having a goat under your arm (and other animal expressions)

I’ve recently come across a number of humorous expressions involving animals and thought I should share. The textbook we use in my German class gives the following:

  • Schwein haben : “to be lucky” (literally “to have a pig”)
  • einen Vogel haben : “to be crazy” (literally “to have a bird”)
  • einen Kater haben : “to have a hangover” (literally “to have a tomcat”)

My favorite animal expression in English is “I’m on it like a duck on a junebug” (thanks, David Lynch). The expression “let the cat out of the bag” has always mystified me. A friend has a good story about the term “pussy-footing”– but I won’t tell it for her. I also adore “happy as a pig in a ditch” and “that really gets my goat.” Continue reading


places to go 11.29.10

• I enjoyed this story about appreciating what children have to offer even though they might annoy us a lot of the time: For Granted.

• From The Times of India, Indian-American Hindu group stirs a debate over yoga’s soul: I don’t know much about yoga, admittedly, but I’ve wondered about the appropriative nature and potential cultural insensitivity in the way many US-ians practice it. This article seems to do a good job of laying out one debate on the topic. — (via Racialicious)

• A rant titled Dear bigoted, privileged assholes from Jen, a self-identified “humourless, harpy feminist”—(via Womanist Musings)

• Also via Womanist Musings, this post answers the question, Why don’t women just leave abusers? [trigger warning for partner abuse and assault]

• If you missed the hubbub about Jezebel.com’s most recent indication (unless they’ve done something worse in the last week) that they really aren’t a feminist space, the Sexual Assault and Prevention Center has a post about it here: Oh, Jezebel. I, for one, am no longer reading Jezebel, period. I should have made that call a while ago.—(via Tiger Beatdown)

• And, from Racialicious, two posts that each link two areas of culture: Overcoming the Noble Savage & the Sexy Squaw: Native Steampunk and Les Sapeurs: Gentlemen Of The Congo (on Congolese dandyism).

writing anxiety – your writing is terrible sometimes and that’s okay

I used to have a lot of anxiety around writing. When I had a writing assignment for school I’d get so anxious that I’d put it off until the last hour or so before class, then sit down and in a fury just write the paper straight through, beginning to end. I think it had to do with fear of trying and failing—if I actually worked hard on something and didn’t do it right, that would crush me. But if I dashed it off at the last minute and just hoped for the best, I had an excuse ready for myself if it were less than stellar.

Eventually I realized I was doing myself a disservice by producing below my real ability level. I started to be able to be proud of my own work, to look at something I’d created and feel good about the actual product and not just the grade attached to it.

Thinking about the way I had learned to approach art helped too. When I was younger, I had similar anxiety around art until I learned, by studying bodies of work by famous artists, that it’s okay if 9 out of 10 things I drew were utter crap. It’s all a learning process, and it’s ridiculous to think that everything that drifts out of my hand is going to be meaningful and new and beautiful. If I could fill sketchbooks with junk and look back through them and shrug it off, why couldn’t I do this with writing?

For a lot of people writing is not just a specific skill, like painting with watercolors, or throwing a football, or singing, about which one can say, “Oh, I just never learned how to do that,” or “I tried but I’m just not good at it—oh well.” Rather, writing seems like a window directly into a person’s mind. We think we can look at someone’s writing and tell how intelligent they are, what kind of education they’ve had, and how successful they might be in life. Unlike a face-to-face conversation, in writing we can’t read the other person’s reaction and clarify as we go.

It’s unnerving to put a snapshot of your mind out there for others’ judgment. We probably all know someone who gives unwelcome grammar advice in a mocking tone or cuts down others’ writing not for their ideas but for the “errors” in the way they present them. This post, Why I’m Not Proud of You for Correcting Other People’s Grammar, from a blog called (appropriately for our topic today) Shitty First Drafts, does a great job of addressing this behavior. The author says, “I equate it to going around at a party criticizing everyone’s food and drink selection. No one likes that guy. We edge away from him and talk about him behind his back. Like food selections at parties, speech patterns are both a function of personal taste and what’s available to us. Not only is grammar correcting just plain rude, it’s soaked in classism, regional chauvinism, and privilege.”

Writing is a skill, just like skiing or playing the trombone, and it takes practice. Practice usually looks ugly. We trip and fall down the mountain, we hit a flat note and can’t take it back. It should be just as excusable to do this in writing as it is in any other human endeavor.

I should say here that Natalie Goldberg’s work, particularly Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind, has had by far the largest positive influence on my writing process, and that she is emphatic that we must embrace the fact that most of what we make is going to be somewhere between mediocre and terrible. She suggests keeping all of your writing practice in its original form in a journal or notebook (as opposed to using loose-leaf paper, for instance) as a reminder of this fact. Rather than erasing parts and fixing them, she advocates keeping it all and just starting over if you want to rework an idea.

Now, rather than crushing anxiety, I just have a little jolt of dread when I think about putting my writing out in the world.  I can brush that aside though, and just put it out there anyway.


Yesterday I gave a presentation on satyrs, focusing mainly on their representation on Greek vases. People now tend to think of satyrs as goat from the waist down and man from the waist up, but that’s a Roman idea.

Greeks usually depicted satyrs very much like human men but with a horse tail and pointy ears. Music is very important to satyrs.

satyr with tortoise shell lyre

A satyr with a tortoise-shell lyre

Continue reading

gender binary at the GNC

Walking to the library, I passed this poster at the GNC:

GNC male model

(male body-builder in tight Santa suit flexing his muscles with the text “PICTURE YOURSELF” followed by a list: athletic, stronger, faster, confident, bolder)

Well, I thought, I could go either way on “athletic,” but sure, I’d like to be those other things. But as I rounded the corner, I spotted the version of the poster that was actually intended for me, a female-bodied person:

Continue reading


I started to write an introductory post laying out my whole vision for this blog, but quickly realized that people would probably rather read about, well, pretty much anything else. So the topic of the first official post is: tongues. Specifically, what we call them. 

In Latin, “tongue” (both the organ and the speech it produces) is lingua and in Greek, γλωσσα (glossa) or γλωττα (glotta).  English derivatives come to mind right away: linguistics, bilingual, glossary, to gloss. The German word from which our English tongue derives is Zunge (tsoon-geh: German “z” is a “ts” sound, like the “zz” in pizza). Pronouncing each of these words slowly and attentively gives a sense of how perfectly suited they are for the task of naming this important organ.

Zunge, lingua, and tongue start out with a flick of the tip of the tongue against the upper teeth and/or that bump right behind them. From there, one must draw the tongue back, tense it up, and push the sides against the palate and upper teeth to get that “ng” sound. Try to make the “ng” sound a few times without the rest of the word. It engages the whole tongue in a way that I think is remarkably appropriate for what the word denotes.  The Greek words don’t have that “ng” sound, but the “gl” achieves something similar.

You have to use the whole tongue in order to say any of these words, in a way that you really don’t for words like mop, or happy, or sassafras . I don’t know if that makes it onomatopoeic, strictly speaking, but I like to think of it that way.