Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Problem Words and Phrases: A While/Awhile

Let us go out on a boat awhile…perhaps for a long while

 If you want a laugh at your humble problem-words blogger, here's your chance.  I misuse awhile all the time.  I know, I checked.

Both of these sound-alikes go back to the Old English an hwile, meaning a while, the same as its descendant, showing this has been around awhile.  I'll get into derivation more in a minute, now for usage.

A while means a time, an interval, and nothing more than that.  (It's a noun phrase; the word while on its own is a conjunction, noun or verb, but we won't get into that here.)  So we can say:
⦁    You've been reading me for a while (a time),
⦁    It took a while (a time) for me to write this,
⦁    It's been a while (a time) since my last one,
⦁    I had to wait quite a while (a time),
⦁    And more.

Awhile, meanwhile, is an adverbial phrase meaning for a while, or for a short time.  So we can say stay awhile (for a time), wait awhile (for a time), I slept awhile (for a time), and so on.  Note that, being adverbial, it will most often follow immediately after a verb.

Back to derivation, while goes back to the Old English hwil, and on back to the Indo-European *qweje-, meaning to rest.  Other words that have come down from that ancient root include quiet and tranquil.

And if you look at all the usages above, none of them imply a lot of action.  There's a certain suggestion of repose.  You can see usages like I punched him for a while, but verbs implying waiting, resting, and so on are more common.

So I hope I've cleared this up for you.  I also hope I've finally gotten correct usage cleared up for me.  It can leave me annoyed awhile to know I've been using this wrong for such a long while.

Back to the complete list

Sunday, September 27, 2020


 You're not big enough.

Constraints are bad enough when we're children, but when we're adults, constraints can be so much more frustrating.  On some level we eventually realize as kids that we're not adults yet and can't expect to do what adults do.  To have adult freedoms.  Yet.

You're not old enough.

I wanted to be in a good relationship.

But when we reach adulthood?  Aggravating.

You're not smart enough.

I wanted to have a career, a rewarding one.

A life without choices isn't one most people would…choose.  We all want to be in control of our lives.  Other than those in prison, a war zone, or maybe a nursing home, though, relatively few are in such a drastic situation as to have practically no control at all.  More often, frustration results from having choices limited, not eliminated.  From having a lesser level of constraint.

You're not good enough.

I wanted to further my education, my growth.
Maybe you can't live where you want to.  Probably you can't live like you'd like to, or at least really like to.

You can't.

I thought I'd become somebody.

Maybe you can't drive anymore.  Maybe you've got a nasty neighbor.  Maybe your body won't let you do something you expected it to.  Maybe a lot of your expectations are coming up short.

You can't.

I never thought I'd have to abandon my dreams.

Regardless, I hope you have loved ones, and that they can help.  That those around you respond with empathy.

You can't.

I never thought I'd be abandoned myself.

Let's hope individuals, families, businesses, communities, corporations, and governments put freedom of choice first, or close to it.  Let's hope it's ahead of any desire to control, and right up there with profits and budgets.  Let's hope they all understand how fulfilling it is to have freedom to choose, and how frustrating is its lack.

You can't.

I never thought it would come to this.

And let's hope each of us can do something about it.  If we have a choice.
I never thought it would end like this.
You can't.
You can't.
You can't

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Support Your Local Author

Ever know anyone who's just getting started as a published author?  Or is doing some self-publishing?  I can tell you it's not the easiest gig.  But you can help, and in a couple of ways.

No, not by buying everything.  (That's a bonus, but not necessary.)  Even a close friend can produce works that aren't what you're into.  If they write something outside your enjoyment zone, paying money for something you won't like isn't going to benefit anyone, not in the long run.

But there remain a couple of ways you can help.  And both start with volunteering to read something they write, if they're willing to send you a review copy.  (I haven't much wanted to, so don't think this entry is about me.)

Once you've read the work, there are two ways you can help:
1.    Post a review  Whether on Amazon or Goodreads or wherever, once it's on the site, put a review up.  The number of reviews is a huge indicator for a lot of prospective buyers—even if those reviews aren't all positive.
2.    Give feedback  "I really like this character."  "The plot moved too fast."  "The love story was poignant."  "I never felt like I understood the antagonist's motivation."  There has to be something you liked, or something the author can improve on.  Let them know, so they'll know what to emphasize next time, and what to work on.

There you go.  Review and respond.  That's all you have to do, and I promise it will be much appreciated.

And just think.  You could be helping the next Shakespeare get going.  You never know.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

An Equinox in the Balance

 Today the night is as long as the day, the Earth faces night and day equally.  In the Southern Hemisphere, the days will start getting longer; in the Northern, the nights.  The seasons are about to change.  The planet is balanced between them.

This whole year has felt to me off-balance, as if the whole world were ready to tip over.

So feeling as if today, this single day, is a tipping point comes easily to me…but I don't think it should.

Yes, a lot is in the balance now, and in the coming months.  The racial reckoning, the economic wreckage, the pandemic wreaking havoc, the climate change racking the planet.  One way or the other, all of them have to move toward being resolved.

