Bacon Day

Bacon slices

I’m an omnivore, although for a variety of largely practical reasons I mostly eat pretty low on the food chain. I could imagine being a lacto-ovo-vegetarian (that is, someone who eats plant products plus dairy and eggs, but no animal flesh), with a single exception: bacon. Sure, serve me up a veggie patty instead of beef and tofu in place of chicken, but there’s no non-pork product that can satisfy my hankering for bacon. Today’s not the only “holiday” that celebrates bacon in some form, but I’m happy for any excuse to indulge.

Image credit: By Lara604 from Seattle, WA (Perfect bacon slices) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Author: Joe Kissell


Not a mot juste, an aproposism

The right word (for “the right word”)

Don’t bother looking it up in the dictionary. The word aproposism isn’t there yet; I coined it back in 2003 and it has been used in the wild by (checks notes) approximately zero other people since then. But it had to be done. English is full of words that mean “the wrong word” in one sense or another: misnomer, malapropism, solecism, hyperbole, oxymoron, and so on, not to mention related concepts like misunderstanding, misconception, and misapprehension. This must show that English speakers value an apt choice of words and dislike an inappropriate choice. And yet, where is the word in English that refers to a choice of expression that’s just right? There isn’t one. Or wasn’t, until I came up with it.

There is, of course, the expression mot juste, which (per Merriam-Webster) does in fact mean “the exactly right word or phrasing.” Problem solved, right? Well, no. The phrase is French, and although it appears in many English dictionaries, it’s not terribly common—and it’s typically italicized (as I’ve done here) to denote that it’s a not-yet-fully-integrated foreign term. It’s also a two-word phrase, not a single word; and being French, it doesn’t follow the usual English pronunciation rules. In short: no, sorry, that won’t do at all. (For the sake of completeness, I’ll also mention another two-word French phrase you’ll find in your English dictionary: bon mot (“good word”), which refers to a clever remark or a witticism—but here, we’re not concerned with cleverness so much as appropriateness.) English ought to have a word that refers to a good choice of wording and that (whatever etymological roots it may have) at least sounds like the rest of the language.

You Don’t Say…

The need for this word arose when I was researching some well-known misnomers and malapropisms. I noticed that, amusingly enough, sometimes malapropisms were mistakenly referred to as misnomers, and vice versa. A misnomer, by the way, is an inappropriate name for something or someone, whereas a malapropism is the (often humorous) misuse of a word due to its similarity in sound to another word. So, for example, you might say that “correctional facility” is a misnomer if you believe behavioral correction does not occur there; similarly, “atom” is a misnomer for a unit of matter that can in fact be subdivided further. But if you say “purposefully” when you mean “purposely” or “disinterested” when you mean “uninterested,” that is a malapropism.

One website I looked at referred to the misuse of “healthful” to mean “healthy” as a misnomer, but that’s incorrect. An adjective cannot be a misnomer. The usage in question was a malapropism, as was the use of the term “misnomer” in place of “malapropism”! (As long as I’m coining terms, I’ll call this particular blunder a recursive malapropism.)

In any case, good writers would naturally want to avoid such mistakes, but how does one refer succinctly to a felicitous word choice? If I want to say, “I’ve chosen the correct word to mean ‘the wrong word,’” what sort of an activity have I thus performed? Or how can I describe the word so chosen? In either case, the correct term can only be aproposism.

Is It Apropos?

Careful readers may wonder why I didn’t use the shorter apropism, i.e., malapropism without the “mal-.” Three reasons: first, “apropism” is etymologically indefensible; second, aproposism is easier to remember because it contains “apropos” (appropriate); and third, aproposism is harder to pronounce—everyone likes a good tongue twister.

The reason “apropism” is etymologically indefensible is that the word “malapropism” itself has a rather dubious pedigree. The term was not derived directly from French, as you might suspect. Instead, it comes from the name of a character—Mrs. Malaprop—in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 comedy The Rivals. Mrs. Malaprop’s lines were peppered with verbal blunders, and the name was supposed to be a joke for those who knew some French—a catchy shortening of “malapropos,” which means “inopportunely.” Malapropos, in turn, is a combination of mal (“bad”) + à (“to”) + propos (“purpose”). All that to say: the pos in aproposism serves to tie the word more directly into its French roots, rather than basing it on a comedic English corruption of a French term.

That said, here’s my official definition:

aproposism (ə ˈpräp ə ˌsiz əm), n. [Fr. à propos, to the purpose < L. ad, to + propositus, pp. of proponere, propound + -ism < M.E. -isme < O.Fr. < L. -ismus < Gr. -ismos, nominative suffix]

  1. The act of choosing a felicitous word or phrase.
  2. A word or phrase so used.

So there you have it. Never again must you wonder about the right word for “the right word.”

Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Interesting Thing of the Day on October 29, 2003, and again in a slightly revised form on December 19, 2004.

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Author: Joe Kissell

National Pepper Pot Day

John Lewis Krimmel, Pepper-Pot: A Scene in the Philadelphia Market (1811)

If you had asked me an hour ago what the term “pepper pot” refers to, I could only have hazarded a guess, and that guess would have been wrong. To the best of my recollection, I have never seen, smelled, or tasted a pepper pot, but now at least I know what it is. It’s a stew! In fact, a variety of stews go by that name (or a similar one). The type of pepper pot we’re celebrating today—Philadelphia pepper pot—was originally made with beef tripe, vegetables, and various seasonings (prominently featuring pepper). Legend has it that this stew was concocted and served for the first time on this date in 1777—at Valley Forge, where George Washington’s troops were spending the winter—and that it was named after the city where Washington resided. There are several good reasons not to take that legend at face value, however. There’s also another type of pepperpot (this one, you’ll note, without a space between the words) that is customarily served around this time of year—Guyanese pepperpot. Here’s one recipe for a classic (non-Guyanese) pepper pot. You’ll notice that it doesn’t include tripe, which has sort of fallen out of favor in North America (though some of my European friends love it). As for the Pepper Potts of Marvel comics fame, well, that’s a nickname. Her real first name is Virginia. Yes, seriously.

Image credit: John Lewis Krimmel [Public domain]

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Author: Joe Kissell

Rock Paper Scissors Tournaments

A chart showing how the three game elements of "Rock-paper-scissors" interact.

A stone’s throw from the cutting edge

As regular readers of Interesting Thing of the Day know, I’m not what you’d call a sports enthusiast. Only on the rarest and most unusual occasions can I be persuaded to watch a sporting event, and even less often do I participate. This is partly because I’m not a very competitive person myself—and in general, I don’t like being around those who are. This attitude extends (again, only with occasional and very particular exceptions) even to board games, card games, and the like. They just don’t do anything for me. I’d rather have a conversation, or read a book, or go for a jog (as long as it’s not a race).

On the other hand, I do frequently need to make binary decisions, especially of the “which-one-of-us-gets-to-perform-the-unpleasant-task” variety. If my wife and I are trying to determine which one of us will take out the garbage, do the laundry, feed the cat, or whatever, we will sometimes employ the time-honored method of using a binary random number generator (a coin toss). Other times, we resort to playing “rock, paper, scissors,” an ostensibly random decision-making technique at which I invariably lose.

Let’s Rock

For the benefit of those few readers who may not be familiar with this game, two players simultaneously form their hands into one of three configurations: “rock” (a fist), “paper” (fingers flat), or “scissors” (first two fingers in a V shape). Each shape “wins” against one other—scissors wins against paper (“scissors cut paper”), rock wins against scissors (“rock dulls (or crushes) scissors”), and paper wins against rock (“paper covers rock”). If both players make the same choice, it’s a draw and the procedure is repeated. Variations on this game have appeared under many different names in countries around the world; some precursors to “rock, paper, scissors” are thought to date back to 200 BCE.

Now I discover that all this time I’ve been unwittingly participating in a sport. Incredible but true: an amazing number of people around the world take part in entirely serious competitions of “rock, paper, scissors” (or RPS, as it is known in the lingo)—with prizes ranging in value from the hundreds to the hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are local, regional, national, and international Rock Paper Scissors tournaments, a The World Rock Paper Scissors Association (based in Ottawa, Ontario), and even multiple books on RPS strategy.

We Will Rock You

Strategy? Yes indeed. That’s the whole point of the competition—RPS is not truly random. For one thing, many players follow patterns (either consciously or unconsciously). For another, skilled competitors can look for subtle clues to what their opponent’s next “throw” will be and counter by altering their own throw at the last moment. Likewise, there is a whole range of miscues one can learn to perform in order to fake out an opponent or even bias them toward selecting a particular throw. (You can learn about many of these things in The Rock Paper Scissors Handbook by Wyatt Baldwin, president of the The World Rock Paper Scissors Association, or in The Official Rock Paper Scissors Strategy Guide by Douglas and Graham Walker, leaders of the World RPS Society (which appears to be much less active these days).

Professional competitors must come to an agreement about the number of “primes” they will use (primes being the preliminary arm movements used to synchronize the throws); for the World Rock Paper Scissors Association, there are three—the actual move is shown on the fourth movement. In some competitions, the allowable hand configurations are also prescribed in detail—for example, “paper” must always be horizontal, not vertical like a handshake. And of course, players must be careful to form their chosen hand symbol before the arm reaches the 90° point. In tournament play, a referee verifies that players abide by the rules and arbitrates disputes.

