Wednesday, May 28, 2014

May 2014: Loogid! Lt. Moxie had a Conniption Fit

People often ask where the topics for my monthly letters come from.  This month, I am on a thread of words that I used to hear a lot when I was a kid but seldom hear anymore today.  I heard one of these terms in a movie and it triggered the recollection of others.

Moxie:  Back in the 1980s, I had my first supervisory position as Manager of Total Quality Management.  With two managers having left the company, I was given my department and the other manager's department to manage.  Needless to say, I was familiar with the people and responsibilities of the department I was working in.  The other department was Quality Auditing.  Most of the men (yeah it was in the days of all male engineering departments) in that department were older than me.  They were actually close to retirement.  Their job was to travel to our plants and those of our suppliers to ensure all were adhering to our quality standards and protocols.  Given their age, my age, and me being a management newbee would have made this a bit of a challenge for me.  The nature of their jobs had these guys traveling about 60% of the time.  As a result, I had some direct reports that were also incredibly independent and not entirely disposed to take direction from anyone let alone me.
One of these auditors was named Jack.  Jack was probably close to my Father's age and, the best I can explain it, is that Jack looked like a cross between William Powell in visage and Sydney Greenstreet in physique.  Jack and I had lunch every once in a while well before I was his interim manager.  Mostly Jack would pontificate in a most entertaining way about business, quality, the good old days of American business, and what the heck was wrong with business, society, and the government of those times.
Jack came into my office to congratulate me on being named his interim boss and bring me up to speed on his activities and travel plans.  At the end of the discussion, he looked me square in the eyes said he appreciated my attitude which he noted was different than others my age and younger.  Then, he said, "You know what this upcoming generation is lacking?"  I said, "I am not sure, tell me."  I had no clue what he was going to say.  Part of me hoped it would be wise and enlightening.  Jack leaning forward, very serious, staring me straight in the eye and said one word:  "Moxie."
Really?  Moxie?  I had not heard anyone use that term in years.
I was not sure what it meant.  I thought it was a combination determination with a dash of independence and a sprinkle of sass.  From somewhere in the recesses of my memory, I also thought it was, of all things, a soft drink brand.

moxie—noun Slang.
1.        vigor; verve; pep.
2.        courage and aggressiveness;
3.        nerve.
skill; know-how.

1908, popularized by Moxie, trademark name registered 1924 for a bitter non-alcoholic beverage; the word was used as far back as 1876 as the name of a patent medicine advertised to "build up your nerve," and it is perhaps ultimately from a New England Indian word.

Moxie was indeed a soft drink brand.  It began in the 1880s and mirrored the history of Coca Cola.  In fact, Moxie outsold in Coke in the 1920s.  It was created by Dr. Augustin Thompson.  Many of the first soft drinks were elixirs that touted health benefits.  They often included ingredients such as cocaine to provide the “vim and vigor’ touted in the advertising.    Dr. Thompson created a drink without any harmful ingredients.  The secret ingredient he used is gentian root and was supposedly brought back to the US from South America by one, very fictitious, Lt. Moxie.
In the 40s and 50s, Moxie’s decline was due to a variety of factors.  It had a kind of bitter taste that was only popular in the northeast.  In 1939, Frank Archer the mover and shaker that ran the company and grew the brand passed away and the company never had the same caliber of leadership.  In the 1940s, they reformulated the drink and launched “New Moxie.”  It was a total failure.  Apparently, Coca Cola did not learn this lesson with their launch of New Coke almost 40 years later.
Moxie is still around.  They even have a website where you can learn more about the history of the soft drink:   You can buy a Moxie t-shirt that says: 

You’ve either got it or you don’t

In World War II, the company had a slogan:  What this country needs is plenty of Moxie.
I do believe that is what Jack was trying to get across to me.  I do believe he was right… when he made his comment to me, not too many people had any clue what Moxie was.

Conniption:  Having forayed down the Moxie path, I was thinking of other terms that are no longer in vogue.  That is, I was thinking of terms my parents used when I was a kid that I no longer hear anymore today.  People had a lot more conniption fits back in the day than they have now.  Today a person having a conniption fit would more likely be labeled as having Road Rage, Freaking Out, or some other youthful slang that I am not familiar with.

Often, conniptions. Informal. a fit of hysterical excitement or anger.
Also called conniption fit.

1825–35,  Americanism; origin uncertain

This definition was rather unsatisfying.   The people must have thought so too, so they included the following which sheds a bit more light on this connipitive thing. 

