Monday, December 23, 2019

From Mistletoe to Yule: Fun with Christmas words


"MISTLETOE is any of several several species of semi-parasitics plant often associated with Christmas" (Ecyclopaedia Brtannica).  It is leathery leaved and grows on such trees as apples and oaks.  In the winter, it bears white gummy berries.  Birds are immune to toxic mistletoe berries and serve as agents to disseminate the seeds.  Misletoe can be poisonous if ingested by humans.  It can cause drowsiness, blurred vision and vomiting.

The word "mistletoe" is derived from the Old English misteltān, from mistel ‘mistletoe’ (of Germanic origin, related to Dutch mistel and Middle High German Mistel ) + Old English tān ‘twig’.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, mistletoe was once thought to have magic powers and medicinal properties.  A tradition later developed in England and after in the United States of kissing under the mistletoe.  This custom was once believed to lead to wedlock.

NOEL means Christmasfrom French Noël (“Christmas season”), may come from the Old French nael, may be derived in turn from Latin natalis, meaning "birth"  It operates in two modes: lower-case (noel) and upper-case (Noel)  The first means "a Christmas carol," while the second smeans "Christmas."  Merry Christmas in French translates to "joyeux Noël "  Santa Clause is known as "Pere Noël" (Father Christmas).

Did you know there are places named Noel?  Noel, Missouri is a city in the United States.  It is located in McDonald County, Missouri, along the Elk River.  Noel, Nova Scotia is a community in Canada,  An Acadian named Noël Doiron settled in the community with his family around 1710 and lived there for forty years.  Thus, the English surveyors who first mapped the village, named it after him.

YULE is an old-fashioned word for Christmas.  It is derived from an ancient 12-day German lunar festival corresponding to the winter solstice.  After Christianity spread through Northern Europe, yule became associated with the Feast of the Nativity. Today in English, "Yule" refers to "Christmas," while Yuletide refers to Christmastime or the Christmas season. Christmas Day itself is not called 'Yuletide."


* The Christmas alphabet has noel.

* But wait - there's myrrh.

* Yule be sorry.

* I have the final sleigh.

* Rebel without a Claus.

- Joanne

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The danger of artificial Christmas trees

My husband and I recently purchased an artificial Christmas tree online.  We live in a condo and we are not permitted to have a real tree, as it is considered to be a fire hazard.  When the package arrived, I received a rude awakening.  There was a label attached to the box warning of toxins and lead poisoning.  Many Canadians and Americans do not have any idea that artificial trees contain lead.  I certainly didn't.  I was only made aware of this because our tree was sent from California, which mandates a lead warning on every box containing an artificial tree.

Here is what the warning label on our package reads:

WARNING: This product can expose you to chemicals, including lead, which is known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.  For more information go to

When we purchased our previous artificial tree in a store, there was no such warning label.  This California warning label prompted me to do some research.  Our tree was manufactured in China, as are most artificial trees,.  Most of these "made in China'' trees are made from PVC, a petroleum-based plastic, and lead, used to stabalize PVC.  As a result, lead dust is released into the air.  A 2002 study, conducted by the University of North Carolina at Asheville, found that three out of four artificial trees tested in the United States contained lead.

Artificial trees are particularly hazardous to children, especially those under the age of six, and pregnant women.  In children, lead poisoning can cause serious damage to the brain and nervous system.  Yet, millions of North Americans remain unware that they have a hazard product in their home.  Why is only California issuing a warning about this health risk?  If our tree hadn't been sent from California, we would not have been made aware of the danger.  Why isn't there more publicity about this health hazard?  Unless I've been missing something, the media in Canada, where I live, haven't been giving the matter any attention.

So, what to do about artificial Christmas trees?  Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Asheville have issued the following advice:.

* Keep children and pets away from the tree; do not allow them to touch it.

* If you touch the tree, wash your hands thoroughly before touching your face of handling food.

* Do not vacuum dust from under the tree.  Vacuuming could spread poisonous lead dust through the air.

* Keep gifts away from the tree, to keep lead from coating the wrapping.

