More Anguished English

by Curt Kovener

(This is an encore column from the Curt Comments archives.)
With apologies to Mrs. Lewis, my high school English teacher.
Let’s face it. English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in a pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat.
We take English for granted but it is filled with paradoxes. We find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.
And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices? Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?
If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Park on a driveway and drive on a parkway? Have noses that run and feet that smell? Why doesn’t ‘Buick’ rhyme with ‘quick’?
How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.
English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the light is out, they are invisible.
Hopefully, Mrs. Lewis is smiling at her former student.

Nearly Hoodwinked!

by Curt Kovener

We have all read and maybe just glossed over stories of attempts by cybercriminals to spam and scam and otherwise steal our money and misuse our identity.
I read and didn’t pay much attention. Now that’s changed.
Before the holidays as I was traveling back home to the Wilderness, my cell phone rang. It was a toll-free number. Expecting it to be a scammer, spammer, or unsolicited call, I answered in order to tell the caller to put my number of their do-not-call list.
The caller said “Curt, this is Dick Flanagan and I am with security with Verizon. Did you order two new cell phones to be shipped to California?”
“Nope,” sez I.
“Well we thought it was odd for a long time Indiana customer to order phones shipped to the west coast. It appears someone has hacked into your cell phone account and ordered $2,100 worth of phones to be shipped to California,” says Dick.
“I didn’t order them so cancel that order,” I inform Dick.
“Of course, I will be glad to but I first need to make sure of your account information. What is the zip code where the bill is sent?”, helpful Dick asks.
Figuring this was all a part of the cell phone provider’s security, I told him the zip code in Crothersville.
“Good,” said Dick. “And one final thing, what is your four digit pin?”
I do not recall all of my secret passwords, pins and other identifiers and told Dick I would call him back when I got home. And at that point, the phone call abruptly dropped as I began my drive through the traditional valley of no cell signal.
When I get home, before I looked up my pin I tried to log onto my Verizon account. And it wouldn’t let me in. My password no longer worked.
It was at that point anger and terror flooded over me. I began using some very adult words as I realized I had been scammed by the Dick who said he was going to help me!
So I called Verizon and spoke with customer service representative Heather and told her what went on. She checked my account and assured me that no phones had been ordered.
That was a relief.
Then she guided me through the steps to change ID, password, PIN.
She told me the fake Verizon Dick was telling me what he was going to do after he got into my account. But sounding like a helpful security person for the company I fell for Dick’s Good Samaritan schtick.
“There is a lot of scamming like this going on over the holidays,” helpful Heather told me.
Thank rural technology for sketchy cell signal areas, I guess.
So now I have changed passwords, PINs and anything related to getting into my accounts.
But before I did I checked with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) guidance on creating a strong password, suggesting a passphrase such as a favorite line from a movie or a series of associated words rather than using a single password. The idea is to create a passphrase that can be remembered easily and protect the account. This means passwords like – “t6&j3#QR%5”- are out.
Longer, personal phrases you can remember— for example, SnowCloudWhiteCold— are preferred. The names of your children or pets are a bad idea, they say.
But since many sites require numerals, upper case and symbols or punctuation you may need to substitute a numeric zero for an O, an exclamation point for a 1, a ( for a C, and the like.
Create a passphrase you can picture in your head and use items in your office or around your home computer for clues. The key is to create a passphrase that is hard for a cybercriminal to guess but easy for you to remember with a little bit of a hint.
And we are to use a different password or passphrase for each account, and use a password manager if necessary to keep track of passwords for multiple accounts.
But having grayhair and Medicare, I keep my passwords in a document that is titled nothing like Passwords and it is securely filed beneath layers of folders on my computer desktop. And there is that hardcopy printout that I use as failsafe stored in my fireproof file cabinet.
And having saved my bacon as well as my money, I hope I never again curse the sketchy cell signal areas through which I travel.

