March 18

Night Owls of the World – UNITE!

So we’re five days into “Daylight Savings” Time, and I’m still tired. Still fighting the urge to go back to bed as soon as I get home from taking the kids to school.

Five days! My sister says it’s psychological, but I don’t buy that. The fact is, I’m being forced to wake up at 6:30 instead of 7:30 in the morning. You can change the clocks, but you can’t change my circadian clock. That alarm clock might say 7:30, but my body knows better.

I am one of those unfortunate folks who is not only a night owl, but I also seem to need more sleep than many adults. I need eight hours MINIMUM. Ten would be better. If I get below seven, bad things happen. I am not a nice person, not a nice friend, mother or wife. It’s ugly. All that said, I’ve always seemed to have a tougher time than most with time changes, jet lag, and the like.

Needless to say, I hate “Daylight Savings” Time.

You may notice I keep putting the words in quotation marks. Yeah, that’s because the name is stupid. Like you can save daylight. Sure. Stick it in a bottle. Or I can think of some other places you can stick it.

Indiana rejected DST for a long time. We had it for a few years when I was a kid. I don’t remember it well except that my dad said it was the reason our favorite drive-in movie theater closed. Then our Hoosier lawmakers got rid of it. We flipped back and forth between Eastern time and Central time. The only time I ever really paid any attention to the Indiana time anomaly was when I worked for an insurance company that had agents on both coasts. In the summer, the California agents would complain bitterly that we closed too early. In the winter, the Maryland agents would complain bitterly that we didn’t open early enough. Or maybe it was vice versa. I don’t remember; I just remember we couldn’t make anyone else happy. But Hoosiers were fine with being unusual, and it made our lives easier.

Transplants hated our standard time, though. My New Englander husband would grouse about Monday Night Football suddenly being on at a different time when the rest of the country “fell back.” I also worked with a guy from Kansas who was an avid golfer. He complained that he didn’t have time to get in a full 18 holes after work during Indiana summers.

So a few years back, our governor, in his infinite wisdom, not only proposed DST for Indiana, but also decided we should be on EASTERN DST. Eastern! We’re on the same time as Boston (800 miles from Indianapolis) instead of Chicago (180 miles). Last night the sunset around 8:00. We’re not even to the spring equinox! By the time summer solstice rolls around, the sun will set around 11pm. Seriously!

So earlier this week, I was complaining about DST on my Facebook page, and I noticed some trends in the comments. Pro-DST folks tend to fall into three categories: Golf People, No-Kid People and Morning People.

The Time Tyranny Trifecta.

Golf people. What can I say? I don’t play golf. I love sports, but golf isn’t one of them. I don’t think it should even qualify as a sport. Any game where you can be obese and drunk and still do really well should not be considered a sport. Plus, the whole golf culture rankles me a bit. Pay a couple hundred dollars to walk around a field full of holes, sand pits and water hazards? Wear loud, mismatched clothes on purpose? Drink beer while pretending to be engaging in a sport? The whole thing smack of exclusivism and contradiction to me. It certainly doesn’t seem like a compelling reason to make everyone in the state change their clocks twice a year.

Then, there are the no-kid people. If you have no kids, maybe the time change is nice for you. I can see that. An extra hour after work to play in the yard or hang out on a patio drinking wine. It sounds lovely, although you can do still do some of that stuff after the sun goes down when it’s cooler outside.

For those of us with children, though, that extra hour of sunlight is another hour of dealing with kids. Not just our kids, but ALL the kids. For me, that’s a particularly big deal. We live in a large neighborhood with hundreds of kids, many of whom end up at my house. When the bus arrives at the corner, the countdown begins: “I have to deal with this insanity for 4 hours.” Oops. Now it’s 5 hours because we changed the danged clocks.

Some of my parent friends put their kids to bed at 8 or 9, so they’re complaining about DST too because the sun’s still up. Their kids are fighting them about going to bed when it’s still light out.