All of this doesn't seem worth the effort.  One can't be on guard 24 hours a day and the poisonous lead makes artificial trees a hazard.  That's why our tree remains unopened in its box.  We are between rock and a hard place because we can't use an real tree.  If we want to avoid a heath hazard, it seems that our only choice is to purchase an artificial tree that has not been manufactured in China.

- Joanne

Friday, December 13, 2019

Greta Thunberg versus the alpha males

In naming Swedish environmental activist Geeta Thunberg "Person of the Year," Time magazine wrote:

"Thunberg began a global movement by skipping school: early in August 2018, she spent her days camped out in front of the Swedish Parliament, holding a sign painted in black letters on a white background that read Skolstrejk for klimatet: School Strike for Climate.  In the sixteen months since, she has addressed heads of state at the U.N., met with the Pope, sparred with the President of the United States and inspired 4 million people to join the global climate strike on September 20, 2019, in what was the largest climate demonstration in human history."

Both Greta Thunberg and U.S. President Donald Trump illustrate the "power of one," but the contrast between them could not be starker.  Greta has singularly changed the world for the better, while Trump has done substantial damage to the world.  Trump has used the power of the American presidency to influence

16-year-old Greta speaks not only for her generation, but for all those who are concerned about the future of life on this planet.  She is an inspiration.  She has shown the world's young people that they can make a difference.  On September 23, 2019,  she opened the United Nations Climate Action Summit with a stirring denunciation of world leaders for failing to take strong measures to combat the climate crisis. "People are suffering, people are dying; entire ecosystems are collapsing," Greta said.  "We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth." Then she accused world leaders of stealing her dreams with "their empty words" but added that she considered herself "one of the lucky ones."  When she thundered, "How dare you?" her words echoed powerfully around the world.

Greta's determination and her sense of purpose are truly admirable, especially when you consider that she has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by difficulty with social skills and nonverbal communication.  Asperger's is one of a group of autism spectrum disorders, but it has not held Greta back.  In fact, she claims to have benefitted from it.  She calls it her "superpower."  So, every autistic person can be inspired by Greta's achievements and her attitude.

As for Donald Trump, he has no concern for the environment.  He has taken steps to exclude the United States from the Paris climate accord and he has actively encouraged the revival of the coal mining industry, Trump has also removed Obama era environmental protections.  His son, Donald Jr., recently shot and killed an endangered sheep during a hunting expedition in Mongolia.  The species is the largest sheep in the world and it is revered for its giant curving horns.

Not surprisingly, Trump Sr. has had the audacity to attack and bully Greta T, a child.  She makes him uncomfortable because she speaks the truth and he lies.  In September, on the same day that Greta delivered her impassioned speech at the United Nations, the president sarcastically referred to her as "a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future."

Greta has never spoken to Trump face to face.  However, when she crossed paths with him at UN headquarters before her speech, she glared at him (Se photo below).

Donald Trump, ever the narcissist, was jealous that Time chose Greta as" Person of the Year."  He dismissed her award with a snarky tweet.  He wrote: "So ridiculous.  Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with her friends.  Chill Greta, Chill!"  Greta responded to the president's patronizing message by changing her biog on Twitter to "A teenager working on her anger management problem.  Currently chilling and watching a good old fashioned movie with a friend."

Donald Trump is not the only right-wing world leader who has also made some patronizing remarks about the Swedish teen.  On October 2, 20919, Vladimir Putin, Russia's authoritarian president, declared that he didn't "share exultation about Greta Thunberg."" He suggested that Greta may have been manipulated by others.  Putin described Greta as "kind and sincere girl" who doesn't understand complex global interests such as the barriers to cleaner energy in developing countries."  He said "it's deplorable when someone is using children and teenagers in their interests."  In response, Greta changed her Twitter bio to read: "A kind but poorly informed teenager."

Putin: Photo Attribution:
Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro labelled Greta Thunberg "a brat" after she denounced violence against indigenous people who were killed in the Amazon.  On Sunday, December 6, 2019, Greta posted a video showing the aftermath of a drive-by shooting leaving two Indigenous leaders dead.  Alongside the video she tweeted: "Indigenous people are literally being murdered for trying to protect the forest from illegal deforestation.  Over and over again, it's shameful that the world remains silent about this."

