Health As Virtue

I don’t really want to be one of those people who rails against ‘American culture’ because who even knows what that is, anyway. But I guess I’m going to just for a sec here because I can. Something I’ve noticed for a long time. Americans often consider health to be a virtue instead of like, an attribute. As in, good people are healthy and bad people are not.

You are unhealthy or sick because of the choices you have made. You did this to yourself and therefore you deserve whatever unpleasantness, illness, or disability that you are dealing with. I am healthy because I am smart and make good, moral decisions and therefore I deserve whatever good things may happen in my life.

Consider the old adage, “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” I am all for making healthy choices, I really am, but let’s take a second here. Going to bed early and getting up early is not a healthy choice–it’s just a choice. Getting adequate sleep is a healthy choice, but when you get that sleep is totally immaterial. It is generally easier to sleep when it is dark outside and be awake when it is light but even that isn’t a requirement (see: people living in polar-adjacent areas). There’s so much more to unpack in that phrase but I can’t right now, I think you get my drift though.

Being healthy is great but we’ve got to remember that health doesn’t always come down to our choices. Human health is full of risks and chances, things that happen just because they happen. And because we live in an imperfect society, our choices are also often very limited; money makes a huge difference, as does education, culture, and access to preventive care.

I’ll be frank with you. I would rather care for every need–including the every single one that does genuinely result from ‘bad choices’–than willfully neglect a human being in need. That’s the real healthy choice: caring about everyone. There’s a whole lot more to say on the issue but that’s what I’ve got for you today.

Please pardon the dearth of cats on here this past month, I wanted to try to just focus on what I was saying. But now it’s March and regular content can now resume so here is a fairly substantial gallery of many furry friends. I hope that it in some small way atones for my cat-related negligence.

I just love them all so much. Very blessed to have so many precious kitties in my life. I will especially never get over how cute Béégashii and Jenny are together. They’re all just such excellent cats. I love cats.

The other life news that I have is a little bit scary to share, to be honest. Because nothing is certain and I kind of feel like nothing is real until it actually happens and because I’ll feel like a ginormous loser if it doesn’t happen but I’m a loser. Plus, it’s arguably the biggest Thing (maybe even only Thing) to happen to me since at least August.

I am being flown out (that’s right, I’m not flying out, I’m being flown out) to a second interview a couple time zones over this coming week. I am super excited about the job primarily because a) it is something that I actively really want to do right now and b) I already have friends in this potential new city and that would just make things a whole lot easier and nicer.

Hoping against hope. Trying not to hope too much because my hopes have been dashed (or maybe more accurately, slowly withered away until their dust so completely disperses that it’s difficult to tell there ever was hope to begin with) so many times before. I’m anxious about the interview itself–it’s forecast to be in three parts and take up two complete hours. I’m also a little anxious about traveling–not because of a virus of any kind but because traveling generally makes me very anxious no matter how often I do it.

But anyway. Enjoy the cats. Care about people no matter what. Join me in hoping. Please please oh please.

Very January

There are many things I love about snow. Some are specific to western Washington, some are not, some are listed below.

  1. Pine and cedar branches, all droopy and elegant, laden with their crystal burden
  2. Knocking snow off such laden branches, which is an almost unparalleled joy
  3. Watching snow fall,  a thousand miracles dancing on each breath of air
  4. Ferns
  5. The unseen dusk last night that cast an opalescent orange-purple hue to the very air when reflected on all the white
  6. Dancing, frolicking, or at least stepping out in the snow (bonus points if you’re barefoot) and watching your steps fill in again
  7. The muffling quiet stillness it lends

When I was in Michigan, the snow was a lot. Sometimes inconvenient, sometimes scary. By the end, it was too much. But throughout that, it was still beautiful. Even if I was ready for the snowdrifts to melt and spring to actually start, I still appreciated the snow for what it was. Is. Whatever.

I love the snow. It is beautiful.


And so we’re another week deeper into the year. Things for me are really quite the same and it continues to be discouraging but at least there was some snow to give me a little life. It seems kind of like every time I’ve been on the brink of true resignation, something comes along to give me the slightest infusion of hope which then strings me along for a while until the next brink and infusion. I’m very read for that cycle to end, one way or another.

