Tag Archives: America

Review: America in So Many Words

America in So Many Words: Words That Have Shaped AmericaAmerica in So Many Words: Words That Have Shaped America by Allan Metcalf

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A book for word nerds if there ever was one! America in So Many Words is a marvelous diversion for those who love both history and language. It examines particularly American words and phrases from the colonies’ founding up through 1998, explaining a bit of etymology, usage, and sometimes an example of it in original writing. It is extensively researched and just downright delightful. It even features two appendices, one organized by year and one by word.(Ex. 1998’s word is “millennium bug,” even though it probably should have been the much-catchier “Y2K bug.” But it had enough foresight to explain the term two years early!)
I’m marking this book as “read” even though it’s actually a work-in-progress. It’s just not a book you’re going to sit down and read straight through in one sitting. It reads like a cross between an encyclopedia and a dictionary, except you’ve probably never chuckled or said “ah ha!” from either one as much as you will with this book. I’m keeping it in my bathroom, to be honest, because one to two entries provide more diversion than any magazine could, with the added bonus of making that time educational and productive.
Though you may prefer to put it on your desk, I do recommend American language-lovers at least page through it. It’s been my go-to source for watercooler conversation and “did you know” questions. If you even think you may be intrigued by the true origins of “hot dog” or the critical place the phrase “log cabin” has in the American presidency, you’ll need this book in your collection.

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America’s Melting Pot: Brought to You By Coca-Cola

Yet again, people are in an uproar. Yet again, much to the disappointment of many, it’s for a ridiculous reason. This time, it’s because a multinational company dared to produce an extremely patriotic advertisement with ample not-so-subtle product recognition, but included people who weren’t white and didn’t all sing a song in the same language. (Dios mio, am I right?)

Here’s the ad, in case you’ve missed it:

Cue gnashing of teeth and rending of clothing.

First, my opinion: It’s a commercial. Moreover, it’s a commercial with zero offensive imagery and ample lovely landscape images and happy people. If that is the kind of thing you choose to get upset about, I feel sorry for you. And I hope you have health insurance, because you’re gonna need to stock up on blood pressure medicine.

But it stirred up a lot of discussion. I’m sure you can find some, if you haven’t already. Some of this discussion happened among friends on my fiance’s Facebook page.

One person who chose to be offended in turn said some pretty thoughtless, stupid, and frankly horrible things. Among them, he said, basically, America has a culture. And it’s English-only. If you want to “celebrate your culture,” go ahead open a restaurant, I’m sure your food tastes great.

And another friend saw it.

This friend–we’ll call her A, for Exhibit A, is half-Chinese half-Indian culturally. I believe she was born in the United States, but either way she’s a citizen. She is studying for her PhD, in something involving linguistics–so yes, she speaks perfect English, and can teach others how to do it, too. She intimidates the heck out of me because she owns (and dominated) every Zelda game. She even got a Zelda wedding ring.

I had the privilege of attending her wedding, which was a Hindu ceremony (vivaah sanskar) conducted mostly in sanskrit, and had Chinese elements. Her groom, who is  white, wore a kilt. She wore, in turn, a white wedding gown, a red Qipao, and a red sari. I’ve heard the couple was disappointed they couldn’t include more subtle Beauty & The Beast references in the reception, but still, it was the most beautiful wedding ceremony I’ve ever witnessed.

Anyway, A saw this conversation, and later she wrote this (copied with her permission):

So out of all the commentary I’ve seen on this whole “Coca-Cola” ad thing, there’s really only one thing that I would like to say:

My culture is not my food.

It can be found in the food that I eat. It’s in the lunches I took to school as a kid and the dinners I cook for my husband. But the actual dishes served at meal time are only a small part of what makes up my culture.

My culture is not just the food that I choose to eat, it is the way that I choose to eat it. Whether I use my hand instead of my fork or hold my soup bowl to my lips. My culture is the way we don’t eat meat when my grandfather visits, and the way we had barbecue every 4th of July and moon cake every September. It is in the way that my grandmother chastised me for putting my chopsticks into my rice or the way that my family shares meals at the dinner table, instead of serving individual plates of food, THAT is my culture.

My culture is the way we celebrate. From New Year to New Year to New Year, it is the way we dance and sing and drink and eat and wish good fortune on friends and family. It is my grandparents living with their grown children and my cousins who are as close to me as siblings. It is the plays I performed in, the movies I watched, and the songs I listened to. It is the respect I show when praying at the temple or in church. It is the guilt I feel when I have to choose between making my parents happy and being a grown woman with values far different from the ones they grew up with. It is community, and giving, and welcoming, and sometimes ignorant or snobbish and it is wonderful.

My culture is diverse, both in its peoples and in what it can bring to the country in which I was born and raised.

So yes, my culture can be found in my food, but it is NOT my food.

My friend A represents the ultimate of our hopes for America. She’s amazing. And for someone to have made her feel less than because of a stupid 30-second commercial during a sporting event? That’s not the America I support.


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