Sunday, August 25, 2013

Killing English

Literally’ Bothers Me, Too. But It’s Not Literally Wrong.
(By Bill Walsh, Washington Post, 22 August 2013)

‘We did it guys, we finally killed English.”  With that subject line and a screen shot of Google’s definition of “literally,” a Reddit user concerned about the language (if not about the correct use of commas) sparked a figurative firestorm this month.  The definition in question:

Literally, Adverb
1. In a literal manner or sense; exactly.
2. Used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling.

To read some of the reaction to the second meaning, you’d think the language gods must be crazy. On Aug. 11, 2013, your head could not literally explode, but on Aug. 12 it could.  I can relate to the feelings behind that Reddit posting, having insisted on the original meaning in my three decades as a copy editor and in my three books on language. But first let me count the ways my would-be fellow stickler, and the ensuing consternation, went wrong.

In fact, the only thing new about that meaning was that somebody had posted something on Reddit. No matter: English sometimes defies logic, as “literally” proves, but it has nothing on the phenomenon known as “going viral.” The Reddit post spawned Twitter mentions and blog entries and newspaper articles. Within days, the Guardian was calling this nondevelopment “literally the biggest semantics story of the week.”  The “news” that the Oxford English Dictionary also notes the reviled usage made the story especially big in Britain. The OED “has revealed that it has included the erroneous use of the word ‘literally’ after the usage became popular,” the Daily Mail reported, as though the dictionary’s contents had previously been kept secret. A headline on that article was just as comical: “Definition added in September 2011 edition, but unnoticed until this week.”  It’s hard to quibble with the “unnoticed” part, given the reaction, but 2011? A blog entry on Oxford’s Web site does mention a 2011 online definition that reflects an update on “literally,” but it clarifies that the disputed meaning was first acknowledged a little earlier. As in 1903. On this side of the Atlantic, Merriam-Webster says it followed suit in 1909. 
The timing isn’t the only detail that outraged observers got wrong. They misunderstood the role that dictionaries play. When Oxford or Merriam-Webster lists a word or a definition, it isn’t conferring a blessing of correctness. It’s simply recording the widespread use of that word or definition. If you’re hearing the nonliteral “literally” or “irregardless” or “ain’t” enough to annoy you, that’s a case for including them in dictionaries, not against it.  As linguists and lexicographers and even copy editors pointed out amid the “literally” outrage, a usage that is widespread and established enough to land in dictionaries isn’t the only argument for letting the word evolve. Good writers have used “literally” nonliterally as far back as the 18th century. Charles Dickens used it. So did James Joyce, Louisa May Alcott, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Vladimir Nabokov.

The word can mean both its original meaning and the opposite, which might seem odd, but so can verbs such as “sanction” and “dust.” Its secondary meaning makes for hyperbole, but so do many instances of “really” and “truly” and “completely” and “totally” that don’t seem to bother anybody.  And it’s almost always clear whether the word is being used in its original sense or, as that Google definition puts it, “for emphasis or to express strong feeling.”  Still, that Reddit post wasn’t written in a vacuum. The new definition is well established, but so is a strong disdain for it. The usage has become a pop-culture punch line. It’s fodder for comic strips and stand-up comics. Vice President Biden makes headlines with his fondness for it. The usage fills a chapter of my new book, “Yes, I Could Care Less: How to Be a Language Snob Without Being a Jerk.” However persuasive the historical and linguistic justifications, there’s something uniquely absurd about using the one word that most clearly means “I am not making this up” when you are, in fact, making something up.

Even dispassionate observers draw some lines between what’s technically defensible and what’s preferable. Several of the linguists, lexicographers and other scholarly types who rolled their eyes (perhaps even literally) at what one called this “tempest in a teapot” had previously acknowledged no great love for the secondary meaning. John McIntyre, a longtime Baltimore Sun editor and passionately dispassionate language blogger: “Let the record show that, for my part, I prefer to use literally in its literal sense.” Ben Zimmer, a language writer and former dictionary editor: “Still, that doesn’t mean I think non-literal literally is fine and dandy — I wouldn’t use it myself, and when I catch others using it I occasionally cringe.” 
Some of us cringe more than occasionally. We have a heightened sensitivity to the way words are used. We are the language snobs. The sticklers. The peevers. I found perhaps the one calling where my neurosis could be used constructively. It’s probably not normal to write “obsessive-compulsive” on a job application. But I did that in applying to join my college newspaper.  Some of us got this way because nuns assaulted us with rulers or because our parents corrected us to “may I” every time we said “can I,” or “lie down” every time we said “lay down.” Neither of those things happened to me — I just had a dad with a knack for spelling and a mom who did and does enjoy pouncing on malapropisms. I was raised, not “reared.”

I can’t vouch for all language peevers. There is no Peevers Anonymous. Perhaps there should be. (“The meetings literally last forever, but we could care less!”) But too many of us are caught up in rules-that-aren’t, striving to stamp out the passive voice and omit needless words in the name of Strunk and White, without understanding why passive voice is often appropriate or which words are truly needless.  I would never point it out directly, because I am not a jerk, but I hear from fans of my books who, while professing agreement with my rants, commit one or two of my most petted peeves. And then there’s Muphry’s — not Murphy’s — Law: It states that a piece of writing about usage errors will inevitably contain a usage error. (When you find the error or errors in this article, congratulations.)
I try to be an enlightened stickler. I recognize many of the so-called rules for the nonsense they are, and I fight for the right to split infinitives, end sentences with prepositions, begin sentences with conjunctions and use “hopefully” in that way that a lot of people hate. This occasionally puts me in a place where I’m meta-peeving: Sometimes when I spot an awkwardly unsplit infinitive, I know I’m looking at the work of a misguided fellow stickler. If I find out the stickler is the writer, I’m relieved. But it’s usually an editor, and that makes me sad. First, do no harm.

