The truth about the word 'oral'.

I was recently reminded at work about how we regularly misuse the word 'oral'. In this case, it was a job description that mentioned giving 'oral presentations' and 'written and oral' something or others.

Now, I will admit that using the word oral or orally to refer to something spoken is completely allowed by dictionaries and common usage. It's just that I think it's time to change that.

When people hear the word 'oral' or orally, they think of two things, and neither has to do with verbal or spoken communication. They have to do with a person's mouth. The first, which I'm sure jumped into your brain the second you read this post's title is, well, I'll get to that in a second. The second thing you thought of is health care related to the mouth. Oral hygiene, oral care, Orajel, take this medication orally, etc. It's a nice clinical description for the mouth, and it covers the teeth, tongue, gums, etc. It doesn't refer to the voice box, which actually produces the words. You can measure body temperature with a thermometer orally or anally. Come to think of it, the word 'oral' is a nice compliment to 'anal'. The intake and the exhaust portals, if you will.

Which leads me back to the first thing you thought of regarding the word oral: oral sex. Come on, admit it. Not that there's anything wrong with thinking of oral sex first. It's not even your fault; the only time the word 'oral' gets used in the media anymore is to try to politely describe this act in as clinical a term as possible. Like crime reports, or newspaper articles, etc. Whenever one hears or reads the word 'oral' these days, one is fully expecting to hear it followed by 'sex.'

That's why it makes no sense to refer to spoken or verbal communication as oral. Oral belongs to health and sex now. It just does. So lets make a clean break. After all, we don't refer to written communication as 'manual' even though it has to be performed with the hands, one way or another. The hands are the means, the writing is the medium, and for communication, the medium matters. By the same token, referring to communication as something coming out of one's mouth is irrelevant; the mouth is just the means. The medium is the voice, the audio transmission: spoken or verbal. And verbal is never used in connection with clinical health (again, oral) or sexual contexts (it's called phone sex or pillow talk).

Verbal communication, not oral. Spread the word. Verbally, and in writing.

Update on the math journey in public school

Last school year, I kept track of how many days math was missed in Minnie Trackball's 3rd grade. After a few weeks at the start of the year, she managed to have it nearly every day, until the end of school. Then it kind of just petered out.

Fourth grade has stepped things up in terms of homework and subject matter. Minnie has moved up a level in math and will be skipping 4th grade math for the most part. We are real proud of her and she's really excited. So far, the obligatory two weeks of no math, to do assessments and such, is over. Math class assignments and homework have started to flow.

The math changes are part of a trend we've noticed when it comes to school. As the academics increase, there is a sorting out that happens. The kids who put in the effort seem to be pulling ahead; the parents who were so bent on having a gifted kindergartner are becoming more realistic about what their kids can do, especially if they fall a bit behind. Grades and standardized test scores make things pretty clear. Sweat equity seems to be a growing factor in success at school. And that can only be a good sign.

Lair 1.0 Pics

For your viewing pleasure:

The desk and chair: (the shiny stuff is vapor-lock that holds the insulation in and moisture out; the house was built that way and it is not a cool sci-fi effect that I put up)

The embryonic theater area and library (ignore the luggage shelf and storage container 'walls'):

Lair security courtesy of Star Trek and Star Wars models (an Incom T-65 X-Wing below):

The Pirate Lego sound stage:

The town is under attack:

By pirates at sea:

Apparently at night or a late, cloudy evening (sigh).

ISO modern supernatural baddies

The humanized supernatural is a huge thing right now. Fantasy romances featuring vampires, werewolves, the undead, etc. are a big hit. Most of the focus is on vampires. The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer features a teenage girl who falls for a vampire and it's sitting atop the Amazon best seller list. There are tons of other fiction genres that have leapt into supernatural angles to spice up old plots. Now HBO has a new series, True Blood, which is a Southern Gothic vamp soap opera.

As a result, vampires just don't seem that scary anymore. They are emotionally vulnerable, thoroughly humanized, even enviable. They have issues, personalities and goals. These angles are entertaining, but it reduces them in a way. In fact, all the supernatural monsters seem trite, played out, overused. Maybe we have humanized too much, or maybe the world has changed in a way that they no longer have a grip on us. We've turned them into another class of superheroes, really. Which may be cool, but it's not scary.

These types of things used to be scary, viscerally scary. The very thought of some supernatural monster would drive a spike of fear into your heart. They were tied to the old Joseph Campbell archetypes and represented threats to the very fabric of human society:

  • Vampires subvert morality, especially for women, and they are death incarnate.
  • Werewolves represent losing control, and the threat of spreading that loss of control.
  • Zombies represent a loss of personality, a loss of self that can't be stopped and is highly contagious. As rotting corpses, they also represent disease and death.
  • Witches are strong confident women with power over men, threatening the patriarchy.
  • Ghosts are the past come back to haunt the guilty
I think we need a new set of supernatural baddies that can actually scare us. I don't know what those baddies would be, but they should be things or beings that scare the crap out of us just by their very existence. In the next post I'm going to throw some ideas out about what those things might be.