Until then, I’ve been passing the time for better or for worse: reading, playing Civilization, watching Netflix; applying to jobs, getting some exercise, working just a little bit (that’s better and worse, respectively). There are worse ways to while away days. And at least I’m blessed to have the company of a couple very lovely cats. Not to mention the cute ones that my sister is very regular about sending me pictures of.


It feels altogether too early in the year for a very short post but I don’t know what to tell you. Sometimes that’s just the way it is. I’ve said before that I love winter up until New Year’s and that is so very true. I am very appreciative of the snow and everything but in general this is simply not my scene. Feeling very January this week, I guess.

Before I go, though, I want to say that I am grateful for the beauty of creation.

Deodorant; or, Having Friends

Moderately embarrassing story time. When I was in middle school, my personal hygiene habits were pretty medium which, as anyone who has ever encountered a middle schooler will tell you, is not uncommon. One major element of this was that I was slow to develop the routine of wearing deodorant. It was a new part of the morning routine that had not been heretofore necessary and yet now, especially with PE every other day, it became essential. Mostly, I forgot. Sometimes, I was just a gross, lazy adolescent.

Anyway, it did not go unnoticed, as you might imagine. At some point during the year, I was called to the counselor’s office (which in itself was kind of frightening) to talk with the moderately-creepy (at least I thought at the time, who knows if he really was or not) counselor in charge of my grade or letter of last name or whatever. And, in short, he was like, you’ve got to wear deodorant people are noticing.

I think that I’m a pretty easily embarrassed person to begin with so this was absolutely mortifying. No matter how non-creepy or generously done, it was going to be heinous for my delicate sixth grade sensibilities. Needless to say, however, its effects were immediate and, I hope, comprehensive. To this day, I live with fairly constant worry about my smell even though I know my habits are much better these days and I haven’t gotten any further complaints.

But anyway. Now that you know more about that than you ever, ever wanted to. The idea that I’m trying to convey is that I am plagued by doubt. About many things, most more consequential than my odor, but that is one of them. But, for smell as well as for many other things, my doubts are unfounded. I know that there’s no real basis for this pervasive fear but it’s taken hold of me somewhere pretty deep. And simply being conscious of that isn’t really enough to overcome it.

Something that I’ve been trying to work on lately, with more or less success (mostly less, let’s be real), is thinking thoughts that are based on direct evidence. I don’t feel that I’m all that good at reading social signals and that leaves me, as above, plagued with doubts and fears about what people think about me and how they feel and whatnot. But because I don’t pick up on a lot of the signals, those doubts and fears aren’t really based on anything in particular, they’re just kind of a default due to the absence of real information.

And it’s a pretty trash default to assume that people don’t like me or that I’ve always done something wrong. So I’m working on it. Working on being direct with people so that I can have some direct information to go off of. Working on believing people when, having been direct to them, they confirm that they do actually enjoy spending time with me and do actually want to be my friend. It feels very childish to me and I’m often rather embarrassed but I think it’s a much better route than my default negative assumptions.

Here’s the real thing, going back to my little anecdote. I do wear deodorant now. Sometimes, after exertion or in inclement circumstances, I know that I do smell bad, but generally I do not. And so, knowing that I am generally kind to people (or at least trying to be, most of the time), I should be able to rest a little easier knowing that the scent of my friendship (okay yeah, this is a trash metaphor but here we are) isn’t all that offensive to my friends.

To cap this all off, I have to recognize that I do actually have friends. And this, relating to our metaphorical deodorant, has two implications. First, that I don’t generally smell bad. People do like me and I’m not constantly the least-wanted person in any group. Second, when the occasions come when I don’t smell great (which are inevitable), my friends will tell me and they’ll be nice about it and it’ll be a whole lot less mortifying than possibly-creepy counselor man.

So yes, this post is maybe a weird way to start off the year but whatever. Here are my takeaways for you: you are good, believe that people like you, accept correction when it comes, and just worry less. We are, I think, better off than we often give ourselves credit for. And, in the immortal words of Clarence the Angel, no man is a failure who has friends. So thanks, friends, for tolerating my deodorant.

