Accelerate the positive: Malapropisms and the love of language

I do love how our brains work when it comes to language, and malapropisms are one of the best examples.

Today, I was listening to a podcast conversation between Tony Wrighton – the host of the show, and a specialist in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) ‒ and Rhiannon Lambert, the ‘singing nutritionist’, who combines professional singing with being a professional nutrition and wellbeing coach. (One of the many podcasts I love…read more here!)

There’s no questioning their credentials, and the conversation on diet and nutrition was interesting (although not long enough, I personally feel, to really delve deep into the conflicting information that exists surrounding ‘clean eating’, low/high fat, low/high carb, gluten-free etc), but that wasn’t the issue.

In fact, the thing I noticed most was that Lambert had a particular quirk when speaking: numerous times she would say a word, but clearly meant to say another similar-sounding or similar-meaning word.

For example, she said:

  • ‘Spiralise out of control’ instead of ‘spiral’ (particularly apt given the subject matter – spiralising is a way of making courgettes into low-carb, spaghetti-style noodles)
  • ‘Emphasise’ instead of ’empathise’
  • ‘Individualistic’ instead of ‘individual’

It may sound like I’m being petty and mean, but I’m honestly not. Loads of people make these kind of tiny errors, including me of course – they’re like little audio typos.

I just find it genuinely intriguing, not to mention quite cute, that far from losing her point in the incorrect words – which were probably due to her talking quickly or being nervous about being interviewed for a podcast ‒ it didn’t alter my understanding of what she said one bit.

On the surface of it, someone saying emphasise instead of empathise should render the sentence fairly meaningless. But it doesn’t, because your brain quickly jumps in and rearranges the jumble – suggesting to you what the correct word might be – almost instantly. You can almost feel it happening!

In the same way as we don’t have to see all the letters correctly inside a word to know what it’s probably trying to say – such as, say, cgonrtaluatoins ‒ the brain doesn’t seem to need the right word in this instance to know what you really mean.

Indeed, the ‘correct’ word for this phenomenon, malapropism, has been recognised for centuries, most notably with Shakespeare’s character Dogberry, in the 1598 play Much Ado About Nothing, who constantly spoke in malapropisms to comedic effect.

A cursory Google informs me that the word malapropism itself is said to come from even earlier, after a character named Mrs. Malaprop in the 1775 play The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

Unsurprisingly, as with many words in English, the word comes from a French phrase, mal à propos, which basically translates as ‘in the wrong place’.

But despite using the wrong word, the brain simply picks it up, figures out – through similar sound or meaning – what was actually meant, and enables you to understand it anyway.

Love that! 🙂

 

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Last Night A Podcast Saved My Life

I am totally addicted to podcasts. Specifically, podcasts on self-help.

I know the term ‘self-help’ can sound a bit wanky, but at the heart of it, it’s just people being honest. About their dreams,  routines, personal stories, overcoming obstacles, dealing with failure, figuring out what they want, beating procrastination, and creating and sticking to good habits.

Since I started commuting to work three hours’ a day – one and half hours each way at least – I listen to podcasts pretty much everyday, with a bit of music and meditation apps thrown in.

And even though I feel relatively new to the space, as I’ve only been listening properly for six months or so, it’s still no exaggeration to say that this stuff has changed my life.

I’ve been interested in self-help and motivational techniques for years, but there’s something about podcasts that just feel like you’re getting personal tutoring or counselling from experts directly into your ears.

Sometimes, reading just wouldn’t work. f I’m walking to a bus stop or getting on and off a train when I’m listening ‒ the effect of headphones in-ear, plus a brilliant podcast, feels incredibly meditative yet also engaging.

Maybe it’s just the way that I learn best, but somehow, listening to this stuff in this way just works. It sinks in much easier that a quick blogpost or article or book chapter might. If I’m too tired, rushed or squashed on to a train to read, I can nearly always listen.

Often, interviewees and guests on one podcast will have their own podcasts or have many others they can recommend, and so listening to one show will inevitably lead to another brilliant subscription to another one in a similar vein.