Yes, indeed, DST is not a parent’s friend. I don’t generally have that problem because my kids are night owls like I am. Thank Heaven! We go to bed at 10. I arranged my life (and theirs) to maximize our sleep schedule in this morning-person-dictated world. I take them to school so we can sleep an extra 45 minutes. I left my full-time job, in part, because the very idea of getting myself and my kids up every morning at 6am so I could haul them to daycare before rushing to my 8-5 job sounded like a complete nightmare. The flexibility of my college teaching schedule is one of the many things that appealed to me when I started at the university.

I have learned to manage in a morning-person’s world, but morning people still drive me nuts. My grandmother was a morning person. My mom tells stories of getting up to go to the bathroom at 4 or 5 in the morning, and her mother would’ve made her bed when got back to her room. Inexplicably, I married a morning person. It’s one of the biggest strains on our marriage. He’s so sweet and happy in the mornings, and I do not want to speak to anyone. And at night, when I’m bouncing around, full of energy, he wants me dead. It’s hard.

But morning people rule the world, which is, I believe, a terrible injustice. These crazy people think it’s perfectly acceptable to call me or knock on my door at 9am. And because the larks rule the roost, they feel justified. I’d like to see their reaction if I called or rang their doorbell at 11:30 at night. Hey, lazy people! Wake up! I’m still awake! What’s wrong with you losers?
Not only is it unfair for the morning folks to have the power, it’s unwise. Studies have shown that night owls are more productive AND more creative! I think it’s time for all the night owls to rise up (preferably around noon) and take control.

—Make schools start later. MUCH later! I never learned anything in a first-period class that started at 7:30 or 8 in the morning. I slept through most of them. If schools started later, the poor kids would get much more out of their classes. Teachers would be fresher too. States want to cut education budgets? Fine. Cut the school day by an hour in the morning. Let everyone get an extra hour of sleep.

—Ban morning meetings. Everyone hates them anyway.

—Move the standard “opening” time of most businesses to 10 or 11. Who really needs to go to the bank at 9am anyway?

—And while we’re at it, get rid of DST. It’s a nuisance. It’s a hardship for most parents. And contrary to popular belief, it does NOT save money any better than it “saves” time.

    Morning people can use their extra morning time any way they want. If they still want to get up at the butt-crack of dawn, let them. But if they wake me up, they’d better be prepared to get slapped.

    Category: Current Events, Family and Kids, Popular Culture | Comments Off
    December 21

    Christmas Lists

    For me, the holiday season started this morning. Until 1am of December 21st, I was buried under statistical reports, department meetings, esssays to be graded and a textbook manuscript to be edited. I finished the last of it in the wee hours of this morning, so I can finally turn my attention, undivided, to the Big Day.

    Not that I haven’t been thinking about Christmas or doing things here and there. My parents treated my family to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s Yuletide Celebration a couple weeks ago, which was lovely. I went to Metamora, a little town in eastern Indiana that does a “Christmas Walk” along its historic canal every year. I attended my old neighborhood’s annual Progressive Dinner and a couple of children’s parties. I have done snatches of shopping, wrapping and baking when I could fit them in.

    My friends and family often reminded me that time was running short. And I even got some reminders from unlikely sources. Such as one friend, a Muslim PhD candidate from Indonesia, who comforted me when I learned we were expecting ANOTHER snowstorm: “But Jennifer, now you will get to play your Christmas sports,” he said with a sincere smile. I guess I looked confused because he explained, “You know, your skiing, your sledding, your snowball fighting.” So cute.

    And during Hannukah, I tutored an exchange student from Israel. I was reading his paper, when I suddenly heard him humming “Jingle Bells.” Puzzled, I looked at him and asked, “Boaz, aren’t you Jewish?” He grinned and nodded. “Yeah, but your Christmas music is everywhere! It gets stuck in my head.” HA! (So much for the “war on Christmas” Fox News is always screaming about to all the retired W.A.S.P.s who actually believe it. If Jewish exchange students are singing Christmas music, I think the holiday’s safe, Bill O..)