Peevers are sometimes misguided, but we’re generally harmless. Our exasperated sighs are likely to be part of a role we’re playing — props, in a sense, like a fop’s bow tie and fedora.  We know deep down that people aren’t doing things just to annoy us, even if every trend the linguists call inexorable brings to mind an infuriating counterexample. (If the unfortunate spelling “email” truly reflects a mass hatred of hyphens and love of onewordification, then why do people turn the perfectly good word “aha” into “a-ha” and “ah-ha” and “ah-hah”? If people choose the “bandana” spelling over the vastly superior “bandanna” because of a similar quest for brevity, why does “traveling” so often get turned into the British “travelling”?)
Last month on Slate, The Washington Post’s sister (for now) Web site, a brave writer named Dana Stevens wrote a 1,400-word rant against flip-flops. It resonated with me, and not only because I share Stevens’s feelings about flip-flops. How is using “literally” nonliterally like wearing shower-and-beach footwear outside its natural habitat? Well, Stevens threw in some nods to function, citing potential arch-support problems in much the same way that sticklers cite potential ambiguity, but it was clear that she was practicing peevery, not podiatry. In language as in fashion, outside the stylebooks that publications employ and the dress codes that some institutions enforce, there is no official list of rules. And as the comments made clear in the case of flip-flops, there will be those who do the things that annoy us and those who don’t.

For those who find cultural criticism, whether of language or of dress, unseemly, there’s good news: Practically nobody listens to such critics. Language and fashion will go where they go, and Dana Stevens articles and Bill Walsh books are more likely to reinforce opinions than to change them. Whether you mutter about anal-retentive authoritarians who should mind their own business, or you sniff about slobs who should pay more attention and have some respect for tradition, ultimately both sides are likely to coexist peacefully. At the end of the day, to use a cliche I’ve railed against, it’s important to separate style from substance.  So don’t be a jerk.

 
Oxford Dictionaries Adds ‘Twerk,’ ‘Selfie,’ And Other Words That Make Me Vom
(By Michael Dirda, Washington Post, 23 August 2013)
 
Can I speak srsly here? Style asked me to look over a list of the latest words, such as that one (which simply means “seriously”), that were added Wednesday to a resource called Oxford Dictionaries Online. Apparently the ODO offers such linguist updates every quarter, being a dictionary of the moment, a lexicon of contemporary usage. Nearly all the new words listed are current slang employed by young people and digital junkies, usually the same thing.  This is certainly not my world. FOMO, for example, means “fear of missing out: anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.” I can confidently say that I have never experienced FOMO in quite this form, since I don’t participate in any social media. Still, like most people, I know that the real party will always be happening in the next room. 
Back in my day, the revered 1960s — cue “Where have all the flowers gone?” — we never trusted anyone over 30; these days, it would be unseemly, even pathetic for anyone older than 30 to use a term like “squee” or “twerk” or “vom.” Or even to be aware of them and their meanings. I certainly wasn’t. Such words are useful — all words are useful — but most of this vogue lingo is wholly restricted to a certain demographic (kids with smartphones) and a certain context (instant messaging and Twitter).
 
“Squee,” by the way, is an exclamation of “great delight or excitement.” According to the ODO, it originated from “squeal.” No doubt, but I think the screech of a squeegee on a windshield might also play its part. “Twerk” means to “dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low squatting stance.” I’m told by an informed source — my youngest son — that it is associated chiefly with the actress Miley Cyrus. It would be wildly inappropriate for a gentleman my age to recognize, let alone employ, this word. I’ll stick with “bump and grind.” Vom is simply a shortened form of vomit. It saves two characters when twittering. Or tweeting. Whatever. 
Like so much digital terminology, many of these new words are ugly. Ever since the computer age got going, it has gravitated to repulsive-sounding terminology, starting with all forms of “blog.” Writer, author, even journalist: All these sound like admirable professions. But blogger. Yech. I know the term’s origin — Web log — and I understand how people naturally gravitate to contractions, but the end result is still repulsive. Don’t even get me started on “the blogosphere.”
Unfortunately, rebarbative lingo seems here to stay: Jorts are defined as “shorts made of denim fabric” and presumably arose by eliding “jeans” and “shorts.” I imagine that “Klaatu barada nikto” is the international clothing chain behind “Jorts.” (My little joke: Think “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”) Widely used already, a MOOC is “a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people.” This phenomenon is clearly here to stay, but “I’m taking a MOOC” sounds disgustingly lavatorial. A “selfie” is a photograph of oneself, typically “with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” When I first glanced at the list, I thought it said “selkie,” and I was impressed that Scottish merpeople were now on the cutting edge. 
A few of this quarter’s new words seem not at all new. Or maybe they’ve only recently made their way to the dreaming spires of Oxford. A “blondie” — meaning, in dictionary language, “a small square of dense, pale-coloured cake, typically of a butterscotch or vanilla flavour” — has surely been around as long as its darker brother, the brownie. Didn’t actress Jean Seberg have a “pixie cut” 50 years ago in “Breathless”? It can’t be a new word, can it? “Balayage,” a particular way of highlighting the hair, seems like something that a French hairdresser would toss around and nobody else. “Space tourism” simply joins two familiar words together in a new context. It’s a fresh concept but hardly a new word. Same goes for “street food.”
I’ve read that the term “omnishambles” derives from a British television show and was voted the most popular new word of last year. (Who does this voting, and where do they cast their ballots?) “Omnishambles” is defined as “a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations.” Other than being an apt summary of my life, I don’t see how this word differs from plain old “shambles.” Which also describes my house.  It’s a real pity that former federal prosecutor Jim Letten’s recent use of “hobbit” — to mean roughly sleazebag or scum — just missed this quarter’s cutoff time. I hope it catches on. It comes trippingly off the tongue as a term of derision. (Sorry, Bilbo.) I’m sure it’ll appear next quarter. In truth, it seems about as hard to get into the ODO as it does to get into Dr. Nick’s Hollywood Upstairs Medical College. 
Still, of all the new words added to the Oxford Dictionaries Online, perhaps the most chilling is the acronym “TL;DR.” I sometimes fear that everything I value in the way of literature and scholarship will be casually dismissed with those letters: “Too Long; Didn’t Read.” Sorry, Leo. Sorry, Marcel.  One last observation: Most of these new words and acronyms are probably never meant to be spoken by actual human beings. They live and breathe only on the tiny screen. There, in the strange telegraphese of the smartphone, they quickly convey information and shrill emotion through typographic grunts and squeals. Or, rather, squees. No doubt they have their place, but let them stay there.
 
