Friday, September 18, 2009

Bests and worsts

For a long time, we had a tradition at the dinner table of "bests and worsts"; each person would go around and share either the best thing of their day or the worst, then call on the next person, until we'd all said both our bests and worsts. The girls often started it off by asking, "Please can we do bests and worsts and can I be firsts?" We're trying to socialize them into a more free-flowing dinner-table conversation as they get older, but sometimes, bests and worsts is the only way to describe the way things are going.

For example, yesterday I was grading my first pile of papers from one of my classes. It's a paper on borrowings into English; the students had to go look in an unabridged dictionary (we have an online subscription to the Oxford English Dictionary, which I think is seriously one of the coolest books known to mankind), find ten words that had been borrowed into English, say what language each word was borrowed from, when it was borrowed, and then to speculate, reasonably (note: reasonably) on the possible reasons for the borrowing.

Best: One wonderful student, whom I've had in other classes, started her paper with the following quote, which I adore: "We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary." -James D. Nicoll (Looking at the original quote, I see that she edited for brevity and propriety; you've got to love a good student.) If this doesn't express perfectly the attitude of English towards borrowing words from other languages, I don't know what does. (As an aside, it occurred to me when thinking about this that the attitude of English towards such borrowings lies in interesting juxtaposition to its attitude towards the existence of other languages in areas that it considers to be its turf; in such situations, English is more like a black widow -- it leaves dead and dying languages in its wake.)
Worst: The student who reported on a word borrowed in the 12th century CE, and then told me that the reason it was borrowed into English is because American settlers needed a word for that concept. Seriously? I mean, seriously? Do we see why I approach grading with more trepidation than joy?

Today I had to drive to Encinitas for a lunch meeting. It's a not-insignificant drive; depending on traffic, it can take anywhere from 25-45 minutes. I would have been more upset about having to make the trek but:

Best: We were meeting for lunch at Q'ero, which I absolutely adore. (I ate more than I should have.)
Best: I was meeting with colleagues I like, to talk about a topic near and dear to my heart (the linguistics program that one of those colleagues and I have worked very hard to build since coming here).
Really best: On the third Friday of every month, a group of spinners meet at Common Threads. For the last two years, I have had a standing meeting on the third Friday of every month. I have recently shed that obligation, so I was able to pack up the Lendrum (its first trip in the car since I came home from the institute) and spin for a couple of hours with some very nice women before heading to my lunch meeting.
Worst: (I know, after those bests up there, I can hear the swell of little bitty violins playing a pity song for me.) There was some absolutely gorgeous new fiber that had just come in to the store (that's not the worst). I'm on a fiber diet (that's the worst), so I didn't buy any. None. Zip, nada, zilch. I didn't even grope it very much, for fear that it would adhere to my fingers and come home with me anyway (especially the absolutely lovely merino/tencel blend, or the alpaca/merino blend, mmm...). Next time, right?
Also worst: I have a hideous head cold that developed on Wednesday afternoon when my nose suddenly started running like I had soaked my head in salt water. It isn't better, and my head feels stuffed with cotton and my face hurts. I'm not sure that I was very coherent in any of my conversations today. Ah, well.

I am home now. I am thinking that I might take a nap, even though I really want to knit on the Unbloggable Project (which is not, it turns out, quite as unbloggable as I'd thought; I might be able to show you a non-specific picture of it on Sunday). We'll see if I can stay upright and focused on charts long enough to get anything done. Before sitting down to knit, though, I came to check my email, which is where I saw the real worst. The kind that deserves capitals. The kind that probably should have been all that this post was about because it's big and real and serious, but at this moment, I'm only able to approach it sideways. I think I'm still trying to assimilate, and I know that this is something that will be on my mind a lot for the next while.

Sandy, one of the wonderful owners of my fabulous local yarn store, passed away last night. Her dear friend and co-owner, Debra, sent out an email to all of us, letting us know and inviting us to a celebration of Sandy's life this weekend. In the email, Debra said that Sandy started the store five years ago; that's about when I started going to it. I think you all know how much I love that store, and the women in it, who are all so supportive and helpful and funny. I don't know if I've talked a lot, though, about how central Sandy has been to that experience. She was always there, sitting on the flowered couch and knitting, or bantering with Debra, or helping someone to find the exact yarn they needed for a project (plus maybe another new project to go along with it). She wound yarn as if she were dancing the boogie. She always had a smile for everyone, even when I know she was hurting and tired, and she was always interested in what people were knitting and how their lives were going. She was kind to my daughters, and made me feel like they were as welcome as I was. I can't quite make myself face the idea that I can't hope any more to see her when I next go into the store.