    Anyway, now I can finally concentrate on getting into some Christmas spirit. So the following lists are really just me brainstorming for my own benefit unless you, too, are trying to cram all your favorite Christmas traditions into three or four days!

    Below are some of my favorite things about the season that I’m trying to get in before it’s over.

    Songs:

    (Remember, I’m a child of the 80’s.)

    • ·         White Christmas – Bing Crosby
    • ·         Little Drummer Boy – Bing Crosby and David Bowie
    • ·         Do They Know It’s Christmas – Duran Duran and some other people
    • ·         The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole
    • ·         Joy to the World – Julie Andrews
    • ·         Santa Claus Is Comin to Town – Bruce Springsteen
    • ·         I Saw Momma Kissing Santa Claus – John Mellencamp
    • ·         Rudolph – Gene Autry
    • ·         Mary’s Boy Child – Boney M
    • ·         Jingle Bell Rock – Bobby Helms
    • ·         I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas
    • ·         Happy Christmas – John Lennon
    • ·         Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer – Elmo and Patsy
    • ·         Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses
    • ·         All I Want for Christmas is You – Mariah Carey

    Movies:

    • ·         It’s a Wonderful Life
    • ·         The Grinch
    • ·         Rudolph
    • ·         White Christmas
    • ·         A Christmas Story
    • ·         Mickey’s Christmas Carol
    • ·         Scrooged
    • ·         National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
    • ·         Holiday Inn
    • ·         Die Hard
    • ·         Love Actually

    Books/Stories:

    • A Christmas Carol – Dickens
    • A Visit from St. Nicholas – Moore
    • Gospel of Luke

    Cookies:

    • ·         Sugar cookie cutouts
    • ·         Oatmeal craisin
    • ·         Snickerdoodles
    • ·         Jam thumbprints
    • ·         Chocolate chip
    • ·         Gingerbread

    Other Holiday Food/Drinks:

    • ·         Egg nog
    • ·         Mulled wine
    • ·         Cranberry “grog”
    • ·         Spinach dip with Hawaiian bread
    • ·         Honey ham
    • ·         Green bean casserole
    • ·         Jesus’ birthday cake

    If I spend the next five days doing nothing but cooking, eating, reading, listening to music and watching movies, I think I can get it all in. The race is on! Merry Christmas!

    Category: Current Events, Family and Kids, Popular Culture | Comments Off
    October 1

    The Gay Suicides

    Do you remember 1988?

    I do. I was a junior in high school and, well, kind of the belle of the ball. I was cute. I was skinny (was I ever really a size 4?!). I was the teachers’ pet, and I was popular. It was one of the best years of my life, so it’s imprinted on my memory very clearly.

    Ronald Reagan was on his way out as the presidential campaign between George HW Bush and Michael Dukakis was in full swing. (I was rooting for Bush!?) The Soviet Union was still a constant threat.  My beloved Duran Duran, now down to three members, released their “Big Thing” album. Bruce Willis starred in the first “Die Hard” film that year.

    We wore pegged jeans, Coca-Cola brand clothes, and high-top Converse. Our hair was BIG! Our eyeshadow was blue. And all the way up to our eyebrows.

    My mom was an English teacher at my high school, but I was lucky: she was way cool. My mom might’ve been more popular than I was! But I had a driver’s license, a car, and a reputation for being a non-judgemental goody-two-shoes, so I was everyone’s favorite designated driver. It was in that role that I experienced one of the “game-changing” moments of my life.

    It was December (I think. I know that it was VERY cold.), and I was leaving a basketball game at my school. I was in the pep band (at my school, band was actually cool!), so I had had to stay for the entire game, then go back to the band room, put away my clarinet, and socialize for a bit with my fellow band geeks before actually leaving.

    As I was walking out, one of my friends asked if he could have a ride. This friend, Ryan, would become my senior year boyfriend, but as juniors, we were just friends. I said sure, and we headed out into the cold, dark parking lot together, gossiping about this and that.

    We were almost to my car when Ryan stopped short and grabbed my arm. “What was that?”