 
Weighing In On ‘Literally,’ But Figuratively, Of Course
(By Gene Weingarten, Washington Post, September 6, 2013)
To the Nobel Prize committee: 
 
I am writing to suggest that you make your first posthumous award in literature, and that it go to Ambrose Bierce, the 19th-century American satirist. I have always admired Bierce, but I do not write merely as a fan; I write to acquaint you with what may well be the greatest feat of long-range prognostication in the history of the written word.  While reading Bierce essays recently, my friend Jack Shafer discovered the following passage: “Nothing is more certain than that within a few years the word ‘literally’ will mean ‘figuratively.’ And this because journalists, with a greater desire to write forcibly than ability to do so, habitually use it in that sense.” (He was talking about this sort of imbecilic formulation: “I literally died of laughter.”) 
 
Bierce wrote this prescient passage in 1871. As you may be aware from recent publicity, the Oxford English Dictionary — arbiter of all things English — has finally, inevitably, sanctioned the use of “literally” to mean its precise opposite. It is a hapless surrender to, figuratively, eons of careless misuse.  (Note my correct use of the verb “sanction,” which has also been corrupted over the years to mean “to outlaw,” its precise opposite; the OED has been complicit in permitting this, as well. And don’t get me started on “imply” and “infer,” which most dictionaries now say can be used interchangeably, which is no different from allowing “pitch” to be synonymous with “catch.” This, too, was occasioned by sustained years of misuse.)
 
I am not a language tyrant, nor do I disrespect dictionary editors, to whom falls the distasteful duty of reading and listening to what is being widely uttered and written and adding these things to the lexicon merely on the basis of ubiquity. So, although I may cringe at “blogosphere” and “webinar” and, sigh, “whatevs,” I do not protest their appearance in dictionaries. But one must draw the line somewhere, and to me, that line is crossed when antonyms are certified for use as synonyms. It is rewarding vapidity. It is celebrating vapidity. It would be like your giving the Nobel Prize in medicine to the president of the Hair Club for Men.  
(I should mention that defenders of “literally” as “figuratively” note that it has been used that way once or twice by people with serious writing chops, such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. That no more makes it right or acceptable than it makes it right for you to annihilate 100,000 people with a bomb just because Harry Truman once did it.)  So, my point is that if you posthumously give Ambrose Bierce the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature, you will be sending an important message to lexicographers worldwide.
Finally, I know that the Nobel committee tends to reward bodies of work; rest assured, Bierce successfully predicted much more than the trashing of “literally.” I’ll leave you with one more bit. Upon departing on horseback for Mexico in 1913, at the age of 71, to bear witness to Pancho Villa’s revolution, Bierce wrote this to a niece: “Good-bye. If you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart his life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico — ah, that is euthanasia!”   It was the last anyone heard of him. The old gringo’s body has never been found.
 
 

The Period Is Pissed.
When Did Our Plainest Punctuation Mark Become So Aggressive?
(By Ben Crair, the New Republic, 25 November 2013)

The period was always the humblest of punctuation marks. Recently, however, it’s started getting angry. I’ve noticed it in my text messages and online chats, where people use the period not simply to conclude a sentence, but to announce “I am not happy about the sentence I just concluded.”  Say you find yourself limping to the finish of a wearing workday. You text your girlfriend: “I know we made a reservation for your bday tonight but wouldn’t it be more romantic if we ate in instead?” If she replies,

we could do that
we could do that
Then you can ring up Papa John’s and order something special. But if she replies,

we could do that.
we could do that. 
Then you should probably drink a cup of coffee: You’re either going out or you’re eating Papa John’s alone.

This is an unlikely heel turn in linguistics. In most written language, the period is a neutral way to mark a pause or complete a thought; but digital communications are turning it into something more aggressive. “Not long ago, my 17-year-old son noted that many of my texts to him seemed excessively assertive or even harsh, because I routinely used a period at the end,” Mark Liberman, a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, told me by email. How and why did the period get so pissed off?

It might be feeling rejected. On text and instant message, punctuation marks have largely been replaced by the line break. I am much more likely to type two separate messages without punctuation:

sorry about last night
next time we can order little caesars
sorry about last night
next time we can order little caesars  

Than I am to send a single punctuated message: 

I’m sorry about last night. Next time we can order Little Caesars.
I’m sorry about last night. Next time we can order Little Caesars.
And, because it seems begrudging, I would never type:

sorry about last night.
next time we can order little caesars.
sorry about last night.
next time we can order little caesars.

“The unpunctuated, un-ended sentence is incredibly addicting,” said Choire Sicha, editor of the Awl. “I feel liberated to make statements without that emphasis, and like I'm continuing the conversation, even when I'm definitely not.”  Other people probably just find line breaks more efficient. An American University study of college students’ texting and instant messaging habits found they only used sentence-final punctuation 39 percent of the time in texts and 45 percent of the time in online chats. The percentages were even lower for “transmission-final punctuation”: 29 percent for texts and 35 percent for IMs. The same is likely true of Twitter, where the 140-character limit has made most punctuation seem dispensable.
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“In the world of texting and IMing … the default is to end just by stopping, with no punctuation mark at all,” Liberman wrote me. “In that situation, choosing to add a period also adds meaning because the reader(s) need to figure out why you did it. And what they infer, plausibly enough, is something like ‘This is final, this is the end of the discussion or at least the end of what I have to contribute to it.’”  It’s a remarkable innovation. The period was one of the first punctuation marks to enter written language as a way to indicate a pause, back when writing was used primarily as a record of (and script for) speech. Over time, as the written word gained autonomy from the spoken word, punctuation became a way to structure a text according to its own unique hierarchy and logic. While punctuation could still be used to create or suggest the rhythms of speech, only the exclamation point and question mark indicated anything like what an orator would call “tone.”