Unimaginable Cosmic Violence

If you have not heard of the Christmas Cat of Icelandic lore, please familiarize yourself urgently here. Because what’s not to love, it’s cats and Iceland and Christmas.

What an amazing kitty, am I right? Eating children, advocating for the poorest among us, inspiring charity and social unity. Everything about it honestly just sounds so amazing. I’d love a scary story that not only says ‘be good’ like the whole coal thing, but that tells you to actively look out for others. Give them coats or you’re basically murdering them. Which, you know, doesn’t have any bearing on the state of things these days, since all children are safe and warm and fed…

Anyway, I hope you all had a very merry Christmas. I really enjoyed seeing and spending time with my family. Baking. Watching movies (would recommend Klaus on Netflix). Finding some peace, love, and joy. Thinking about the wonder and magic of the incarnation of the God of the universe.

So I don’t really want to do a year in review, or even a decade in review, but I’m going to have a little moment if that’s alright.

Sometimes, especially in the midst of a job search (all too frequent in my adult life thus far), I just feel like a nobody. I have to remind myself that I have Accomplishments and Deeds that I have Done and Experiences that I have Had. Pardon me for a sec while I have some self-affirmation.

In this past decade, I have: graduated high school, gotten a BA, and gotten an MPhil. I have lived in three countries and visited many others. I have reached over 900 days on Duolingo (and counting). I have come out as gay (which I will never tire of saying, probs). I’ve become a brother-in-law and an uncle. I worked jobs and learned things and was successful in many different ways.

But the other side of this coin is that, no matter my accomplishments and deeds and experiences, I am worth the same. I feel better when I remember that I have Done Things that hold meaning in society but it’s also good to remember that none of those things give me any additional value. I have value because I am.

You have value because you are, too. Watching It’s a Wonderful Life yesterday reminded me, it’s good to have dreams–even wild dreams–but you are not your dreams and achieving them or not achieving them or changing them doesn’t make you any less. Dream dreams and live life and when things aren’t going your way at all, just remember that you are loved.

I don’t know if you’re aware, but NASA recently made their entire image and video archive publicly available and internet-searchable, which is a strong yes from me. You can find it here, and search for fun things like “comet” or “Triton” or “Ursa Major.” Personally, the first thing I wanted to look at was nebulae.

I cannot science much at all, to say nothing of astronomy in particular, but I know pictures of nebulae are about the most intriguing, beautiful things out there. Very mysterious, in no small part because astronomical photography involves colors and things that represent things other than visible light so it’s wild. Anyway. I browsed pictures of nebulae for a while and read some of the little descriptions that NASA has kindly appended to each entry to try and make sense of what you’re looking at.

Of course, it’s all unintelligible to me regardless but I was arrested by a phrase they used when talking about the heart of the Crab Nebula. There, in a swirl of color and light indicating, apparently, electrons moving at nearly the speed of light spinning out of the magnetic field of a crushed star. Or something like that. In their words, this image of a neutron star bears silent witness to “extreme physical processes and unimaginable cosmic violence.”

I don’t know what the Crab Nebula was going through but let’s take it as an invitation to start the new year off right. If stars can explode and be that beautiful, then we can live our lives beautifully in any circumstance. Besides, unimaginable cosmic violence is how you get new stars.

Let Loving Hearts Enthrone Him

Last Saturday, I went to the Candlelight Concert of the Tacoma Youth Chorus–the group that I had been in for nine years when I graduated high school. It was great to see some people whom I hadn’t seen in a few years, catch up a little, listen to music. Alumni were invited to sing a couple songs on stage, which was a lot of fun. I so miss being a part of a music group, performing like that with other people is unlike any other experience. Definitely on my list of things to do as soon as feasible in my life.

If you’ve never participated in organized singing–not just like, the national anthem or something–it really is a special experience. Similar to sports teams, I guess, or anything like that where you’re cooperating with a group. But it has a feeling all its own. Creating beauty like that, it’s just exactly what I needed. Still need.

