July 5, 2011

"I honestly believed that 'character witnesses' were witnesses who were brought in to lend character to a trial, like a clown or an eccentric scientist."

Things people are embarrassed they didn't know.

Some of these things are embarrassing not to know, but in some cases, I think these people should be embarrassed to be embarrassed. It's not embarrassing not to know the difference between a sweet potato and a yam. It's more embarrassing to make a point of distinguishing the two. People call sweet potatoes "yams," and a "true" yam is something else. So what? At some point the misnomer becomes an alternate name. How many technical plant names do you worry about getting right?

At an early age, I developed the fear of being embarrassed about not knowing things, so I would steer clear even of asking about things I thought it might be embarrassing not to know. And by early age, I mean about 6. I did not like adults laughing at me when I got things wrong. Decades later, I realized they were just enjoying cuteness. Ah, the amusement I denied them as I denied myself information.

Embarrassment is way overrated. As Bob Dylan said:
King Kong, little elves
On the rooftops they dance
Valentino-type tangos
While the makeup man’s hands
Shut the eyes of the dead
Not to embarrass anyone
Farewell Angelina
The sky is embarrassed
And I must be gone

86 comments:

Fred4Pres said...

A brave and mature person does not fear embarassment. An artist recognizes it is something to actually tap into.

You are wiser now than you were at six.

Fred4Pres said...

I do not care for sweet potatoes or yams.

Robin said...

Wait..uh.."Others never realized that the logo for Saturn automobiles depicts a planet and is not just an X." Shoot.

traditionalguy said...

The wife grew cucumbers in her garden, and we ate fresh picked ones yesterday. That reminded me of the surprise the day I learned pickles were actually cucumbers. She said, "oh you city boys sure had lots to learn." How was I to know that Heinz used cucumbers in place of pickles.

lgv said...

A radio station does a weekly segment on this. All I remember was the very sad one. Quite a few people think that LOL means "lots of love". Someone got a text from their mother, "Dad has died, LOL, Mom"

MisterBuddwing said...

Some years ago, the Game Show Network was rerunning episodes of the original "Hollywood Squares." One one show, host Peter Marshall asked Wally Cox something along the lines of, "You're the head of a gang that robs a bank. You demand the 'lion's share' of the loot. What is that?"

And I thought, well of course, it's the bulk of the loot.

Cox cleared his throat and said something like, "Most people think that the 'lion's share' refers to most of the loot."

Yes, I thought.

And then he said: "But in fact, it refers to all of the loot."

My jaw dropped. I instantly realized he was right - and that I'd misunderstood a phrase I should have known the meaning of since reading Aesop's Fables when I was a kid.

Funny, life.

WV: panocru.

Fred4Pres said...

The eccentric scientist is the expert witness.

The clown is the other party.

Triangle Man said...

I was 28 when I learned that penultimate meant next-to-final and not final. Someone kindly corrected me and I paid that favor forward six years later when my boss made the same mistake.

The Crack Emcee said...

Embarrassment is way overrated.

In some cases, but there's still room for it in others,...

Fred4Pres said...

lgv...that would be a great story to remember weeks after the death.

MisterBuddwing said...

Someone got a text from their mother, "Dad has died, LOL, Mom"

Sounds like one of those things you read over at Snopes. It's funny, but mistake aside, I wonder what mother would break that kind of news in a text message.

WV: finfers.

MadisonMan said...

The comment at the linked article I thought Quesadilla was spanish for What's the deal!. (laugh) Now everytime I order quesadillas I'll think of that.

When I was little and I'd read the word misled, I'd silently pronounce it as if it rhymed with aisled.

MisterBuddwing said...

Some time ago, the perfesser had a post about how President Obama correctly used the word "bemused" to mean "befuddled" or "perplexed." I found out some time ago I was not alone in assuming it meant "lightly or wryly amused."

WV: gamiti.

WoW Lawbringer said...

I wonder what mother would break that kind of news in a text message.