“Explicit representations of the emotional state of the person doing the writing are fairly rare,” said Keith Houston, author of Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks. Writers, linguists, and philosophers have occasionally tried to invent new punctuation marks to ease the difficulty of inflecting tone in writing.1 The “irony mark,” in particular, has been proposed many times. But none of these efforts has been successful.  Now, however, technology has led us to use written language more like speech—that is, in a real-time, back-and-forth between two or more people. “[P]eople are communicating like they are talking, but encoding that talk in writing,” Clay Shirky recently told Slate. This might help explain the rise of the line break: It allows people to more accurately emulate in writing the rhythm of speech. It has also confronted people with the problem of tone in writing, and they're trying to solve it with the familiar punctuation marks that the line break largely displaced.
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It's not just the period. Nearly everyone has struggled to figure out whether or not a received message is sarcastic. So people began using exclamation points almost as sincerity markers: “I really mean the sentence I just concluded!” (This is especially true of exclamation points used in sequence: “Are you being sarcastic?” “No!!!!!”) And as problems of tone kept arising on text and instant message, people turned to other punctuation marks on their keyboards rather than inventing new ones.2 The question mark has similarly outgrown its traditional purpose. I notice it more and more as a way to temper straightforward statements that might otherwise seem cocky, as in “I’m pretty sure he likes me?” The ellipsis, as Slate noted, has come to serve a whole range of purposes. I often see people using it as a passive-aggressive alternative to the period’s outright hostility—an invitation to the offender to guess at his mistake and remedy it. (“No.” shuts down the conversation; “No…” allows it to continue.)

Medial punctuation, like the comma and parentheses, has yet to take on emotional significance (at least as far as I've observed). And these newfangled, emotional uses of terminal punctuation haven't crossed over into more traditional, thoughtful writing. (I have used the period throughout this story, and I’m in a perfectly pleasant mood.) Perhaps one day it will, though, and our descendants will wonder why everyone used to be so angry. For posterity's sake, then, let my author bio be clear:  Ben Crair is a story editor at The New Republic!



 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

23 Signs You're Secretly An Introvert

(By Carolyn Gregoire, The Huffington Post, August 24, 2013)

Think you can spot an introvert in a crowd? Think again. Although the stereotypical introvert may be the one at the party who's hanging out alone by the food table fiddling with an iPhone, the "social butterfly" can just as easily have an introverted personality.  "Spotting the introvert can be harder than finding Waldo," Sophia Dembling, author of "The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World," tells The Huffington Post. "A lot of introverts can pass as extroverts."  People are frequently unaware that they’re introverts -– especially if they’re not shy -- because they may not realize that being an introvert is about more than just cultivating time alone.

Instead, it can be more instructive to pay attention to whether they're losing or gaining energy from being around others, even if the company of friends gives them pleasure.  “Introversion is a basic temperament, so the social aspect -- which is what people focus on -- is really a small part of being an introvert," Dr. Marti Olsen Laney, psychotherapist and author of "The Introvert Advantage," said in a Mensa discussion. "It affects everything in your life.”  Despite the growing conversation around introversion, it remains a frequently misunderstood personality trait. As recently as 2010, the American Psychiatric Association even considered classifying "introverted personality" as a disorder by listing it in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), a manual used to diagnose mental illness.  But more and more introverts are speaking out about what it really means to be a "quiet" type. Not sure if you're an innie or an outie? See if any of these 23 telltale signs of introversion apply to you.

1. You find small talk incredibly cumbersome.
Introverts are notoriously small talk-phobic, as they find idle chatter to be a source of anxiety, or at least annoyance. For many quiet types, chitchat can feel disingenuous.  “Let's clear one thing up: Introverts do not hate small talk because we dislike people," Laurie Helgoe writes in "Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength." "We hate small talk because we hate the barrier it creates between people.”

2. You go to parties -– but not to meet people.
If you're an introvert, you may sometimes enjoy going to parties, but chances are, you're not going because you're excited to meet new people. At a party, most introverts would rather spend time with people they already know and feel comfortable around. If you happen to meet a new person that you connect with, great -- but meeting people is rarely the goal.

3. You often feel alone in a crowd.
Ever feel like an outsider in the middle of social gatherings and group activities, even with people you know?  "If you tend to find yourself feeling alone in a crowd, you might be an introvert," says Dembling. "We might let friends or activities pick us, rather than extending our own invitations."

4. Networking makes you feel like a phony.
Networking (read: small-talk with the end goal of advancing your career) can feel particularly disingenuous for introverts, who crave authenticity in their interactions.  "Networking is stressful if we do it in the ways that are stressful to us," Dembling says, advising introverts to network in small, intimate groups rather than at large mixers.

5. You've been called "too intense."
Do you have a penchant for philosophical conversations and a love of thought-provoking books and movies? If so, you're a textbook introvert.  "Introverts like to jump into the deep end," says Dembling.

6. You're easily distracted.
While extroverts tend to get bored easily when they don't have enough to do, introverts have the opposite problem -- they get easily distracted and overwhelmed in environments with an excess of stimulation.  "Extroverts are commonly found to be more easily bored than introverts on monotonous tasks, probably because they require and thrive on high levels of stimulation," Clark University researchers wrote in a paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. "In contrast, introverts are more easily distracted than extroverts and, hence, prefer relatively unstimulating environments."

