Grammar Language Lifestyle

Idioms Away and Dialect Demagoguery!

I spent a couple of years living in Cambridge, England where I learned to speak British English and quickly came to realize Americans speak an entirely different dialect. I came to enjoy noting language differences and sharing my discoveries with my supervisor at work, Dr Andrew Lacey (the Brits don’t use periods or “full stops” after titles) who patiently listened to me and even smiled a few times.

Full disclosure: Andrew was completing a Ph.D. in history at the time. He wanted to dedicate his first book, about the religious cult that sprang up after Charles I was executed, to his wife. But she made it understood that she wasn’t interested in getting some bugger-all dedication “to my supportive loving wife” etc. However, she reportedly enjoyed the dedication I constructed for Andrew:

“To Vanessa who, unlike Charles, did not lose her head.”

I am extremely proud of that dedication and the idiom behind it.

Book: The Cult of King Charles the Martyr by Andrew Lacey
Charles I, who lost his head.

It’s not that Vanessa wasn’t supportive of the book, which came out of Andrew’s dissertation on poor King Chuck. It’s just that she didn’t have much to do with the research other than accompanying Andrew to many, many sites throughout England Charles had visited, and consumed a lot of tea and pudding along the way. (The things people do for love.) Also, she hated the little wifey image so many academicians’ spouses still had at the time. Fair enough, as Brits say.

Brit Speak is Fun!

At times, everything sounded like an idiom I didn’t understand. Very often I got a little hung up trying to comprehend what people were saying to me.

A good example is a waiter who asked if I would like spotted dick for dessert. I’m sure I gaped at him until it became clear that spotted dick is what Americans call cake (“pudding”), with raisins and served with cream. It’s actually quite delicious in spite of having a name that sounds like an STD.

There was also the time when a colleague asked me if I had a rubber. “What makes you think I have rubbers today?” I asked, thinking he wanted what, my galoshes? (I was pretty sure he wasn’t asking for a condom.) It was sunny that day. Turned out the guy needed an eraser. To, you know, rub out what he wrote.

Memorable words from the Brit dialect

There are many Brit-words I enjoyed, in no small part because they were so interesting to me. Here are a few:

  • Bolshie, meaning uncooperative like the Bolsheviks.
  • Bonnet, the hood of a car. My first trip to the auto repair shop was interesting, to say the least, when the mechanic asked me to open up my bonnet. I wondered if this was some kind of odd way to proposition a person.
  • Boot, the trunk of a car. Vanessa once invited me to a boot sale, where I thought I’d get some real Wellies but it ended up being a kind of swap meet.
  • Bugger, which can be used in any number of situations where cursing is needed.
    • Buggering” refers to anal sex. While I was in England, there was a huge debate about decriminalizing gay sex. I listened to a debate over this on the radio. One outraged MP (Member of Parliament) kept yelling at his opponent that “buggering is illegal!”
    • Bugger all” means nothing.
  • Duck, or dearie. Andrew sometimes came to work and called out, “Good morning, ducks!” (This was not a #MeToo moment.)
  • Infant school, or early elementary and preschool. Whenever I heard this, I pictured newborns sleeping in their car seats in nice, neat rows. Actually, “infant school” would make an excellent idiom for people training to work for the Trump White House.
  • Pissed, meaning drunk–nothing to do with mood.
  • Piss and wind = all talk and no action, a clever idiom.
  • Tea often refers to a snack. You don’t even have to drink tea to have tea.

Arizonan English, a Mini-Dialect

I didn’t have too much trouble with the dialect here in Arizona, which gets winter visitors from all over North America who want to escape cold weather and baseball fans who want to see their teams play in the spring training Cactus League. Phoenicians sometimes find themselves puzzling over what East Coasters are saying to them.

Arizona is home to cricks and lots of ruff repairs

My own experience includes wondering why a friend was talking about replacing the “ruff” on his house.

The ruff? A ruffle design? Is he talking about his dog? No, he was talking about the roof.

And people here love the “cricks” that appear after a storm. Crickets? No, creeks.

Here’s how I keep it straight:

“It rained so much, the crick nearly reached the ruff!”

But it doesn’t rain in Arizona, right? Well, it does when we have a monsoon season, which happens during the summer months. And it gets humid–it’s not always a dry heat. In fact, it’s humid when the temps are highest.

The ruff guy also used to talk about mini-monsoons during the winter months and we did have a particularly rainy January this year. Bless his heart.