Couple this with other sources of similar self-help (or honest conversations) ‒ such as books or posts by inspirational bloggers, writers, entrepreneurs, online coaches, psychologists and TED talks…

…and I can honestly say I’m feeling more productive, disciplined, free, and calm yet focused than I have in a long while.

For someone as anxious and over-thinking as me, there are always bad mental health days to go with the good, of course, but these podcasts certainly help. Here are my absolute go-to listens for when I need a boost, a break from the frustration of commuting, or a good push in the right direction.

 

Dear Sugar

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From the incredible writer Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond, this relationship agony-aunt-style show was my first podcast (well, apart from the first season of American Life’s blockbuster Serial, of course). I quickly became addicted to the soothing, understanding, straight-talking yet compassionate and often very funny insights into readers’ often-harrowing dilemmas. I listen to this one when I’m feeling a bit vulnerable or confused, and need the unending wisdom of Strayed to comfort me. It never fails to cheer me up about life and love.

What I’ve learned most: The solution to most issues in life is: stand up for yourself without being rude, be kind, put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and communicate, communicate, communicate.

 

Real Talk Radio

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Far and away one of my favourites. Nicole Antoinette – former accountability coach, full-time habit changer, and now badass podcast host – has incredibly detailed, honest but relaxed conversations about what she calls ‘the wonderful mess of being human’. Long enough for an entire commute, these sessions feel like listening to chats between wise yet wonderful, creative women, who feel like mentors but who secretly I kind of think I want to be friends with, too.

What I’ve learned most: Habits can be changed if you want to change them, and it’s as important to know when you’re letting yourself ‘off the hook’ from a commitment, as it is to give yourself a damn break when you need it, too.

 

The School of Greatness

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From Lewis Howes, former pro-athlete and now successful lifestyle and motivation coach, this podcast is super-positive without being ridiculously cheesy, and features inspiring stories, humour, and ‘you can do it’ motivational music. Sometimes a little bit ‘blokey’ – with sports stars trading bro stories and exercise buffs discussing workout routines – it is nonetheless a vulnerable, honest, and endlessly powerful listen.

What I’ve learned most: Your dreams can change, and that’s OK; and that choosing your own priorities in life (rather than following everyone else’s) is totally the best policy wherever possible.

 

Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert

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The patron saint of young women looking for their purpose in life, Elizabeth Gilbert’s (author of Eat, Pray, Love among others) podcasts are like extensions of her books. As interviews and conversations about creativity and giving yourself permission to chase it, these episodes are wise, empathetic, humorous, down-to-earth (at times!), wonderfully artistic, and incredibly encouraging.

What I’ve learned most: Art is a seriously good way to get in touch with your inner emotion, playfulness, freedom – and doing it with absolutely no real purpose or money-making is sometimes actually the best way.

 

The Couragemakers

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From Meg Kissack, who is easily one of the most genuinely frank people I know online, this podcast is more rough and ready than some of the super-polished American blockbusters, and I totally love it for that. It deals with the same questions as the others – honesty, truth, creativity, and going deep on your life’s goals – but in a really down-to-earth, reassuring way. Meg’s blog is equally comforting and inspiring, and I read it most days to remind myself that my ideas and dreams are worth having

What I’ve learned most: As Meg says, ‘everything changes when you believe you matter’.

What are your favourite podcasts? Do you love them too or are you more of a books/blogs person?

Drop me a line @HannahsRhapsody 🙂

Other podcasts I listen to pretty regularly

  1. Impostercast, by Jordan Axani and Megan Rafuse – honest episodes of varying length on life and the sense all have that we might just be faking it until we get found out
  2. Modern Love, by WBUR and The New York Times – beautiful stories on life-changing experiences on love and life, with touching interviews with ordinary people
  3. Zestology: Live with Energy, Vitality, Motivation, Health, Confidence, Great Sleep, Biohacking, and more – a new one I’ve discovered since getting into NLP. Down-to-earth yet inspiring stuff from Brit Tony Wrighton
  4. The 5am Miracle with Jeff Sanders – Healthy Habits, Personal Developments, Rockin’ Productivity – Podcasts on the theme of ‘dominating the day before breakfast’, this is born of Jeff Sanders’ habit of getting out of bed at 5am and getting incredible things done before everyone else is awake. Getting up at 5am sounds far too extreme for me, but the idea that you can change your morning habits and start the day on a high, rather than a harsh, caffeine-soaked shock to the system is a compelling one.
  5. Unmistakeable Creative – Varied podcasts on all sorts of issues affecting creatives and entrepreneurs, from business strategy to personal confidence. Hoping to really get into this one soon.