Crack's or ST's ex-wives.

MadisonMan said...

I wonder what mother would break that kind of news in a text message.

I may learn of my Mom's death in a text from my brother. If it's been a long time coming, why not?

G Joubert said...

At an early age, I developed the fear of being embarrassed about not knowing things, so I would steer clear even of asking about things I thought it might be embarrassing not to know. And by early age, I mean about 6. I did not like adults laughing at me when I got things wrong.

One of my daughters (now grown) was exactly like that as a child. From her very earliest years she was very sensitive about being laughed at, and the sensitive parent realizes it.

Nonapod said...

I've always had problems with common phrases. For the longest time I thought the expression "by and large" was spelled "by enlarge".

Mumpsimus said...

Taking Bob Dylan seriously is pretty embarrassing.

MikeR said...

Ah - I have the opportunity to tell my very favorite cute/embarrassing story about my child. When she was about 5, we were talking to a convert to Judaism who was visiting our home. Now my daughter grew up in Baltimore, where pretty much everyone around was black except for a few of us Jews. So here she was looking very curiously at the convert. Finally she asked, "Did you used to have a brown skin?"

The Crack Emcee said...

BTW - my current favorite is this guy.

Fucking classic.

EDH said...

Here's a double reverse "I didn't know..."

When I was about four, I wanted to be in the audience of the Bozo the Clown Show. I thought there was only one Bozo in the world, and he was here in Boston. When we finally got the yellow printed tickets, I was so excited but I couldn't go because my sister and I were sick.

Anyway, as I grew older the Bozo mystique faded, and I came to assume there must have been a Bozo in every major market.

Just last week, however, I saw TMZ's "All Growed Up!" and on the cover panel they seemed to report that Boston's Bozo, Frank Avruch, was "the first nationally-syndicated Bozo The Clown in the mid '60s."

So, whereas I thought I had the whole Bozo singularity thing screwed-up at a very young age over forty years ago, it looks like I had it right then and had it screwed-up for the last forty-odd years as recently as last week.

Now that's embarrassing!

Shouting Thomas said...

Oh, Jesus, another quote, verse and chapter, from the Dylan Bible.

Althouse, why do intellectual sophisticates insist on pandering to every religion except the real ones... like Christianity?

Incidently, isn't Dylan an evangelical? Or, at least he passed through it during one of his makeovers.

As Lefty Frizzel (via Webb Pierce) says:

I went out last Tuesday
Met a girl named Susie
She told me
I was the swellest man around

Started in a-spending my money
Started in a-calling me honey
We took in
Every honky tonk in town

We're in the jailhouse now
We're in the jailhouse now
They told us once or twice
Quit playing cards and shooting dice

We're in the jailhouse now.


See, Lefty Frizzel wasn't much embarrassed by anything.

Mr. Colby said...

When I was a little kid I was under the impression that Abraham Lincoln and Abraham-from-the-Bible were the same person. I had also read a book that talked about Viking spacecraft landing on Mars, and I thought that meant that, well, you can probably guess. Made for quite a mental picture, what with the oarsmen and dragon head sticking out of the front and all.

Scott M said...

I did not like adults laughing at me when I got things wrong. Decades later, I realized they were just enjoying cuteness.

Were those adults men in shorts? Might explain a range of issues :)

T J Sawyer said...

Askov, Minnesota. Rutabaga capital of the world. I can't imagine anyone who has been through Askov confusing a rutabaga with a turnip!

bagoh20 said...

I have a lot of these, but I'm an idiot.

The most common ones have to be song lyrics. You often believe one to something entirely ridiculous and keep singing it that way for decades.

For a long time, I thought in the Steppenwolf song "The Pusher" they were singing "the preacher man".

Scott M said...

I was 28 when I learned that penultimate meant next-to-final and not final.

I think is was roughly that age when I learned that irregardless isn't a word...yet.

Maguro said...

For some reason, I used to think that pumpkins grew underground like potatoes. My wife got quite a kick out of that.

