Solitaria Verba

Language is tamed noise. Locked inside a calcium cage, our tongues, like wild beasts, are subjugated and conditioned to perform from a repertoire of acoustic tricks. As the grotesque, red muscle contorts and undulates, vibrations from within cavernous depths are molded into distinct tones. When pushed up against one another, these tones meld into creatures known as a words. Words seldom appear alone, preferring to gather in small groups called sentences. The shape and size of words will differ from region to region, each vocal species, or language, employing its own unique variations. Together, all the words roaming the plains of our mind form a vocabulary.

Words offer a means to meaning, and every word is unique. Some words are docile and benevolent, some are cunning and devious, while others are ruthless and threatening. By calling forth words, we can invoke their nature to create sentences which have the the power to exalt or shame, create or destroy. However, there are some sentences which have a meaning distinct from the sum of their words; these are known as idioms. 

Often puzzling to outsiders, an idiom employs familiar words in unfamiliar ways by borrowing meaning from culture and legend. But beyond the realm of the idiom, there remains an even more rare and mysterious form of verbal expression. Though they could technically be classified as idioms, this special variety contains solitaria verba (isolated words). This means that inside each phrase there is a word which is not used in normal speech, instead appearing only in combination with select words. Let’s look at some examples:

  • Aided and abetted
  • Happy belated birthday
  • Coursing through its veins
  • Pent up anger
  • Clean slate
  • Jog your memory
  • Rail against authority
  • Off kilter
  • Vehemently disagree
  • Let bygones be bygones
  • Stave off hunger
  • Gale-force winds
  • Star-spangled banner
  • Bubonic plague
  • Hellacious beating
  • Self-deprecating humor
  • Drunken stupor
  • Abject poverty
  • Wreak havoc
  • Stunt your growth
  • Stoop to their level
  • Doesn’t bode well
  • Pare it down
  • Vested interest
  • Rue the day
  • Torrential rain
  • A moot point
  • Biding your time
  • Morbidly obese
  • Sweltering heat
  • Full-fledged professional
  • Snide remark
  • Good riddance
  • Rifled through
  • Privy to the information
  • That was riveting
  • Batten down the hatches
  • Figment of the imagination
  • Tide you over
  • Run amok
  • Keel over
  • Fell swoop
  • New-fangled contraption
  • Rickety ladder
  • Scantily clad
  • Brunt of the impact
  • Staunch atheist
  • Gyrating hips
  • Brandishing a weapon
  • Beck and call
  • Frenetic pace
  • Abominable snowman

These words are used by many, but could be defined by few. We don’t think about the definition of each individual word because we know the meaning of the phrase, but that means we are saying words that we don’t even understand. Perhaps, if put on the spot we could come up with a vague, clumsy definition, but we don’t really know what these words mean because they aren’t a part of our vocabulary. Let’s think for a moment: what things are abominable, other than snowmen? Have escaped zoo animals ever walked amok? When did we ever rue the night or wish someone bad riddance? Did we ever bide anything other than time or play with something that was just plain fangled?

Don’t use words you don’t understand.

No Price Is Right

The price of oil has a significant effect in the global economy. As fuel prices have risen over the years, so has the cost of doing business, since nearly all industries rely on some form of mechanized transportation. When the price of oil reached an all-time high in 2008, many companies felt suffocated under the weight of the dramatic increase in costs.

For the transportation industry – airlines in particular – the soaring cost of oil directly and drastically affected their operating costs. Under such intense pressure, a company would have only two options: raise prices in an attempt to maintain profit and risk losing market share, or maintain prices in order to keep market share, resulting in reduced profit. Neither of these options seemed particularly attractive, then lightning struck.

To counteract the ever-escalating price of oil, transportation companies introduced the fuel surcharge. The idea is simple: in order to avoid raising prices, a separate charge is billed to the customer which offsets the increased cost of fuel. By doing this, the company can maintain consistent prices while shifting the blame for the additional charge to an external entity. At first glance this would seem like a reasonable and transparent business practice, but there are some serious problems here.

First, companies that use fuel surcharges are not telling us the entire fuel cost for our purchase; they are only telling us the cost in addition to some undefined amount already hidden in the bill. This assumes that there is a baseline for how much fuel should cost, but there is no correct price of fuel or any other commodity, for that matter. Prices constantly fluctuate based on economic and political factors far too complex and numerous for any network news analyst to predict. Also, what would happen if the price of fuel were to descend below the established correct amount, as it did in 2009? It would have been quite naive to expect a fuel rebate on our bill.

Another serious problem with fuel surcharges is consistency. If companies are going to start treating fuel costs as a separate expense, why not do the same with labor, taxes, raw materials or electricity? Some restaurants automatically add the tip to the bill in order to excuse customers from the senseless dance of determining an appropriate reward for carrying out what is expected, but there are many other charges that also affected the cost of the meal. Though it’s true that oil prices have proven particularly volatile, costs are always on the rise, so why not show us all of them? Perhaps we would be better off if our receipts revealed every cost involved in generating the purchase price, but that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

Aside from being inconsistent, fuel surcharges can also be used to raise prices without absorbing condemnation. Couriers, for example, are known to list fuel surcharges on deliveries that do not require a deviation from previously scheduled routes, which means that they are billing a fuel surcharge when there is no additional fuel cost involved. Far from clarifying the billing process to the customer, fuel surcharges have created a more convoluted, inconsistent and arbitrary pricing protocol.

