Tuesday, August 10, 2010

And, bring on the hearing aid, please!

My inability to understand popular song lyrics is getting worse, to the great amusement of my sons, who can understand anything, including obscure mispronounced rap. Not only do I literally not understand the "enunciation" (if one can properly call it that), but I also do not understand the slang, culture, context--it might as well be beamed down from outer space by aliens.

Lately we (the boys and I) have fallen madly in love with the Seattle band Fleet Foxes. We started with the legendary "Mykonos," and then started snooping around on Rhapsody for the rest of their songs. We also found a fantastic video, a claymation by the lead singer's elder brother. The song is called "White Winter Hymnal," and we have had many discussions about what its possible meanings are/are not. Some of our ideas about meaning are grisly--or perhaps it doesn't mean anything and it's just an exercise in vocal beauty. For such a tiny lyric (the same thing three times and it's over), it's a hauntingly beautiful song with the usual unbelievable harmonies for which Fleet Foxes are known:


Anyway, the first time I heard the song, I of course MISheard it and was more confused than ever, to the boys' great delight. They LOVE it when I make linguistic mistakes and lord it over me with glee. I thought the lines were

The eye was following The eye was following The eye was following . . . (etc.)
The pack of SWALLOWS in their coats
With scarves of red tied 'round their throats
To keep their little heads
From falling in the snow . . .

'Tis a puzzlement, no? I said, "Why would a pack of swallows be wearing scarves? Why would the scarves keep their little heads from falling in the snow? And, swallows are migratory and show up at Mission San Juan Capistrano on March 19th; why would they be flying over the snow in the first place?"

Tyke cracked up, and said, "NO, MOM! It's 'I was following the/I was following the/I was following . . . The pack all swallowed in their coats/With scarves of red tied 'round their throats/To keep their little heads/From falling the snow.' Gees, Mom, you are so STUPID sometimes!"

I still don't understand why red scarves would keep anybody's head from falling in the snow, unless it's a gang-related costume, and unless the Michael referenced later is not part of the correct gang. I have also considered that it was about dogsled teams, but that doesn't really seem to pan out, either. However, the part I find grisly is

And I turned 'round and there you go
And Michael you would fall
And turn the white snow red as strawberries in summertime

Sounds like bleeding out to me. Yeccchhh! But I still love the song and the video, meaning or no.


Tuesday, August 03, 2010


"Dictionary" is a word my children, 18 and 13, do not recognize as part of their generation's extremely limited lexicon.

I do not understand people who don't use books. My answer to all their questions is always, "Go LOOK IT UP!" We have a huge home library for all uses. And they have been well-trained by me and by their teachers how to use a dictionary. I have a dictionary--many, actually--a whole shelf of them--and always have one by my side. Today's dictionary-by-my-side is the Oxford American (language guide edition), but if someone asks a question I can look it up anywhere in the house, even in the OED, faster than they can find it on the web.

I'm always running over to the boys with dictionary in hand. "Look it up," I suggest, helping with the helpy book. "Nahhhh, that's all right. I'll just go to yourdictionary.com" (and get a brief and not thoroughly explanatory definition, with probably no etymology or language of origin or history).

I suppose what really bothers me the most is not their unwillingness to look something up in a book, but their unwillingness to look up ANYTHING. There's just no intellectual curiosity going on. This is ridiculous in a household where both parents are total chronic bookworms, always reading, always asking questions, always trying to learn something new and doing it all with JOY. We have set the stage and are playing the roles all the time, but we have no audience!

Thing #1 spends all his time composing music on his electronic pianos and the computer, or ruining the guest room by building makeshift recording studios and nailing my favorite blankets to the walls. He never reads anything but IM or Facebook.

Thing #2, at this moment, a regional and national champion swimmer, is Mr. Social Butterfly (hahaha; butterfly, get it?). He is multitasking: addictively texting ALL DAY with multiple girls at once on his phone, eating a whole huge bag of tortilla chips, looking at millions of pictures of himself and the team members that other swimmers have posted on their Facebook accounts, smoothing his curly swimmer hair, looking at Narcissus through the webcam, and listening to Rhapsody streaming music with earphones.

Yesterday, while on the phone texting, of course, he was planning a first date to the movies with a girl who has been a slow burn for the past year or so. I was going to drive him, but not stay, since he was nervous enough and he's a good kid who does not need a chaperone. So as he's texting this girl, he is trying to type the word "chaperone" and asks me how to spell it. (The masculine is "chaperon" and the feminine is "chaperone" and we were talking about a mom coming along.) So I told him how to spell it and he typed it into the phone. THE PHONE'S DICTIONARY did not verify "chaperone," so he concluded that I DID NOT KNOW HOW TO SPELL.

Look it up, a$$hole! Then the inevitable: "How can I look it up if I don't know how to spell it?"