Other podcasts I’ve downloaded because they look amazing/useful/popular but have yet to really get into. It’s only a matter of time! 

  1. Being Boss: Mindset, Habits, Tactics, and Lifestyle For Creative Entrepreneurs
  2. Ctrl Alt Delete
  3. Running On Om
  4. Happier with Gretchen Rubin
  5. The Fizzle Show – Heart and Hustle, Self-Employment, & Creative Business
  6. The Tim Ferris Show
  7. The Becoming Podcast
  8. Online Marketing Made Easy with Amy Porterfield
  9. The RobCast
  10. The Girl Gang Conversations – Sarah Starrs

“Self-care” – 2. & 3. Going the hell to sleep

In another post in my “self-care” series, after I wrote last week that although the term “self-care” wasn’t in my childhood or teenage vocabulary, it’s become something I’ve learned is crucial, from listening to wonderful podcasts and reading great blogs on “lifestyle design”, mental health issues, and figuring out how to live and breathe in today’s changing and demanding world.

For the next week or so, I’m going to share some of the best things I do to give myself a little space, even when I’m so busy or anxious I feel like I barely have time to pause. Today, sleep.

2. Using a relaxing sheet spray before bed

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And, breathe (Molton Brown)

One of the single biggest things I’ve started doing to really wind down. Spraying my bed sheets and pillows with a gorgeous-smelling, relaxing spray is such a simple thing but feels so indulgent. Plus, the smell really helps me chill out, like I’m at an expensive spa or something. I spray it when everything is done, when I can finally get into bed, when all is quiet.

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On discovering new music: hell yeah, The Decemberists

I’ve written before about the magic that new music can bring to your life.

(c) heathre on Flickr. Totally not my photo. Click to check it out

(c) heathre on Flickr. Totally not my photo. Click to check it out and a bunch of other great ones

My most recent “new” music – i.e. that I’ve just discovered, rather than actually new ‒ is the album The King is Dead, by American group The Decemberists. Currently formed of Colin Meloy, Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, Nate Query, and John Moen, it hails from Oregon, and this is the band’s sixth and most recent album, according to this peerless record.

But although I enjoy their vaguely revolutionary, historical-sounding name, and appreciate their background, I actually just bloody love this music. I could happily travel for miles in discomfort if I had this on repeat – it’s the aural equivalent of a comfy pillow, warm blanket and whisky-laced, milky coffee.

Aaand apparently they’re bringing out a new album this month! *CLAPS HANDS LIKE A JOYFUL SEAL*

Released in 2011, The King is Dead is a beautiful and uplifting melding of influences, including American and British folk ‒ using instruments such as accordions and fiddles alongside the usual pianos and guitars ‒ and seems more reminiscent of country standards and lackadaisical acoustic tunes than modern US pop-rock.

This is especially evident in the single Rox in the Box (above), which features a harmony of the often-covered tune the Raggle Taggle Gypsies, making it sound unmistakeably folk. I am an unashamed country-music lover (proud!) and similarly cannot get enough of acoustic-style folk songs.

Whether English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, American, Breton, any tunes of that ilk make me feel heart-burstingly better about the state of the world – see Bellowhead, Kate Rusby, Fleetfoxes, Cara Dillon, Seth Lakeman, Show of Hands, Mumford & Sons, Blake Shelton…even (especially?) Taylor Swift, Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert make it on my go-to happy-place list…

I particularly love how the genres’ “of the people”, vernacular nature means they cover vast subject matter, from mournful and incredibly emotional laments, to tales and legends from history; from hilarious and tongue-in-cheek observations on society, to fantastically toe-tapping jigs, and politically-important protest songs.

The King is Dead is more at the emotional, tongue-in-cheek, knees-up end of things, but also throws in a dash of history and lamentation too.

