Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Just a quickie: regime and regimen. Confusing the two is a rookie mistake, which is all the more reason not to make it. While both regimes and regimens can be cruel and brutal, one is a routine undertaken at regular intervals and the other is a structure of authoritative governance that controls a group of people.
A good way to remember the distinction is that you would not likely say Kim Jong Un’s regimen is strict, as he is rather a portly little butterball these days. Regimens often refer to exercise schedules, though not necessarily. They can be regular, repeated routines in any category, often in pursuance of personal betterment, for instance academics, musical instrument prowess or learning Korean.
Friday, October 16, 2015
There were two school shootings on John Lennon’s 75th birthday. All you need is love, right? And a nice stash of high-powered firearms, a lifetime of discontent and a dose of sociopathy, or is it psychopathy? You hear the terms tossed about pretty liberally by armchair psychiatrists in the wake of such incidents, the words often being used interchangeably, when in fact, psychopaths and sociopaths differ in significant ways.
Psychopaths are Lady Gaga fans, not because her music is in any way insane, but rather because of her huge hit, “Born This Way.” Psychopaths are hardwired for their mischief. They have lived a disturbed life since birth, one side effect of which is that they become very good at it. They often hold down jobs and present a façade of normalcy to the outside world. Having experienced negative reactions to their impulses from a very early age, they learn how to survive in society by creating a normalized persona behind which lurks a demented viewpoint. Ted Bundy is a classic psychopath.
A sociopath, however, comes to his iteration of antisocial personality disorder experientially or through an aggregating sense of having been wronged by society. Psychopaths and sociopaths share lawlessness, deception, aggressiveness and an inability to feel remorse or guilt, but sociopaths are not nearly as “good” at it, not having had to incorporate their antisocial impulses into a presentable façade over the course of a lifetime. Robert John Maudsley, the inspiration for the Hannibal Lecter character, was severely beaten throughout his childhood and was (according to Maudsley) raped by his father, largely theorized to be the source of his sociopathy, one that led him to a condition in which the mere presence of another person excited an internal obligation to kill that person.
There is of course much more information available on this distinction, and naturally, the two have plenty of shared traits, but it’s probably best not to toss those two terms around without a bit of consideration. After all, you don’t want to get on the wrong side of a psychopathic grammarian who resents your mischaracterization.
Saturday, October 10, 2015
One of the most joyful ongoing pursuits of any linguaphile is the hobby of collecting of mixed metaphors. Just yesterday a friend averted a political discussion that could have gotten ugly by saying she didn’t want to open up a whole new bag of worms, to which I replied that she was just reaching into her old can of tricks.
Mixed metaphors come in a variety of shapes. A common one, like the examples cited in the opening paragraph, is the act of attempting to say a common comparative phrase, but substituting one component of the phrase with a different word. The best ones are unintentionally funny or in some way ring the bell of irony.
I recall a good one from Daniel Menaker’s fine novel, The Treatment, in which the protagonist’s Indian therapist refutes his patient’s claim that all single women in New York are emotional wrecks by suggesting, “There are plenty of fish in the sea hitting on all eight cylinders.” Non-native speakers often utter them to great comic effect.
You might be getting your ducks on the same page or Hillary’s poll numbers might be dropping through the roof, but if you truly hold your seat to fire, even if your eyes have never set foot on a mixed metaphor, you can have more fun than a hand-basket full of monkeys collecting them.