7. Downtime doesn’t feel unproductive to you.
One of the most fundamental characteristics of introverts is that they need time alone to recharge their batteries. Whereas an extrovert might get bored or antsy spending a day at home alone with tea and a stack of magazines, this sort of down time feels necessary and satisfying to an introvert.

8. Giving a talk in front of 500 people is less stressful than having to mingle with those people afterwards.
Introverts can be excellent leaders and public speakers -- and although they're stereotyped as being the shrinking violet, they don't necessarily shy away from the spotlight. Performers like Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera and Emma Watson all identify as introverts, and an estimated 40 percent of CEOs have introverted personalities. Instead, an introvert might struggle more with meeting and greeting large groups of people on an individual basis.

9. When you get on the subway, you sit at the end of the bench -– not in the middle.
Whenever possible, introverts tend to avoid being surrounded by people on all sides.  "We're likely to sit in places where we can get away when we're ready to -- easily," says Dembling. "When I go to the theater, I want the aisle seat or the back seat."

10. You start to shut down after you’ve been active for too long.
Do you start to get tired and unresponsive after you've been out and about for too long? It's likely because you’re trying to conserve energy. Everything introverts do in the outside world causes them to expend energy, after which they'll need to go back and replenish their stores in a quiet environment, says Dembling. Short of a quiet place to go, many introverts will resort to zoning out.

11. You're in a relationship with an extrovert.
It's true that opposites attract, and introverts frequently gravitate towards outgoing extroverts who encourage them to have fun and not take themselves too seriously.  "Introverts are sometimes drawn to extroverts because they like being able to ride their 'fun bubble,'" Dembling says.

12. You'd rather be an expert at one thing than try to do everything.
The dominant brain pathways introverts use is one that allows you to focus and think about things for a while, so they’re geared toward intense study and developing expertise, according to Olsen Laney.

13. You actively avoid any shows that might involve audience participation.
Because really, is anything more terrifying?

14. You screen all your calls -- even from friends.
You may not pick up your phone even from people you like, but you’ll call them back as soon as you’re mentally prepared and have gathered the energy for the conversation.  "To me, a ringing phone is like having somebody jump out of a closet and go 'BOO!,'" says Dembling. "I do like having a long, nice phone call with a friend -- as long as it's not jumping out of the sky at me."

15. You notice details that others don't.
The upside of being overwhelmed by too much stimuli is that introverts often have a keen eye for detail, noticing things that may escape others around them. Research has found that introverts exhibit increased brain activity when processing visual information, as compared to extroverts.

16. You have a constantly running inner monologue.
“Extroverts don’t have the same internal talking as we do,” says Olsen Laney. “Most introverts need to think first and talk later."

17. You have low blood pressure.
A 2006 Japanese study found that introverts tend to have lower blood pressure than their extroverted counterparts.

18. You’ve been called an “old soul” -– since your 20s.
Introverts observe and take in a lot of information, and they think before they speak, leading them to appear wise to others.  "Introverts tend to think hard and be analytical," says Dembling. "That can make them seem wise."

19. You don't feel "high" from your surroundings
Neurochemically speaking, things like huge parties just aren’t your thing. Extroverts and introverts differ significantly in how their brains process experiences through "reward" centers.  Researchers demonstrated this phenomenon by giving Ritalin -- the ADHD drug that stimulates dopamine production in the brain -- to introverted and extroverted college students. They found that extroverts were more likely to associate the feeling of euphoria achieved by the rush of dopamine with the environment they were in. Introverts, by contrast, did not connect the feeling of reward to their surroundings. The study "suggests that introverts have a fundamental difference in how strongly they process rewards from their environment, with the brains of introverts weighing internal cues more strongly than external motivational and reward cues," explained LiveScience's Tia Ghose.

20. You look at the big picture.
When describing the way that introverts think, Jung explained that they're more interested in ideas and the big picture rather than facts and details. Of course, many introverts excel in detail-oriented tasks -- but they often have a mind for more abstract concepts as well.  "Introverts do really enjoy abstract discussion," says Dembling.

21. You’ve been told to “come out of your shell.”
Many introverted children come to believe that there's something "wrong" with them if they're naturally less outspoken and assertive than their peers. Introverted adults often say that as children, they were told to come out of their shells or participate more in class.

22. You’re a writer.
Introverts are often better at communicating in writing than in person, and many are drawn to the solitary, creative profession of writing. Most introverts -- like "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling -- say that they feel most creatively charged when they have time to be alone with their thoughts.

23. You alternate between phases of work and solitude, and periods of social activity.
Introverts can move around their introverted “set point” which determines how they need to balance solitude with social activity. But when they move too much -- possibly by over-exerting themselves with too much socializing and busyness -- they get stressed and need to come back to themselves, according Olsen Laney. This may manifest as going through periods of heightened social activity, and then balancing it out with a period of inwardness and solitude.  "There's a recovery point that seems to be correlated with how much interaction you've done," says Dembling. "We all have our own private cycles."
 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

What’s Missing From D.C.’S Food Scene? A Lot.

(By Mark H. Furstenberg, Washington Post, 10 July 2013)

In mid-May, my Friday produce didn’t arrive from the Oasis co-op, a group of 30 small farms in Lancaster County, Pa. It was an Amish holiday and my delivery was postponed, so I went to a Whole Foods store.  When I reached the fruits and vegetables, I found: corn from Florida with wilted husks. “Heirloom” tomatoes from Canada- a summer fruit grown for Whole Foods during the Canadian winter- offered at $5 a pound. Three-dollar artichokes (each). Apples, last year’s crop from Washington state, at $2.50 a pound. Pears from Argentina hard as rocks. Mexican blackberries.  Is this the best we have in Washington?  I went two days later to the Dupont Circle farmers market. I want earnestly to support this, my neighborhood outdoor market. And I think farmers markets have made a big contribution here, increasing availability of good produce. But salad greens at $11 a pound? Rhubarb at $6 a pound? A small bunch of ramps for $6?

