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Some things I don't understand

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

For the life of me, I don’t get why technically savvy people recommend dusting the insides of a computer with propellant-driven canned air. Maybe it’s because they’ve never been household engineers, a.k.a housewives.

Any household engineer knows that blowing air into dusty corners merely stirs up the dirt and drives it into other nooks and crannies. Why did they invent vacuum cleaners but to pull dust up into a canister, safely secured until it could be emptied outside the house?

Delicate as a motherboard or sound card may be, it seems to me the last thing I should do is redistribute one corner’s dust into another. Some enterprising tech ought to be busy inventing a small, low-powered vacuum that will suck up the dirt and take it away. Can’t be too powerful lest it suck up some sensitive component, I suppose, so, Techy, design this mini-mini sweeper with a transparent bladder where a tiny screw can be seen by the operator.

Another puzzle to me is why automakers can’t agree on a standardization plan so that the headlight switch is always in the same spot, heater and windshield levers here and emergency blinkers there. Many of us drive more than one car, our own or rentals, and I’ll bet there have been more accidents due to a driver distracted by searching for a rear-window defogger than talking on a cell phone.

Here’s a linguistic inconsistency: What do we mean when we tack the suffix “-ist” on the back of a word? You know what a sexist is – one who is prejudiced against an individual because of gender, right? Racist is the same, but in matters of race. Terrorist means one who terrorizes.

So why do we call someone who seeks to protect the environment an environmentalist? Or someone who values the American fiduciary ethic a capitalist?

When “-ist” denotes one who does something, like an instrumentalist, how do we decide whether to use “-ist” or “-er”? Trombonist, pianist, psychologist or tromboner, pianoer, psychologer?

A few years ago, one of the shoot-’em-ups on TV made a case for “shootist” rather than the tried and true term shooter. It didn’t take. Ironically, alluding to guns, the guy in the turret of a B-29 was a gunner, not a gunnist.

That’s the trouble with English, which recently added the millionth word to its lexicon. English accepts shamelessly the contributions of other languages, always has. If you doubt it, note that English is full of irregularities easily traceable to French, German, and older tongues.

I marvel that the newest members of the English-speaking world don’t miss a beat whether speaking or writing. Grandsons write notes to grandmothers and don’t care a whit that many of our commonest words break the rules.

To make a noun plural, we generally just add an “s,” as in boy(s), and truck(s).Sometimes we change a “-y” to “-ie” before the “s” – families, duties. Sometimes we don’t do a thing: fish and sheep. But why did we keep children, women? Mice? Data??

Ah, sweet mysteries of life. I’ll continue to think about this while I break out the sweeper and sweep up some dusts.

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