MisterBuddwing said...

I may learn of my Mom's death in a text from my brother. If it's been a long time coming, why not?

Point taken, but I guess I'm still old-fashioned enough to find that a very casual as well as impersonal way to break that kind of news.

WV: raleri.

Shouting Thomas said...

Althouse, you must have missed Buck Owens on Hee-Haw, too!

Carol_Herman said...

My story goes the other way! I drove my parents crazy with "why" questions.

Then, with my own son, I learned that they don't take a parent's answers seriously enough.

Where it's best not to show off "you know, you know," and instead give them a chance to guess. It looks effortless to do. But that's like saying Frank Sinatra made singing look effortless.

On the yam question? While I know only one of them is a potato. And, one of them may have yellow flesh, inside ... I grab what I see ... when I want one. And, then I buy the ones washed and prepped for the microwave. Because I'm lazy.

I'm also going to guess that you overcame shyness as you began to teach? (Arthur Murray dealt with that, too. He put patterns of feet on the floor, to give people confidence on which foot gets put out, and down, first.) How long does it take the average person to stop looking for the footprints on the floor?

Lincolntf said...

A real pet peeve of mine is people who use "flaunt" when they mean to use "flout". Had to correct my own wife yesterday, and she's no dummy.

Scott M said...

A real pet peeve of mine is people who use "flaunt" when they mean to use "flout"

Don't get me started on decimate.

ET1492 said...

Grandma had a Brooklyn accent and left the r off the end of some words.

I added the r back, to the word "spatula." I didn't realize until high school that it didn't belong there. Even a clock with a Brooklyn accent is right sometimes.

The shame, the shame...

Chip S. said...

Hunh. I thought "character witnesses" were people who testified in show trials.

MarkG said...

I think is was roughly that age [28] when I learned that irregardless isn't a word...yet

I was in my mid-thirties.

I went to Italy and ordered spaghetti. I got a plate of plain, dry pasta.

I thought the first syllable of Pyrenees rhymed with "pie"

edutcher said...

Not unlike the Fed Ex commercial of a couple of years ago.

Fred4Pres said...

A brave and mature person does not fear embarassment.

Which explains the current VPOTUS.

John said...

So with a professional in the house (Meade) are you more careful to get plant names right?

Does he call you out on it when you are wrong or sloppy in your naming?

John Henry

ET1492 said...

I'm embarrassed by my poor knowledge of history. I blame teachers.

Although my high school history teacher did teach me what "decimate" means, so I must give some credit.

John said...

traditioinal guy:

You didn't know that pickles were cucumbers?

Where do you think the expression "A pickle is in sally" came from?

Or am I thinking of "Sally is in a pickle"?

Never mind

John Henry

galdosiana said...

@bagoh20: I'm with you! For years, I thought that the chorus to "Drift Away" began: Gimme the Beach Boys and free my soul...

rocketeer67 said...

I was 19 years old before I realized Conway Twitty's "If I said you had a beautiful body, (would you hold it against me?)" was a double-entendre - and a particularly unsubtle one, at that.

Lincolntf said...

One thing that has always plagued me, and at this point probably always will, is the possesive use of proper names that end with the letter "s".

"That's Joe's bike" is fine, but "That's Charles' bike" is a thorn in my side both speaking and writing. Doesn't look or sound right to me even though I've self-corrected it a million times. People say both "Charles'" and "Charles's" are correct, but I can't stand using either. Better to go with "Charlie's" or "that dude's".

Anthony said...

A grad student friend of mine once admitted that until that point he thought 'flammable' and 'inflammable' were opposites. And he was the lab safety czar!

I always thought yams and sweet 'taters were the same thing, but now it makes a difference to me: love yams, don't much care for sweet 'taters.

I also didn't notice until shortly before the line got cut that the Saturn logo was meant to represent the planet as well. Odd that, and I write for a car blog.

Beta Rube said...