When I moved here in 1961, people said the best cooking in Washington was found in embassy residences and people’s homes. At that time we had a few specialty stores such as the French Market in Georgetown, no farmers markets, and 80 percent of the groceries sold here came from two behemoths, Safeway and Giant Food.  But ingredients in the Eastern Market and the then-existing Western Market were as good as those in any other city. Our restaurants weren’t so wonderful, but in 1961 that was true virtually everywhere else, too. A half a century later, much has changed. Or so we are told.  I read paeans to Washington’s food early this year in the national press as it turned its collective attention to the presidential inauguration. Food & Wine magazine wrote hyperbolically about “innovative restaurants that are keeping this early-to-bed town up way too late for a 6 a.m. power breakfast.”
A lot of sophisticated eaters say Washington is now a “world-class” food city, whatever that means. When they say that, they generally are talking about our restaurants; and we have many good restaurants. We even have a number of excellent ones. Central Michel Richard, CitiZen, Palena, Obelisk, Vidalia all come to mind.  But I have lived here for 52 years, and food has been my hobby all that time. In 1990 I turned that hobby into a career and opened Marvelous Market. In 1997 I started the Breadline, a downtown bakery and restaurant (I don’t own either of them now).  I am not nearly as encouraged as others. I do not believe that we have the elements of a really wonderful food culture.

Great food cities are ones with a discernible tradition, ones that have good grocery stores and markets; many small stores run by people with single-minded devotion to food craft — to charcuterie, coffee, bread, cheese and ice cream — and relatively easy access to really good produce and other ingredients.  Great food cities have restaurants offering varied cuisines at varied price levels, neighborhood restaurants and special-occasion restaurants. They have chefs committed to their cities and focused on their restaurants, and — most important — a sophisticated and demanding clientele intolerant of bad service and bad food.  My criteria for great food cities don’t include bars presided over by “mixologists,” a gussied-up term for bartender created to justify an $18 cocktail ($22 at Rye Bar, $25 at Barmini). My criteria do not include “cutting edge” chefs who play with the molecules of food, or made-for-television celebrity chefs. Nor do they include “power restaurants,” important here but in few other cities and to few customers. Indeed, my criteria go well beyond restaurants.
My first criterion of a great food city is that it have a real tradition, a food culture, a food identity. New Orleans has a unique cuisine based on Creole, Cajun, African American and Southern foods. In San Francisco, says chef Joyce Goldstein, “Food is the business of our city; it’s our civic life.” San Franciscans order their bread in advance from Tartine Bakery.They line up at coffee shops that offer coffee custom-made from beans the customers select. It’s pretentious, but it’s also a measure of their obsession with food.  Los Angelenos boast about their diversity and how far they will drive to explore it, of markets in Koreatown, Tehrangeles and Little Saigon. Baltimore has crabs and oysters and an Italian American tradition and a Greek one, too. Seattle and Portland, Ore., are proud of the little chef-driven restaurants and their abundant markets. Kansas City has its barbecue. New York and Chicago think they have everything.  

What exactly do we have? It was touching a couple of years ago when The Washington Post asked readers to name the iconic food of our city. We don’t know what it is; we have to invent one.  But food cultures emerge from their cities’ geographies and histories. Our geography might have helped give us one. We are near the Chesapeake Bay, but the bay has affected the food culture of Baltimore far more than it has ours.  “One of the things that D.C. lacked,” says David S. Shields, professor of Southern letters at the University of South Carolina who grew up here, “was a robust market ... compared to other East Coast urban centers. Cuisines historically reflect a regional agriculture.”
Sidney W. Mintz, a Johns Hopkins University anthropologist who has written extensively about slavery and about food, says: “I guess every city is unique, but Washington is unique in unique ways. ... It was for so very long barely a city at all — more like a place to store paper after world-shaking decisions were made.”  But it was always Southern, he says, and the emphasis on manners and hierarchy “probably strengthened the idea that decent food could only be had at home.” Eating out “must have been something that foreigners and diplomats did — not to mention traveling salesmen and vaudevillians.”  Shields agrees. “The best chefs in the city,” he says, “worked for private citizens, clubs or embassies in the 19th century.”

Washington never developed a food identity. When, early in the 20th century, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and many of the older cities were receiving from Europe a working class to populate their industries, Washington had no industry. People didn’t come in large numbers and open the little bakeries and food stores based on immigrant traditions.  We might have developed an African American cuisine, but food didn’t transfer readily from the underclass that followed slavery except in home kitchens of people who could afford to hire cooks.  Says Michael Johnson, a Johns Hopkins historian who specializes in the South: “Better-off whites often ate (and loved) food cooked by blacks, but when they dined out, they wanted to be considered cosmopolitan, not provincial, and preferred to eat some faux-French dish.”
I know we can point to institutions that have a history here. The city has a soft spot for Ben’s Chili Bowl, and I will stipulate that it is a nostalgic restaurant whose place is assured by its history. But Ben’s is Washington’s version of Pat’s and Geno’s, those Philadelphia monuments to cheesesteaks: iconic but not good. Sentiment is important, but good food is another matter.  Perhaps, however, a city doesn’t require a tradition to be a great food center. But certainly it does need a rich food community, an array of markets, small entrepreneurs making and selling foods, a diversity of restaurants, a local chef culture, and demanding customers.  Look at our food stores. In other cities — San Francisco, Portland, Chicago, San Antonio, for example — local grocery stores burst with formerly esoteric ingredients such as galangal, curry leaves, turmeric and taro root, five varieties of bananas and four kinds of mangos, breads from diverse local bakeries, and butter from practically every country where cows (or goats) live.  But we don’t have a Central Market, as Texas cities do, selling great vegetables and fruits. We don’t have a Draeger’s Market, as in the San Francisco Bay area. We don’t have a great cheese store like Murray’s in New York or a captivating specialty food store like Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, Mass.