At an RPS tournament, players usually compete in a series of elimination rounds. Each match consists of two sets of three games each. Match winners advance to the next round; losers are out of the entire competition. Some RPS tournaments attract thousands of participants, and a few—with large prizes and lots of publicity—have even been broadcast on ESPN.

I can’t decide whether I like the idea of RPS tournaments or not. On the plus side, the game’s got simplicity going for it, and a high wackiness quotient. It’s also less violent than, say, football or hockey, and perhaps the least time-consuming sport I can think of. On the minus side, calling it a “sport” in the first place stretches the meaning of the term considerably. (Come to think of it, maybe that’s a plus.) More importantly, the revelation that it’s not really random at all makes it less attractive as a means of settling a disagreement. I can live with the arbitrary decision of a coin toss, but I hate to think my ability to weasel out of doing dishes depends on my skill in faking “rock” to trick my wife into throwing “paper,” only to switch to “scissors” just before my arm reaches level. Given the choice, I’ll pick housework over sports any day.

Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Interesting Thing of the Day on March 11, 2005.

Image credit: Enzoklop [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

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Author: Joe Kissell

How do you know if you need a prenuptial agreement?

Getting married is an overwhelming and emotional time for couples in Texas and elsewhere. The excitement of the process, along with the costs associated with it, can be a lot to take in. Thus, it is often not an ideal time to bring up the possibility of a future divorce. It is certainly not romantic to discuss divorce before a marriage has begun. However, the reality remains that roughly half of all marriages end in divorce.

With that fact in mind, many couples choose to include a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement in their union. While it was once more common to do this if a spouse was wealthy or famous, this is no longer the case. Nonetheless, spouses still pause and ask: How do I know if I need a prenup?

To begin, a prenup is a contract entered into by two spouses before a marriage that details property division, spousal support and other important issues in case a divorce takes place. Couples need to understand why any couple would need or want a prenuptial agreement. The ultimate reason to include a prenup in a marriage is to protect the assets and property a spouse had before marriage.

Although uncomfortable at first, the discussion of a prenup could help a couple to be more open and forthcoming about what assets, property and debt they have prior to getting married. This not only results in a more transparent financial situation, but could also provide valid reasons for wanting and needing to enter into a prenup.

No matter the reason for considering a prenuptial agreement, it is important to understand the process to enter into and validate this marital agreement. Even more so, those in the divorce process need to ensure they understand how a prenup is executed in the process. This helps protect one’s rights and interests in the matter.

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Author: On behalf of Katie L. Lewis of Katie L. Lewis, P.C. Family Law

Guiding and supporting you through the divorce process

For each couple, the best part of marriage is something different. Each marriage is unique to the spouses involved, and much like the good parts often shape the marriage, so do the bad parts. In some cases, the bad can outweigh the good, causing spouses in Texas and elsewhere to consider the longevity of their union. While they may have a lot of good to fight for, ultimately, if ending the marriage is in their best interest, divorce will likely be the best step for them to take.

Even when one or both spouses are confident with their choice in filing for divorce, it is by no means an easy decision to make or process to go through. Emotions can run high and the matter can become complex when spouses seek to maintain ownership of certain property. The matter can become further complicated when children are involved and the divorcing parents cannot agree on custody and support issues.

While these are all typical legal issues faced by divorcing couples, it can feel very personal and isolating. At Katie L. Lewis, P.C., Family Law, our law firm will make sure you do not feel alone in this process. Our skilled legal team is here to not only explain the situation and options available to you, but we are also dedicated to making our clients feel supported and understood. We take the time to fully discuss the goals of our clients, helping them make them a reality.

To learn more, check out our law firm’s divorce website. No matter what legal issues a spouse faces during dissolution, there are mechanisms to resolve them. Our law firm can help you determine what steps are best to take in your specific situation, helping you to protect your interests and rights along the way.

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Author: On behalf of Katie L. Lewis of Katie L. Lewis, P.C. Family Law

Not sure if you need a prenup? You probably do

Few things can spoil a romantic mood quite as thoroughly as suddenly bringing up finances. However, that does not mean this is a conversation you should avoid having. When protecting yourself and your property, seeking for a prenuptial agreement can be one of the best decisions you ever make.

Despite a increased use in recent years of prenups, there are still many misconceptions. Some people in Texas believe prenups are only necessary for the ultra-rich; others think prenups spell doom for a marriage.

Let’s consider how you could benefit from using a prenup.

