Category Archives: Nostalgia

Blog #23 B’s&B’S

Blog #23 B’s and B’s

It’s time for the conclusion to my extremely unscientific survey as presented in my last blog. If you recall, we were considering the number of blonde-haired people with blue eyes as a percentage of the total population in Finland. I wanted to find out if there was a difference between the percentage of those blue-eyed blondes that I observed in the suburbs as opposed to those I saw downtown.

I did in fact discover there was a difference. I stated that my observations showed that in the neighbourhood situated at the north end of Mannerheimentie where I stayed while in Helsinki, the blue-eyed blondes represented about 90 to 95 % of the people I observed from the window of the Picnic café while enjoying my coffee. This figure contrasted with the 50% observed in the City Centre from my vantage point in the famous Karl Fazer café on Kluuvikatu 3.

I should remind readers that this discussion has grown out of the general view that Finns like Swedes and Norwegians are regarded as blonde-haired and blue-eyed. Of course this isn’t entirely true because there are Finns who are dark-haired or even red-haired.

The question remains, however, what is the explanation for the seemingly stark difference between those passersby whom I observed downtown as opposed to those in the suburban area.
It would be helpful to reveal the fact that the downtown area is in walking distance from the harbour. Here, one sees the daily arrival of large ferries, cruise ships and leisure craft carrying passengers from nearby European countries and elsewhere. The day that I walked along the streets in downtown Helsinki there were large tour groups from Asian countries.

I believe it’s fair to say that the influx of visitors from other countries , some near but others from far distant shores accounts for the difference in my observations.

Therefor, I think I am on firm ground when I state that a high percentage of Finns are fair-haired and blue-eyed.

Helsinki Blog #22

Blog #22

This week’s blog is different from previous ones. Let’s have a holiday, a break from language and its oddities. It just so happens that I decided to visit Helsinki, Finland for a few weeks, so that’s my holiday. Why Helsinki?

1) My parents emigrated from Finland in 1923, so there is a connection and a good reason to visit my 2nd homeland.
2) We are in the midst of an election campaign in Canada that seems to have been going on for ever, but will end on Oct. 19th with the election and hopefully, a change in the governing party. No politics now though. That’s the reason for #2. I have seriously followed this campaign, reading every report in the Globe and Mail, studying every poll, comparing each columnist’s view watching two hours of “Power and Politics” on the CBC at five p.m. every day and of course, nervously witnessing the long-awaited debates. That was it! I had to get away!
3) I wanted to visit a school or two, to sit in a classroom and observe the activities of a typical teaching session. Why? Being a retired teacher and administrator, I wanted a first hand glimpse of the educational system. Why was it in the top third in the world, I wondered? Perhaps I might find a clue.

I am still waiting for permission to carry out my plan.

Meanwhile, I would like to pass on an observation that I made yesterday as the result of visiting the City Centre.
I believe we all have heard that Scandinavians are described as having blonde hair and blue eyes. I do understand that Finns are not considered as Scandinavian but when it comes to those afore-mentioned characteristics they fit the bill.

While here, I lived in a small apartment in the suburbs at the north end of Mannerhimentie, a major thoroughfare. From my vantage point(s) at a number of cafes sitting by a window, I watched the passersby with great interest. Not wanting to appear overly curious and thereby unable to closely inspect each person’s eyes, I contented myself with a definite opinion of hair colour and an acceptable idea of the state of the eyes.

My unscientific but practical result was this: the percentage of residents having blonde (fair) hair and blue eyes over those who had other assorted colours was : 90 to 95 %. (approximately)

While downtown I duplicated my method as reasonably as possible and always ready for a cup of coffee anyway. This is what I found:
The percentage of blondes with blue eyes and others was as follows: 50 %. (approximately)
Conclusion: Wait until next week.

Yours Truly

Blog # 21
Yours Truly

Forsooth I say to thee, is there no other manner by which I may unearth the obvious? In other words, “Really, don’t you get it?”.

Here is a case of another word that has gained popularity over the years. Do you see it above?

No, actually, it’s not there because it’s here. Confused? I’m referring to the word “actually”.

