Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Friday, October 27, 2006


I've been thinking about a title for the random thoughts posts. "Random thoughts of the day" was derivative of Thomas Sowell's columns "Random Thoughts" and I feel a bit presumptuous treading in that man's footsteps.

Then I remembered an English lesson I used to teach for fun in Eastern Europe; all the words in English meaning different kinds of thinking: cogitating, mullling, musing, pondering, reflecting, etc - and ruminating.

The literal meaning of ruminating is what a cow is doing when chewing the cud. A pretty stupid animal, nonetheless it looks like it is thinking deeply when it stands and chews. There - I've just given people who don't like my opinions a great straight line!

Nevertheless, Ruminations it is.

P.S. I also taught fun lessons on words for different ways to laugh: snicker, titter, giggle, chortle, guffaw, bray, etc, and cry: weep, snivel, sob, whimper, etc.
It was a lot of fun because you can show the meaning by acting it out.

English is a language unusually rich in words for highly specific things. I had occasion to explain the play on words involved in the movie Widows Peak (Joan Plowright, Mia Farrow, Natasha Richardson - quite funny) to a class in Warsaw. One lady looked at me with an amused expression and said, "English is a funny language, it would never occur to us to have a word just for the shape of your hairline!"


The other day my wife took the baby with her to see her best friend, a Mexican woman, and a few of her friends and relatives. We have the youngest baby in the group, so of course I knew it was going to be all about the ladies passing the baby around, taking turns holding and making a fuss over her. It's a woman thing.

I was chuckling at the thought (there's another laugh list item!) when I remembered what a former professor of mine had mentioned in an Osteology class. (Osteology is the study of bones, living or fossil. In Anthropology it includes the study of the comparative skeletal anatomy of the primates.)

At any rate, he mentioned once that humans are the only primates who adopt. There are other animals who can be made to imprint on young not their own - and even on young not of their own species. But that goes on at a level rather below conscious thought, the great apes are just too smart to be fooled that way. So not only do they not adopt, they are often a danger to the young of other mothers in their bands when the environment is under stress, as Jane Goodall first found out observing chimps in Africa.

Only humans go beyond the needs of kin survival and act to insure the survival of the most helpless members of the human community, whether related or not. That's pretty marvelous to think about.

It's also pretty sickening to think about some godawful countries who prevent the adoption of children in unbelievably miserable circumstances by well-off Westerners because they are embarrassed by it.


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