shoes," says one close friend and Shoe-bie. Of course, that's not exactly true: BC (before children) I was a consistent size 8; three pregnancies and four children later, I range between an 8.5 and a 9.

It doesn't take a psychologist to recognize that my shoe phobia probably stems from wearing "corrective" shoes as a child. I was diagnosed as flat-footed and knock-kneed and sent with my mother to a cute podiatrist named Dr. Pancratz. I had a little crush on him, which is the only explanation I have as to why I allowed myself to be tormented by him for years.

The abuse was both physical and mental. Physically, every Saturday he taped my feet, I believe in an attempt to create an arch. I remember having to bathe with my feet hanging out of the tub and having to remove the tape residue every Friday night with nail polish remover. Then there were the bizarre exercises that required me to stand on the edge of a telephone book, extend all the way up on my tiptoes and then slowly stretch my heels down to the floor. Finally, there were the specially made shoe inserts.

Though the inserts contributed slightly to the physical abuse, it was the emotional distress they caused that has left the lasting scars. I have very wide feet and the inserts required my shoes to be even wider (I seem to remember EE). Including inserts, each shoe weighed more than two pounds, creating a somewhat less than graceful gait. More importantly, the shoes were stone ugly. At that time, all the little girls I knew were wearing penny loafers and Mary Jane's. Mine were ridiculous leather lace-up things. For some reason, the manufacturers thought if your foot was wide, the toe part of the shoe should be even wider. In a futile effort to make these boats more "fun", my poor beleaguered mother bought me a blue pair and kicked in the extra buck for red plaid laces. Bozo would have been jealous.

My shoe angst has not subsided in adulthood. Those freaks on "What Not to Wear" have tried to convince us that we are not properly dressed unless we wear high heels (even with jeans). High heels were definitely invented by a man. They are nothing but expensive, self-financed torture devices. Oprah has been quoted as saying: "My feet are still on the ground, I'm just wearing better shoes." That may be true, but I've been to a taping of the Oprah show, and I know for a fact that she takes off those expensive shoes during commercial breaks. Sadly, my life rarely includes a commercial break.

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Photo credits: jeltovski via

Friday, February 15, 2008

Just hair? I think not.

There are two kinds of people in the world: long-hair people and short-hair people.

The dictionary defines hair as the cylindrical, keratinized, often pigmented filaments characteristically growing from the epidermis of a mammal. Short-hair people have an even simpler definition: it's just hair. To them, getting a haircut is a non-event. "It'll grow," says my best short-hair friend.

Long-hair people, on the other hand, agonize over every cut. Some go for years without getting near a pair of scissors. To them, hair is a statement — a significant part of their identity.

I have a dear friend (a longhair) who, for reasons still unclear more than 30 years later, cut off her long brown hair right after she got married. Post-honeymoon, she and her new husband moved from Ann Arbor, Michigan to West Lafayette, Indiana. For the entire car ride (396 miles) she cried to her groom: "I don't know what I was thinking. I'm going to meet all these new people and they're going to think I'm a short-hair person, but I'm not a short-hair person, I'm a long-hair person."  

Needless to say, she grew her hair back and she is, to this day, a longhair.

In general, men don't understand the whole hair issue. By the time they pass through puberty, most are happy if they still have hair. There are exceptions, of course. My middle son is a beautiful towhead with big, irresistible, loopy curls, and he is extraordinarily vain about his hair. Complete strangers ogle it, covet it, even touch it. When we registered him for kindergarten, two women were admiring his beauty in general and his hair in particular. "Have you ever seen such eyes?" one asked. "No, it's the hair," replied her companion. My son shrugged and said (without an ounce of humility): "It's always the hair!" When I am finally able to corner him for a haircut, he always warns me not to cut off the curls.

Though I have taken my hair short (even short short) a few times in my life, I am a longhair at heart, and I must take exception to the short hairs' simplistic point of view. Do you think Boticelli thought it was "just hair" when he painted the Birth of Venus? How about O. Henry in the Gift of the Magi or the Brothers Grimm in Rapunzel? Oh, sure, the short hairs have Twiggy and Mia Farrow's Rosemary, but that's hardly great art.

Longhairs have had their pop culture moments, too (remember Broadway's Hair?) Even PT Barnum couldn't resist the long-haired lure of the Seven Sutherland Sisters, whose famous tresses totaled more than 35 feet. (Click here to see their amazing picture.) Locks of Love would have adored them. 

I have reached the stage in life where, in addition to agonizing over whether to stay long or go short, I must soon decide whether to dye or not to dye. I admit I have had a few fantasies about becoming this really funky old lady with short spiky grey hair and a couple of really long, colorful hair wraps.  Will I ever be audacious enough to walk into a salon and say: "Cut it all off?" I tend to doubt it. To me it will never be "just hair".

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Photo credits:  Braid, by Mary R. Vogt, courtesy; Short Hair, by dmscs, courtesy; It's Always the Hair, by 2kop.

Monday, February 11, 2008

To Do List or Not To Do List?

