Wrong about everything

Here we go down the word nerd wormhole.

During a podcast recording session this week, Jamie and I had a little sidebar discussion about vocabulary words, and how I’ve always been a word nerd.

I can’t help myself. New words unlock precision of speech at the same time they open up infinite cocktails of meaning. The intersection of efficiency and novelty is just so intellectually seductive.

What I really love about words, though, is that while definitions are concrete, they’re only a starting point. Once words slide into conversation with one another, they feed on each others’ energy and nuance. Meaning starts getting slippery.

Sometimes, too slippery. For someone who loves words so much, I quite frequently discover that I’ve been using a particular one completely wrong.

Here’s one egregious example:

I wrote dozens of essays in college using the word belie. It likely showed up in every essay I wrote. My young adult self thought it sounded sophisticated and scholarly.

Years later, I learned I’d perfectly reversed its meaning. I’d been using it as a synonym for support. It means betray.

Every single undergraduate essay I wrote includes at least one argument that posits the exact opposite of what I intended.

I never got called out for those rhetorical inconsistencies. My arguments must not have been forceful enough to lay bare that mistake—or perhaps there were was merit in their inverse. Either way, I spent years banging away at my keyboard like every day was opposite day.

Now every day is groundhog day and everything is the same but nothing is the same. We’re all craving some kind of concrete thing to know and to hold on to, and in our desperation we have all become expert economist-epidemiologists.

It’s just as tempting to join the clamorous ranks as it is to burrow into pajamas and Netflix.

I am furiously washing my hands and I frequently pull my mask down off my face so people can hear me from 6 feet away.

I think people’s lives are more important than capitalism and I know that people’s lives depend on a working economy.

I want to get back to ‘normal’ and I know that the previous normal was fundamentally broken.

I am angry that big businesses took such a big slice of government aid when I am still waiting on a relatively teeny tiny loan and I am hopeful their thousands of employees will benefit.

I am burned out on parenting in the cauldron of quarantine and I know I have it orders of magnitude better than most.

I know what belie means and I know I will uncover more of my own unwitting betrayals.

Whenever I think I’ve found certainty: any time I want to fire off an angry response; any time I want to dip into jokey-not-jokey Darwin award nominations, I recall another word I once made stand in for its shadow.

Retrench, it turns out, does not mean to double down. It means to withdraw.

Yours in striving and straying,


Media I’m glad I consumed this week

  • Jamie started a newsletter! It’s smart and witty just like she is. You need this in your life, and here’s the proof: the first issue starts with a fart. Get on the list here.

  • The invisible, essential work of this forgotten, ubiquitous item.

  • Unorthodox on Netflix, also the source of my favorite new word (see below).

  • Trying to embrace my own limitations of knowledge but hitting thumbs up reacts on these kinds of takes. It’s a process, mmkay?

  • If you’re going to read just one of the genre of articles headlined “I’m an ER doctor in New York…”, read this one.

  • Nerding out like woah on this reading list.

  • A journalist friend is compiling this list of big companies that took advantage of the PPP loans.

  • Take this unscheduled break into beauty, joy, and human contact.

  • I wanted to highlight every single sentence in this article, but I’ll just include one section here:

Cooking, cleaning, emotional and community management, all of which most of us are doing more intensely as we’re living together in lockdown, are work—they just don’t count on the ledger of human worth because the economy refuses to value them in its reckoning of what does, because most of it has been done in private, by women, for free.

A+ on the vocab quiz

Favorite new-to-me word, inspired by Unorthodox:

daven: (v) recite the prescribed liturgical prayers.

Meme game strong