Outside the presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil's capital, a smirking Bolsonaro reacted to Greta's comments by telling reporters that Greta "has said that the Indians have died because they were defending the Amazon.  It's amazing that the press gives space to this kind of pirralha (a derogatory Portuguese word meaning 'brat')."

Jair Balsonaro
So there you have it.  Three authoritarian world leaders, all who consider themselves alpha males seem threatened by a 16-year-old schoolgirl from Sweden and her many supporters around the globe.  Could it be that this trio of right-wing strongmen are actually afraid of the truth and the light?  Do they fear that their perfidy will be uncovered for all the world to see?

The world needs more Greta Thunberg and less Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Jair Bolsonaro.  Since Greta is being criticized by that dastardly troika, she must be doing something right.

- Joanne

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

All about the word "hopefully"

Hopefully . . .

Definition of hopefully (adverb) 
1.  : in a way that express desire with an expectation of fulfillment :
     in a hopeful manner  // gazed up at us hopefully

2.  : it is hoped : I hope : we hope // hopefully the rain will end soon

- Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Language is fluid.  It is ever-changing, and not always for the better.  The word "hopefully" is an adverb and it originally meant "in a hopeful manner" as in He looked at her hopefully.  In the 1960s, people began using "hopefully" to mean "I hope" or "we hope." If you watch a film from the 1950s or a television show from the early 1960s, you are unlikely to hear anyone say "Hopefully, it should be finished by next year."

It is strange that use of the word "hopefully" has evolved in this way.  Speakers usually prefer shorter  sentences.  "I hope" has  two syllables, while "hopefully" has three syllables.  Yet, English speakers have overwhelmingly chosen to say "Hopefully, the weather will be better tomorrow."rather than "I hope the weather will be better tomorrow."

In a 2012 article for National Public Radio, linguist Geoff Nunberg refers the AP Stylebook's acceptance of  "hopefully" as a floating sentence adverb.  He writes: "There was something anticlimatic to the news that the AP Stylebook will no longer be objecting to the use of "hopefully" as a floating sentence adverb, as in, 'Hopefully, the Giants will win the division.'  It was like seeing an obituary for someone who must have died around the time Hootenanny went off the air."

Nunberg points out that "I hope that" and "hopefully" do not have precisely the same meaning.  "I hope that" expresses a desire, while "hopefully" makes a hopeful prediction.  For example, you may say "I hope that my team wins the championship.for seven years in a row."  It may me be unlikely but you want it to happen.  If you say "Hopefully, my team will win the championship for the next seven years, you are suggesting that it may actually happen.  The nuances are important.

The change in the usage of "hopefully" has had its detractors.  The American poet Phyllis McGinley (1905-1978) once described the current usage of "hopefully" as an abomination.  She said its advocates should be lynched.  The American historian T. Harry Williams (1909-1979) railed against the change in the usage of "hopefully."  He called it "the most horrible usage of our times."

Although I am not thrilled about the current usage of "hopefully," I think that  McGinley and Williams were on the wrong side of history.  "Hopefully" as a floating sentence adverb has been accepted by the general populace and there is no turning back.  The writing has been on the wall for decades now. 

I recently saw the film Harriet, about the life of American abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who led hundreds of slaves to freedom via "The Underground Railroad."  I smiled to myself when the word "hopefully" was used to mean "I hope" in the dialogue of the movie .  After all, the film takes place in the 19th century, when no one would have spoken in that manner.

The current usage of the word "hopefully" is definitely here to stay.  I grudgingly accept the fact that it is not going away.   What annoys me is that it has become ubiquitous.  It has become a filler like "basically" and "literally."  The word is used so often that it seems to have been devalued.  I'm also dismayed that the original meaning of the word will eventually be lost forever.  If that makes me a language snob, so be it!  I have accepted the current usage of "hopefully," but I don't have to like it.  Yes, it bothers me, but it is not earth shattering.


"Hope" is the thing with feathers - 

"Hope" is the thing with feathers - 
That perches in the soul - 
And sings the tunes without words - 
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash that little Bird -
That kept so many warm -

I've heard it in the chilliest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity
It asked a crumb of me.

- Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), American poet

- Joanne