After much debate and poring over long lists of names (see the comments on my previous post), our puppy finally has a name:  Hazel. While naming by committee is a bad plan (think Enron), Hazel was the one name nobody hated. During the course of this naming ordeal, it became evident that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who make lists and those who don't.

As a non-list maker, I find them distracting. Every time I have tried to use a listing tool — be it a "to-do" list, a packing list or even a shopping list — I  get bogged down in the process. I like my lists to be perfect, neatly typed in a legible font, alphabetized, of course. Maybe I just never found the right system.

List making reached its zenith during the "Day-Timer" years. Listers bought expensive, leather-bound notebooks with specialized pages for everything from appointments and phone numbers to plans for the afterlife. People said ridiculous things like:  "I'm lost without my 'Filo-Fax'" or "Oh, my God, I forgot my 'Day Runner!'"  To be perfectly frank, I don't think most people are that much in demand.

The cult of list making is huge, with entire industries devoted to it, and some people are very particular about which tools they choose. I have one friend who special orders colorful little pads with shiny covers that fold over and tuck in, like a matchbook. She gets them by the gross, but gives away the green ones because they offend her aesthetic sensibilities. Then you have your scribblers who make their lists on anything handy — used envelopes, paper napkins, their hands. These folks usually end up with wads of paper littering their purses, pockets and cars.

These days, list making has gone high tech with Palm Pilots, BlackBerrys and other handhelds, not to mention Bluetooth connections for wireless synching. These gadgets have their own secret shorthand and magic pens that write right on the screen. It's a miracle of modern list-making science.

In stressful situations (like naming the dog), I do occasionally succumb to the lure of the list.  Somehow, it just seems to add to my stress, as I usually forget it, lose it, or spend 20 minutes trying to remember that one last thing. I don't even like crossing things off my list (too messy).

True list makers, on the other hand, take great satisfaction in the checking off process.  I have one friend who actually talks to her list:  "Aha, I got you," she says, wielding her pen like Zorro's sword.  "I crossed off everything on my list today," she'll gloat on a particularly productive day. Or she'll lament: "I did nothing on my list today," as if it will somehow chastise her in the morning.

Long ago, BC (before children), I worked for Arthur Andersen. During orientation, we spent two entire days learning how to make to-do lists the "Uncle Arthur" way. Two days! Team leaders reviewed our lists every afternoon. I usually just made stuff up. Even back then, I knew there was something fishy about the Arthur way of doing things.

These days, with a family of six, I find I have had to make one concession to the list: my refrigerator calendar (see it in all it's glory in the right-hand side bar). It's a huge month-by-month magnetic eyesore, where each person is represented by a different color, with separate colors for school, the house and the dog (Hazel!). Everything goes on the calendar. There's just one little problem: my husband. Though a self-confessed Palm addict and a veteran list maker, he completely ignores my system. He picks any color, willy-nilly, and never even bothers to enter his appointments on the calendar. I've heard in some states this is grounds for divorce.

So, I guess it's true. Despite years of rebellion, I have finally become one of them: a lister.  Uncle Arthur would be so proud.

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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Name That Puppy

There are two kinds of people in the world: pool people and beach people; dog people and cat people; bloggers and non-bloggers. Welcome to my blog: Two Kinds of People (2KoP). I have been wanting to launch this blog for some time now. Everyone knows two kinds of people, and I'd like to share some of my favorite kinds. So, why now? That I can tell you in one word:  puppy.  

We have a new puppy. We have had her for exactly one week, and during that time I have learned that there are two kinds of people: those who are capable of the simple task of naming a new puppy and those who are not. We (and by we, I mean everyone in my family except me) are completely incapable of puppy naming.

This pet-naming impairment is a particular liability for our family because we actually own a pet store. How does it look when pet store owners can't even come up with a name for their own dog?

I'm embarrassed to admit that this is not even our first time at bat. Late last fall, we lost our dear first family dog, Roscoe (see the picture of the cute blonde fellow). He was young and it was a tragic loss for our family. When we got Roscoe, about three years ago, it took us six (6!) weeks (Weeks!) to name him. Some of us (not me) wanted to give him a traditional moniker, like Fido or Rover. I wanted something clever and literary (like Thurber). My husband suggested our street name (awful and boring). My father suggested "For Sale." So we argued — for six weeks.

Now, Roscoe was a wonderful dog, but he was not the brightest puppy in the pound. I contend that part of his problem was a severe identity crisis stemming from six weeks of namelessness. I won't let that happen to our new girl.

Like Roscoe, the newest addition to our family is a Soft Coated Wheaton Terrier. Right now she looks like a little black and brown teddy bear, but as she matures, she will turn blonde and fluffy (don't even think about it — she will not be named Fluffy).

So, my friends, in the spirit of celebrating my new blog and our new dog, I am sponsoring a Name-that-Puppy Contest. Check out her picture and see what inspires you. If your suggested name is chosen, you will win our puppy's voice on your answering machine (apologies to Carl Kasell).  

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