2014: The year of evoked potential

In medicine, evoked potential is “an electrical (response) recorded from the nervous system … following presentation of a stimulus.”

A practical example: you have a seizure, your neurologist gets oddly enthusiastic about replicating the experience, and next thing you know you’re hooked up to an EEG with a bunch of lights being flashed in your eyes at ever-more-annoying intervals.

Spending the next three days washing adhesive out of your hair is the most pleasant part of the experience, is what I’m getting at.

Though the actual thing is a (clinically necessary) pain in the ass, I’ve always loved the lexical thing: evoked potential. It speaks to something that is present but sequestered, something known to some but not to all, a latent capability that can come to life given a very specific set of circumstances.

That was my 2014.

Much less amazing (to me) than anything I actually accomplished is the fact that there exist in the world people who are able to perceive, beneath whatever combination of invincibility and insecurity we adopt as daily habit, something worth a second look. Couple that simple act of noticing with a desire to help – or maybe a desire to be helped, or who knows what – and next thing you know, potential is being evoked all over the place.

I’m not big on resolutions, as you know. Nor gratitude, as you also know.

But I know that my year would have been measurably less exciting, chaotic, challenging and fun had others not evoked, had potential not existed in the first place.

I am thankful for those people and I would like to be one of those people. That’s about as close as I’m likely to get to a resolution.

2014 has given me many things, among them the tummy-level suspicion that if we’ve been put here to do anything vis-à-vis our fellow human beings, evoking potential is probably as good as it gets.

So let’s go out and do that, shall we?

Does Word Crimes cross the line?

dictionary_grammarOne of my favourite words in the Spanish language is aguafiestas.  Its direct translation is “water parties” but it’s used to describe someone who ruins a good time.  In English, the closest equivalent would be “party pooper.”

I mention that because I’m about to be an aguafiestas.

I’ll tell you up front: if you’re an actual person who actually lives under an actual rock, what I’m about to say will make little sense.  But then again, you’ve chosen to set up shop with spiders and bats and pervasive dampness, and you’re willingly reading the dreck I shovel out, so I think we’ve established that sense isn’t your strong suit.

HOWEVER.  If you have managed to somehow hotwire your literal man cave into a wifi-enabled zone, perhaps you are familiar with the phenomenon that is Weird Al Yankovic‘s latest video, Word Crimes.  It was released yesterday and has taken the internet — by which I mean my personal Facebook feed — by storm.

It has its fans.  It has its detractors.  And it also has me, a Fourth Degree Pedant and Charter Member of Aguafiestas Internacional.  And here’s what I’m finding so irksome — one little word in a sea of many, one rhyme that is perfect (in the rhyming sense) and horrible (in the words-we-use-to-describe-other-humans sense).  Here is the section I’m talking about:

Saw your blog post
It’s really fantastic
That was sarcastic
‘Cause you write like a spastic

Really?  Spastic?  That’s the best you could do, Weird Al?

I have a lot of feeeeelings about the use of that word, but here’s the short version.  It’s akin to using — at least in North America — the word “retard.”  It’s an “othering” word, a pejorative, one used to mock and deride people with physical disabilities.  It wasn’t always so; its meaning derives from a word for “pulling” or “drawing in” which can be used to describe the muscular differences seen in some individuals.  In common usage, though, it’s … it’s not a good word to use.

Most commonly, it would be used to describe people living with cerebral palsy, a disorder that can have dramatic physiological effects but doesn’t necessarily have an impact on intellectual functioning (which is implied by the “write like a” line).

Don’t believe me on that last point?  Check out my friend Katie’s website.  Katie has cerebral palsy.  And she writes a blog.  And it really is fantastic.

I should probably leave it at that, but as a part-time editor, I feel duty-bound to offer up a few alternative word choices.  Here are some other words that Weird Al could have — should have — used:

That was sarcastic / ‘Cause your writing is bombastic
Bombastic is a great word.  It means inflated, pretentious.  Suits pretty much every blog post I’ve ever read.  Or written.

That was sarcastic / You think you’re so scholastic
The best part of using a word like scholastic is that you know you’re going to have listeners who only know it as a brand: “Scholastic? Like the book order people?”

That was sarcastic / No wonder you’re monastic
Okay, it’s a cheap shot to go after someone’s sex life.  But surely no cheaper a shot than perpetuating the myth that a body’s physical challenges also limit the mind’s ability to appreciate — and celebrate — language.

Anyway.  That feels like enough agua for one day.  Apparently my daughter’s cadre of Hello Kitty dolls are having some kind of birthday party, and I’ve been invited to attend the fiesta.  Bring on the cake.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Community

I love taking photos of my community — some of the funnier results are showcased in my Signs of Toronto series.

This image isn’t really humourous, but it caught my eye this summer and has stayed with me — and stayed in my phone — despite my  habit of regular phone dumpthing.


How about my beautiful thoughts
only come to me when I can’t use them

More at The Daily Post weekly photo challenge.


I can’t take any credit for this compendium but it was too neat not to share.  It’s a list that P pulled together for posterity, featuring some of the (highly) original words our kids have used to describe everything from chocolate to wheelbarrows.

Accola (S):
Chocolate, was almost exclusively used in combination with Moke, occasionally with Ikey

Addoh (J): (also, Addah, Ayda; see also, Shyla)
Proper name given to a small child of either gender, typically one riding a pink bike, or wearing anything with Hello Kitty on it, in an attempt to engage them in conversation (“Hi, Addoh, hi!” *toddles up and pokes Hello Kitty backpack*)

Ammin (S):
Almond, used exclusively with Moke, to distinguish it from Moo-Cow Moke (or Accola Moke)

Beebee (S, J):
Any flying insect of any sort that is pestering you in the garden

Efloon (J): (also, Floon)
Elephant (see video)

Fleeks (S):

Gabbalo (S, J):
Still in common usage by both siblings, mainly because it has been propagated by parents. Refers to any brand of astronaut food-like foil pouch with fruit compote, such as Dole Squish’ems or Go-Go Squeez (etymology from original brand the grandparents used to buy, which was the Lassonde Bag-A-Loo)

Gabbly (S): (also, Gabbalee)

Happu (J):
Hippopotamus (see video)

Hollis (J):

Ikey (S):
Ice cream

Maymay (S):
Baby, specifically in reference to Juno, for about the first month or so

Moke (S):
Milk (see Accola, Ammin)

Oppapus (J):

Seppy (S):
Spicy, though could also refer to any strongly flavoured food that was too salty, too sour, or bitter

Sotes (S):

Squo (J):

Shyla (J): (also Chayla) see Addoh

Skao Squolly (J):
Scaredy Squirrel™, the character from the Mélanie Watt books, e.g: Skao Squolly Night (Scaredy Squirrel At Night), Skao Squolly Friend (Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend)

Weeweeburial (J):

If you think I’m talking about you here, yeah, you’re probably right.

If you think I’m talking about you here, yeah, you’re probably right.