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The focus of my blog is the English language, but the gestures we use are a strong form of communication in addition to the words we speak. As Americans we need to understand that gestures we take for granted may have very different and sometimes offensive meanings in other cultures. I know many of my readers live in other countries, and you, too, need to be aware that everyday gestures in your society might be interpreted differently around the world.

I was recently in Japan and quickly learned to slightly bow my head when acknowledging others. In Asia, kissing or touching strangers is a no-no, while in America we very often shake hands or even—OMG!—kiss: a quick peck on the cheek or the good-old-American air kiss.

In Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia, greet others by pressing your palms together and bowing. Be prepared in Tibet: you may well be greeted by others sticking their tongues out at you.

In New Zealand, if you meet Maoris, you might be greeted with a nose rub on the forehead. In Rio de Janeiro, three cheek kisses are obligatory, but in São Paulo, one kiss will do the trick. Same country, different custom.

French kissing in France is variously interpreted, and not as it is in the U.S: When visiting Nantes, expect four kisses, but only two in Toulouse, and a measly one in Brest. Be sure to make a quiet smooching sound, but do not let your lips touch another’s cheek.

Among strangers, a handshake is common in most of Northern Europe, while in Russia you might be brought to your knees by a more-than-firm handshake. In India, handshakes between men are quite the opposite: make them limp, and never shake hands with a member of the opposite sex. To greet an elder male in India, bend down and touch his feet.

Now you know.


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Time to Groan

Here are puns sent to me by my friend Cami; she found them on a site called Lexophilia (love of words). I generally don’t care for puns, but these are very clever.

• Venison for dinner again? Oh, deer!

• How does Moses make tea? Hebrews it.

• England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool.

• I tried to catch some fog, but I mist.

• They told me I had type-A blood, but it was a typo.

• I changed my iPod’s name to Titanic. It’s syncing now.

• Jokes about German sausage are the wurst.

• I know a guy who’s addicted to brake fluid, but he says he can stop any time.

• I stayed up all night to see where the sun went, and then it dawned on me.

• This girl said she recognized me from the vegetarian club, but I’d never met herbivore.

• When chemists die, they barium.

• I’m reading a book about anti-gravity. I just can’t put it down.

• I did a theatrical performance about puns. It was a play on words.

• Why were the Indians here first? They had reservations.

• I didn’t like my beard at first, then it grew on me.

• The cross-eyed teacher lost her job because she couldn’t control her pupils.

• When you get a bladder infection, urine trouble.

• Broken pencils are pointless.

• A dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary is called a thesaurus.

• I dropped out of Communism class because of lousy Marx.

• I got a job at a bakery because I kneaded dough.

• Velcro, what a rip off!

• Don’t worry about old age, it doesn’t last.

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How I Miss “Calvin and Hobbes.”


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October 17, 2016 · 12:53 PM

My Feelings Exactly. Literally!

As always, thank you, Brian B.



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Don’t Call Me Maiden

When I got married, it was quite unusual for a woman to continue to use the surname she was born into. Even though I became a Birnberg, my husband and I continued to use my original name, Stone, when we made dinner reservations. Otherwise, we’d have to spell Birnberg several times. In fact, when someone asked our daughter, when she was about three, what her name was, she answered, “Joan Rebecca Birnberg BRNBRG.” Obviously, she had heard us spelling our last name repeatedly and, despite omitting the vowels, she thought the spelling was part of her last name.

After my marriage, though, I never referred to Stone as my maiden name. It conjured up a damsel-in-distress to me, so I referred to it as my unmarried name or my birth name. Birth name seems more appropriate to me now because both males and females change their last names for various reasons, whether or not they are or have been married.

Do I wish I had kept my birth name? Yes. If you could only see how our mail has been addressed: BRINBERG, BEINBERG, BIENBERG, BIRENBERG, BRINBAUM and many other creative attempts, including our favorite, BIZENBERRY.



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Who’s Murgatroyd? Or Betsy, Flynn or Riley?

All languages change through common usage. English is no exception. Do you remember any of these once often-used words and expressions?

Heavens to Murgatroyd
Heavens to Betsy
Hunky Dory
Don’t touch that dial
Carbon copy
Broken record
Hung out to dry (before clothes dryers, I’m guessing)
Gee willikers
Jumping Jehoshaphat
Holy moley
In like Flynn (again, who’s he?)
Living the life of Riley (another unknown person)
Not for all the tea in China
Spats, knickers, poodle skirts, fedoras, saddle shoes, pedal pushers
Pageboy, beehive and DA hairdos
Kilroy was here
I’ll be a monkey’s uncle
A fine kettle of fish
Knee high to a grasshopper
Don’t take any wooden nickels

And fifty years from now, many of today’s common expressions will be looked at as quaint and archaic.

See ya later, alligator! After a while, crocodile!

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Incredible or Incredulous?



Steve’s looking incredulous.

These two words are often confused.

INCREDIBLE means difficult to believe:
Jumping from a plane at 25,000 feet without using supplementary oxygen and landing alive seems like an incredible feat; yet a man did this not too long ago.

INCREDULOUS means unable or unwilling to believe something:
If I had not seen the video myself, I would have been incredulous if someone had told me a person had jumped from a plane at 25,000 feet and lived.


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