To use an archaic form it does mean “in sooth” or “in truth” or in today’s language, “as a matter of fact”. Another choice is “in deed”.

It’s a popular word, because for one reason, it offers the speaker a degree of prestige especially if he/she is in the teen years. Although it belongs within the same category as totally and utterly, it has a different meaning.

I illustrate by the following conversation:
“Well, actually, I think Mr. Jones is a better teacher than Mr. Smith. He spends a lot of time explaining the solution on the blackboard. He actually goes over each step of the equation so you end up actually understanding everything.”

It’s the overuse that becomes tiresome to the listener.

In replying to a question from a news reporter during the present election campaign the leader of one of the parties actually used this word three times in his response. I think one of his advisors remarked on the over-use of actually. I did not hear that word used by the same leader in a question and answer session the next day.

Forsooth I kid you not!

You Know What?

You Know What?

I hesitate to do this; that is, to bring to the light of day, a two-word phrase that seems to have suffered from a case of disuse. As a matter of interest there is a three-word phrase that is closely related to the first.

Let’s have a look. The two-word phrase is “You know”. A close relative is “you know what?” The latter can serve a purpose and with a question mark at the end it suggests there should be a reply. The only response would have to be “what?” or perhaps “No, what?
The dialogue might go like this:
“You know what?”
“What?” or “No, what?”
The phrase serves as an introduction to some forthcoming information. This could be an astounding revelation or a useless fact.
Sample dialogue:
“You know what?”
“What?” or “No, what?”
“I just heard on the news on TV that an asteroid is heading for the earth and will hit us for sure!”
Or this:
“You know what?”
“What.” Or “No, what.”
“I just found my pen.”
In each case, the phrase serves a purpose.
It alerts the listener to prepare for information of some kind.
On the other hand, the phrase “You know” does not necessarily expect the listener to do anything, but it may serve as a warning depending on how it is said.
Consider the following:
“You know, (pause)… I’ve been thinking….” The other person in the room isn’t expected to say anything. It’s optional.
“Oh yeah, yawn.”
“I’d like a divorce.”
Or this one:
“You know, I’m beginning to think I have something missing upstairs.”
“In our bedroom?”
“No, in my head, silly.”
“You know, I’ve been wondering about that myself.”

As you can see, the two-word phrase is more understated. It may, as in the cases above catch the unfortunate receiver by surprise.

Finally, “you know” is nothing more than a useless filler.
See below:
“I was going upstairs, you know, because I had to get my notebook, you know, and then the phone rang in the kitchen, you know, and then I had to hurry back downstairs, you know, ….”
If you think this phrase has lost its appeal, replace with “like”.

Are You Sure?

Are You Sure

I think that at this time, (please note that I did not say “at this point in time”) for a slight change, we should examine the pronunciation of words. Because of possible variations related to where one lives, I need to point out that I am speaking as a Canadian residing in Ontario.

Let’s begin. There is one word, only four letters in length and so commonplace that you wouldn’t think twice about it. Maybe so, but I have noticed recently that it has more than one form of pronunciation.

The word is “sure”. Here it is in a possible snippet of dialogue.
“Could you help me with this, please?”
“Sure, no problem.”
This is a one-syllable word that requires no embellishment in saying or in meaning. Right? You would pronounce it abruptly and shortly, as if it were spelled “sher”.

Then why do some people say it like this:
“Could you help me with this, please?”
“Shoor, no problem”.
My observation, or should I say my ear tells me, that can be heard south of the border. In fact, none other than President Barack Obama makes use of this pronunciation in any interview or statement to the press.

The Cambridge dictionary indicates that the American pronunciation is more like “shor”. The UK pronunciation is “shoa” and I suppose the Canadian version is “shur”

There is another interesting case that puzzles me. It may not be in daily use unless you have a large extended family. You see, the word is “aunt”
Now, no doubt you ask, “ What could be the problem?”
It’s obviously pronounced as “ant” as in the insect that spoils your picnic on the back lawn.

According to my son who lives in Wisconsin, USA, that is incorrect. How should it be pronounced, then, I asked. One should say it in the form of “ohnt”. You mean, as if you resided in Downton Abbey? And like “tomahto” rather than “tomayto”? Right.