    I’d heard it too. A terrible sound. I can hear it now. Whimpering. But almost-adult whimpering. A desperate, defeated sound that sent an instant zing up our spines and stopped us in our tracks.

    We followed the noise to the edge of the lot. Between the darkened parking lot and the even darker football stadium was a figure in the brittle grass. A human form, lying on the frozen ground.

    Ryan and I were 16 years old. We were frightened, fascinated and concerned at once. I remember the bizarrely inappropriate thrill of realizing that he was holding my hand as we approached this dark, moaning shape in the grass.

    And then we saw, in the dim light of a distant street light, that this was a fellow band geek. He was lying, face-down, on the icy ground, moaning pitifully. We knew him well. He was a fellow clarinet player, and I had been to Europe with him on a school-sponsored trip.

    I approached him cautiously and said his name. He moved a little. He recognized my voice and responded. “Price?”

    Ryan and I helped him to a sitting position. Ryan put his jacket around him. We learned that he had been “jumped,” attacked by a bunch (maybe 3 or 4 or 5?) of guys in the parking lot. They had called him a “f-ing faggot” and beat him brutally.

    Our friend was a mess, but he refused to go to an emergency room. He didn’t want anyone to know, especially his parents.

    I was confused. At a very sheltered 16, I had a limited understanding of “gay.” I didn’t even yet realize that my dear friend Ryan was gay. I didn’t see why our bruised and battered friend was so anxious about people finding out he’d been beaten up. In fact, I chalked it up to a male-pride thing: he didn’t want anyone to know he’d lost a fight.

    Ryan understood better. He ran back inside the school to use the pay phone. He told us later that he’d called his mom and our friend’s parents to ask if he could spend the night. While he was inside, he also scoped out the band hallway and determined almost everyone was gone. He came back to us, huffing and puffing. “We can use the restroom. Everybody’s gone.”  Ryan and I helped our friend back into the school where they went into the boys’ restroom. I waited in the hallway.

    While I was waiting, our band teacher saw me as he was leaving. “Jenni, what are you still doing here?”

    “Oh, I’m taking Ryan home, and he needed to use the restroom. I’m just waiting on him,” I replied.

    The band director trusted me.”Okay,” he said, “well, I’ve gotta get going, so I’m just gonna lock these doors. You can get out, but make sure you have everything because you won’t be able to get back in, alright?”

    “Yes, sir!” I nodded, absolutely panicked that Ryan might exit the boys’ room with our friend any moment.

    “See you Monday!” the band director said, and he disappeared into the darkness.

    Ryan and our friend appeared several minutes later. Our friend was no longer bloody, but he had a very swollen lip and a black eye. From the way he was limping gingerly out to my car, I’m sure he had bruises elsewhere too.

    The boys didn’t talk much as I drove them to Ryan’s home. Of course, I filled the silence with useless prattle, making assumptions to justify my perspective. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something along the lines of: “Stupid teenage boys – always looking for a reason to fight. Just because Center Grove High School lost the game, they have to beat up on one of our guys.”

    I never learned if it was kids from the rival school or kids from our own school who beat up our friend. He never said. But even then, I understood just enough to know it didn’t really have anything to do with a basketball game.

    Our friend was beaten because he was gay.

    I didn’t become a liberal right then. No, it took about 15 more years for that lesson to sink in completely. I voted Republican in the first two elections in which I participated. Then I began to split my ticket. Gradually it became more and more liberal as I recognized that the rhetoric of the G.O.P. helped inflame and justify the hate crime I had witnessed first-hand.

    Both Ryan and our friend are gone now. One died of AIDS years ago; one died of stomach cancer in 2008. Otherwise, I would not be blogging about that night. You see, I promised them both that I wouldn’t tell anyone. It was too complicated, too painful, too fraught with consequences for parents, friends and loved ones.

    But the suicides of Tyler Clementi, Raymond Chase, Billy Lucas and others have made me re-think my promise.