I find hanging on to the correct usage and spelling of the three "capitols" a linguistic tour de force beyond my meager mind.

Don't know why, it just is.

Not much better with principle.

Carol_Herman said...

I learned you can't depend on spell-check. It very unprofessionally sticks in words you'd never put into your sentence. And, it drops off the words you wrote in ... But spell-check challenge.

Early in life, I learned not to trust what I heard, just because it was spoken by an adult.

Then, my mom came along and told me I wasn't supposed to listen to my peers, when they described what sex was all about.

One day I went crying to my mom to complain that what she told me was wrong. And, that storks brought babies.

Ann Althouse said...

I don't think mishearing song lyrics is considered embarrassing. Doesn't everyone just think that's funny?

Now, if you take advice from song lyrics that you've misheard, that's embarrassing, but who's doing that?

Anymore.

I mean, I used to try to live the way Bob Dylan would admire...

Scott M said...

I don't think mishearing song lyrics is considered embarrassing. Doesn't everyone just think that's funny?

Mishearing isn't embarrassing, no. Belting said song out incorrectly in a group of people that hear you make that mistake is. Not that it's ever happened to me...nosiree.

"'scuse me, while I kiss this guy!"

RonF said...

I don't know - Some trials could use some characters. Did you follow the Blago trial here in Illinois?

OHCA said...

My wife will tell you that just yesterday -- at 53 years old -- I had the epiphany that "Tang" is actually TANGerine-flavored drink, and not orange-flavored as I believed all my life.

Jose_K said...

Bizarre means brave in italian and extravaganze in french but thanks to Superman is used in Italy, France and most spanish talking countries as weird.
The same goes with many terms misused by americans and them globally misused

ricpic said...

The peppering of speech or internet comments with acronyms is ill-mannered. The assumption should be that the listener or reader isn't au courant with the latest "in" abbreviations. Is it really all that difficult to make the slight effort required to accommodate rather than aggravate your audience?

ricpic said...

My acronym comment should be on the tr;dl or tl;dr thread. But it's a great comment that would add luster to any thread so consider yourselves blessed by a typical ricpic ts;wm* post.




*too short; want more

Chip S. said...

The assumption should be that the listener or reader isn't au courant with the latest "in" abbreviations.

WTF? (j/k)

What about the gratuitous use of a foreign language?

;-)

S said...

I've seen this assertion that the lion's share should be the whole thing, but I think anyone who uses it that way is going to have trouble communicating. I think yam (at least in the US) and decimate fall in the same category - you at least shouldn't expect that someone who says "decimate" doesn't mean "annihilate".

Meanings of words and phrases do sometimes go from incorrect to normal (and in the case of language, I don't think "normal" and "correct" can really be distinguished from each other). At some point, they're in between. I never use the word "forte" in speech, because pronouncing it with one syllable will confuse most of my audience and pronouncing it with two will garner contempt from the rest. Generally, if there's a traditional meaning and another common meaning, I try to avoid the word unless I mean both. Of course, I don't always know.

I do sometimes find this evolution of language to be frustrating, mostly when two words that used to be usefully different start becoming interchangeable. Why use "jealous" for both "jealous" and "envious"? Also, "anticipate" doesn't need to be a synonym for "expect", as "expect" can do that job adequately, and the distinction is sometimes useful (though, for all I know, "anticipate" has been used as a synonym for "expect" ever since it was introduced into English; I know that usage isn't new).

I heard about an antitrust trial once in which the defense counsel made a reference to "the penultimate paragraph" on some page of a document submitted by the government, the government lawyers objected to the characterization of that paragraph as "penultimate", and the judge sustained the objection. I heard this from a defense witness who didn't think much of that judge.

I always knew the Washington Redskins were in DC, but thought the Archbishop of Washington was in the Pacific Northwest until a few years ago. Which was odd, as I knew there was an Archbishop of Boston, not of Massachusetts or New England.

Scott M said...