According to the Cambridge dictionary the greater number of Americans (roughly 80%) have the insect variant as their model. Not surprisingly, those living in the north-east (New England states) use the Abbey version.

So, where does that leave us in Canada? We’re with the ants, I suppose because we are more grounded!



We had a friend of the family back in the 70’s and 80’s who was a successful patent attorney and well known in the legal world. Sadly, he passed away years ago but left a legacy of fascinating observations of human foibles and quirks.

Many of these flaws that he would point out were in the area of language and usage. There was one phrase that I assume he heard in the courtroom repeatedly, much to his annoyance. I am sure you have heard these words on TV particularly in interviews of news-makers, politicians and experts.

As an example, one might be listening to a discussion of the latest poll regarding the present election campaign as follows:
“At this point in time, it is difficult to say who the winner will be. A few weeks ago, all three major parties were tied. Now it seems that the NDP are ahead with the Conservatives next and the Liberals close behind.”

Now, did you spot the phrase that irritated my friend? You will find it at the beginning, “at this point in time”.

So, you may ask, is there anything wrong here? Grammatically, no. However, some editing is in order. Why is it necessary to say “at this point…….”? It isn’t.
He could have said, ”at this time”. It’s that simple.

It is pointless to say “at this point……in time.
(I couldn’t resist that.)
I believe that we all use more words than are necessary to get our point (there is that word again!) across.

The point is, “less is best”.

I hope in future editions of my blog I may include a few more language quirks that my late lawyer friend tossed about.

Panache ?

Panache ?

We are still focusing on words and expressions. Will this never end ? Where do they come from? How and why do they become popular? My guess is … television, social media and the hallways of your local school; in the first instance, TV, by way of those weekly series of programmes, either comedy or situational. Not being familiar with any of these, I’ll not refer to any titles except one, by way of thirty-second promotionals, and that is “Mr. D”. I suppose this programme title caught my attention because this person is a teacher. As you can see, I am totally out-of-touch with that part of our world.

Well, well, it seems I have let the cat out of the bag! Our word of the week is….”totally”.

Have you not heard that word lately, either on the street, or on the bus, subway or coffee shop? You might hear “I totally get it!” or, in reference to someone’s friend, “I can’t stand her, she is totally obnoxious!”

Remember your favourite word “awesome”? Well, now she has a friend and they seem to go together nicely such as in: “That is a totally awesome pair of shoes!”

Instead of saying totally why wouldn’t you use the word “entirely” or “completely”? Why do you have that tattoo? Good question. It sets you apart from the crowd, doesn’t it? You mean those people who say “totally” all have tattoos? No, no. What I’m saying is; not everyone has totally in their daily vocabulary, just as not everyone has a tattoo on their left hip.

I believe there is a wee bit of panache associated with the use of the word “totally”. You see, there are other words one could use as noted above.

A few years ago, there was another word much like our “word of the week” and very popular; that was “utterly”.

So, if you wish to dish another wee bit of panache, try, for a change: “Oh, that is an utterly beautiful hair-do!”

Is it Off ?

Is It Off ?

So, where are we? I mean, so far like, up to now, this entire study is so awesome and of course cool , that we should , like, not stop.

As you can see, I have tried to consolidate all these expressions into one paragraph and it just does not work.

Read the following:
Have you noticed how haggard, passengers appear after they get off of the plane? In another area of the airport where throngs are waiting to leave, we see children playing on the carpet. One little boy says to another midway through their rough-housing,
“Hey Tim! That hurts! Get off of me!”
Suspended from the ceiling of the same lounge, a television set is providing entertainment. At the moment, a weather report is being offered,
“Winds from the south-west are picking up moisture off of Lakes Michigan and Erie………”

I ask you, “Is there anything wrong here?”
Well, try this: Repeat after me, off of, off of , off of , now faster – off of off of off of . Ridiculous isn’t it?
Why on earth would you use two prepositions together when one will suffice?
It doesn’t make sense does it? One hears that two word combo everywhere. I have even heard it on the CBC! It seems to be acceptable. Why? Only because of widespread use.