    The perpetrators of hate crimes WANT to keep their acts in the dark. They want their victims to remain silent.

    It certainly was easy for me to stay quiet. I finished my junior year in the top 10 of my class. I became a drum major in the marching band. I was a homecoming princess. Life was good. I didn’t want to complicate things by telling the story of having witnessed a crime on school grounds. My promise made my life easier. So I could happily justify my silence; I was just being a good friend.

    Now I’m not so sure.

    Those guys, whoever they were, got away with assault and battery on a kid they wanted to beat on because he was different. And I helped them get away with it by being quiet, passive, sweet, and loyal. What if they raise their kids to do the same thing?

    My mom loves to say that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” That night, I did nothing. And I’m sorry for that.

    If you know an LGBT person, especially a kid, do NOT do what I did. Do something. Even if it is just to say, “Hey, I’m your friend, and if you need me, I’ll listen.”

    Change starts just one person at a time.

    September 14

    Stupid Phones

    My husband bought me a “smart phone” a couple weeks ago. I tried in vain to explain to him that I did not need one, that I did not want one, that my old phone was fine. Sadly, his once torrid love affair with his iPhone is over, and he was ready to jump ship, dump AT&T and get the latest, greatest phone on the market. My old phone was a casualty of his divorce from Apple/AT&T.

    Not that I liked my old phone either. It’s just that it was simple, and I was used to it. If you know me or if you’ve read my blog before, you know I have an aversion to all phones.

    I was one of those rare teenagers who avoided calls even from my closest friends. My mother used to make me order pizza, and I would break into a cold sweat. Phone conversation does not work to my strengths. I’m not a glib conversationalist; I don’t think in quick sound bites, plus I’m pretty sarcastic and rather terse. Over the phone, I come off as rude which is ironic because people who meet me face-to-face think I’m quite sunny and friendly.

    I have a visceral and irrational reaction to a phone ringing: I am instantly angry. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I’m overscheduled, and an impromptu phone call is an inconvenience. Maybe it’s because I always have to run to get the phone since I’m not one of those people who keeps it on them every second of the day. (Sorry, I have too many other more important things to think about than where my stupid phone is at the moment.)  Even if it’s someone I really want to talk to right this instant (which is rare), I’m already mad when I answer the phone.

    Anyway, now I’ve got this “smart phone” – an HTC EVO. So far, I’ve found two things I like about it. First, it has a decent camera. Second, I can waste more time on Facebook. That’s about it for positives, and for me, neither of those two things means much. We have an awesome camera – a digital SLR that I adore. It is far faster than my phone and takes far better pictures. So my EVO’s phone is nice, but not that big a deal to me. And as far as wasting more time on FB, well, I don’t need to waste more time.

    I’d like to be more productive, actually, but the internet interface on the EVO confuses me. It’s dodgy, and the screen seems to arbitrarily flip to horizontal or vertical, regardless of which way I’m holding it. Plus, I am text-challenged. I am not dextrous, so I’m very slow at typing on the phone. And it infuriates me when the phone tries to “help” me by giving me suggestions about the word I’m trying to type. Because of my lack of dexterity, I often hit the wrong button and end up using one of the phone’s erroneous suggestions. Yesterday, I posted a comment on FB: “Imitation is the interest form of flatten.” Argh!

    The difficulty I have using the phone keeps me from using it for anything important. So I just go to Facebook. Or try to read the news if I can figure out how. Most websites I like to visit on my computer look alien on my phone; I have trouble navigating sites I’ve used for years. Maybe in a few years, the Internet will catch up to phone technology, but right now, surfing the web on my EVO is an exercise in frustration.

    My husband thinks I’m being an ungrateful, spoiled brat. He bought me this wonderful toy, and he loves his. How can I not appreciate this wonder of technology? I try not to complain for fear of looking like a fumbling, old-fashioned, anti-technology hag, but how smart can a phone be if it can’t set a simple alarm? I was almost late on the first day of class because I hadn’t set the “day” as well as the time. Really? I can’t just tell this wonder of technology to ring at 7am? I have to tell it 7am on Saturday? I guess I’ll just drag out my old Mickey Mouse alarm clock with the bell on top. It can manage that difficult task just fine.

