Alternative

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Yep, Latin again! You’d think by now I would have been able to find alternatives…

It means to do something by turns or to have options, choices, possibilities. This is not nearly as easy as it seems, especially if you consider that alternative is not always the synonym of option. It involves interesting linguistic exercises based partially on the origin of the word from the “alter” (other) root so you can’t really say “the other alternative” because that would sound as “the other other thing”. Fun and games, huh?

Anyhoo, back to the meaning of the word, I was musing on the importance of having them. Alternatives, options, possibilities, choices. What you can live with and what you can’t leave without, to paraphrase a common expression. They seem to go hand in hand with culture, upbringing and, most especially, expectations and anticipations, already covered somewhere else in this blog.

It occurred to me that half of my perception of choices is related to my attitude towards life in general – optimistic, life is good and can be enjoyed. The other half of my perception is linked to my upbringing as an individual. My body, my soul, my spirit, my right, my heart, my choices.

Entitled, you might say, and so I couldn’t possibly understand what it feels to have no choice at all. But can we not? Imagine, at least, and try to understand, and try to change some of the status quo? Empathy is not so rare once you start looking for it, although good intentions can and have to be thought out better than the golden rule might imply – imposing one’s values on someone else never a good colonialist made

But there is another choice, if choice it can be called. If we are hit over the head with our vocation, what choice do we have? If a deity is apparent, if an ideology is enacted, if a person suddenly becomes the world, what choice is there? Whose is this body that I used to call mine? To whom does this soul answer to? Towards which ideal does my spirit fly? What right do I have other than serving? And what good is this heart if not as an object of toil in a very specific endeavour?

And yet we stand, we breathe, we fight and work and life goes on – reality as a choice… who’d a thunk it?

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Language

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Disclaimer: languages come easy for me. I like them and they like me 🙂 It comes, I guess, from being sure of who I am. I have never been in a position where my native language put me at a disadvantage, so I did not have to cleave to it as a defence. That, and opportunity plus whatever natural ability I had made languages easy. Attitude also plays a part. I love playing with language and can retain a sort of fascination for years to come if a language allows play. Say, for example, English (no, really? 😛 ). I still remember the first time it struck me as beautiful: it was my first year learning it, with a teacher whose first language was mine and whose second language was not English 🙂 But she used appropriately the phrases and one of them stuck in my mind: to learn something by heart. Far from the common meaning of memorising, I remember being amazed at a language where memory is associated with the heart, with feelings and ultimately, with love. So it pleased me to learn it, and I did.

If that sounds just a tad idealistic, well, it is 🙂 It hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Pronouncing English is a minefield (my stumbling block was “comfortable” – hint: a “table” was involved), I still count better and faster in my language, as for spelling, writing is good, saying it not so much.

My language is Latin where it needs to be, Russian where it had to be, French where it wants to be and English where people were too busy to invent another word or adapt an existing one. This explains the trouble with spelling – my language doesn’t even have the word, it doesn’t need it as it’s phonetic, so what you hear is what you write. And yet if I had to choose a favourite it would be Victorian English with its extravagantly direct compliments and barbed subtle insults.

The way language evolves, how it borrows words from other languages and adapts them over time… this can keep me occupied for days! For example, you might want to check the difference between “to sack” and “to fire”. We use them almost as synonyms but as you may suspect, originally they were very, very different.

I even describe my profession as translating bureaucratese into common language… and a lot of the time it is!

Yet for all that I don’t like jargon and big words. I do use them, and try to use them appropriately, but they make me uneasy so I tend to avoid them when I can. I go all anti-snob and deliberately try to dumb them down (mostly) in my head and sometimes the results are hilarious, sometimes the perceived problem goes away when you put it like that and sometimes they just roll off my tongue with an ease that gets me even more determined to rein them in 🙂

For language is a world of its own, and people have spent time, nerves, money and occasionally sacrificed lives to get to the bottom of it all (try to look for perfect language/original language experiments when you have some time). Gods and first-made people are said to have created the things and life around them (in what language, one wonders?) by making words to name them and saying certain names has always been dangerous to life, soul and country.

And still, with dictionaries bulging at the seams, with new words accepted every year and very few becoming obsolete, still we play…

Anyone for charades? 🙂

Competition

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I was playing pool with my friend today. Both of us were out of practice (you know, sinking the inadvertently complicated ones, missing the really easy ones) but the length of the game allowed for both bantering… or was that bartering? I did say I will cook lunch if two balls are in… and serious discussions. Part of the serious discussion was the idea of competition.

I am competitive, especially with myself. I have discouraged competition with others in myself ever since I was old enough to figure out that it makes me uncomfortable to lose… and win. That didn’t sound in line with the old theory of evolution so I had to dig a bit deeper.

I don’t like losing, who does? But not liking to win required some thought and, once I grew up a bit, some scenarios. It should have been clear before, but we are mostly blind to ourselves day-to-day, and only figure things out if we take the time to know ourselves. Who has the time? And even if you do have time, how many will actually think about themselves and make scenarios about winning and losing. But I digress…

The results were unsurprising in hindsight 🙂

I don’t like winning if others lose. Can I get any quainter than that? I love winning, providing you win as well. It is linked with fear in a way. If I compete in a win-lose game, then I have to either pay attention to the game or to the person I am competing against. The disconnect from the person is scary, looking at them, analyzing all the ways in which I can win, all the ways in which I can manipulate things in my favour.

It is also linked with my general attitude towards life (see my previous blog, Attitude). Incidentally, the new theory of evolution seems to say to my untrained mind that although the genes may be selfish in their fight to be multiplied, they select for co-operation… that’s almost funny when you think about it.

So rather than my childhood “yes, but” mantra which used to drive my mother to distraction, most of the time I can make a choice and use “and”. Rather than a hole left by the losing which can only be filled by the winning, I find it comfortable to have two wins side by side, each not taking anything from the other, even growing on each other. I used to say “I don’t wear perfume but I like strongly scented flowers” Nowadays it’s “I don’t wear perfume, I love strongly scented flowers, I have my favourites for each season and I prefer them in the garden, not in a vase”. Fussy, much? 🙂

As a result, thinking positive could probably be my middle name. Negative thinking, after all, stems mostly from an impaired ability to look at things from someone else’s point of view, an almost hunching over ourselves and an unhealthy (literally!) shouldering of responsibility and singularity.

So, my friend, I would rather praise you when you sank that difficult one, gasp when you miss the easy one, and generally laugh at our clumsiness, rather than go all out , ignore you and your gentleness and your stubborness and win. Where would be the joy in that?