Auld Lang Syne

Very little felt real in 2020, not because it felt the opposite — fake — but because so much of what happened over the last twelve months was unimaginable, as in unable to be imagined!  Had a fiction writer written the year exactly as it played out — raging, out-of-control fires consumed the continent down under and the state of California, turning the sky an apocalyptic orange, the assassination of a top Iranian general raises the specter of war with religious fundamentalists in the Middle East, a movie from South Korea in Korean wins Best Picture at the Oscars, a criminal despot is acquitted of crimes amply demonstrated by the Special Counsel, and then the House Impeachment Managers, an openly gay man made a serious run for a major party’s nomination for President and even wins the Iowa Democratic Caucuses, an unarmed black man is brutally murdered under color of authority leading to an international outpouring of pent-up resentment toward policing policies in black and brown communities, a massive explosion kills 204 people, injures 6,500 more, causes $15 billion dollars in property damage, and leaves an estimated 300,000 people homeless because authorities had seized 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate (equivalent to around 1.1 kilotons of TNT) and stored it in a warehouse without proper safety measures, a group of armed militia members are foiled in their plot to kidnap a sitting US governor, the senate rams through a new Supreme Court justice with just a month to go before a presidential election after saying four years ago such a move should not be done in an election year (when an election was eight months away), elected leaders attempt to overturn the duly expressed will of the people by refusing to acknowledge the clear winner of a national election in a brazen attempt to suspend the very democratic principles they swore an oath to uphold in a pathetic attempt to soothe the hurt feelings of a madman who makes the worst Bond villain look like the president of the Audubon Society, all while a deadly virus quietly attacks 19.6 million Americans, killing 339,000 of them — anybody reading that book or watching that film would say, “I dunno, seems a bit far-fetched.”  Next we’re gonna find out that Garfield the Cat hates lasagna and loves Mondays!


The pandemic changed all our lives.  We can’t risk a night out or visit family and friends without fear of endangering ourselves and those we care about, and even those we don’t care about.  Some of us lost our livelihoods and are struggling to stay afloat from day-to-day in isolation, wondering where the money to put food on the table is going to come from, let alone money to pay the mortgage or rent so there’s a place to put the table.  And some of us — essential workers — continue to work but at what cost?  Longer hours, greater risk to their own health, and exposure to people who have been convinced that wearing a mask to protect those around them is a violation of their civil liberties.

Having a police officer kneel on your neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds while you gasp for air is a violation of your civil liberties!  Refusing to wear a mask and giving someone COVID-19 so they end up alone in a hospital gasping for air surrounded only by those essential workers dressed in get-ups that look like they’re about to make a moon landing is not taking a stand for liberty, it is a denial of the liberty of the person you infect.

In 1806, Noah Webster published his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language.  In 1807 he began 20 years worth of intensive study, which included learning 26 languages, to help him trace the etymologies of words and create a standard for the speech of the young American nation since he observed that Americans in different parts of the country used different vocabularies and spelled, pronounced, and used words differently; as a spelling reformer, Webster believed that English spelling rules were unnecessarily complex, so his dictionary introduced one of the clearest departures from our British colonial roots — American English spellings.  He replaced colour with color, waggon with wagon, and centre with center, adding some uniquely American words, like skunk and squash, that did not appear in British dictionaries.  Webster completed his second dictionary in 1825, it contained 70,000 words, of which roughly 12,000 had never appeared in a dictionary before.  At the age of 70 in 1828, Webster published this dictionary which was called An American Dictionary of the English Language.

In 1843, after Noah Webster died, George Merriam and Charles Merriam secured publishing and revision rights to the 1840 edition of the dictionary.   The Collegiate Dictionary was first introduced in 1898, and the ninth edition, Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, was published in 1983, with a subtitle of "A Merriam-Webster Dictionary.”  However, that same year, The George and Charles Merriam Company lost its exclusive right to use of the name "Webster" after a series of lawsuits determined that Webster’s name was in the public domain, so the dictionary’s name was changed to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.  This dictionary is the de facto “bible” of American English, and is relied upon broadly by book publishers and magazines in the United States, as well as by the influential Chicago Manual of Style, which sets the American standard for spelling, grammar, and definition.

In the age of the Internet, The Merriam-Webster website gets about 40 million unique monthly visits and about 100 million monthly page views.  Merriam-Webster announced that “pandemic” was its 2020 word of the year.  Peter Sokolowski, editor-at-large for Merriam-Webster, said:

Often the big news story has a technical word that's associated with it, and in this case, the word “pandemic” is not just technical but has become general. It's probably the word by which we'll refer to this period in the future.

On March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic, searches for “pandemic” were 115,806% higher on than look-ups experienced on the same day last year in 2019.  Sokolowski points-out that dramatic increase in lookups does not necessarily mean people didn’t know what it meant, but rather, “It's the idea of dictionaries being the beginning of putting your thoughts in order.”

My New Year’s resolution may sound a bit pollyanna-ish, but it’s not — hear me out.  The word ‘pollyanna’ comes from a 1913 children's book by Eleanor H. Porter called Pollyanna about a young girl who tries to find something positive in every situation — a trick she calls "the Glad Game.”  I believe that kindness is strength, and that every being I encounter gives me the opportunity to practice this virtue, to get better at it, to grow stronger; it’s for this reason I intend not to pass up any opportunity to show kindness in 2021.  That doesn’t mean I’ll be overlooking the negative or trying to put a positive spin on it, or ignoring the injustices inherent in our society and the threats to our planet, as a pollyanna might — don’t get me wrong thoughtful reader, I wouldn’t be much of a blogger if I didn’t point these things out, unless my blog was about baking your own sourdough bread.  Or growing peonies.   Rather, it’s responding with kindness to the ups and downs we’ll encounter in the new year.  Note:  pointing-out a “down” is not unkind.  Put another way, we can disagree without being disagreeable.

And so…  Chill the champagne.  Party hats and noise-makers at the ready.  Let’s put 2020 behind us.  See ‘ya next year, thoughtful reader.  Wishing you happiness, prosperity, and above all at this time, health, from Palm Springs, California.

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