    Plus, I don’t like that I can turn off the EVO’s alarm with a swipe of my finger. I am not conscious when my alarm goes off; I just flail around to stop whatever is making noise, and I have accidentally turned it off several times. I need something more deliberate.

    “We can get you an app,” says my well-meaning husband, trying to be helpful. “You can just download an app with a simpler clock that’s more difficult to turn off.”

    But I don’t want to spend an hour looking for an application that will make something that should be simple – simple. I’ll just go get my Mickey clock, thanks. The phone is supposed to save me time, not make me spend more time trying to make it work for me.

    And that is where this phone has lost me. Its primary function is supposed to be phone calls, right? Well, whenever I’m on campus, 15 miles from my home and right in the middle of downtown Indianapolis, I’m roaming. Yep. Roaming. Not a big deal except that before I discovered this geographic anomaly, I kept getting a bizarre error message from Verizon (we’re on Sprint) whenever I tried to call my mom or mother-in-law to check on my children. I finally resorted to calling from a decades-old, push-button phone on a landline in our Writing Center. Of course, now that we know about the roaming problem, I can just remember to add a 1 and the area code EVERY TIME I MAKE A LOCAL CALL AT WORK! Convenient.

    In addition to that little technical glitch is a design flaw that is not only maddening but also insulting. Every time I hold the phone to my face, my fat cheeks hit buttons, usually the Mute or the End Call. I’ve gotten to the point where I just put the stupid thing on speaker every time I have a conversation to avoid dropping the call and to avoid being reminded that I have chubby cheeks.

    Other people love their EVOs, and my friends and students love to make fun of me for being phone-a-phobic. I just don’t see why I HAVE to have the latest and greatest. If other people want to spend their lives with their face buried in their phones, that’s fine. Why can’t I just have something simple? Whatever happened to buying what is right for you and not what is right for you according to everyone else? I’m not a phone person. It doesn’t make sense for me to have a super-complex phone.

    The whole thing makes me feel old and disgruntled, which isn’t fair either because I don’t dislike all technology. I’ve been a computer analyst, software designer, webmaster, and database manager for many years. Computers make sense to me, but phones feel like an invasion in many ways. An invasion of time, an invasion of privacy, an invasion of energy, an invasion of the moment. I do not like them well enough to invest the time and energy it will evidently take for me to learn to use this fabulous phone.

    And if I do learn it, I’m sure it will be just in time for us to upgrade.

    Category: Popular Culture | Comments Off
    September 2

    If Not “American,” Then What?

    Humpty Dumpty said gaily… “That shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents”
    “Certainly,” said Alice.
    “And only ONE for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!”
    “I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’”Alice said.
    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’”
    “But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,’” Alice objected.
    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.”
    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
    Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”
    “Would you tell me, please,” said Alice “what that means?”
    “Now you talk like a reasonable child,” said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. “I meant by ‘impenetrability’ that we’ve had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you’d mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life.”
    “That’s a great deal to make one word mean,” Alice said in a thoughtful tone.
    “When I make a word do a lot of work like that,” said Humpty Dumpty, “I always pay it extra.”
    “Oh!” said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.

    Lewis Carroll’s passage from “Through the Looking Glass” is near and dear to many linguists because it demonstrates so succinctly some of the fundamental debates about language: Where does definition stop and connotation begin? Who wields the power of language in a dialogue – the speaker or the listener? Who has the authority to determine what a word means and how it is used?

    As an English teacher and a writer, I think about these general ideas all the time. But lately, I’ve noticed an odd little movement that has me thinking about this on a more specific level.

    The movement has to do with the word “American.”

    Lately, I’ve seen posts on Internet message boards and heard comments from people on television and even from students regarding the meaning of “American.” There is a small group of people who disapprove of United States citizens monopolizing the term to label themselves. After all, the argument goes, anyone living on the North or South American continents is an “American.”

