Lists: Four Misnomers and One God’s Honest Truth



1. Daylight Savings Time

In the late 1950s I was eight years old, a time when my mother routinely told us to clean our dinner plates because “children were starving in Armenia.”  I did not grasp this logic but her stern voice convinced me it was my patriotic duty to eat all that dreadful liver and squash.  So when I heard the call for “daylight savings time” I wanted to step up and do my part.  I went outside with a mason jar, let some daylight in, tightly sealed it and then proudly saved it in my closet.


Congressional bills are required to have both a number and a name. Bill sponsors have seized this opportunity to create market-friendly acronyms.  The 2001 PATRIOT act is actually an acronym for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.”  Hastily passed after 9/11, the act expanded the government’s ability to monitor its citizens, including a search of telephone and financial records without judicial review.  An important check and balance was thus eliminated.  The sponsors of the PATRIOT Act knew that their clever title would successfully demonize those who objected to the bill’s incursion into our civil rights, particularly the 4th Amendment’s prohibition of unlawful search and seizure.  Imagine the reception the bill would receive if it was given the equally apt acronym POLICE STATE:










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Don’t get me started on the misnomer that is the “Affordable Care Act.”  In fact, this is such a travesty of a name that few dare to say it out loud, instead referring to it merely as the “ACA.”

 3. Starbuck’s Tall drinks

By age five, children probably have a firm grasp on size based on the standard trio of small, medium and large orders of McDonald’s French fries.  Starbucks is an outlier.  They refuse to use the word small.  Their sizes ae classified as tall, grande and venti.


Okay, I’ll agree that grande and venti give Starbucks the international flair it seeks, but Tall standing in for small?  Maybe Starbucks is playing a psychological game with us, divorcing the link between size and price.  I might not be willing to fork over $4.00 for a “small” frapuccino, but the price seems more justified for a “tall” drink.

Another possibility is that Starbucks is sensitive to men’s general discomfort when the word “small” is bandied about.  This is a lesson well-learned by condom makers, whose sizes include “regular,” “large” and “extra-large.”  Men can live with regular but not small.  But if this is Starbuck’s strategy they are ignoring women’s embrace of the concept of small.   Aside from breast size, small is an aspirational goal, with women squeezing into single digit sizes.  Women are all about self-control, and a tall drink may seem overly indulgent while a small drink is just right.

4. Sit Back, Relax and Enjoy the Flight 

From the perspective of my usual seat in the far reaches of economy, the only true word in this familiar phrase is “flight.”  The slogan might have been appropriate in the early days of commercial flight when the novelty of flying created some possibility of enjoyment.  Those were the days when people dressed up for a flight – my mother wore pearls, my father his coat and tie – and well-coiffed stewardesses served macadamia nuts.  Now air travel has all the appeal of an overcrowded city bus.  I propose the following slogan revision in the interests of managing expectations.

“Try to get comfortable, calm down and endure.  You’ll get there eventually.”

God’s Honest Truth

1.  Imitation Crabmeat

I am not a fan of sushi, but have found refuge in “California Rolls,” which ostensibly contain a dab of crabmeat, avocado and maybe a bit of a crunch from a cucumber.  Restaurants are not required to list ingredients, so when I bought some California rolls at the grocery store, I took a closer look at the label.  And there it was – “imitation crabmeat.”  Restaurants have been accused of secretly substituting trash fish for high-priced fish, so this label was a blast of the God’s honest truth, no dissembling, no attempt to hide the fact that I was eating fake stuff.

My initial spasm of joy subsided and I thought, “Hmm, the label has only told me what this wasn’t.  If it is not crab, what is it?  Is it even fish?”

It turns out that imitation crab is a finely pulverized paste of a variety of fish combined with starch and the ubiquitous “artificial flavors.”  The paste is painted red in homage to real crab, and then molded into whatever shape is wanted.

I was severely disappointed, mostly with myself, when I discovered that the labeling was an FDA requirement.  How could I have been so naïve to think that a marketer would voluntarily advertise that their product is fake?  Sec.540.700 of the FDA Compliance Policy Guide addressing processed fish states:

“For example, a processed and blended seafood product made primarily with fish protein that is a substitute for crabmeat, resembles crab meat, and is nutritionally inferior to crabmeat, must be labeled ‘imitation crabmeat.’”

