Thursday, March 28, 2024

Hard Rolls. And Roles.

Sometimes I'll be browsing Linked In or some other dump of a social media site and see something so dumb, banal, or obvious it sends me into a couple hours worth of bad mood.

That's in addition to my normal 23 hours-a-day of bad mood.

I'll see that dumb thing and conclude, rightly or wrongly, that we're all doomed. That civilization has been completely stipidified and that the lead in our water supply has subtracted so much from our collective IQ that there's no hope, absolutely no hope, for the already-dim future of our species.

I saw one just now and I hopped off quickly to this page to try to hurl the dumbosity out of my Umwelt.

I saw someone listed as a Chief People Officer and beneath that heading the description, "In charge of people."

When I was a boy, back so many years ago, virtually every neighborhood had a bakery.

Bakeries were nice places.

You could get a genuine loaf of bread--many varieties of bread. You could get cookies, cakes, danish, even fancy-schmancy things, depending upon where you lived. Everything was made that day and fresh. 

If you were short a nickel or a dime, you could get a bag of yesterday's baked goods (slightly stale) for pretty cheap and it was fine.

Things got stale in those days, like things should. We have up here in Connecticut a loaf of Pepperidge Farm cinnamon raisin bread that hasn't molded in six weeks. What am I eating when I'm eating that bread?

My drywall gets moldy before my bread.

One of the best things about bakeries is they were pretty honest. If you had to make yourself a sandwich for lunch, you could run over to the deli and get a quarter-a-pound of bologna sliced, then walk down to the bakery.

As a kid who had to fend for himself a lot I made a lot of my own meals. 

Bologna in tow, I'd walk over the the bakery and get bread for my sandwich. (We hadn't fetishized sandwiches then. Or baby-talked them into sammiches. Some of us knew about the Earl of Sandwich and the Sandwich Islands, so our sandwiches had interstitial content attached.)

"Lemme have a hard roll," I'd say to the lady behind the counter, who was most-often the baker's wife.

"Ses'me or Poppy," she'd rejoind.


She toss the dingus in a waxed paper bag and I'd be on my way.

What struck me this morning was the dumbness of nomenclature we see today and the brusqueness of the nomenclature I grew up with.

i.e. the distance we've plummeted from "hard roll" to "Chief People Officer."

A roll that's hard. I get. 

A chief people officer? Huh?

One is descriptive and honest. It does what it says on the tin.

The other is meaningless and aggrandizing and obviously bestowed upon people in lieu of a real job with real things to do and appropriate compensation attached to that job.

Hard roll.

You know what you're getting.

Just like the word "Fly."

A bug that flies.

As I heard on an Economist podcast on language, use "short words. Words you can stub your toe on."

Somehow I think of this passage from Philip Roth's "Portnoy's Complaint," which I often show to people I work with who aren't Jewish, who aren't from New York and don't understand how Jewish New Yorkers use (or mangle) the English language.

This man, who is a real estate broker and an alderman of the Davenport town council, says that he slept like a log, and I actually see a log. I get it! Motionless, heavy, like a log! “Good morning,” he says, and now it occurs to me that the word “morning,” as he uses it, refers specifically to the hours between eight A.M. and twelve noon. I’d never thought of it that way before. He wants the hours between eight and twelve to be good, which is to say, enjoyable, pleasurable, beneficial! We are all of us wishing each other four hours of pleasure and accomplishment. Why, that’s terrific! Hey, that’s very nice! Good morning! And the same applies to “Good afternoon”! And “Good evening”! And “Good night”! My God! The English language is a form of communication!

Conversation isn’t just crossfire where you shoot and get shot at! Where you’ve got to duck for your life and aim to kill! Words aren’t only bombs and bullets—no, they’re little gifts, containing meanings!

There are dozens if not hundreds of Politically Correct reasons we don't read Portnoy's Complaint or even Philip Roth anymore. Having sex with a piece of store-bought liver is among them.  But Roth's observations about language and mine are quite similar.

I don't read about 97-percent of the things I read because they are so devoid of sense and meaning.

For instance, here's Schmogilvy's (nominally a communications company) About section from their website.

We continue ... through Borderless Creativity—operating, innovating, and creating at the intersection of talent and capabilities. Our experts in Public Relations, Consulting, Advertising, Health, and Experience work fluidly across more than 120 offices in over 80 countries.

McCann's is only slightly less Anthrax-y. 

McCann’s total marketing services capabilities are enhanced and magnified through its seamless collaboration with the other major worldwide communications networks that are part of the global McCann Worldgroup offering. The McCann Worldgroup network provides today's marketers with best-in-class strategic and creative services that help their brands play a meaningful role in people’s lives and build their businesses.

Nothing that comes close to a baker's description: Hard Roll. The same is true when people introduce themselves. I'm an executive creative director. Or a group planning director. Or an associate.

When I first was promoted to SVP Group Creative Head back in 1993, I barely had a group, much less a head. A better title would have been: really good writer who handles the tough shit no one else can.

Hard to fit on a business card.


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