One of the very surfacy things that I love about the Christmas season is all the baking. Since baking is very much my scene, an excuse to do it in excess and have everyone just be like “yeah that’s a totally normal amount of baking” is wonderful. There are a lot more things to bake on my list but so far, I’ve done shortbread cookies (including a delicious orange cranberry iteration), peppermint cheesecake (including my first time making ganache), and fig bread pudding (which is as close to figgy pudding as I’ve ever come). All delicious, thanks for asking. And beautiful, so here are some pictures.

If you are in my physical proximity and would like to bake together some time, let’s do it. It truly is such a joy for me and is so much better when doing it with other people. The above were baked with my mom, step mom, and brother, respectively. Let’s make something tasty together.

It’s wild to be posting this Christmas entry what feels like so early, since it’s on a Wednesday this year. There’s a whole week to go. And likewise next week, my New Year’s post will come on Boxing Day. But it would be remiss of me to neglect the kitties and so I will share a few more pictures because cats.

There are few things better than cuddly sleeping cats, I think.

Little theological moment. I don’t think that the “king” imagery and language of the Bible is wrong about God but I don’t think that the idea is a) the whole story and b) helpful in all circumstances. In fact, the Bible demonstrates to me that God was pretty against the idea of kings, being very reluctant to let Israel an earthly one at all. And here’s what I think that indicates: yeah, God is king in a kind of literal way, being creator and ruler of the universe; no, God is not a king in a scepter and crown way. So sometimes the fixation on royal imagery in Christianity bugs me because if God is a king the way people are kings, then there’s a problem. If God is king in a totally different way, why not just use a different word.

Since coming out, I have had occasion to move in some very progressive Christian circles and a term I hear relatively often is ‘kin-dom’ to replace kingdom in some contexts. This is well-supported in another image that’s jam-packed into the Bible all over the place: family. An imperfect metaphor (as all metaphors must be) but a good one. This is why I’ve chosen this line to title my Christmas post this year. Because if we’re going to talk about God as king–which isn’t a bad thing–we would do well to make it quite clear what kind of king we’re talking about.

There will be no throne, no crown, no palace, no castle, no trumpets. God sits enthrones within our hearts. And that is what makes Christmas a whole thing worth celebrating. That the Lord of the Universe does not require taxes, does not issue or revoke citizenship, does not demand fealty or service or even law-abiding behavior.

God simply draws near. Comes into this world even as into our hearts. And it is with our hearts–not our actions, our achievements or misdeeds–that we enthrone him.

Left Over

There are two ways to think about leftovers: evidence of plenty or that which has been passed over. I have been feeling both this week.


Camaro, on the other hand, has been posing for a very artistic portrait

Very small Keegan was never the kid who never got picked to be on a team at recess, at least not to my recollection (we all know how meaningless that is but still). This was in part because I did have friends, some of whom were sporty, and in part because I mostly just avoided being in that situation because sports are the worst. Anything more athletic than four-square was very much anathema to very small Keegan. And honestly still is. In other words, ‘that which has been passed over’ is not a new feeling to me but I have been blessed to have avoided it in that common scenario.

On the Thanksgiving front, of course, there were a great deal of leftovers in the former sense. Really a lot of mashed potatoes. Turkey living a second life in many forms. The pumpkin pie that I made and devoured altogether too much of. So many rolls. All of which is a great thing. To be provided for. To participate in having plenty.

There are a few things that I’ve been waiting for lately, and none of them have come to pass. Not in a not-happening kind of way, but in a (hopefully) not-yet kind of way. It’s unpleasant nonetheless and I’d much rather have a yes or a no than a who-knows but here we are. Still. Waiting. Other things seem to keep piling up behind those things but it’s been slower than molasses on this side.


If only I could look that good while waiting

Anyway. On to other things. It’s December. Christmas is practically here. Needless to say, I am pumped. There is a welcome, a comfort, in Christmas that invades me even when I’m feeling my least Christmasy. For that, I am very grateful. It is very easy for me to turn inwards, generally speaking, but it is doubly true in times like this when self-pity occupies an unfortunate proportion of my day. This season is the perfect antidote to selfishness–or, rather, it is the antidote and (as I said last week) I am imperfectly trying to be cured.