Perhaps sushi makers were initially aghast at this requirement, but then, taking a page from the clothing designers who proudly sell “fake” or “faux” fur, the industry decided that having the word “crab” in the label, even if it was imitation, was far more appealing than the alternative of “pulverized fish paste.”



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Podcast Lists: Four Misnomers and One God’s Honest Truth

Daylight savings time, the PATRIOT Act,  Starbuck’s Tall drinks, Sit Back Relax and Enjoy the Flight and Imitation Crabmeat.

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5 Best Idioms Using the Word Shit

Every language is enlivened by its array of idioms and my impression is that English is particularly well-endowed, perhaps because Shakespeare played for our team.  I have collected dictionaries of idioms, including specialized references, such as idioms of the army (i.e. FUBB) or idioms of the sailor (i.e. son of a gun).  Each year there are new board games that are based on the origins of idioms, and I have even tried to create my own game called “Sweep the Nation.”

While many idioms are based on local history, religion, geography or contemporary culture, the word “shit” has spawned an impressive variety of expressions.  At first I thought these idioms would be understandable and embraced across languages and cultures. However, my preliminary research (i.e. in cabs with international drivers), suggests Americans seem particularly besotted with the word “shit.”   Culled from a list of hundreds, the following idioms represent the best shit has to offer. Continue reading

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Podcast: 5 Best Idioms Using the Word Shit

There are so many to choose from, which are the best?

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Open Letter to Stephen Hawking

There is one thing humans have relied on, well beyond the standard cliché of death and taxes.  It is the universal standard of a second as an enduring constant across cultures and time.  Some extremist with a jittery trigger finger can do us all in, but the clock will still tick and the earth will still age.  As it was in the beginning, now is and ever shall be.

At least that was my complacent world until you and your astrophysicist colleagues informed me that a second slows down in space.  You called it time dilation, first detected in sub atomic particles moving at lightning speed.  Naturally you wanted to share this triumph of physics with a lay audience, but how to dumb it down?  Your solution was to blithely announce that astronauts do not age in space.  An astronaut returning from Mars would youthfully spring from his capsule to greet his identical twin, now decrepit and feeble.

I have never been able to believe something so fantastical.  This example also propelled you into an other-worldly level of intelligence that normal humans dare not enter.  Frankly, I felt patronized by this “twins separated by space” example, so bizarre that it forced me to place blind faith in the inaccessible intelligence of astrophysicists.

Dr. Hawking, I needed a believable explanation, something that I could drop into a cocktail conversation and then vicariously bask in the exalted intelligence of an astrophysicist.  A suitable opening would be hard to find since casual chatter rarely veers into astrophysics.  But if someone uses the cliché “you know it’s not exactly rocket science,” I could be ready to pounce with “You know, rocket science is really not as complicated as you might think.  Here’s a simple explanation.”

I hustled off to the library to consult your best seller “A Brief History of Time,” and even better the companion volume “A Briefer History of Time,” with the appealing subtitle, “The Science Classic Made More Accessible.”  However, I am sorry to say that your two books – and I even looked in the children’s library to see if there was a third even more basic book – only got me part way there.  I could see that you were trying very hard with your thought exercises that involved playing ping pong on a moving train, but you lost me when you added graphs, arrows and flashing lights.

I know your problem.  You know too much and you are getting in your own way.   You and I are similar in this way.  I have fallen into the same situation with my vast knowledge of knitting.  Sure I could delve into the history of knitting and talk about the relative merits of synthetic or natural fibers or I could talk about all sorts of fancy stitches – yarn-overs, intarsia or brioche.  I would love to share my enthusiasm with an appreciative audience.  But I have seen that glazed look – I am sure that you have seen it too.  For a general audience of non-knitters, I keep it simple and explain just one stitch – the knit stitch. Well maybe I would add in the purl stitch also.  You can create a stunning garment with these two stitches.  But no more than that.

I think I can help you simplify your time dilation discussion.  My AHA! moment came when I discovered nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.  Let’s build on that to create one of those thought exercises that physicists love.

Imagine that a stationery person is watching me on a moving walkway at the airport, and then imagine that the walkway is moving at the speed of light.  Stay with me here –also imagine that I am running late, so I start to stride along, adding my walking speed to that of the moving walkway. Now I would be moving faster than the speed of light, and that’s just not possible.

Here’s the big finish.  I think that we can all agree that rate x time = distance.  But something must give when the distance is fixed and the rate appears to be faster than the speed of light.  And it is time.  Time on the walkway slows down compared to the stationary person.   Done!