Haboob or dust storm
Big haboob over Loop 101

One word that was entirely new to me when I moved here is haboob, for the dust storms that often kick up during dry monsoons. The word comes from Arabic and means “blowing furiously.” As I once put on Facebook, we have big haboobs in Arizona. Heck, they make national and international news.

Bye, bye pizza pie

My son worked for Dominos during his senior year in high school. One night, someone called in an order for a “pie” from a customer, who I’m told had a “heavy Philadelphia accent.” The call was taken by the assistant manager on duty, a young woman who grew up on the Navajo Nation. She completely misunderstood the caller, whereas my son was mystified by the request. Dominos, of course, makes pizza.

“Oh, I’m sorry, we don’t have pies here,” she sweetly explained.

“You don’t have pies?!”

“No, I wish we did. I’d love to spend my days baking pies!”

Clearly, this generation doesn’t know the song That’s Amore, featured in the great movie Moonstruck.

That’s OK. I don’t watch PewDiePie — I’m way too old to be with the Squad Fam.

Arizona education Arizona issues

Substitute Lessons

teacher photo
Substitute teaching sometimes means figuring out vague lesson plans.

I’ve been taking assignments as a substitute teacher in the Scottsdale school district the past couple of months.

While it’s relatively easy to qualify—deliver college transcripts, pass a background check, pay processing fees—it’s not quite as easy to figure out how to actually substitute teach. Many thanks go to teachers who leave good lesson plans behind!

Substitute teaching is probably the least-respected job in education, an area that’s always been terribly under-appreciated. Here in Arizona, where teacher pay is about the lowest in the nation, the pay for subs is at least over minimum wage but barely over the minimum wage hike proposed in Arizona Proposition 206.

There are no benefits attached to the job. Subbing is generally derided as babysitting or worse. Disrespecting subs is part of popular culture.

But as the economy here continues to slouch, I’m willing to put up an hour’s pay (nothing more) that better-qualified substitutes will pop up, particularly among the unemployed/under-employed over-50 crowd.

School Districts Should Provide Substitute Lessons

One thing my own experience points to is a need for some kind of training for substitute teachers.

The orientation I attended was for all new school district employee. Substitute training amount to learning to access listings for substitute requests. There was virtually no discussion on how to be a substitute teacher.

Substitute education can be done. A brief online course that provides information on classroom management, special education, and normal school functions for each district would be very helpful. For example:

  • A tutorial for the Smartboard software, which I figured out with some help from 5th graders and now love to use. Maybe even give us account access to Smartboards?
  • The breakfast routine
  • Behavior rules like the “clip-up/clip-down” system and the “attention clap”
  • Should doors be locked and lights out when we leave the classroom?
  • Should the last teacher to use a computer lab shut everything down?
  • What kinds of special education require kids to leave the classroom? At what age do they go on their own or are pulled out of class?

And so on. If you think these questions have obvious answers, consider trying to figure all this out with 30 kids jumping around and pelting you with questions!

I wasn’t completely in the dark. My son has attended public schools since first grade. Now in high school, he told me I was crazy to consider substitute teaching. I’m glad to report he’s wrong. Because for the most part, the kids really are all right.

Schools Don’t Need Nicholson Baker Substitutes

Substitute teaching is the topic of a new book from the fiction writer Nicholson Baker. Baker did a month of “undercover” work as a substitute teacher in Maine.

I hope to pick up his book from the library when it becomes available. In the meantime, I’ve read two reviews, one in the New York Times and one in The Atlantic. The Times’ review focuses on Baker’s sympathy with “backpack-laden” students and his recommendations to improve their lot, such as later start times and whether kindergartners are physically ready to write.

Both the Times and Atlantic, which gives Baker’s book a downright scathing review, highlight his misplaced critiques of public education.

I don’t care how smart you are, or how many books you’ve published. Being a sub is no substitute for understanding and performing the real work in education.

A substitute teacher’s priority is to follow a teacher’s lesson plan and other instructions. The last thing a substitute should do is undermine the teacher, the school, and yes, the education system itself. The classroom is not the place for this particular battle. Which is what Baker did throughout his month-long “research” into education.