Where are our neighborhood grocery stores? San Francisco is dotted with them: Bi-Rite, Rainbow, Canyon Market and dozens of others. Philadelphia has Di Bruno Bros., not to mention the Italian Market, not to mention Metropolitan Bakery.  There are exceptions. Broad Branch Market in the District’s Chevy Chase neighborhood is a wonderful store valued by its customers. In the suburbs, there’s the Organic Butcher in McLean, Cheesetique in Alexandria and Arlington, and Praline Bakery & Bistro in Bethesda. There is the new and promising Union Market in Northeast Washington. But by and large, we have Safeway, Giant, Harris Teeter and Whole Foods.  The essentially suburban character of our city discourages real shopping for food.
Giant used to dominate the area. As customers became more sophisticated, Giant stores could have become so, too. Indeed, Texas’s Central Market was created by H-E-B, a supermarket chain that grasped the burgeoning interest in good food. But in 1998 just as Whole Foods began its invasion, Giant was acquired by a Dutch company that seems unable to grasp the opportunities of food in the new millennium.  So if I want Persian ingredients, I must drive from downtown, where I live, to Yekta on Rockville Pike or 17 miles to Assal Bakery and Supermarket in Vienna. If I want Chinese green beans and Thai mint, I must drive 20 miles to Super H Mart, the Asian superstore in Virginia.  And if markets are hard to find, so are butchers, bakers, fishmongers and greengrocers. So are chocolate-makers and coffee roasters and other entrepreneurs with a passion for making craft foods.

In Washington many people leave their downtown offices and drive to their suburban homes. They confront long drives, and many, if they shop at all on weekdays, want to make a single stop. They go to supermarkets.  We used to have small markets such as the French Market, Neam’s of Georgetown, and Larimer’s at Dupont Circle, Magruder’s and Clover Market. All are gone. But our urban population is growing at more than 1,000 people a month. We could use more small stores again.  One encouraging development is the sudden growth of chef-owned local restaurants. They are opening at the rate of nearly one each week, eight new restaurants this year on 14th Street NW alone, such as Ettoand B Too, plus, in other neighborhoods, Red Hen, Daikaya, Ethiopic, Del Campo, Toki Underground and Taco Bamba.  Although this is a wonderful development, something seems to happen here that isn’t so great: Chefs open restaurants, and instead of staying in them, devoting themselves to them, they rush to open more restaurants in rapid succession.
Geoffrey Tracy opened his first restaurant in 2000 and five more in 12 years. Passion Food Hospitality opened D.C. Coast in 1998. It’s now working on its eighth restaurant in an empire that includes Acadiana, Passionfish and District Commons.  The Black Restaurant Group, which includes Black’s Bar & Kitchen and Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, is going to open its eighth, too, in the fall. Neighborhood Restaurant Group has 10, including Vermilion and Birch & Barley.  That appears to have become a Washington tradition, proliferation that happens not nearly so much in other cities. It happens here because money is available to restaurateurs who want to expand.  That’s why so many chefs-made-for-television come to Washington: for the money.  Indeed, perhaps the money in this city discourages a diverse restaurant culture. It is one of the reasons our restaurants are concentrated downtown. It is one reason the downtown restaurants are so expensive, charging about $20 for appetizers and $40 for main courses. It may be one reason that so many downtown restaurants produce such boring food.

Michael Johnson, the Hopkins historian, says, “Washington has always, it seems to me, been a risk-averse city in every way, including food.” He wonders if this risk aversion has grown worse with “the giant growth in privatization of government, which gives consultants, lobbyists, lawyers discretionary incomes usually not available to true government bureaucrats.”  Because of the money, we have become a playground irresistible to out-of-town restaurant groups. Our affluence and economic stability made us attractive to Paul and Le Pain Quotidien, to Hill Country, P.J. Clarke’s, Legal Sea Foods and Carmine’s.  Le Diplomate, a Disney World caricature of a French brasserie on 14th Street NW, is doing enormous business. Its Philadelphia parent company is going to open additional “concepts” here. They are going to be joined by Daniel Boulud and Michael White from New York; by the Tadich Grill of San Francisco; by a Connecticut restaurant group, Barcelona, poised to make a big push; a sandwich chain, Capriotti’s from Las Vegas; Del Frisco Grille from Dallas; and others, no doubt.
Restaurants with absentee chefs and owners are pros; they know how to do things. But fundamentally they are businessmen who bring to Washington far less diversity and originality than do local owners and chefs. And absentee owners don’t get steady feedback from their customers and change their menus readily. They buy ingredients from big national commodity suppliers that aren’t local and seasonal.  But they can afford our real estate.  In Washington the cost of downtown rentals is $100 a square foot. (Shake Shack paid $125 a square foot for the former Spy City Cafe in Penn Quarter.)  How can individual chef-owners afford the high rents and the high entry costs that have become a special problem for all small business in Washington? What small entrepreneur can afford to invest $6 million, as Stephen Starr did to build Le Diplomate?

