a culture of boredom

During the discussion of Sounder in my son’s book club last week I asked about “night loneliness.” The book tells us it’s part fear, but I wanted to know what else these third graders thought might be involved.

No one had much to add so I made a case for why it might include boredom. As an aside, I added that my husband comes from a culture where the term “bored” simply does not exist.

“Oh, he’s lucky,” one girl exclaimed. “Then he never gets bored.”

I suppressed a laugh and refrained from telling her that her parents were equally lucky because they were from the same culture. And we didn’t have time to get into a discussion of whether something can exist even if there’s no word for it. But according to my sources, people in Somalia rarely if ever find themselves in a situation in which they’d be tempted to declare they’re bored. As city dwellers, at least.

My husband explained that there are always people around, and in an oral society such as theirs, they are skilled at filling the time with narration, discussion and debate. Creating their own diversion is second nature to them, it seems. Kids never have a shortage of playmates, and they know how to create their own toys and games. Even they don’t get bored.

I recall one Somali-American mother telling me about how easily her children toss around the phrase, “I’m bored.” In her mind it is a sign of assimilation. Just for the record, my husband now gets bored too. At least that’s the reason he’s given at times for singing aloud to himself and for making tea.

opposites that aren’t opposite

We’re taught that the prefix un- indicates a reverse or opposite. In words like undo or unhappy, this makes sense, but how do we explain the following pair of words?

Ravel – to separate or undo the texture of; unravel
Unravel – to disengage or separate the thread of

This is the kind of question that makes teaching English so much fun.

word trends

The concept is not new, but the first time I had heard the word “staycation” was last month. One of my sisters brought up the word and I think the other confirmed that it was indeed in the latest edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

I’m skeptical about how much staying power this word may have, but a glance at the newly added words does reveal some interesting trends. I wonder what words have fallen out of favor and have been removed.

Enable

Why is it that when we use enable to talk about the affluent it is a positive word, but when used to talk about the poor, it is a negative one?

We heard an interesting woman on public TV talking about her rise to self sufficiency. She pointed out that even the language we use is colored by our views. Her examples were something like this:

“Her parents enabled her to graduate from college debt free.”
“That program just enables people.”