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Exercise #18: Food That Defines a Place

Note: I wrote the following exercise at the end of a long day when I didn’t have much energy or imagination left for writing. I’m only posting it on my blog because I don’t want to upset my loyal readers by leaving a gap at Exercise #18 in the series of exercises on which I’ve been chipping away. I don’t usually inflict the raw, unfiltered stream-of-consciousness emanations of my tortured brain on anyone else—except my friend Jo. So unless you’re reeeeally bored—or one of the aforementioned loyal readers—I’d skip this one if I were you. (No, really.)

It’s very late, and I’ve had a long day. I was up early without very much sleep, and I had a mountain of work to get done before …more

Cleanliness is just a good idea

If I’m going to poke fun at goofy signs, it’s only fair that I applaud the ones I like:


Everyone should wash their hands

Employees must


I found this nugget of wisdom on an unassuming, hand-lettered wooden plaque in the restroom at Antidote Coffee (729 Studewood St, Houston). It’s a refreshing change from the standard-issue health department signs that you see all over the place. I like the reasonable tone, the gentle admonishment that could be spoken by your grandmother, or maybe a patient nursery-school teacher.

“We want you to wash your hands because we care about you,” it seems to say. “Oh, and if you work in the kitchen, we really must insist. Thanks for being so understanding. Have a great day!”

Boot Camp Day 7: The Secret Language of Postal Workers

I had to go to the post office yesterday.

I’d finally gotten around to doing one of the most heinous tasks on the to-do list I call “Noxious But Necessary”: I had written a letter to the Houston Police Department’s red-light camera enforcement unit to explain why I should not be held responsible for running a red light that I didn’t run. I printed and signed the letter, made copies of the letter and original citation, enclosed the exculpatory photos of my actual car with its actual license plate, and packed everything neatly in a 6-1/2 x 9-1/2 envelope. (Everything looks more reasonable, law-abiding, and forthright in a 6-1/2 x 9-1/2 envelope, don’t you agree?)

Unfortunately, my sister, though not usually given to conspiracy theories …more

50/50 Exercise #14: Whacked by Cupid

There is an expression in the Roman language, genius loci, “the spirit of a place.” It has acquired a modern, figurative sense in the realm of landscape and architecture—a characteristic atmosphere. But its meaning is rooted in a literal, supernatural sense—the guardian spirit that protects a place.

I try to describe Rome to you without resorting to the clichés and hyperbole that pour from the reservoir of what I have read and heard and seen on television:

majesty • power • glory • history • grandeur • richness • pageantry • eternal • holy • baroque • …more


The wild and reckless use of the word “miracles” in modern journalism raises my hackles.

I hear it all the time. The operation was successful. A miracle! One of the miners survived the mine collapse. A miracle! A beautiful sunny day after a lot of rain. A miracle!

Modern journalistic usage (and popular parlance) seem to have redefined miracle as “Anything that happened that we had previously convinced ourselves was unlikely to happen.”

© 2008 Edward F. Gumnick

“The Language of Marketing”

A client raised my hackles recently by asking me to redesign a brochure with “more of a marketing appeal.” She presented an example—a mockup of a brochure cover with a huge photo that had nothing to do with the content and a few sparse blocks of words conveying little real information. The meager text referred to “all new world-class courses” that would offer “everything you need” to meet deadlines and budgets and would give you business analysis skills to “ensure flawless execution.” It sounded like unsustainable hyperbole to me—empty, meaningless phrases—but the client’s reaction to the piece was, “This is what I mean about a fresh sexy look. If you read each category you see the language of marketing coming through.”


Language Learning

I’ve always enjoyed learning foreign languages. Between sixth grade and graduation from college, I studied a total of 12 academic years of various languages—Spanish, French, Italian, German, Latin, and Ancient (Attic) Greek. During my high-school and college travels abroad, I eagerly absorbed a few words of several others. I can count to five in Rumanian, say “thank you” and “goodbye” in Polish, and ask “What is your telephone number?” in Dutch. A high-school friend taught me how to say “Would you like to take a shower with me?” in German, but I’ve never had occasion to use it.