The prosperity of Washington makes it possible for property owners to charge so much that small local entrepreneurs are crowded out. Local landlords want collateral far beyond the means of entrepreneurs from other cultures with limited economic capacity, those who might open food shops, bakeries and inexpensive restaurants of greater diversity.  Moreover, during the past decade national real estate companies have bought many of Washington’s downtown buildings. They need security and safety, high rents and collateral impossible for local risk-takers. That is why so much of Washington’s food real estate is now occupied by Chipotle, Devon & Blakely, Roti, Noodles & Company, and the like.  I find downtown Washington depressing. So many prime locations that could be independent shops are chain restaurants and banks instead. Buildings waste their ground floors on grand lobbies. Imagine what K Street would be like if some of those glass boxes filled their pretentious lobbies with shops and restaurants, and if the sidewalks had tables and chairs. We could have a real downtown streetscape.
This crowding out of local retail has been good in one respect: Neighborhoods such as Petworth, H Street NE, Bloomingdale, Shaw and Columbia Heights are blooming.  And food trucks are now bringing their cooking to downtown diners.  I confess I find mobile dining an uncomfortable way to eat, and I know it is a very hard way to make a living. We don’t know whether food trucks are going to be a fixture in this or any other city.  Nearly all Asian, Latin, Middle Eastern restaurants and food stores have been forced into the suburbs and are not readily accessible to a clientele wider than to those who live nearby. Although the diaspora of small-business food entrepreneurs to the suburbs may be good for Prince George’s County and Sterling, it is not good for the city.

We need in Washington less concentration of food retail in large supermarkets and many more small, independently operated food stores. What might make this possible is banks that, instead of opening ever more branches, do more lending supported by an aggressive Small Business Administration that guarantees some of the risk.  We need landlords who value local business and a D.C. government more vigorously supporting small-business development, especially business that acknowledges the diversity of the city.  I hope that the proliferation of small, inexpensive locally owned restaurants is a trend that will continue into new neighborhoods. I hope that food trucks can thrive and will become incubators, evolving into restaurants.  Most of all, however, Washington needs more discerning customers who care less about being the first to go to each new restaurant than about the quality of the food they are served. We need customers willing to make the effort to shop at little stores because they value food businesses in their neighborhoods.
Food is not going to replace government and politics as the business of the city, and we are always going to have expensive downtown restaurants providing local luxury for lobbyists. But our lives would be richer if in Glover Park and Bloomingdale, Adams Morgan and Shepherd Park, Hillcrest and Anacostia, people could go to little stores to buy good cheese and fresh local vegetables, and stop in at little restaurants for Filipino adobo, Jamaican jerk chicken or, indeed, fried chicken and grits.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How Do Prescription Drugs Get Such Crazy Names?

(By James Harbeck, The Week, 13 August 2013)

Asvasiran. Bremabecestat. Gedatolisib. Lulumab pegol. Nexbolizumab. Uprosertib. Orilotimod. Vepoloxamer.  What are they? Aliens? Goblins? Diseases? A spelling bee contestant's nightmare?  Nope. They're names for drugs.  Not brand names, though. They're the names for the active ingredients.  You may have noticed that every brand-name drug has a second name — for instance, Prozac® (fluoxetine). That second name, fluoxetine, is a name for the active ingredient, which is the same whatever the brand or generic form.  And believe it or not, these syllable-heavy second names are actually convenient nicknames. It's much easier to say fluoxetine than to say (RS)-N-methyl-3-phenyl-3-[4-(trifluoromethyl)phenoxy]propan-1-amine.

When a drug company researches and patents a drug, it gets to suggest what the generic name should be. It makes an application to the United States Adopted Names Council (other countries have similar councils and they generally try to cooperate). And that is what those alien-looking words are that I started with: generic names that have been applied for and are under consideration.  So can these drugs be named just any old thing? Is there anything preventing a company from calling its active ingredient supercurol? Well, yes. The U.S. Adopted Names Council. It has some rules, including the following:

 "Prefixes that imply 'better,' 'newer,' or 'more effective;' prefixes that evoke the name of the sponsor, dosage form, duration of action or rate of drug release should not be used."

 "Prefixes that refer to an anatomical connotation or medical condition are not acceptable."

 Certain letters or sets of letters also aren't allowed at the beginning of new generic names. These include me, str, x, and z.

Every name has two main parts. The back half of the drug name is the same for all drugs in a particular class — for instance, there are a whole raft of cholesterol-lowering drugs that end in -vastatin: atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol), rosuvastatin (Crestor), simvastatin (Zocor), and several others. Some other class suffixes include:

 -oxetine for a class of antidepressants, such as fluoxetine (Prozac)

 -sartan for a class of blood-pressure-lowering drugs, such as losartan (Cozaar)

 -afil for a class of drugs used for erectile dysfunction, such as sildenafil (Viagra)

-lukast for a class of anti-asthma drugs, such as montelukast (Singulair)

-azepam for a class of anti-anxiety medications, such as diazepam (Valium)

 -coxib for a class of anti-inflammatory pain relievers, such as celecoxib (Celebrex)

 -dronate for a class of drugs that prevent calcium loss, such as alendronate (Fosamax)

 -formin for one class of diabetes drugs, such as metformin (Glucophage), and -glitazone for another class, such as rosiglitazone (Avandia)

-prazole for a class of stomach acid reducers, such as esomeprazole (Prilosec)

-conazole for a class of anti-fungals

-vir for antivirals, with a number of subclasses, including -amivir for a class that includes the anti-flu drug zanamivir (Relenza), -ciclovir for a class that treats herpes (such as famciclovir (Famvir)), and ­-navir for antiretrovirals for HIV treatment, such as indinavir (Crixivan)

-stat for enzyme inhibitors, with a whole bunch of subclasses — for instance, -becestat means it's a beta secretase inhibitor (doesn't that help you? It would if you were a pharmacist)
So where do these suffixes come from? They used to often be based on the full chemical name, but now they're sometimes based on particular descriptive terms: -mab for monoclonal antibodies, -sertib for serine/threonine kinase inhibitors, -mer for polymers, or -imod for immunomodulators. And sometimes they're just made up. If you're the first company to come up with a drug in that class, you may get to set the pattern that all the others who come after have to follow.

As to the prefix (what comes before the suffix to identify the individual drug), you can make it pretty much whatever you want — subject to the USANC's rules and approval. And then it's just up to the clinical trials to show it's effective… and to doctors, patients, and marketing departments to make it successful. Or not. But if it is, you can bet everyone will call it by the brand name anyway.