Maybe It Wasn’t The Grinch Who First Stole Christmas

by Curt Kovener

A law was passed requiring everyone to pay a tax in his hometown. That was the law decreed over 2,000 years ago by an occupying Roman government authority. So without government involvement, Old Testament prophecy would not have been fulfilled and Jesus may not have been born in Bethlehem.
Think of that next time someone shouts government should get out of our lives.
And if conservative anti-tax politicians were alive then maybe they would have been responsible for prophesy not being fulfilled. And what if that caravan of taxpaying immigrants were crossing boarders today…what would believers do?
It could be said that government historically has been involved with religion since before Christendom. In judicial circles that is what is known as a precedent.
Much breath has been expended on what some claim is an attempt to de-Christianize Christmas. “Merry Christmas”: the seasonal greeting must not be “Happy Holidays”.
It is hard to believe in this season of love that Christians want to fight a war over the proper way, in their view, to celebrate. So much for embracing “peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”
And a Christmas tree should not be called a holiday tree, they say. I have a friend who has a small artificial tree in the corner of her family room and it gets decorated with hearts of Valentine’s Day, flags and red, white & blue festooning on Memorial Day & 4th of July; pumpkins and things that go bump in the night for Halloween, turkey and harvest ornaments at Thanksgiving and Christmas lights and ornaments in December: a true holiday tree.
Other than Old Testament prophecy and the Scriptural notation of Jesus’ birth, there is no Biblical directive to celebrate His birth. Scholars are not really sure of the date of Christ’s birth. So our December celebration is not historically nor theologically accurate.
Christmas or celebration of Christ’s Mass came about as the result of an early church takeover of the pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice. In ancient Rome, the December holiday of Saturnalia was celebrated by a time of drinking and merry making. The Druids in what is now the United Kingdom had similar celebrations using evergreen trees. They would bring evergreen conifer trees into their abode to signify the renewal of life even in the winter. Thus the insistence that “they are Christmas trees” have their beginnings in pagan religious observance.
These non-religious observances were embraced by early church leaders and eventually, over time, were cleaned & laundered to “Christianize” the observance.
So it could be said it wasn’t the Grinch that stole Christmas, it was the post crucifixion believers who, in a sense, violated the “Thou shalt not steal” commandment.
Over the centuries, history and folklore from a number of countries and cultures melded together so that today it is difficult to sort actual events from the church’s re-written history and tradition.
The early church ministry of Saint Nicholas sought to provide food to poor children. He was also the patron saint of virgins and was an intercessory to help encourage purity. (Could it be that this is where the ‘naughty and nice list’ had its origin?)
As word spread over time, other countries developed their own kind of gift-giving Saint Nicholas.
The concept that Saint Nicholas was garbed in a red suit and white fur has been modified over time from a tall, thin character to short, round with elfin characteristics. His appearance, name and paraphernalia such as sleigh and reindeer evolved over the years as writers put pen to paper.
In 1823 C. Clement Moore wrote A Visit from Saint Nicholas which we know more familiarly from its starting phrase “’Twas the night before Christmas…” Based on Moore’s literary description, the contemporary image of a rotund jolly character continued to be modified and was made internationally familiar beginning in the 1920’s through illustrator Haddon Sundblom’s annual winter advertising for Coca-Cola.
It is interesting to note that as fervently as fundamental believers today insist that nonbelievers are attempting to remove Christ from Christmas, early Hoosier Christian fundamentalists were just as fervent in their opposition to celebrating Christmas.
Since no Biblical reference was made that believers should celebrate Christmas, early Christian settlers declined to observe the day claiming if it wasn’t scriptural to celebrate Christ’s birthday, then it was secularly inspired.
How’s that for ironic holiday twists? Some Christian fundamentalists today becoming militant insisting on keeping Christ in Christmas while some of our founding Christian leaders opposed its celebration as having no scriptural basis yet centuries earlier other church leaders took a purely pagan observance and stole it to make it Christian.
I’ll leave you to meditate on that and wish you a Merry Christmas.