For a word that has such an official ring to it, there is surprisingly little information on where the terms conniption or conniption fit originated from. The word did not appear until the 19th century and is virtual unused in the United Kingdom, leading most scholars to conclude that the etymology of conniption fit lies in the United States. According to the Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins by William and Mary Morris, the word conniption is most likely the creation of an imaginative American who coined the term in an attempt to sound educated with a bit of pseudo-Latin. The folks over at Podictionary did a pretty cool podcast about the etymology of the word conniption last year that suggested that the word was first used to describe a woman by the name of Aunt Keziah who lost her cool in the 1800s. She and the rest of her neighbors in a small town of New England were waiting for a scheduled visit by President Andrew Jackson that was canceled with very little notice, at which said conniption fit did ensue.

Copacetic:  Here is another word that seems to belong in black and white B-movies of the 1940s and 50s.  “Everything is copacetic.”  That is the only way I have ever heard this word used.  Everything is just fine.  A-OK.  Copacetic sounds so high brow.  It is like the combination of two Latin words copus and cetus meaning A and OK or vice-versa.  But no, this word too is slang.  Again from

adjective Slang.
fine; completely satisfactory; OK.

1915–20, Americanism; of obscure origin; popular attributions of the word to 
Louisiana French, Italian, Hebrew, etc. lack supporting evidence.  

Last time I heard this word was in the movie Notting Hill.  I have never really used this word though I do hear others of my generation use it every once in a while.

Discombobulate:  This is the word that heard in a movie.  It was in 42 the film that documented the baseball life of Jackie Robinson.   Early in the movie when Jackie was playing for the Montreal farm team of the Brooklyn Dodgers, they played an exhibition game against the Dodgers.  Jackie was walked because the pitcher refused to give a black man a pitch he could hit.  Jackie promptly stole second and then third base.  He took a daring lead off of third to the point that the frustrated pitcher dropped the ball and was called for a balk.  Robinson was awarded home plate and scored a run.  A young boy in the stands told his mother that Jackie “discombobulated the man!”
These days’ people are confused, in disarray, or disoriented these days but seldom discombobulated.  We have a more official definition thanks to

to confuse or disconcert; upset; frustrate:  the speaker was completely discombobulated by the hecklers.

1825-35, Americanism, fanciful alteration of discompose or discomfort

I had a Uncle that loved to use this word.  Until the Jackie Robinson movie, I had not heard discombobulate used for years. 

Groovy:  My generation is not immune to having coined or used terms that are no longer used.  Back in the heyday of Hippiedom and the counter culture, the word groovy was bandied about with irritating frequency. 

1.  Highly stimulating or attractive; excellent:  groovy music; a groovy car.
2.  inclined to follow a fixed routine.

I never liked this word and I am not so sure why.  Out of all the slang, jargon, and blah blah of those crazy days of adolescence and coming of age, I just found groovy irritating.  I did not like the way it was used and abused.  I did not like the pretension and kind of sarcasm that under lied the use of it.  I especially hated how the mass media took it over and used it in advertising so quickly.  Needless to say I was happy to see this term have a very short life and be relegated to the junk heap of slang.

Musician Slang: There are slang terms that have staying power.  I use “cool” and call all my close friends and musical buddies “baby” all the time. 
A couple of years ago while still living in Connecticut, I booked a wedding.  The folks hiring our band said they had an uncle who was a jazz pianist and would it be OK if he sat in a jammed with us.  Our response was, “Yeah… OK.”  In all my years of musical experience, I have learned one thing:  never have any expectations in situations like this.  The uncle might be an awesome player that it would be an honor to play with or he might have been a total bust.  There is no way to predict. 
On the day of the wedding, we met the uncle. He was indeed a cool dude.  He was an old school jazz player from I am guessing the beatnik era.  He kept referring to us “cats.”  “I love the music you cats play.”  I kept calling him baby in return.  I had never been called a “cat” before.  It was kind of cool.  I had not heard anyone use that term outside of a movie ever before or ever since.
Back in my days of playing music in Detroit with the Johnites, we had a full vocabulary of terms and nicknames.  We called our musical pay “geetus” which we borrowed from The Three Stooges.  Most of words were either idiotic or off color.  Often they were both.  One day when we were counting all the words we had made up and it dawned on us that WE did not make them up.  All the words and terms we used came from our drummer Mike Mossoian. 
Yes, as this letter draws to a close, it is time to bring Ara Topouzian into the mix.  Whenever I call or get a call from Ara, we do not say hello.  We say “loogid.”  Loogid is a contraction and slang for “look it.”  How and why did we ever come to this manner of salutation?  We happen to know, what I can only call a character, in the Armenian community of Detroit.  He seems to prefix every sentence with a drawly “look it.”  As we noticed this, and as we are basically infantile, we started emulating his habit.  At this point, we probably say it more than he does.  We even have people that never met the originator of this salutation using it.
Thanks for reading this groovy bit of discombobulated musings and meanderings in the world of slang.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014

It is Memorial Day 2014.