It's too soon, and she was too young, and we're all going to miss her too much.


Wool Enough said...

I'm so sorry for your worst of the worst. "Never again" is one of the hardest things to face. ((hugs))


Mary Lou said...

Another great post - sorry about the loss of your friend. I just returned from my aunt's funeral, which i would like to write about sometime. It was wonderful. She was 93. It isn't the same at all for a sudden death of a younger person. Very sad.

Rachael said...

Sorry to hear about your friend & LYS owner, how sad. Also hope you are feeling better soon. I'm glad you are still in a mindset to think of bests. :-)

Nana Sadie said...

Yes, it IS the worst. The very worst. I'm so sorry, and I can't say much more - we lose these wonderful people and there are no words to make it better.

And being sick makes it even harder.

So here's my advice - take gentle care of yourself, knit, drink tea and honey (add lemon), snuggle on the couch with the puppy. Try very hard not to cry (it will make the cold feel worse).

And know that this, too, unfairly, will pass.

I love your wonderful first student! (we try hard to move beyond the very sad specimens that are your second...)

And congrats on holding fast to your fiber fast.
Many (((((Hugs)))))

Willow said...

I'm so sorry. This is really hard. Too young and too soon. Knit something in her memory.

twinsetellen said...

We have not borrowed any words sufficient to express the ache at the loss of such a friend. I am sorry for you and your daughters and all those who Sandy helped navigate their daily worsts. Blessed be.

Roger R. said...

Condolences to you and your friends at the LYS. I'm glad you could start by focusing on your wonderful student. I have found it helpful to concentrate on the good in life when faced with loss. Roger's mom Debbie.

Jane said...

So sorry about your news. I imagine there will be lots to celebrate about her life, being such a kind person. Treasure the memories you had of her in the short time you had the privelege to know her.

EGunn said...

That's a lot of bests and worsts. And sometimes sideways is the best way to come at these things. I'm so sorry, and I hope that you find things to celebrate in her "bests" to help with the worst.

(And, in my opinion...cry all you can always blame red eyes on the cold!)

Alwen said...

It is so hard - people are connected like webs, and when one is torn out, over and over you find yourself at the end of a broken strand.

I always liked that Nicoll quote.

Rachel said...

So sorry about the loss of your friend.

I hope your head cold will leave you alone soon.

I love your best/worse idea and that brilliant student of your.

AlisonH said...

Oh honey, I'm so sorry!


To remember her with love and joy in your heart is one of the best things you can do. Hugs.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a knitter, but I adore your blog and try to read every post....I'm so very sorry about your friend....Lois

Brian Barker said...

Hi knitting Linguist

I thought your comments about dying languages was completely apposite to growing "linguistic imperialism" of English

Concerning the campaign to save endangered and dying languages, you may be interested in the contribution, made by the World Esperanto Association, to UNESCO's campaign.

The commitment was made, by the World Esperanto Association at the United Nations' Geneva HQ in September.

If you have time please see Professor Piron was a translator with the United Nations in Geneva.

The argument for Esperanto can be seen at

Helen said...

I'm so sorry about your friend Sandy. It sounds as if it wasn't altogether a surprise, but that never helps, does it? Hugs.

Gwen said...

Oh, I'm so sorry. Glad you had some bests, and a few little worsts. But, oh, losing someone dear dampens all the rest.

juliet said...

I love the idea of bests and worsts - that sounds fantastic fun, and both students would have made me laugh (yes, the bad one made me chuckle). I am sorry to hear about the LYS owner, I wonder what sort of yarn they get in heaven

Lynne said...

I'm so sorry to hear of the loss of your friend at the yarn store.

RobinH said...

Very sorry to hear about your friend.

On the linguistic front, I was fascinated to read John McWhorter's book Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue which is kind of orthogonal to the grammar question, but still intriguing.

I'd have loved your assignment (I often wish I'd had time to take all the courses that looked interesting in school instead of sticking to my major- however useful it proved to eventual employment prospects!) But...I might have had a hard time sticking to just ten words!

A marvelous book, the OED. Have you by any chance read Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman?

RobinH said...

Okay, it's too early to comment on blogs. Orthogonal to the vocabulary question, is of course what I meant to say!

Carrie K said...

That is so sad about Sandy.

And really, what's wrong with borrowing a word in the 12 century for the American settlers? Surely they could use a little English. ;)