Is it correct to use off of ? No, it is incorrect for those of us who have a sensitive ear to certain words or phrases in spite of Shakespeare or Pepys or even President Harry Truman having used “off of”.
It has been said that only in the past twenty years has its use been most noticeable and more so in the USA.

In the print form, off of, appears clumsy and even gauche. To say it persistently with all its awkwardness would surely result in a facial defect centered in the area of the lower lip.

Like it or Not


I was like, standing at the store window and admiring the display when like, a stranger came right up behind me and like, asked me if I had any change and like, I didn’t know what to say like, what would you have done?

Like, I don’t know! I mean I really don’t know, not so much in reply to the question but something else. I mean, what can I say? Oh no, I’m getting tangled up in language; I’m catching some kind of disease. What is it? It’s not a disease. I think it’s a habit common amongst the younger crowd. It is the repetition of words or phrases that could easily be omitted and the meaning of the sentence would remain unscathed.

 I fear that often this need to use a word like, (oops!) such as, LIKE is more pronounced when the speaker is hugely excited in recounting an incident. For instance, imagine that 13 year-old Madge is describing her experience where she had an autograph signed by a Rock star.“Can you believe it? Like, there were like, a million kids like, pushing and shoving and like, I just …like, I dunno, like, pushed this guy on my left and like ……etc”.

 Of course there is another case of using, what can be called a “filler” and that is the phrase “I mean”. I’m afraid sometimes we are all guilty of this.

Ivan says to his friend after receiving his assignment back from the teacher,“I can’t understand this, I mean, I worked like a dog on this. It isn’t fair, I mean,….look at this, he underlines everything in red, I mean,…..”

 Where did Ivan get the idea of using I mean? His teacher certainly didn’t recommend its usage. He probably picked it up from general conversation around him and it became a pattern. It isn’t said in an excitable manner but simply used as a filler. I’m sure his teacher didn’t underline that phrase in red, because it’s only used when speaking.

 A young friend of mine told me that her teacher in High School practically made it a crime if he heard the word like used in a presentation. In fact, the student would receive a failing grade.

 Perhaps, we need to make the bar higher in the classroom.

What do you think?

Hot or Cold


We have arrived again at that time of year when we all seek respite from the scorching sun. We may choose the shade of a Maple tree or take advantage of the air conditioning in the nearest shopping mall. In each case we attempt to keep COOL


That last word cool is of interest in today’s blog. Why? Like many words, it has various meanings. The most common usage is related to weather as we suggested above. We also use the word cool to describe a person’s demeanor when faced with a disturbing situation. He/she remains calm and collected or as cool as a cucumber.


Sometimes cool can suggest opposite connotations. For example, one might be agreeable to something by saying ,”I’m cool with that idea”, but the opposite expressed like this: “ I had a rather cool response  from the committee to my idea.”


When decorating a room, one has to decide on a suitable colour. There are warm colours and of course cool ones, the latter being greens and blues


Back in the 1960’s the Hippies were cool were they not? In other words, they were “with it” or “hip” or they were regarded as “cool cats”. I suppose one could use the word fashionable. It seems to me that a very narcissistic attitude was indicated by the use of the word cool at that time.


These days, cool has been so over-used that it is becoming less evident except amongst younger people or adults who find themselves “at a loss for words” or are”speech-lazy”.


Here is a true illustration of a word being strangled. A few years ago when I was teaching English at Jillin University-Lambton College in Changchun, China, a colleague and myself sat down to design a test for our students. The dialogue while we worked would have been something like this. I would make a suggestion:

“Why don’t we make up a paragraph using words from our vocabulary list….”.pause

Mike: (not his real name) “Cool!”

“Then, leave a blank for each…..”

Mike: “That’s cool…”

“We could have the list of words at the top or bottom….”


“Or make it more diificult….with no list ,just the blanks “


And that was how the planning continued.


I began wondering if that was usual in Mike’s lessons. Would his students accept cool as a normal choice of vocabulary?

Rather than getting too upset, I decided to keep COOL !