The day started early for me given it was a holiday.  I was up at  6:30 as I was going on a 9 am bike ride with my friend Ken Hachikian.  I made some oatmeal, fired up the coffee pot, and turned on the TV.  I was interested in seeing what TCM was showing as part of its traditional Memorial Day war themed movie offerings.  I was in luck, one of my favorite movies of this genre was just starting:  Sergeant York.  

This black and white gem, starring Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, and others, chronicles the life of Alvin C. York a World War I hero who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The film takes us back to a United States that is no more in a way that really shows how this country has changed in one hundred years.  It was an inspiring movie made in 1941 and part of that class of war films made to buoy the spirit and patriotism of the people in the early days of World War II.  It buoys my spirit and appreciation of all that is good in America whenever I watch it. 

Alvin York was born in Pall Mall, TN on December 13, 1887.  Even as the US was entering into World War I, the part of the US where there was no electricity and people lived very simple lives. He was a rough and tumble drinking man and brawler that found a deeper Christianity that preached peace and pacifism while avoiding the dogma debated that divided so many branches of Christianity.  The Alvin York story is how he struggled with his beliefs while wanting to do right by
Alvin C. York
his country and comrades in arms. 

One of the most powerful lines in the movie was after York left the humble home of his mother to go to war.  His sister asked the mother, "Ma, what're they fighin' for over there?."  The mother responded, "Don't rightly know, Child. Don't rightly know."

It is a great movie, a wonderful bit of Americana, and, to me, the perfect movie to watch over breakfast on Memorial Day.

In the middle of my bike ride, I joined my wife and her mother at the Memorial Day commemoration on the green of the City of Lake Forest where we live.  It was hosted the local American Legion Post.  They Lake Forest High School band performed admirably with renditions of Sousa marches and a medley of all the Armed Forces anthems and hymns. 

Major Andrew Carl of the U.S. Marine Corps gave the keynote address.  He related the story The Scythe Tree.  
In 1861, according to the plaque at the foot of the tree, "James Wyman Johnson came from the fields one morning, hung his scythe in the crotch of a small cottonwood tree, and said 'Leave the scythe in the tree until I return'." Then Johnson went off to fight for the Union in the Civil War., 'Leave the scythe in the tree until I return'." Then Johnson went off to fight for the Union in the Civil War. ~ The Scythe Tree.
Johnson never returned.  He was wounded, captured, passed away, and buried in an unmarked grave.  His family was informed of his passing, but continued to hope he would return.  They left the scythe in the tree.  It has been there ever since.  The tree has grown around it to the point where just a portion of the blade is still showing.  It is a tourist attraction in Waterloo, NY... a town that claims to have founded Memorial Day.

I also saw a post on Facebook from my friend Ara Topouzian. 
Odd....Google didn't do a Memorial commemoration on their homepage. They seem to commemorate most holidays and other obscure birthdays..why did they opt not to do anything?
Here is a portion of the comments on this discussion:
Ara:  So I googled it... It seems they haven't commemorates with a Google doodle in 6 yrs. they are quoted as to saying most of their graphics are lighthearted in nature and they don't want to be disrespectful so they struggle with a design. 

Ara:   How about an American flag? 

Ara:  I am hoping Mark Gavoor will blog about this.

Joni:  The home page has a small American flag with a yellow ribbon. Seems appropriate to me. 

Ara:  Joni...that's new since I first put this post. Interesting. I agree that's it's appropriate
Well, there is almost no need for me to blog about this.  Apparently, Ara, single-handedly influenced Google.  That doesn't happen everyday.  Bravo Ara.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Dog Ate My Homework

This is the classic excuse for not getting ones homework as portrayed by television sitcoms and comedians.  I have updated this old adage to “the internet ate my homework.”  I have never had a student actually throw his or her dog under the bus, but I have several versions of the internet excuse.  This more modern version is actually more probable since computers and computers connected to the internet can be, at times, quite fickle.  Things disappear in spite of your belief that have done everything correctly.  Sometimes they reappear.  Sometimes the lost data or file stays in whatever nether region of your hard drive, the internet, or ether-net it might have been banished to.  This is exactly what happened to me last night.