It’s no fun to be the dregs of mashed potato left over after a feast. But at the same time, I know that my God is a God of Plenty. I don’t believe that God is out there preventing me from getting a job because God wants me to do something else and it’s not the right time yet. I believe even less that God wants me to wait just for the sake of waiting, because it will build character or faith or something. What I do believe is that God is with me in waiting as God is with me in action; God is with me in times of plenty, when there is much left over, even as God is with me in times when I am left over, passed over, not yet chosen.

If I were a cat, I do not know if I would prefer to be an indoor cat or an outdoor cat. It partly depends on the indoor and the outdoor in question, I suppose. A nice house, friendly people, large spaces. Decent weather, interesting things, few predators. The real key, as any pet owner or parent of a human child could tell you, would be how well I was fed. Not needing an excessive amount of food, to be mindful of my cat health, but having plenty. Something delicious and timely.

I say this as a random tangent because I am very tired while writing but also because I’m considering the lilies of the field, if you know what I mean. The cats. Consider the cats. They always have food leftover in their bowl because someone cares for them. I don’t imagine that God is some great cosmic cat owner but at the very least, I’ve had some of that bread of life so I should be good. My cup runneth over and so on.

I won’t apologize for the above but I will acknowledge it as the ramblings of a lunatic. It is what it is. I should sleep more. I’d love to not work at Michaels with awful hours. Only time will tell.

Ah! Beautiful

This week has been a week. Not even that it’s been tiring, mentally or physically, or even that a lot of things happened. But just. Interview on Monday, waiting on tenterhooks ever since, hoping to hear back. Worked a little. Daydreamed a lot about what my life might look like if I had a for-real income and maybe moved to the (widest possible extent of the) greater Seattle area. Tried without too much success to coalesce some thoughts around topics from the conference the other week. Read. Baked (just some simple soda bread, love a good no-yeast bread recipe).

Been trying to think about what to get people for Christmas. One gift is bought and one is chosen but not yet purchased. Everything else is still very much up in the air. Annoyingly, I’m the kind of person who prefers choosing the presents I receive (for the most part) in a desire to minimize waste and make everyone including myself happy. But when I’m shopping for others, I like to try and be creative and thoughtful. I recognize the dissonance (sorry, parents for whom that may be frustrating). But also, I’m not like oozing money at the moment.

I sometimes think I’d like to do something crafty and really unique. I did it a few times when I was younger (but not like, young-young). Don’t think it really went over super well because I’m not really skilled in any kind of crafty way. We’ll just have to see how things shape up this year.

Bleh, I’d rather not be thinking about how I still don’t know if I got that job yet. Here, have a picture of my rosemary soda bread (insufficient rosemary, for future reference).


The thing about this job that I’ve applied for is that it’s like a six month temp position with no solid gateway into a full time position (though theoretically possible, not something to plan on). So even if I am hired at this place, guess what I’ll be doing yet again in just a few short months. Applying to jobs. Yech. Look, a distraction! My sister’s lovely kitties! They’ve been off the blog for too long.


In the midst of all of my nothing-really-going-on this week, I did have a few moments that stood out. A couple moments of friends reaching out. Just chatting. Feeling a little more connected than I have been lately. I like talking to my friends so much. If you are my friend, you can always talk to me. It will almost certainly brighten my day (as long as you’re not talking about how much you hate cats or some trash like that).

A while ago, I encountered a poem called The Republic of Poetry by Martín Espada. It’s a cute little imagining of a world concerned primarily with elevating the position of poets, and with propagating a love of poetry among the entire populace.

The final stanza indicates that the customs agent at the airport will not allow anyone to leave the country until they recite a poem for her that makes her exclaim, “Ah! Beautiful.”

What a gift it is to give one another something beautiful.


So I know that the internet can vacillate wildly between dark, evil, and pointless but I want to take the opportunity in this week’s post to highlight some of the good that the internet can do. Namely this: there is a Wikiquote article for the show Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! And that’s a really good thing.

Because sometimes you just need something good like a line or two from Jeepers! It’s the Creeper and all of that. I can recall with startling clarity Velma saying, “Somebody didn’t want somebody to see a PICture of somebody,” with just that emphasis. I haven’t rewatched any Scooby-Doo in the past several years but I feel like it’s one of those things that wouldn’t be worse seeing it in this current age (for the most part).