According to Atlantic‘s Sara Mosle, a veteran teacher from New York and Newark, NJ schools, Baker committed some pretty grave errors. I think some may tread into illegal behavior:

  • He urged a 12-year old boy to reduce “whatever medication” he takes. Mosle wonders how he knows the kid doesn’t need it if he’s only seen him on medication.
  • He told students they don’t need to sign out to use the bathroom. This is actually a security measure taken in the event of a school lockdown so that all students’ whereabouts are known.
  • He told one student she’d be better off with homeschooling.
  • He goes wildly off-topic on assignments.

I guess that last one isn’t so bad, but the point of learning about philosophers like Rosseau is to understand the concept of citizenship. If I were the teacher responsible for meeting the curriculum, I’d be more than a little frustrated by this dismissal of an important thinker and writer.

Small wonder most teachers leave behind “busy work” like worksheets.

The Schools are Mostly All Right

I honestly think the schools where I’ve taught are doing the right thing most of the time.

Baker complains about teachers who yell. I’m not a yeller myself. But he only objects when it’s from a female teacher.

A male teacher who “raised his voice” is lauded as an example of real-world experience. Does this sound familiar to anyone else?

He also objects to a (female) teacher who insists the kids sit up straight with eyes front. It’s too militaristic, he says.

But kids need to be reminded to focus. What’s wrong with that? A friend of mine recently remarked that her smart and charming five-year-old she loves to pieces “has the attention span of a flea.” Clearly her kindergarten teacher understands this because this girl loves school.

I admit, it’s a little startling to return to an elementary-school setting. I once wondered about teacher aides (also female) instructing first-graders to march from morning and lunch recess to their classrooms. However, the kids seemed to like it. Why else were they smiling?

Baker calls such teachers “paid bullies,” perhaps because they threatened the kids with losing recess. But I’ve never seen misbehaving kids lose more than a few minutes of recess.

Are Scottsdale schools perfect? Hell no. I pulled my kid out of a public school kindergarten because of problems we both had with his teacher. But he returned to another public school for first grade and has since remained in the public school system. Now he’s getting college credits for Spanish 201—as a tenth grader.

Schools do a lot of good with ever-diminshing resources. They live with constant threats that these resources will be taken away through tax cuts and schemes like Proposition 123 to reduce the amount of money the state owes to schools.

Here are a few examples of what I’ve seen:

  • A visually impaired boy working well in a mainstream classroom with some special ed tools and support.
  • Examples of kindness, like a boy who carries a chair so an unusually small classmate can reach a fountain.
  • Special ed aides who help substitute teachers with class management while overseeing their own students in the classroom.

I’ve seen kids run to hug principals, and happily greet teachers returning from  offsite training. And I’ve been thanked by a few students for teaching their class.

Expect the Best From Students and You Just Might Get It

I find that respecting students and expecting good behavior resonates with most of them. I’ve had my share of poor behavior but it’s been the exception rather than the rule. I’ve only asked kids from two classes to leave the room. Once they left, the classes went back to a semblance of normal.

I once was given a combined special ed/ESL class for kids in grades 6 to 8 while their teachers attended an off-campus training.

One kid called me a “gringa.” I challenged him right then and there. I told him I can’t have disrespect in my class. I told him he wasn’t nice, and was surprised to see the hurt on his face. Apparently no one had ever told him this.

I instructed him to go to the class next door, where the teacher told me to send misbehaving kids. Once he and an equally obnoxious buddy left—two more boys loyally followed them—the class went on quite nicely.

But you know what? These special ed and ESL students wanted to learn. They were interested in the subject they were reading about.

Then, one of the kids who left asked to return to class. I made him promise not to disrupt his classmates. He agreed and held up his end of the bargain.

Later, I told him I was glad he came back and asked him why. To avoid expulsion, he said: he’d already been suspended once this year (it was still September).

I complimented him on the work he turned in and advised him not to follow his friend. “He really isn’t a nice guy. Nice people are kinder to strangers. You can do better.”

I think he agreed. I hope he acts on this.



Arizona business Arizona issues Arizona social issues

Laboring on Labor Day

Be honest. What did you do on Labor Day?

Like many Americans, I worked that day. Of course, since I’m self-employed, I didn’t have to work but no work means no pay for freelancers.

Labor Day used to celebrate the American worker and labor unions. But “union” become a bad word back in 1981 when President Reagan fired unionized air traffic controllers who had gone on strike for better wages and working conditions.

Labor Day is No Longer a Workers’ Holiday

Labor Day isn’t a day off for many workers. According to USA Today, about a third of Americans are working today. Most work in retail, which pays on the lower end of the scale.