But none can be resolved today.  Not in a day.

I sometimes wonder if our cultural impatience can be traced to video, to stories that resolve in a matter of an hour or two.  If so, the more we have long-form programs that take a dozen or more episodes, the better.

And certainly novels are bigger now than they used to be.  So maybe patience will grow.

Mind you, I'm not saying wait.  I don't counsel delay.  Whatever we want, whatever we do, problems left unaddressed continue to grow as sure as the Earth keeps turning on its axis.

So don't stop trying to improve the issues facing us.  Don't wait to make a better world.  It might be a long haul, so might as well start hauling.  There's every reason to resolve to do so.

We just can't expect it to happen overnight.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Only Somewhat Supreme


RIP Notorious RBG

If the nomination and confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh combined with the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg fills you with foreboding, that's understandable.  But partisan politics and the Supreme Court didn't start with the rejection of Robert Bork in 1987.  And the Court has had its share of questionable characters in the past, from ambitious politicians like Salmon P. Chase to the racist Roger B. Taney.

Here's a look at five, to reassure you that we've survived bad Justice(s), or at least bad decisions, before:

Roger B. Taney

Taney was Chief Justice from 1836 to 1864.  He was born into a slave-holding family, and was appointed to the Court by Andrew Jackson to succeed the great John Marshall—and to lead the Court away from Marshall's Federalist leanings.

He's generally considered to have done a good job, except for the Dred Scott decision, generally considered the Supreme Court's worst.  Here's an excerpt from his majority opinion:

The question before us is, whether the class of persons described in the plea in abatement compose a portion of this people, and are constituent members of this sovereignty? We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word 'citizens' in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate [60 U.S. 393, 405] and inferior class of beings…

That wretched decision overshadowed everything else he had done, and still does.

Samuel Freeman Miller

Miller is considered to have been an able justice, and opposed slavery, freeing his own slaves.  But in his efforts to protect businesses from government regulation, he went too far.

He wrote the majority opinion in the 1873 Slaughter-House Cases.  Rather than quote from it, I'll just sum it up: The Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment's Privileges or Immunities Clause only protected those rights granted at the federal level, not state.  This effectively gutted the amendment, clearing the way for the states to disenfranchise black citizens—and then some.

The Court later found other clauses in the amendment to protect citizens against their states.

Henry Billings Brown

Brown was an associate justice from 1890 to 1906, taking Miller's seat upon the latter's death.  Like Miller, he opposed government regulation of business.  He also looked down on women and minorities, although no worse than others of his day—and, importantly, did not always rule against them.  Nevertheless, Supreme Court justices can easily extend the inequities and iniquities of their day, and so are expected and do need to be more far-sighted than others of their day, or any other.

He wrote the majority opinion that included this memorable phrase:

The object of the [Fourteenth] amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but, in the nature of things, it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color…  The most common instance of this is connected with the establishment of separate schools for white and colored children, which has been held to be a valid exercise of the legislative power even by courts of States where the political rights of the colored race have been longest and most earnestly enforced.

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), another one of the decisions considered the worst, made segregation constitutional and helped enable Jim Crow laws.  Plessy was effectively overturned by Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.  Jim Crow took longer.

Pace v. Alabama

This 1883 decision was unanimous, which is why I don't want to slam the writer of the opinion, Associate Justice Stephen J. Field.  (Field was problematic enough—known for vindictiveness, which you never want in a judge—but, well, unanimous ruling.)

Alabama residents Tony Pace, who was black, and Mary Cox, who was white, were arrested for violating the state's laws against miscegenation (mixing of races).  They fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court, based again on the Fourteenth Amendment, but lost out.

It might have been different if they'd argued that they lived together without marriage because they could not legally marry.  But their argument was that they were denied equal protection, which the Supreme Court denied, since the law prescribed the same punishment for both parties.

Laws against interracial relationships lasted until Loving v. Virginia in 1967.

Melville Fuller

Chief Justice from 1888 to 1910 after Morrison Waite (who almost made it into this entry), Fuller assented to Plessy v. Ferguson, and wrote the majority opinion for a poor decision as well.

He was a good legal administrator, and presided effectively over a court with some strong-minded justices (including Miller and Field).  (And managed to be appointed despite a partisan smear campaign.)  But United States v. E.C. Knight Co. was a mistake.

His majority opinion held that the American Sugar Company, which was building a monopoly over sugar refining at the time, could not be suppressed from buying Knight, increasing its near-monopoly to 98%.  Manufacturing was held to be local, and thus not subject to the Sherman Antitrust Act's law over interstate commerce.

Antitrust enforcement was all but crippled by the decision, with what would have been terrible consequences for the US economy and especially citizens.  Fortunately, the Court retreated from this extreme position in subsequent cases, and Knight is all but irrelevant today.


Don't give up hope.  RBG's replacement will undoubtedly be a choice based on partisan considerations, not conscience or regard for the Constitution.  And the decisions that follow may be terrible, and might last for generations.

But if they damage the country or the Constitution, they will be overturned one way or the other.  Eventually.