Other than an unabated love of Scooby-Doo, there’s not much to report this week. I don’t love getting up super early for work but it’s manageable. And, for those of you who protest starting the Christmas season early by any definition, let me tell you: Michael’s is not the store for you. Because Christmas is out in force and Halloween was on its way out starting last week. I don’t mind it, though it is just incredibly glittery. Everywhere, all the time.

I’ve never been much of a Halloween person, myself, though I don’t mind people who are. I don’t love scary for the most part. I lean more towards political/psychological thriller than horror if I’m doing anything remotely in that scene. Though even those I can only take so much of at a time. Costumes can be fun but I’ve rarely really been invested enough for anything particularly involved or dramatic. Though in third grade(?), I was a lightning bolt– a huge, homemade foam cut-out spray painted silver; it was super cool.

I don’t recall ever caring too much for trick-or-treating, either. Candy is nice but social interaction is yikes. If anyone is interested in presenting me with some Halloween candy free of trickery, though, I’ll recommend the Crunch-type chocolates (the ones with puffed rice), Twix, or something tasty like that. Or you could come bake with me, I’ll try not to make it a disaster.

Anyway. A happy Halloween to you from the very Halloween cat, who wants you to know that he’s more than ready to lay a curse on whomever you may need cursed.



Trying to Be Cool

So we’re here in mid-October now. I have just this week finally, finally, acquired some employment. It’s part time and seasonal but it’s something, so that’s good. Continuing to apply to other places as well–places that are more in line with my career goals. Hopefully, I’ll have some luck on that front sooner rather than later but who can say.

I keep finding job postings that I think sound great, both in terms of me enjoying the position/location and it fitting with my résumé. And then nothing ever comes of them. It’s a little sad. But whatever. I soldier on, and at least now I’ll have some modicum of income to keep things a teensy bit more relaxed.

Importantly, a friend of mine recently got kittens. And I CANNOT contain myself. They are stupendously cute. Please enjoy.

So I’ve written before about my terrible memory. The kind that rarely, vaguely, scarcely remembers life events, at least, but does pretty well with poetry, music, and trivia. So usually, I’m not remembering things when I should be. A friend will mention something in passing and I’ll be totally shocked that they haven’t mentioned it before–but they have. Sometimes often.

Moments like those make me feel like a terrible friend. I can’t keep even basic facts about the lives of my friends and family in my head. Try as I might. If I’ve done this to you, please believe me when I say I do truly pay attention to you and value you.

But here’s the weird thing. Sometimes, I remember things and pretend like I don’t. Not important life things–would that I had the luxury of choosing which things like that I could “remember”– but random trivia, titles, the names of famous people, the year in which a world event occurred.

And why, why in the world would I feign ignorance? Or put on a show trying to act as though it takes me a while for me to sort through my memory to dig up something that had in fact been resting right on top? To be cool, I guess.

It’s so odd to me, and it’s not like I even deliberately process the choice to delay or pretend that I’ve forgotten–it’s almost an instinct. Somehow, I imagine that people will think I’m weird or less cool if I can immediately call up the information they’re trying to recall. I’m trying to think of an example for you but, irony of ironies, I can’t remember any specific instances. But I know I do it all the time.

And who am I kidding, everyone who knows me knows I’m weird and not cool whether I take ten seconds to “remember” something or say it straight away. And what’s more, I don’t think that such knowledge would probably even enter into a stranger’s assessment of my coolness anyway. Like it’s probably not something that people notice all that much, right?

I have no idea how it started but even when I recognize it as it’s happening, it’s really difficult for me to overcome it.  Recognizing that I should just be who I am, and also that people probably don’t care or even notice, I still delay recalling certain information sometimes. It’s bizarre.

I guess the point here is twofold. First, as I’ve said on here before, everyone’s a little silly so just own it. Second, some of the prisons our minds inhabit are ones we built ourselves.

