Only on Vashon – The Weekly Rundown 09/10/2023

My favorite topic is language, and my favorite thing about language is its malleability and rapid evolution. My other favorite thing is arguing about stuff that doesn’t matter, so I would like to thank this anonymous poster for providing fodder for a rhetorical, zero-stakes argument about language. 

We all chime in with our spelling bugbears. 

One person says, “Brake = slows momentum or stops. Break = to interrupt or cause a separation.”

Another adds, “You lose your mind. A madman is on the loose.” I like imagining that this isn’t a grammar example, but rather a statement of two possibly related facts. Perhaps I am both the one who lost my mind and the madman on the loose, but, due to losing my mind, I am not aware of who I am, so I’m living in a state of fear of a madman who is just me. Someone call Stanley Kubrick.

Another spelling anomaly an islander mentions:

“Peddle is not what you do on a bicycle.” Ok, I have definitely made this mistake before. I don’t know if I’ve ever spelled the word ‘pedal’ correctly. Please forgive me for this grievous error. 

The Anonymous poster, who is presumably fanning themselves and shaking after seeing a poster for the 2002 film Two Weeks Notice, chimes in to say, “Apostrophes are used for possessives, not plurals.”

But an islander responds: “Don’t forget to dot your i’s.”

A commenter leaves this note to help us with punctuation.

But back to yea and yeah, how do we know the poster is correct in their rant? How are they hearing these words in their head? What is the context? A commenter asks, “Are you talking about yea or nay?”

We get this explanation: “yes, yea is pronounced yay, but yeah is not.”

English is kinda dumb. Why would yea and yay be pronounced the same, but when you add a silence h to the end of yea, the pronunciation changes? 

An islander helps by changing the spelling to match the pronunciation: they say,

“I spell it with expression: Ye aaay ! It means really great !! Not just yay. AND … Yeah … means YES. We have an ever changing language. Good to flow along with it.”

The poster responds with: “Ever changing is okay, but ignorance accelerated by internet laziness is not.” 

I don’t think spelling a word wrong is a sign of ignorance. Perhaps I only hold this opinion to cushion my ego because  I failed Spelling as a kid (a fact I did not mention when applying for this column-writing job).

And the internet isn’t making people lazy. It’s accelerating the changes in language and opening it up to the creativity of the masses. 

Others agree that English has unique challenges. One  islander says,

“Consider the phrase: ‘Time flies like an arrow’. vs ‘Fruit flies like a banana.’ How would you teach a computer to distinguish between the two sentence constructions?”

I don’t know how to teach that to a computer, but as someone who taught ESL, I know you teach it to a classroom full of people by throwing bananas at them. (That’s called interactive learning.) 

One islander has the last word with this devastating takedown of language prescriptivists:

“Are you one of those who ignore the thoughts and ideas of those who’s grammar is less than stellar? If so, I pity you as you are missing out on one of the great purposes of intelligent life. If you are one of those who feel the need to publicly correct someone else’s grammar, be assured that you have successfully communicated a thought that says volumes about yourself 😃

This is an excellent point. Only a complete asshole would point out the misspelling of ‘whose’ in this post. 

Speaking of rules, someone wants to create a set of regulations around free piles. 

First, we identify the problem- those piles of free stuff which is just rusted, potentially toxic tins of unlabeled fluid next to broken machinery. 

For example, one commenter describes a pile: “there are miscreants who dumped old paint and junk on shawnee. After one month it is mostly still there!”

Free piles like these are sometimes just a way of making  our negligence look like generosity. One islander speaks of the good old days:  “when I was a kid growing up here, stuff like this commonly ended up in the nearest ravine.”

Someone adds, “And the dump didn’t cost a hundred bucks a trip…”

To which someone replies: “yes and sometimes you took more stuff out than you put in!”

I once came home from the dump with a bicycle that someone was about to drop off in the bin for metal. But I can’t figure out how you would take stuff home from the transfer station. Like, do you climb down into that giant pit, dodge the bulldozer, and haul out a couch? 

There are suggestions about consolidating the free piles into one massive free pile. One person says “In Bolinas they have a designated free spot in town. Also near my house there is a covered area for free stuff at the recycle center. I think it stays cleaner because people are passively noting what you drop off.”

To those naysayers who think this is a bad idea, we have this rebuttal: “do you prefer unregulated proliferation of neverending curbside free piles?”

This raises a few questions: Who regulates and how are the regulations enforced? Is there, like, a ticketing agency for this? Is there an oversight board? Can I run to be the Commissioner of Island Garbage Piles? (This is one of my dream jobs, second only to Unofficial Mayor.)

We already have demands for our yet-to-be-elected Garbage Commander in Chief.  “Please people … don’t put upholstered sofas and chairs out when it’s going to rain, they’re ruined and no one will pick them up.”

Another person adds, “my favorite sociopathic behavior is when someone drops their shitty couch on the corner then some asshole takes just the cushions.”

If elected Prime Minister of Garbage, I’ll make a rule that cushions are chained to free sofas. 

Rather than getting irritated about free piles, a clever islander has an idea about how to make them fun.

I love it. 

One islander is worried. They ask, “Would that not encourage not only more piles but even more egregious piles of crap!”

Okay, but hear me out, this is a competition I could win. I could shuttle everything in my basement out to the road, including the cat. 

One person wants to deny us our democratic rights. They say, “I say let’s go ahead with the voting. But in order to be eligible to cast a vote, one must commit to x number of hours helping to haul the junk to grannys or the dump. Let’s have fun and be productive.”

Others aren’t worried. One says, “I’m all for it! I highly doubt it’ll create more piles.. it’s not like folx are gonna pile their shit up on the side of the road just to ‘win.’” 

They don’t know that this competition would motivate me to create free piles. If I saw a half-hearted pile with just a few incomplete jigsaw puzzles and mismatched shoes, I’d be like, “they know nothing of garbage.”

I’d bring out old suitcases stuffed with Mardi Gras beads. I’ve never been to Mardi Gras, so I don’t know how I ended up with so many beads. But I’d let people imagine that I’d earned them the traditional way. I’d add in half-molted feather boas, technical manuals for arcane kitchen equipment, and lovingly folded squares of used wrapping paper.

And if anyone tries to usurp my position as Trash Lord, I will dust the cobwebs off all the rusted pitchforks with rotting handles from my shed and quash them. 

Anna Shomsky
Author: Anna Shomsky

I'm a former teacher and a data engineer living on Vashon Island. My writing has appeared in Five on the Fifth, Women on Writing and on the Post-Culture Podcast. I wrote and produced the radio show Whispers of Vashon for 101.9 KVSH. I’ve had short stories published in the anthologies Island Stories and Chicken Scratchings, as well as through the Open Space Literary Project.

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