It has snowed almost every day in the past couple of weeks, but there’s almost no snow on the ground. We’re getting a form of non-snow, I think, that always seems to be falling but never accumulating. There’s snow everywhere, but the grass isn’t covered yet, which has always been, for my money, the start of winter-in-earnest.
Meanwhile, it’s freezing everywhere else, particularly Florida, where, my newspaper informed me this morning, iguanas are falling from trees. This seemed to warrant further investigation, so — thanks, professor Google! — I typed “iguanas falling from trees” into the search window, and…
…may I just stop for a moment to marvel at that? I went to Ann Arbor yesterday, had lunch with a couple of people to talk about this and that. I mentioned my brother-in-law’s amazing ability, honed after years of falling asleep on the couch in front of late-night television, to be able to give you the name and stars of any Western movie you can name after less than five seconds of viewing time. In the time it takes you to stop on a channel and think, “What’s that?,” he will reply, “‘My Darling Clementine,’ Victor Mature, Walter Brennan, Henry Fonda.” He’s a human IMDb. Which made me think of working nights in a newsroom before universal ESPN and the internet, when all the staff did was answer the phone, report scores and settle bets. Who played second base for the Dodgers in 1950? Won won the Heisman Trophy in 1961? And so on.
Google handles all of that now. If you phoned a friend on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” today, and they were anything other than a hunt-and-peck typist, they could answer your question in the time it takes to exchange pleasantries. Once or twice, late in that show’s prime-time run, I think that actually happened. You either know about the Beaufort Scale or you don’t. It doesn’t come to you after a long uhhhhh.
To a future with fewer urban legends, if also not so many excuses to call a buddy and catch up, under the pretense of asking a baseball question.
Back to iguanas. It’s true, they’re falling from trees, and this is apparently an urban legend all its own. They’re not Florida natives, the little bastards were introduced by careless pet owners, and they’re spreading. Falling iguanas is, I hear, a “long-standing Florida urban legend,” but not any more — some TV guy captured an actual falling iguana on video, which is almost enough to forgive his atrocious English usage. (The cold weather, he tells us, is “an opportunity to rein in on the critter.” Although I bet, in the script, he spelled it “rain in.”)
But there you are, a frozen falling iguana. Don’t say I never did anything for you.
As long as we’re on the subject, though, I’ve given myself an opening to bring up a piece of e-mail that’s been kicking around since before Christmas, one of our regular readers, who quotes it here:
Crable ”didn’t need to do it. He wasn’t going to jail. He wasn’t under arrest. They were actually going to give him a ride out of there and give him a helping hand to diffuse the situation,” Troyer said.
Story here. It’s about a police shooting, so it’s maybe it’s a little tacky to bring it up in the context of a usage error, but oh well. I see “diffuse” and “defuse” mixed up all the damn time, to the point I don’t think anyone knows how to use them. I’ll give it a try:
Diffuse can be a transitive verb, but is mostly intransitive, and in my opinion, should stay that way. It means, “to spread over a wide area.” Bob’s beer fart diffused through the room, which quickly emptied. The writer of the passage above should have used defuse, as in disabling a bomb, or in this case, to reduce danger or tension. As the gasping crowd moved through the doors, the senator defused the awkwardness with a witty remark. Let’s try to remember this in our written expression, eh people?
You come here for chitchat, you leave with an English lesson. That’s the way we roll here.
Meanwhile, it’s snowing heavily all over the Midwest. Chicago is expecting a foot. All reports here say to expect it to taper off as it reaches southeast Michigan, and we may get an inch or so. In other words, the grass may well still be uncovered this time tomorrow.
I don’t know how many of you followed the link yesterday to the story about the Dearborn sweatshirt, in which the class of 2011 commissioned a design that depicted “11” as twin towers, with the school’s bird mascot bearing down on them, and the phrase “you can’t bring us down.” The fact the school in question is predominantly Arab is just icing on the cake of awkwardness, a situation just begging to be defused, but I had to chuckle at the e-mail I received from a friend, who said:
What goes around comes around. When I was in high school (class of ’86) our class had to have a unifying costume-decorating theme for the annual spring “Olympics” competition opening ceremony. Everything had been done already: cowboys & indians, rock & roll, military, etc. Then we seized upon a brilliant idea: ARABS. Yes, the whole class showed up in towelhead regalia. You know, like, rock the casbah? Inappropriately and inaccurately spanning everything from burqas to belly dancers to Sikhs. I wore a three-piece suit with a towel on my head and carried a gas can. You can be assured we never gave a single thought to any actual Arab-Americans who might have been attending the school or the ceremony. I do remember a banner in our hallway that read: We’re So Sheik.
That’s one way of looking at it. Remember the Iron Sheik, the wrestling heel? He wore a burnoose and waved an Iranian flag. Iranians aren’t Arabs and don’t wear burnooses, but no one ever said cultural caricatures were subtle. A photography intern I knew years ago took the Sheik’s picture backstage while he shaved his head and chest; I think he was naked, too. Good picture, although the goods were nothing special. Now you know.
Late start today, but a full day otherwise. Enjoy what’s left of yours.