On the latter point, to be sure, some are very real. Social norms and the behavior of others informs how we act and restrains our ‘self’ in sometimes very harmful ways. But I know for myself, a lot of the anxiety I have about social interactions is over things that no one really cares about. So I’m working to free myself of those worries.

Be true to your heart because that’s the coolest cool there is.

If Ye Make It So

Etymology–the study of the origin of words–is one of my favorite categories of trivia. In line with the kind of facts that I’m most likely to remember, it’s not useful for anything. But if we’ve spoken in person, I’ve probably enthusiastically told you at some point the origin of some word or other.

A recent favorite is ‘check’ whose origin is from shah, Persian for king. All uses and meanings of check in the English language come from king. Via chess. Etymology is so interesting!

Something that you quickly learn, when regularly utilizing tools like the Online Etymology Dictionary, as I do, is that words often change pretty wildly over time. A great example that I learned in high school is ‘sanguine’– a word that originally meant bloody or bloodthirsty now means optimistic or happy, somehow vaguely connected to changing connotations of the color red. How odd?!?

Or ‘nonplussed’ which usually means utterly surprised and confused but, because Americans never learned what it meant, can now also mean unperturbed. Total opposites. The inversion of word meanings is one of my favorite things about etymology because it is the clearest example of what I like to say was my one-line lesson from my BA degree: everything’s a social construct.

Here’s a very unusual grammatical/etymological tidbit that will be especially relevant for people who have studied certain other languages. The reason we say ‘you are’ for singular, even though ‘are’ is a plural conjugation of be is because you is plural. Always. Even when it’s singular. There used to be a singular second person pronoun in English and now there isn’t! Originally, as with many languages, English had a formal you pronoun, one to use when addressing someone you ought to show respect or deference to. In German, Sie. In Russian, Вы. In French, vous. You get the point.

But for some reason, English speakers just became overly formal to everyone. They started using the plural, formal pronoun in all situations. And so the original singular second person pronoun–which was thee/thou— has vanished from daily use. Indeed, now we like to think of thee and thou as especially formal, antique language. In fact, ye and you (there used to be separate nominative and objective forms of each pronoun, don’t worry about it) were historically the formal ones!

This may all be tremendously boring to you. And I feel that. Not everyone has the same interests and I’m well aware of how niche this interest is. But, if you’ve stuck it out this far, please bear with me a little further because there is an actual point that I’m trying to make.

Imagine if, historically, there had been different English pronouns for Catholics and Protestants. It would’ve increased specificity, conveying additional information in an efficient manner, but that information may have been actively harmful in many situations. At many points in time, it would have been very socially useful to know immediately whether the person you were talking to was Protestant or Catholic, but such knowledge would also have likely resulted in increased oppression, suffering, and death.

That’s not all that directly analogous to the question of gender but surprise, that’s where I’m going with this. People probably wouldn’t be too concerned, at least in my neck of the woods, about abolishing such religious pronouns entirely because it’s simply not an important distinction any more. Language would lose some level of specificity but I think we’d all manage just fine.

Likewise, gendered pronouns IN THEIR ENTIRETY are not actually necessary. Many languages simply do not have them. As you’ve just heard, perhaps for the first time, English used to have a singular second person pronoun. And now it doesn’t. An entire pronoun disappeared because the distinction became obsolete. We didn’t get rid of the concept of formality, we just didn’t need our language to reflect formality in the same way.

I can easily imagine a future English where there is only one third person pronoun: they. Not because the concept of man and woman are abolished but because we don’t need our language to reflect those concepts in the same way. English would simply recognize that having only he and she is an ineffectual way to categorize people and so pronounce usage would change.

We’re not there yet, obviously, and I’m not advocating that we all use they pronouns effective immediately. I’m just trying to point out that language evolves, should evolve, and that it evolves as the ways in which we see the world, as collective language speakers, also evolves.

We can’t all just say words mean whatever we want them to mean. But social changes are reflected in language. Languages changes. It’s not one person doing something crazy that no one understands. We’re all pretty aware of some people using they as their preferred pronouns. So if someone asks you to address them differently than you might expect, just do it.

Change can happen if we wish it. The world can be more kind if we make it so.

And as a reward for reading through to the end (and not just skipping to the pictures) here are some cats.