Friday, August 31, 2012

Passed Tense

A friend called a few weeks ago to tell me, in solemn, reverent tones, “Bruce, I thought you should know that [Close Mutual Acquaintance] passed yesterday.”

Okay, look, before we go any further, I get it. Given my friend’s artificially grief-stricken tone of voice, I understood exactly what he was trying to tell me. There are, however, times when I just can’t help yanking someone’s chain, and this was one of those times.

“Passed?” I said. “You mean he passed gas? Did he pass a stone? I hear that’s painful. Did he pass go? I hope he remembered to collect his $200. What the [contraction for firetruck] are you talking about?”

“You know,” my friend said, even more solemnly, “he, <pregnant pause> passed away.”

“Oh, you mean he DIED (emphasis mine)?”

“Yes. That’s what I mean.”

And he still couldn’t say the word. Could not bring himself to say it, I presume, for fear of being struck dead himself. In the immortal words of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, it’s enough to make a body ashamed of the whole damned human race.

I understand the fear of death. It’s the great unknown and pretty much all of us are scared of it. And I get it that when you’re speaking with a widow or a close family member of the dearly departed, it’s more sensitive to use a word or words with less punch. The word “died” hits pretty hard and sounds so final, whereas saying someone “passed away” almost holds out hope that they’ve just lost their way and will be home for dinner.

My friend wasn’t talking about a member of his family. The dearly departed in this case was nothing more than an acquaintance, neither close nor distant, whom we both liked but didn’t have all that much contact with. His feigned grief was just that, feigned. And he still could not make himself say that this person died. Or even that he passed away.

He simply passed.

Well, no, he didn’t.

I don’t mean to pound on my friend. He’s hardly alone. This is a culture-wide phenomenon. Newspaper obituaries, which used to be written by interns on the news desk, now are largely written by family members of the deceased, who pay a hefty fee for the privilege. Consequently, obituaries are often badly written and couched in soft, politically correct language unfit for most daily newspapers. Take a look at the obituary page in your local paper (assuming it hasn’t gone out of business). Ironically, that may be the only place in the entire paper where you’ll never see the word “died.”

The aforementioned Mr. Clemens once said, “The difference between the exact word and the almost exact word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” The same could be said for “died” and “passed.” That wouldn’t be as effective a quote or draw the same chuckles, but it would be perfectly applicable.

If you’re so damned squeamish that you can’t even bring yourself to say that someone died, at least use the whole phrase when you say they’ve passed away. That’s perfectly acceptable (and usually unnecessary). To simply say that so-and-so passed is not just wrong; it’s stupid. Especially if they forgot to collect their $200.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Welcome To The Unofficial Scorer

The name of this blog is taken from a weekly column/blog I wrote for a college baseball website in the spring of 2012. When I got laid off from that gig, I took the name with me. It was the least I could do. I thought it up, so I’m keeping it. I don’t think SEBaseball will care. Baseball will be a frequent topic of this blog, especially college baseball. Baseball will not be the only subject, however. I also will discuss, among others, sports in general, plus rock and roll and American roots music, bad behavior, and the use of language.

You might imply from this blog’s subtitle (Antisocial Media for the Damned 21st Century) that I have a problem with social media or modern times. You’d only be partially correct in thinking that. Social media gives me gas, and I sincerely believe that using Twitter should be made a capital felony. On the other hand, I’ve actually found Facebook to be as useful as it is useless. Facebook is especially useful for tracking down old friends, but is, generally speaking, a useless resting point for narcissistic dingbats: “I’m at the Shitburger Drive-In. Think I’ll order the chili fries.” Really? Try a pie in the face instead.

As for the 21st Century, I have my quarrels with much of it and find most of it horribly overrated, but I’m not one of those Luddite geezers who’s constantly at war with modern times. I like my modern toys, especially my iPad and iPhone, and most of my music collection is digitalized, but I also like books, records, CDs and newspapers, most of which are on a fast track to becoming museum pieces.

In case you’re wondering, I retired in February 2012 from the North Carolina State University Department of Athletics, where I was an assistant director of media relations. I was that office’s baseball contact for 18 years, and have worked with or covered NC State baseball for 32 years and counting, dating back to 1981. I have extensive experience working in baseball, especially the college game. I’ve been a minor league P.A. announcer, done play-by-play on radio and TV for both college and minor league games, written numerous feature stories for game programs, fan magazines and the occasional newspaper, and contrary to the name of this blog, I’ve been official scorer for about 1,000 games at the college and professional level.

In addition to baseball, I’ve worked with football, men’s and women’s basketball, cross country, women’s soccer, volleyball and wrestling. I’ve written about just about every sport NC State has. I know what goes on behind the scenes, and am fluent at “coachspeak,” that mysterious language coaches lapse into when they want to say absolutely nothing but sound eloquent like Winston Churchill at the same time. Many of the quotes you see attributed to coaches in newspapers and on TV have little if anything to do with what they really mean. I hope I can serve as your translator from time to time.

I also will use this space to write about music, and I have some qualifications there. I’m not a musician, although I can make musical sounds on certain woodwind instruments. Since my wife and I have two dogs who both howl, playing woodwind instruments is problematic in our house. Rest assured, though, I can blow into a flute, clarinet or saxophone without sounding like some tortured barnyard animal.

I spent nine years working in record stores back in the day, and I have an extensive and growing music collection. I’ve also done a bit of writing about music. I worked as a columnist and reviewer for a small music magazine, and I wrote liner notes for a handful of CDs a few years back. I’m pretty knowledgeable about those genres of music that I like, and ignore those I don’t. I would say, without boasting, that I know more about music than 99 percent of the population.

You’ll find that I’m one opinioned, curmudgeonly SOB, and I don’t make any apologies for that. At my age, I’ve earned it. If I offend you, well, oops. Don’t take it personally, and if you just can’t overlook something I’ve written, there are a gazillion other websites and blogs you can surf. I welcome you here any time, but no one’s holding a gun to your head forcing you to stay.

So come back any time. I hope to post here regularly, but I’m not making any promises.