Many stores are open, and as far as I can remember, have been open on the Labor Day “holiday.” The holiday is a draw for those who want or need bigger-ticket items like a late-model car. Or as the Scribe from New Jersey sings, to buy a new used car.

But in the old days, workers had to be enticed to work on Labor Day. Even part-time workers were asked, nicely, to work the holiday, with promises of time-and-a-half pay. Today, I’m not so sure that’s the case. A Bloomberg BNA survey says one-third or workers are required to work on major holidays like Thanksgiving. Most will get some monetary award for working on that particular holiday.


Retail Work Isn’t Very Nice to Employees

Most retail establishments don’t recognize any holidays at all. Even grocery stores stay open well into the July 4 and Christmas Eve holidays. Some will close early “to give our employees time to enjoy” the holidays.

I worked a retail job a few years ago, when I signed up for holiday work at my local Target. I understood there would be odd hours during holidays.

I didn’t really mind the work itself. The customer service training was interesting. I liked the discounts they gave employees, and my coworkers were nice. But management rules eventually ended my “career” there. I just didn’t have the physical stamina for one part of the job.

shoe display at retail store
As a Target worker, I feared nothing, not even the shoe department!

It wasn’t lifting boxes, cleaning up the shoe department, or stocking shelves that got to me. I didn’t mind those at all, and let me tell you, it was hard for management to find anyone who’d work in the shoe department.

I was defeated by working at the register, a task required for all non-management employees.

A thinly-veiled anti-union training video we watched during our training extolled how much fun it is to work in different areas. It didn’t discuss that standing on a hard floor in one place for more than an hour can be hard on the body.

I changed footwear and wore supportive sneakers and inserts, even those fancy Dr. Scholls gels, purchased with my 10% employee discount. When there were no lines, I’d walk away to straighten out the gum and other stuff stocked near the register.

I still ended register shifts with hip pain bad enough to make me walk with a lurch, like I’d been injured.

I asked if I could buy a padded kitchen mat sold in the store to use at my register. I already had one at home in my kitchen, and it was great. Nope, not allowed. No reason given.

Then there was the water issue. My register trainer told me we could keep bottled water at the registers as long as we only drank when no customers were around. Then a manager cited me for doing just this. I explained what my trainer had told me and mentioned I also take medication that dries me out. I pointed out that we do, after all, live in a dry climate here in Arizona and most people need to frequently hydrate.

I was told to get a doctor’s note. My disbelieving doctor took the time to write out a note, which I duly presented.

In the meantime, another coworker, a guy about my age, fainted on the job. It was probably from dehydration. He quit after that.

Later, we met up to talk business (he’s a photographer) and he told me how embarrassing the whole ordeal was for him. The store insisted on calling paramedics. Everyone saw him get carried out on a stretcher.

I ended up quitting because my hips continued to ache. Nowadays, I notice that Target employees are permitted both a padded support mat to stand on and water at the register. And that manager is gone, too. I have to wonder if it was her decision or Target’s to deny these modest supports to employees. Too bad there wasn’t a union rep I could ask.

When I gave my reason for resigning, no one offered any suggestions to alleviate my discomfort.

Right to Work? Really?

Since Arizona is a “right to work” state, it’s nearly impossible to get union protections here.

“Right to work” means that anything a union negotiates for members benefits all workers, regardless of whether they belong to the union. The argument behind “right to work” laws is that no one is forced to join a union.

Once upon a time, it was normal to be unionized if you worked an hourly job and or a job deemed particularly dangerous or sensitive like air traffic control. Unions protected employees from outright abuses like forcing them to work off the clock to meet quotas. They guaranteed breaks and ensured overtime pay. Unions also made sure employees had benefits and decent pay—enough to actually live on in the area in which a job is located.

In their early days, unions ended the practice of 12-hour shifts, six days a week. They ended child labor and got safety regulations put in to make workplaces less dangerous for everyone.

There are now laws that provide some of the protections unions used to give. But no one is watching out for the labor force. Businesses, whether retail, service-oriented, or in another category, have a much stronger hand in negotiating salaries and benefits against a lone hire.

In fact, today’s employees don’t have a right to work, at least not full-time. In our right-to-work state, employees can get laid off or otherwise dismissed from a job without any notice at all. Yet most employers require employees to agree to provide notice before they leave: they actually make them sign contracts to guarantee this. And businesses here don’t even have to pay for unused leave when workers are laid off.