There is no correct price.

Disposox

Few experiences in life are more oddly satisfying than stepping into a brand new pair of socks. Radiant white, brimming with elasticity, the fabric gently embraces your hoof as it fluently creeps up your lower calf, caressing your skin a manner almost sensual. These virgin garbs are perfect and unspoiled; having not yet been stretched or stained by daily use, disintegrated in the wash or molded to fit a left or right foot. When held close, the lingering aroma of children’s sweat may still be detected.

Unfortunately, this experience is not a common one, for we tend to delay replacing our socks until we realize that our drawers are stuffed with only the tattered remnants of once healthy socks. But what if we wanted to wear a new pair of socks every day? Could this practice be financially and environmentally feasible? Let’s compare this seemingly absurd concept to a more familiar and accepted daily ritual: drinking coffee.

The average cost of a pair of standard white socks at Wal-Mart is $1.00. The average cost of a cup of standard black coffee at Starbucks is $1.50. This means that we could enjoy sliding into a comfy new pair of socks every morning for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

The environmental impact of any industry or practice is difficult to discern due to the extensive gamut inherent to complex global issues. Farming practices, transportation methods, processing techniques, product packaging and  recyclability all play a role in the choreography of the destruction of Earth. However, if we broaden our paint brush and tint our glasses to the hue of a rose, the matter becomes divisively clear. A coffee cup has no use beyond holding coffee; once it has been emptied it is simply thrown away. A sock, on the other hand, maintains a variety of alternative functions after it has served its foot-covering purpose, including: hacky sack, pet toy or clothing, dust rag, bola, coin coffer, nunchaku or leg warmer. By finding innovative uses for spent socks their lifespan can be extended indefinitely, creating a zero waste system.

Start every day with a new pair of socks. You deserve it.

Younique

Light and music suffocate the room as pink-clad pixies hover about. Their platinum mops jut in all directions as mandibles ceaselessly grind bubblegum with intentional audibility. Lips, shimmering with unending layers of gloss, protrude from pristine glitter-spattered visages. With starving vocabularies, the shade of their speech conveys the sense of perpetual mild frustration. These are the succubi of retail clothing stores.

When shopping for clothing, there are many forces that may cause us to gravitate toward or repel from the selection of specific fashion articles. We say that we wear what we like, which is true, but it isn’t the whole truth. Fabric, fit, cut and color all send cultural signals about our taste, lifestyle, profession and promiscuity. Our clothing is, in addition to our hobbies, abilities and hairstyle, a powerful method of communicating our identity to the world; our appearance is an outlet of self-expression. Beyond a sense of identification, fashion has the supplementary function of making us feel unique. This is the peculiar balance of our desire for both separation and belonging, to be one-of-a-kind and a part of something more, like a piece in a puzzle.

To have someone tell us that they enjoy something we’re wearing or that they are impressed by our sense of fashion is an uplifting feeling that we all secretly strive to achieve. We want others to recognize our effort and creativity, assuring us that we are special. This is why we avoid wearing the same garment too frequently and refuse to purchase anything that a friend already owns. Thanks to the mass production and distribution brought about by the modern clothing industry, we now have access to an endless variety of clothing at prices that anyone can afford. This makes it very easy for us to attain a diverse and personalized wardrobe. Unfortunately, the sense of individual identity brought about by mass production is an illusion.

These clothes aren’t unique and we aren’t made unique by wearing them. Though we may rarely see others wearing the same outfit as we are, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Today, there could be hundreds of thousands of people across the globe unknowingly wearing the same garment. Of course, this illusion does not only manifest in our clothing, but also in more sacred artifacts of identity such as houses, bumper stickers and wedding rings. The realization that our treasured possessions are not unique may be disturbing, but the idea that we find our identity through something as fleeting and petty as fashion should disturb us far more.

There’s a million people wearing your shirt right now. A million.

Old Rope Swing

Consider an old rope swing hung from a branch, with a knot at the bottom for footing. Fastened to the tree many years ago, the swing has delighted countless children.

A young boy latches hold of the rope, places his foot on the knot and sails through the air. Resting on a nearby slope, the boy’s parents look on in blissful satisfaction at his joy.

The husband turns to his wife, “how long do you think this rope swing has been here?”

“I don’t know. It was here when I was little,” she replies, “why do you ask?”

He continues, “I’m just wondering how safe that thing is. Don’t you think it’s bound to break?”

“Hmm, I guess it has to break some day, but probably not today.”

“How can you be sure?” he persists.

“Well it’s held up all these years.”

“But it’s so old! Surely it’s must break very soon,” he insists.

The mystery of the old rope swing is that with each day the rope both proves its faithfulness and inches closer its demise. So do we trust in the strength of the old rope swing because it has proven itself so many times, or do we suspect its weakness because it has endured so much?