There is a financial imbalance

You are not marrying your significant other because of his or her paycheck, and you are certainly not marrying him or her for his or her debt. In today’s world, it is likely that one of you will either:

  • Earn more than the other
  • Have more assets to one’s name
  • Engage in bad spending habits or have lots of debt

In general, things that you own before tying the knot remain your own personal property that does not need dividing during divorce. However, family law is complicated, and in some cases, the way that you treat personal property can actually cause it to turn into marital property. In general, it is best to not leave your financial security up to chance, and a prenup can address all of the above issues you might face.

Business obligations

Being an entrepreneur is an exciting venture. Being an entrepreneur who is about to get a divorce can be terrifying. How can you protect your business interests during your split? What if your ex tries to claim that he or she should receive a portion of those assets?

You do not want to watch something you have worked so hard for disintegrate. As a business owner, a prenuptial agreement is an invaluable tool for protecting everything you have created.

You can get creative

The law already addresses how parents should split custody of their children, but what about pet owners? In the eyes of Texas state law, your pet is not another member of the family — it is property. Rather than potentially lose out on ever seeing your beloved four-legged friend ever again, you can use a prenup to figure out how you will handle pet-related costs and even pet custody.

At a distance, a prenuptial agreement might seem like a cold tool used by those who are already anticipating a divorce. In reality, these are incredibly versatile family law tools that can cover a wide range of scenarios and protections.

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Author: On behalf of Katie L. Lewis of Katie L. Lewis, P.C. Family Law

How long will spousal maintenance be paid in Texas?

When a couple in Texas gets a divorce, it is common for one spouse to pay maintenance, also referred to as alimony, to the other spouse. This can lead to disputes between the parties. The paying spouse might not want to support the other spouse indefinitely. The supported spouse could want the payments for an extended period of time. There could be disagreements as to how much the payments will be. There are many issues that could be part of the case when it is decided and even after the case is completed. Understanding state law regarding the duration of spousal maintenance is imperative to a case for both sides.

When deciding on the duration of spousal maintenance, the court cannot order it for more than five years after the date, if the couple was married for less than 10 years unless there is an establishment of maintenance based on family violence within two years of filing for divorce or while the case is pending and the spouse cannot earn enough to provide for reasonable needs because of a disability, or there is a child for whom the receiving spouse will be the custodial parent. It cannot go beyond five years if the couple was married for 10 years, but not more than 20 years.

It cannot go beyond seven years from the date the order was issued if the couple was married for at least 20 years, but the marriage did not go beyond 30 years. It will last for 10 years from the date of the order if the couple was married for 30 years or more. There will be a limit for how long spousal maintenance will last and it will be for the shortest reasonable amount of time so the receiving spouse can earn enough income for reasonable needs unless their ability is diminished because of being disabled, they are caring for a young child or an infant from the marriage or there is another compelling hindrance to earning enough to meet those needs.

A common topic for disagreement when a couple is divorcing is spousal support and its duration. Even if the law is clear on these matters, there is always room for negotiation and accounting for individual circumstances of any given divorce.

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Author: On behalf of Katie L. Lewis of Katie L. Lewis, P.C. Family Law

Three methods divorcing couples could choose from

When it comes to ending a marriage, spouses in Texas and elsewhere are often focused just on that, dissolving the marriage and moving forward. However, that is simpler said than done. In today’s era, divorce can get messy, hostile and very costly. There are often many things to argue over, and when it is a toxic environment and emotions are running high, the process can be extended. But much like no two marriages are alike, there are no two divorces that are alike. In contrast, divorcing couples do have the same choices and resources.

There are three methods couples can chose from when ending a marriage. No single method is better or the best; however, based on the factors and circumstances surrounding the divorce, the benefits experienced by one method over another may be clear for a specific couple.

The first option is mediation. This is essentially when both spouses work together to decide what is best for their family and finances. This is often the least costly method and can take the least amount of time. However, if spouses cannot agree or it turns high conflict, this can be a very costly and ineffective method. The next is collaborative law. This is when a team of experts are used to help the spouses come up with a creative divorce solution. Unlike mediation where a mediator works with the divorcing spouses, collaborative divorce is a negotiation process between the spouses and their attorneys.

The final method is litigation. This is the traditional method and it can be the most expensive and taxing route to take. However, in some matters, it is the most effective method, as a high conflict divorce will not reach a resolution through mediation or collaboration. The downside is that the needs and wishes of each side may not be expressed and understood as well, and a judge is left to determine what is best.

No matter what divorce method is used, it is important to understand what the process looks like and how it might be suitable for your situation. Those dealing with such a matter should explore their matter further and understand how they can best protect their rights and interests.

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Author: On behalf of Katie L. Lewis of Katie L. Lewis, P.C. Family Law