The Irony of Labor Day

We still celebrate Labor Day, sort of.

Most of us use the time to catch up on work. Students inevitably have assignments due right after Labor Day (we start school in August in Arizona). People spend at least some of the time working on or cleaning their homes. Fewer people are going out of town or really taking time off.

People say unions got greedy and corrupt. Some did. So did some businesses. Today’s executives earn about 300 times more than their typical employees, even when they’re “forced” to shrink their workforce or require employees to take furloughs, which are forced, unpaid time off. Locally, Honeywell has become infamous for this practice.

Many businesses seem to have abandoned the concept of being a great place to work. They accept high turnover as a norm.

The worst ones don’t even care about worker safety and no one calls them on it until their coal mines implode. Remember the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, and BP/Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico? Workers are killed, and local environments become disaster areas. This is what happens when we don’t have unions and we’re busy shrinking government oversight staff.

No one is looking out for most of us, a sad irony when a day meant to honor labor is in reality just another workday.





Arizona business Arizona education Arizona issues Arizona social issues Arizona Tech Communiy Mobile technology

Still Outsourcing Local Talent?

I attended the Phoenix Mobile Festival recently, an annual event for people who develop apps and technologies for mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, and wearable technology like smart watches. While I’m not a developer, I like to keep up on mobile developments. Since this was a local event, I was very surprised to hear a speaker praising outsourcing, a scourge that’s hurting Arizona’s efforts to become a tech leader rivaling Silicone Valley.

Banner for the Phoenix Mobile Festival
Is a technical conference the place to talk about the joys of outsourcing?

Is This the Time to Advise Talent Outsourcing?

I missed the first half of Fred von Graf’s session on “Secrets to Building a Million-Dollar Business.” I was learning about complications and time travel.

Normally, I welcome business development talks because Lord knows I can use advice on building this business, getting new (paying) clients, and networking. The title of von Graf’s session struck me as silly and cheap, but after checking out an Android development session, I figured I’d make room for a real developer and went into the Million Dollar session.

There I sat, horrified, as this person advised, over and over, to look overseas for tech teams.

I didn’t think people were still hot on outsourcing. I had read that a lot of companies have pulled out and are hiring US workers, whose training and, I suspect culture, match theirs more closely. In fact, I’ve read about companies in India that are outsourcing for US talent!

It came up from a question about where to find freelance tech teams. To get a really good idea of who works well on your project, von Graf advised hiring three teams to do the same project and pick the one that did it best.

How can I pay for that? another person asked.

Easy. Hire teams from overseas. “Their price points are much more competitive then you’ll find in the US.”

von Graf then spent several minutes extolling the virtues of overseas teams. He went on to say that he tells all his clients to hire overseas, where the work can get done for so much less. He groused about his one single client who refuses to hire foreign labor. “He’s spending so much more than he should,” he said, shaking his head.

I was livid, practically shaking.

Don’t Outsource Arizonans!

It made no sense to me. Here he is, in Arizona—a state that desperately needs jobs and encourages people to get educated for tech jobs—telling businesses in Arizona to outsource these very jobs.

von Graf isn’t unfamiliar with Arizona. He’s active in Scottsdale’s SkySong tech community. He’s been featured by GrowSouthwest, a company that nurtures entrepreneurs and independent businesses “everywhere,” but does that mean outside the Southwest, or the entire US?

I was a little relieved to hear grumbling about outsourced jobs from the audience. No one, though, challenged the idea.

Infusionsoft, which hosted the festival, is well-known in Arizona’s tech sector. It won the Pioneer Award from the Governor’s Celebration of Innovation. “This recognition is further validation of the impact we’re having on the global small-business community and the tech sector here in Arizona,” Infusionsoft’s CTO told the Phoenix Business Journal.

After the session, I discussed what I heard with two vendors at the site. One mentioned he had used overseas vendors from Poland and India. They didn’t work out so well. “We ended up redoing a lot of the work. They just couldn’t understand what we wanted.”

The owners of another business, both from India, was also bothered by outsourcing. “We only hire people in the US,” they told me. True, their clients were mostly state governments, but they also showcased a growing number of US businesses.

I’m sure von Graf is a good guy. He encouraged people to contact him after his session. He’s eager to share what he knows and to mentor small businesses in the tech sector.

But shouldn’t that also mean keeping potential jobs in Arizona? Does every business have to make a million bucks? And will this only happen by outsourcing jobs elsewhere?