The Real Saint Nicholas

by Curt Kovener
Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of just about everything. He is the national saint of Russia and Greece and churches named after him number in the thousands- more than 400 in Great Britain alone. He is the patron saint of paupers, scholars, travelers, maidens and poor children. He is known as the friend and protector of all those in trouble.
Saint Nicholas, was an early church leader, born in the Middle East about 350 miles northwest of Bethlehem in the fourth century. He rose in the church to the level of Bishop and stories tell of his love for children and his kind acts to the down trodden.
Perhaps the most famous story of all tells how he helped three unfortunate young sisters who all had suitors but had no dowries because their father could not raise the money. As was the custom of the time, no dowry meant they could not marry.
Now the bishop Nicholas was a shy man and did not like to give money directly, so he thought of a way to give it anonymously. When the first daughter was ready to marry, the good bishop tossed a bag of gold into the house at night. Later, when the second daughter prepared to marry, she too received a mysterious bag of gold.
When the third daughter prepared to marry, the poor father was determined to find out who had been so generous. So he kept watch and saw the bishop drop another bag of gold into the house. As the story goes, Saint Nicholas climbed on the roof and dropped the bag of gold down the chimney where it landed in a stocking hung to dry, giving us a reason to hang up Christmas stockings today.
When the father saw what had happened, Nicholas asked him to keep the secret, but, of course, the news got out. From then on, whenever anyone received an unexpected gift, they thanked Nicholas.
Six hundred years later, the Russian Emperor Vladimir visited Constantinople and heard all the wonderful stories about Bishop Nicholas and decided to make him the patron saint of Russia. The stories even spread to the Laplands- you know, to the people who have reindeer pull their sleds.
During the Reformation all saints fell into disrepute in parts of Europe that took to the Protestant faith. Reformers did everything they could to erase the popular Saint Nicholas. (Doesn’t that sound contemporarily familiar?) But despite their efforts, they were never completely successful.
Even though he was removed from the church, Saint Nicholas continued his popularity in the streets and homes. In Germany he put nuts and apples in the shoes of Protestant children under the guise of the Christchild. In 1545 Martin Luther’s children received gifts from the “Holychild,” that pre-Reformation were received from Saint Nicholas. The Christchild and Saint Nicholas were described as wanderers, traveling by foot or by horeback or by sled depending on the region, examining the deeds of mankind, children especially, for good behavior and rewarding them with the apples, nuts, and sweets.
Parents quickly began using these “visits” to encourage good behavior from their offspring. Over the decades each country and culture added their own twist to the story of Saint. Nicholas.
Historians believe that over the years the stories of Saint Nicholas as told through varying European, Dutch, German accented pronunciations, his named slowly changed by who said, who heard, and who repeated. Saint Nicholas in one tongue became Sannikolus then Sani Klaus and eventually evolved into Santa Claus.
So, now when pastors and other pulpiteers, insist that the kindly, gift-giving Santa Claus is secular commercialization of Christmas, you know the true history and that he really began as an early church leader.