    Sure. I’ll buy that. But what purpose does it serve to define the term only that way and strip it of its other definitions? According to Merriam-Webster, “American” has three meanings: 1) an American Indian of North or South America  2) an inhabitant of North or South America  3) a citizen of the United States. To suddenly decide that it is offensive for inhabitants of the United States to call themselves “American” because we’re leaving out the rest of the people in the Western Hemisphere, seems contrived.

    The argument seems to be coming from uber-left-wing progressives and non-U.S. citizens. If you know me or if you’ve read my blog before, you know that I’ve got nothing against either of these groups. I’m a moderate liberal myself, and I’m certainly no xenophobe. Speaking as a linguist, though, their argument is illogical.

    First, if we don’t call ourselves “Americans,” what do we call ourselves? “U.S. citizens?” “Yankees?” (That’d go over well with Southerners.) “Residents of the country north of Mexico?” I mean, there aren’t any concise, useful synonyms. It’s not like an offensive epithet for which there are many, more appropriate terms.  It’s actually a unique word.

    Secondly, and this might sound immature, but we were the first nation in the Americas to break free from our colonial empire. When we first began calling ourselves “Americans,” Mexicans were still calling themselves “Spanish” or “Aztec.” Brazilians were still calling themselves “Portugese.” Canadians were still calling themselves “British” or “French.” It’s the old playground claim – we were here first, so it’s ours! Seriously, though, from this perspective, it becomes pretty silly to be offended by our use of “American.” When we first started calling ourselves that, no one else wanted the name.

    Most people living in the Western Hemisphere still don’t want the name. Call a Brazilian an “American” and they will correct you. “No, I’m Brazilian.” If you persist, they’ll probably laugh. “Oh, I get it!” Most of the Mexicans, Canadians, Central Americans and South Americans I know would think it was kind of a joke.

    Besides, to limit the term “American” to its second definition is to render the term fairly useless. It’s like calling Germans “Eastern Hemispherians.” Who does that? Why would they? Make a term too broad, and it becomes ineffectual.

    Human beings just don’t think of themselves in such big terms. Sure, some people like to think of themselves as global citizens, but they don’t usually speak that way in normal conversation. I mean, if you say to someone, “Where are you from?” and they answer, “I am a citizen of the world,” you’re going to think they’re a nutjob.

    Most of the time, depending on where you are and to whom you are speaking, you would answer, “I’m from Paris,” or “I’m from Saudi Arabia.” Human beings have a general propensity for putting ourselves in smaller communities. And it’s not just endemic to people in the United States; Great Britain has extensive experience with this phenomenon. Just call a Scotsman “British” sometime, and you’ll see what I mean.  We tend to identify ourselves locally, not globally, sometimes even in direct opposition to political realities. (Like my Iranian friends who call themselves “Persian” even though Persia has not existed politically since 1935.)

    Our loyalties lie with our countries, our regions, our cities or towns, our neighborhoods, our schools. We’re not loyal to our hemisphere. Thinking of ourselves in pan-continental terms is not natural to us, and I don’t think it will ever really catch on.

    Then again, limiting the word “American” to only its second definition not only makes its third definition offensive, but also its first. Try telling a Navajo or a Cherokee that they cannot call themselves American, and you’re likely to get punched in the face. And rightly so. After all, they were here before the Europeans. If anyone is going to change the definition, shouldn’t it be up to them and not a radically politicized group of word police or a bunch of people who don’t even live here?

    Of course, people are, like Humpty Dumpty, quite free to call themselves or others whatever they like.  Americans don’t pass laws restrict our own speech, and we certainly cannot expect to restrict the speech of people in other countries. If these folks want to redefine “American,” though, it’s going to take a long time. Words don’t change their meanings on a dime.  In the meantime, it’s just not a very clear way to communicate.  People who insist on calling all inhabitants of the West “Americans” will likely get the same reaction Humpty Dumpty got from Alice – a puzzled “oh.”