Dr. Hawking, I know that I have over simplified, but frankly that was my goal. You see, I’ve gotten people interested in knitting just based on one stitch, and astrophysics should be no different.  My explanation has been well received at cocktail parties with lots of appreciative nods.  In fact, feel free to use my example in the next edition of your book.

However, my major take away is that time dilation has no practical implications for human aging.  The twin astronauts were a bad example and unnecessarily upended my world.  A second is really a second.  One chimpanzee, two chimpanzees, relentlessly for millions of years.

Therefore, please add the following caveat to the next issue of your book.

“You have probably heard the saying that astronauts don’t age in space.  While traveling near the speed of light does have funky effects on time, any anti-aging effects on humans are negligible and a clear overstatement of facts for dramatic purposes only.  On behalf of all astrophysicists, I would like to apologize for this exaggeration and any associated misconception that physics is only for the cerebrally endowed.”


Liza Blue

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Lists: Bad Christmas Songs

On December 23rd, I set out on a solo drive 360 miles straight north to the shores of Lake Superior with the rest of the family following shortly behind in a second car.  I frequently take this drive and look forward to the entertainment of an audio book, but this time I was driving my husband’s car, which did not have a CD player.  “Don’t worry,” said Nick, “the Kia has Sirius radio with about 200 ad-free channels – you should be fine.”

Unfortunately, I approach all technologies, even something as simple as a satellite radio station, with Amish levels of hesitancy.  Sure enough, I was flummoxed by Sirius as soon as I got onto the highway.  How was I supposed to find a compatible channel as I was whizzing along?  I sensed that habitual Sirius users probably create their own personal menus, but how could I keep my eyes on the road and glance at the radio?  As my car wavered near the median strip, I realized that I should pick a channel and stick with it.

So for six straight hours I listened to channel 8, the Coffee House channel, which featured a non-stop extravaganza of Christmas songs.  The menu skirted any bona fide Christmas carols – Silent Night and its ilk – but instead treated me to a relentless diet of Christmas-themed ditties, sung by the likes of Bing Crosby and Dean Martin.

My car became a Karaoke bar.  I sang lustily along to Mommies Kissing Santa Claus, Roasting Chestnuts and rum-pum-pum Drummer Boys.  How strange that I know these lyrics, I thought, since I had no recollection of actively listening to any of them.  Perhaps they had unconsciously seeped into some dusty gray recess of the brain and now came bubbling to the surface in the spirit of Christmas.  I even knew the words to the Chipmunks “Christmas Don’t Be Late.” (Alvin wants a hula-hoop.)

At the three hour mark just north of Green Bay Wisconsin, the songs began to repeat and I paused to consider the words that I was mindlessly singing.  I began to see a disturbing pattern in the songs.       Continue reading

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Podcast: Open Letter to Stephen Hawking

A knitter’s advice to Stephen Hawking on how to simplify astrophysics.

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Lists: MFOs


With my mother at the helm, my family’s household was frequently the venue for large gatherings at Christmas and Thanksgiving.  These events were always casual and pot-luck, but even so she nurtured a variety of strategies to make sure that these mandatory family obligations didn’t turn into mother-f**ing ordeals.  Below are five of her favorite strategies that have undergone extensive beta-testing over decades and generations.

1.   Dinner Seating   

My mother strove to find a balance between the rigidity of a fixed seating plan and the spontaneity she craved.  Her solution was two hats of paired items that she passed around before dinner with the instruction “Go Forth and Find Your Match.”   The pairs varied over the years.  One year there were two sequential verses of a Christmas carol and you found your dinner partner by singing in search of the next verse.  Another year the hats contained a variety of separated pairs of nuts and bolts, ranging in size from teeny tiny to jumbo.  Once paired up, you went through the buffet line with your partner and sat together at randomly selected seats.  Although I observed some black-market trading, this system ensured that crazy Aunt Bertha with that scary hairy mole on her cheek wouldn’t get stranded. Continue reading

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Podcast: Lists: MFOs

Here are five simple strategies to make sure your mandatory family obligations don’t turn into mother-fucking ordeals.

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Podcast: Marketing Unplugged: The Logo on My Computer

The upside down logo on my computer confused me when I tried to open it.  Then I realized that my inconvenience was merely part of Lenovo’s word of mouth marketing campaign.  They wanted my vast audience to see their logo.

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