Christmas Discovers America

by Curt Kovener

Over the next three weeks, we’ll look at the history and customs of December 25 and how the various religious elements attempted to impart their own ‘brand’ on the holiday many of the church wrongly view as Christ’s birthday.
Bible scholars acknowledge that the date of Jesus birth is unknown. And they acknowledge that the Scriptures say nothing about the celebration of His birth.
The Christmas customs we observe in the U.S. have a cultural and secular basis from many parts of the world.
It was immigrants from Europe who first brought Saint Nicholas to America in the fifteenth century.
On his first voyage in 1492, Columbus named a port in Haiti for Saint Nicholas; and the Spaniards originally called Jackson, Florida, “Saint Nicholas Ferry”. When the Dutch immigrated to America they brought their saint with them. At the prow of the ship in which they sailed to the New World in 1630 was a figure of Saint Nicholas.
This was at the same time the religious Reformation was fiercely dividing their homeland. It was a cultural and religious cleansing.
In America, a ban was placed on the celebration of Saint Nicholas, forbidding passing out of cookies and cakes to children, a custom that had been entrenched in many religious and cultural circles.
Saint Nicholas virtually disappeared as 17th century Dutch New Amsterdam was becoming 18th century English New York.
With their arrival, the Dutch Sinterklaas transformed into the forerunner for Santa Claus in the United States.
German immigrants (many of which settled in Jackson and Scott County) brought with them a positive attitude toward Christmas. They brought their custom of setting out a basket of hay in the barnyard for ‘Christkindlein’ (the Christ Child’s) donkey on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day finding the basket filled with snits (dried apple slices), choosets (candy), walnuts and gingerbread.
As the Germans intermarried with the English, the proper German Christkindlein, morphed into “Kristkingle” and eventually “Kriss Kringle” became a substitute akin to Santa Claus. By the latter half of the 1800’s, Kriss Kringle was the most common Christmas bearer in Pennsylvania.
Isn’t X-mas a sacri-religious abbreviation for Christmas?
Many believers may be offended by the abbreviation and assume it is a modern abomination by secularists and non-believers. But the Religious Right would be wrong in spreading historically incorrect facts. Imagine that, the Religious Right are among the original purveyors of ‘fake news’.
X-mas is at least 1,000 years old and was not meant to be disrespectful or offensive.
What appears to be an X in out modern alphabet is actually the Greek letter chi, the first letter of the word Christos, meaning Christ.
There are two possibilities for the shortening: use of the name Christ in another word may have been seen as blasphemous by early church fundamentalists or it could have been done for a religious preservation reason.
Early Christians were persecuted— but not like the 21st Century believers think they are. The early faithful were captured, tortured and killed for their faith. (Of course in the Crusades of the Middle Ages, believers invaded foreign lands captured, tortured and killed others for their non-Christian faith but that is a history column for another time.)
The use of X-mas could have been a simply clue of the writer’s belief, like IXTHOS—the ubiquitous fish seen on cars driving up and down the highways today.
Either way, what many get their bowels is an uproar over in the use of the abbreviation X-mas has an opposite meaning of what was originally intended. For those signs and bumper stickers that proclaim “Keep Christ is Christmas” X-mas historically does… just not in American English language but something closer to the original Greek which Bible scholars study in seminary.

Some Thoughts On December: Winter Is Coming

by Curt Kovener

December used to be the tenth month of the Roman year, and it got its name from the word “decem,” which means ten. In the Northern Hemisphere, December is marked as the beginning of winter with the December 21 Solstice and is considered to be the time of wind, snow and rain.
As we loosen our clothing from an abundant Thanksgivng holiday, here are some others thoughts to comtemplate on the soon approaching final month of the year.
•December’s wintery breath is already clouding the pond, frosting the pane, obscuring summer’s memory… ~John Geddes
•How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon? ~Dr. Seuss
•I heard a bird sing in the dark of December. A magical thing. And sweet to remember. We are nearer to Spring than we were in September. I heard a bird sing in the dark of December. ~Oliver Herford
•There is October in every November and there is November in every December! All seasons melted in each other’s life!” ~Mehmet Murat ildan
•It is never over, though we are in December! ~Ernest Agyemang Yeboah
•May and October, the best-smelling months? I’ll make a case for December: evergreen, frost, wood smoke, cinnamon. ~Lisa Kleypas,
•Wintry it ain’t- no complaints! Snowier: Storefronts are showier, light displays glowier. Shoppers are prowling, blizzard howling! Drifts a-heaping, lords a-leaping, Yule logs burning, gifts returning. Winds are keen for 2018! ~The Old Farmer’s Almanac
•Chill: December brings the sleet, Blazing fire, and Christmas treat. ~Sara Coleridge
•December 25th has become guilt and obligation. ~Phil Donahue
•When I was a child, my December weekends were spent making cards, decorating the tree, hanging the wreath and preparing brandy butter and peppermint creams. ~Pippa Middleton
•People can’t concentrate properly on blowing other people to pieces if their minds are poisoned by thoughts suitable to the twenty-fifth of December. ~Ogden Nash
•I know. I’m lazy. But I made myself a New Years resolution that I would write myself something really special. Which means I have ’til December, right? ~Catherine O’Hara
•Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence. Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance. Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence. Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance. ~Yoko Ono
•Christmas is a time when you get homesick— even when you’re home. ~Carol Nelson
•It seems like everything sleeps in winter, but it’s really a time of renewal and reflection. ~Elizabeth Camden