I sat down late in the evening to type up a blog bit for my business website. It was going to be about Wal-Mart under performing financially for the past five quarters.  Ten years ago, no one would have predicted this but it is a classic case of the market shifting from the tried and true model Wal-Mart had built their empire on to something Wal-Mart is not as good at:  internet sales.  I started typing on my iPad directly into the app made for posting on Squarespace, an website hosting and development application.  I have used this app several times to develop my business blog posting.  Cutting and pasting from MS Word or Google Docs always results in formatting issues because these word processors have either different or more formatting characters in the background.  

I had typed in about 300 words and had to stop working on the blog and attend to something else.  When I came back, the Squarespace app was closed.  I opened it with the intent of finishing the post.  My work was not there.  I had either not saved it which is the more likely explanation or, queue up the Twilight Zone theme, the internet ate my homework!

In classes where I assign papers or excel assignments, I hear some version of ones homework being lost somewhere in cyberspace.  It does not happen often.  For a class of 25 to 30 students, the excuse is used one time for every two to three assignments.  I am never clear if the internet did in fact eat their homework or if they are just procrastinated too long and simply need the extra time to finish the assignment.  Given that I experience the same phenomena of the internet occasionally eating my work… I cut them some slack.

I wondered what kind of excuses students might use?  I googled the topic expecting to find some very creative and very funny excuses.  There are plenty of websites that claim to have the best or Top Ten excuses.  Most were not really that clever or unique.  Most were computer or cloud related such as:

  • Bad or lost thumb-drive.
  • Hard drive crashed
  • The internet was down and the assignment in some cloud based storage device like dropbox.  

In the past few years, I have heard an excuse that is outside my experience.  Eighteen and nineteen year old girls tell me that their three or four year old was really sick or had to be rushed to Emergency.  I know it is reality.  It just surprises me each time I hear it.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sleepless... Not yet in Seattle

I am typing this while on a flight to Seattle.  The flight was supposed to leave at 8 am but in his routine safety walk around the airplane, the pilot noticed a rather large puddle of hydraulic fluid under the plane. We were delayed. The airline gave us an estimate of a four hour delay.  It was actually four and a half hours.  Honestly, I thought it was going to take longer.  As it turned out, securing the parts took less time than the pre-repair and post repair paperwork.   

We were to connect in Seattle en route to Walla Walla, WA.  We were not alone.  Many others had connections too.  The vast majority of those making connections were on their way to Seoul and other Asian destinations.  If they missed their connections, it was likely they would be arriving a day later.  Logically, the airline gave them priority and stated that only international travelers should queue up at the counter for rebooking.    Forty to fifty people lined up.

I did math.  If our flight to Seattle will be at least four hours late and our layover time was two hours... We would most likely miss our connection.  As there are only two flights a day from Seattle to Walla Walla, it seemed like a good idea to rebook as soon as possible to make that second flight.  The other alternative was to rent a car and make the five hour drive.

I was amazed that so many people were standing in line.  Face to face, there were only two people processing the fifty people who were ahead of me.  It would be one to two hours before I would be in front of the agent.  I did what I had learned to do in such circumstances even before the popularity of cell phones, I called the airline.  It took only a few moments to navigate the menu and get to speak to an agent.  She was most accommodating, quickly gave me my options, and I made a choice.  She re-routed me and there was no charge as the itinerary change was caused by a maintenance issue.  Easy and stress free.  

I was amazed that very few people were on their phones, pads, or laptops re-routing their flights.  The fellow next to me was on his laptop checking flights but did not make a change.  After the line died down, I went up and had our boarding passes printed.  I am not the most tech savvy guy in the world, but I felt way out in front of almost everyone else.

We are headed to Walla Walla to perform a concert of Armenian music at Whitman College.  I was supposed to meet up with Ara Topouzian, Leon Janikian, and Mike Shimmin in Seattle and fly to Walla Walla together.  I will catch up with them later this evening.  

I am feeling so technologically proficient, I think I will post this blog inflight and see first is Ara notices, and then how he will tease me and comment about this.