I have no idea how big of a hate-filled firestorm this is going to cause on this thread, but I know it's a "no-go" argument in my house.

Is the next Friday the 8th of July, or is the 15th?

My opinion is that a week is a unit and THIS Friday is the 8th, while NEXT WEEK'S Friday is the 15th, hence, next Friday is the 15th.

My lovely bride insists that since the 8th is the next Friday in a string of Fridays, it is, indeed, next Friday.

Enjoy...

Chip S. said...

The 15th is a week from this Friday.

mariner said...

These are things we should have learned — not gaffes born of exhaustion or bumbling speechwriters, like we see in politicians who misspell potato, misstate the number of states or confuse John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy.

Of course since this is NPR the author wouldn't have dreamed of writing: "... like we see in politicians who believe there are 59 or 60 states in America, or that a battlefield medic is a "corpseman", or that Austrians speak Austrian".

Scott M said...

The 15th is a week from this Friday.

Coward.

lol!

WV - "prove"

Lincolntf said...

I'm with you, Scott M. "This" Friday is the 8th. Next Friday is the 15th.

Elizabeth said...

I was in my 20s, and a MATH TEACHER, when it finally dawned on me that I had always heard 'plane geometry' as 'plain geometry', and just assumed that was because it wasn't fancy (like non-Euclidean geometry is), but just plain old, every-day geometry.

Chip S. said...

Coward

Just a peace-seeking melanist. You gingers love to squabble. ;-)

L8r

ET1492 said...

I could care less about all this.

A Mindful Webworker said...

Ann Herself wrote: "I don't think mishearing song lyrics is considered embarrassing."

Depends on circumstance. Long ago in the quiet of the world, I recall my older sister, while she was dating a guy name Bobby, becoming seriously flustered because of the Beatles song "Can't Bobby Love."

Lincolntf fretted, "People say both "Charles'" and "Charles's" are correct, but I can't stand using either." The Authority: "Elementary Rules of Usage, Rule #1: Form the possessive singular of nouns with 's. ... Thus write, Charles's friend. ... Exceptions are the possessives of ancient proper names...." Now, go read, study, memorize is Elements of Style, be wise, and sin no more.

ricpic said...

Bride is right on the Friday question. Total confusion your way, Scottums.

Scott M said...

Bride is right on the Friday question.

Heretic.

Anthony said...

I admit that when I was a young lad I thought the American Pie lyric was referring to some unknown person named "Jane Steen" instead of James Dean.

MadisonMan said...

This Friday is certainly the 8th. This Friday is always, always, the next Friday to come along. Next Friday on a day like today is probably the 15th. If today was last Saturday, though, next Friday might well be the 8th. I'd probably clarify things and not just say next Friday in that case.

Shanna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shanna said...

I don't think mishearing song lyrics is considered embarrassing. Doesn't everyone just think that's funny?

My brother used to think Jimmy Buffett was singing “they say you are a snuff queen" and we thought that was hilarious, but I was just looking online and some people seem to say that IS the actual lyric (although some say it's "snub" like I always thought)...so now I'm confused.

Old RPM Daddy said...

One night when I was small, I was all ready for dinner, and told my mother I was "ravenous," but pronounced with a long "a," as in the bird. Noting my embarassment at being corrected, my mother told me that as a child, when she wanted something to eat, she announced she was "hrungry" versus merely hungry. Apparently, "hrungry" sounded, well, hungrier to her.

And a friend of mine told me that she'd read a news story as a little girl and asked her parents why someone would be convicted of "man's laughter."

WV: quess -- when a quesadilla is just a little too much, and you're all out of yams.

Lincolntf said...

Mindful,
A: I don't fret, ever.
B: Thanks for the clarification.

(I'm still not gonna say "Charleses bike" no matter what the style guides say. Just can't make myself do it.)

bagoh20 said...

"typical ricpic ts;wm* post.

*too short; want more"



TWSS

Ann Althouse said...

