Sunday, September 21, 2008

Tissue of truth

As opposed to tissue of lies

Theologians are familiar with the Kleenex box as one of the more compelling proofs of the existence of God. After all, if there is no God, then who keeps pushing up the next tissue? It makes you think!

I was thinking about tissues recently. Or, more correctly, I was stanching a nose bleed and thinking about why so many people insist on mistakenly saying “staunch” (hearty or solid) in place of “stanch” (quell or block). The words are even different parts of speech. I crumpled up the bloody tissue and reached for the next one—but it was not there. Had God failed me? No. The box was merely empty.

I fumbled around in the cabinet under the bathroom counter and found a box that had been pushed toward the back. I winkled it out, tore out the perforated slot, and pulled out a fresh tissue. As I did, the next tissue popped up. (Thanks, God!) And a savings coupon for my next purchase of Kleenex also fluttered out. (Thanks, Kimberly Clark!)

Then I noticed something. Date of expiration: October 31, 2000.

Okay, this was one coupon I wouldn't be using. The box of Kleenex had evidently been lurking in my bathroom cabinet since the final days of the Clinton administration. The notion seized me and wouldn't let go for several minutes.

Eight years ago George Bush was not president and none of his disasters had befallen us. My cousin was alive and in high school, thinking of joining the military after college. The twin towers of the World Trade Center stood in New York City and I was going to see them the next summer, just before they were brought down. John McCain had lost all credibility by embracing the man who had abused him during the primary campaign and was due to retire in luxury and obscurity. And I had never heard of an Illinois state senator named Barack Obama. I didn't have a doctorate. My one-year-old nephew was in the middle of a custody tug-of-war that would continue till he was two. My colleague in the math department was robustly healthy and had no idea her pancreas was going to betray her.

Then I wiped my nose. The bleeding had stopped.

If only everyone could say that.


Ray said...

thinking about why so many people insist on mistakenly saying “staunch” (hearty or solid) in place of “stanch” (quell or block)

We Brits use "staunch" in two different senses, and never use "stanch", which is listed in our dictionaries as chiefly US variant spelling of staunch. They are far too lenient - I'd call it mis-spelling, myself :-)

Zeno said...

No, no, Ray. It just means that you Brits have an unfortunate ambiguity and we Americans have a useful distinction.

Oh, and misspelling doesn't have a hyphen in it.


Cody Cobb said...

Y'all need a useful distinction for y'all's second person pronouns, too.

Ray said...

I can't disagree that Americans have a distinction, although I take issue with it's being labelled (note the double ell there) useful. I think unfortunate might be a better term, since y'all (I learn quickly) seem to have a knack for electing total morons as your leaders. What's even sadder is that there is a distinct possibility that you are about to achieve a hat-trick.

(And I have obviously lived among you for too long, or I would have written "misspelt" in my original post :-))

Zeno said...

I wish you weren't correct, Ray, but you certainly have a point. However, it's questionable that George Bush was ever actually elected. Still, at the very least, he managed to seize office in 2000.

A slight correction: If we somehow allow McCain to stumble into office, it would be an empty-hat trick. (And our hats would be about as empty as his evidently is.)

Finally, it's clear you are being assimilated. Resistance is useless!

Jens Knudsen (Sili) said...

I seem to recall reading that the republicans are already hard at work excluding the poor and black from the electoral roll in borderline counties. I think you're stuck with another nut in the White House (please prove me wrong).

Interesting. "Stanch" is in my dictionary, but not in the eggcorn database:

Juhan said...

happy 200ki comments

Barry Leiba said...

An all-hat-and-no-cattle trick, to give some honour to Molly Ivins.

By the by, the primary pronunciation of "stanch" is the same as that of "staunch" (that is, it doesn't properly sound like "blanch"). The other pronunciation is, of course, accepted on this side of the Atlaaaaantic, but it's a back-formation from the spelling.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Since Barry's already been here, I'll say, so what if "staunch" has two meanings? It's not like you're going to confuse them.

llewelly said...

No, no, Ray. It just means that you Brits have an unfortunate ambiguity and we Americans have a useful distinction.

Useful? Try asking your students if they even know anything about said distinction. I bet most Americans have no clue about 'stanch' vs 'staunch'. It's one of those distinctions which is only useful when one is communicating only with the best educated 1% of Americans.

Porlock Junior said...

Do you mean one of those distnctions which are useful only when...?

"I hit him in the eye yesterday."
Insert the word "only" in each possible position. Explain the distinctions.

Zeno said...

Why would I ask my students about the distinction? Outside of class I strive to limit my communications to the best educated 1% of Americans (and others), present company clearly not excepted.


Anonymous said...

Zeno, I am now insanely jealous of you. You apparently use so few tissues that you have a box lying about from the previous century! I buy them in bulk from Costco and consume a couple of large boxes each week.. and that's along with the dubious relief that allergy medicines bring.

Clearly, you're far better adapted to this planet than I am.

Anonymous said...

Best 1%? You think 3 million people know the distinction?

Zeno said...

My comment, Unapologetic, was in response to a remark by Llewelly. I naturally assumed he had research to back up his claim about the best educated 1% of the American population. Besides, it would have been impolite to suggest that he just made up his date. (That would imply that he is either a Republican or an alternative medicine aficionado, possibly both.)

Anonymous said...

Oh, so was mine. I suppose I should have made that clear.. "Llewelly, do you think..."

Anonymous said...

Keith Olbermann just said "staunch". That's good enough for me.