I once had to go to great lengths to convince a very intelligent and otherwise well-informed adult that a butterfly was an insect.

And I once had to listen to a whole tableful of academics laugh at me for insisting that "immaculate conception" did not refer to the conception of Jesus. Pre-internet days.

Synova said...

Small children are learning how the world works as hard as they can, so they watch as closely as they can. (This is why 5 year olds get so profoundly angry when someone doesn't follow the rules they've just managed to figure out). Teenagers go through a similar hyper-awareness phase.

It's hard to tell them that people aren't watching them closely and no one cares about their tiny mistakes, because the truth is that *they* are watching that closely and so are their age mates (which is why middle schools are hell on earth.)

In my opinion, one of the hallmarks of maturity is when you stop caring about the minutia of other people's lives, and realize that they don't care what you do either.

Indigo Red said...

Back when I was a dumb kid in the late 60s, organ donation was just becoming a good and viable act that was being talked about in the news. I didn't really know what organ donation was, but I thought I did.

That belief was confirmed one morning when we awoke to find a small organ, the musical kind, in the living room. I thought we were the lucky recipient of the local organ donation program.

Indigo Red said...

Ann wrote, "I don't think mishearing song lyrics is considered embarrassing. Doesn't everyone just think that's funny?"

Apparently Jimmy Hendrix agreed. Because so many people thought the lyric was "`scuse me while kiss this guy" instead of "... kiss the sky" he started singing it the way people heard it.

Deborah said...

I was teased mercilessly as a child. It made me a little sensitive and cautious. Embarrassing the kids was sport in my childhood environment.

David said...

My pet peeve, along the lines of yams and sweet potatos, is people who insist on calling buffalo bison. I get it. American buffalo are not Asian or African buffalo. So what? Once an animal has been called by a particular name for almost more than 350 years, correcting the name is obnoxious pedantry.

David said...

"more than 350 years."

Sigh

galdosiana said...

Scott M: I'm also of the opinion that "this" Friday is the 8th, and "next" Friday the 15th.

Craig said...

I was probably in my twenties before I realized that important people who'd died weren't being given massive Christian burials.

MisterBuddwing said...

The professor: And I once had to listen to a whole tableful of academics laugh at me for insisting that "immaculate conception" did not refer to the conception of Jesus. Pre-internet days.

Ah, yes. The Immaculate Misconception. It was about Mary being free of original sin from conception, not Jesus being born of a virgin. A Catholic co-worker got it wrong, too. (I'm not Catholic.)

Quickly shifting gears, I once got into an animated (i.e. heated) discussion with a co-worker over whether President Bill Clinton had actually been impeached. To her, impeachment is when "they throw you out of office." I maintained that impeachment was the equivalent of indictment, not conviction. Of course, we got nowhere.

Finally, a barbarism that I've been hearing on the local news more and more lately: an anchor or reporter who will say something like, "The suspect entered the bank, held up a teller and got away with $20,000."

No, the robber did all those things. When they arrest someone and say that's the robber, that person will be known as the suspect.

WV: phoust (phony Proust?)

Roy in Nipomo said...

My daughter is paraplegic w/virtually no muscle control below the waist. When my children were young, being uncouth, I would play "pull my finger" on them.

We were all embarrassed when we realized that age 10, my daughter actually believed it to be cause & effect.ylan

Lionheart said...

A friend of mine used to say "I could care less" while "I couldn't care less" always made more sense to me if the intent is to indicate zero level interest is something. Maybe this is a regional difference?

MisterBuddwing said...

A friend of mine used to say "I could care less" while "I couldn't care less" always made more sense to me if the intent is to indicate zero level interest is something. Maybe this is a regional difference?

No, I'm afraid that's how the phrase has evolved over the years - from "I couldn't care less" to "I could care less."

It's kind of like people using the phrase "above par" to mean "above average" and "below par" to mean "below average" when the meanings, of course, are opposite. (I speak as a golf illiterate.)

WV: cyallunf