Its rhythms and melodies are shot through with a golden streak of major-key positivity, with lead singer’s Meloy’s voice reminding me strongly of the more upbeat Michael Stipe (of R.E.M) numbers (such as Shiny Happy People) – an influence that seems less strange when you learn that Peter Buck of R.E.M. contributed to three tracks, including Calamity Song and Down By the Water, which was nominated for a Best Rock Song Grammy Award in 2011 (and sounds straight out of an R.E.M album if you ask me!).

I bloody love it. I might move on to a few of their other albums too, but for the moment, I’ve got The King is Dead on repeat. It’s damn difficult to pick a favourite song from ten great tracks, but here are the rest of my top five at the moment (in addition the one above)…

June Hymn

Calamity Song

January Hymn

Dear Avery

It’s my party, and I’ll post song lyrics if I want to

Despite its many foibles, I generally love Twitter. It may be the place where productivity goes to die, but I also find it supportive, funny, friendly and intelligent. I guess it’s who you follow, right?! Twitter is what you make it.

But the other day, I saw this image being widely retweeted, which made me want to switch off. Call me over-sensitive (as many have and will), but I found it pretty patronising.

Because I love song lyrics, find them meaningful and inspirational, and sometimes the only thing that can keep me going when my mental health is having another wobble.

If I sometimes post them, or use them as inspiration for art, then I don’t see why I should expect false concern in return. We don’t mock people for writing poetry, or speaking plainly about how they feel.

So why this?

Granted, social media should never take the place of a psychologist, and those of us who started using Facebook as teenagers have learned the hard – and maybe bloody embarrassing – way that online updates aren’t the place for your inner turmoil.

So yeah, if your own timeline is more emo nostalgia than interesting or funny, then
maybe log off and go outside for a bit. Everyone wins.

And yet. Personally, I love the fact that sometimes, you can post something
indirect, and connect with other people over it. Song lyrics, for example.

For so many people, myself included, song lyrics are the expression of emotions that
sometimes feel too hard to write. It’s a truism that you can often sing far simpler,
far more direct things than you can say. I’ve always been someone who can fall in
love with a song simply because it said something – however deep or however
frivolous – that I couldn’t, or didn’t know how, to articulate.

And if that speaks – or more accurately – sings to me at a particular time, then I
don’t want to feel like I have to apologise for it. Or think that someone will post a sarcastic response if it’s not representative of their experience. It’s very “I’m all right Jack, my life’s going great right now, so please refrain from posting song lyrics that I find uncool, you’re bringing down my timeline, yeah?”

I mean, personally, I don’t even POST song lyrics, as such. But I do listen to music
every single day, and experience lyrics profoundly. A single line can genuinely
bring me to tears, laughter, contentment or total serenity, and that means so much.

Also, some of my most expressive painting ideas come from song lyrics, or feelings
that songs create. Why are lyrics seen as something to be mocked, but poetry or lines from literature are fine?

Many song lyrics may not be necessarily comparable, linguistically, to literature –
but as Mary Beard recently said (in the Evening Standard magazine, if I remember
correctly) studying “low art” as well as “high art” doesn’t mean that you’re saying
one is the same as the other, or better. Just different. And if Mary Beard said it,
that’s good enough for me.

If lyricists can put into song what I sometimes can’t write, then fantastic. Finding
a song that says exactly what you were thinking is cathartic, eye-opening, and makes
you feel part of something. Music is incredible, and lyrics are part of it. What
could be wrong with that?

Online arenas shouldn’t be a replacement for therapy, or somewhere to
vent your frustrations, within reason. But if some songwriter, somewhere – whether
legendary, respected, teenage, or just-in-the-charts – manages to express something
better than you yourself can, then why not?

Post it. Write that tweet. Paint that painting. Quote that quotation. And don’t
mock, or chide anyone else who does, too. If it’s not for you, unfollow, unfriend, mute, and move on.

As more and more of us see online spaces as an extension of ourselves, they
shouldn’t become yet another “cool table”, at which you can only sit if your humour,
feelings and music choice are deemed sophisticated enough for a chosen few. It’s the same reason that I find the widespread mocking of the phrase “u ok hun” pretty insulting too.

I mean, I get it: a lot of people are annoying online. But sometimes, all people need is to feel noticed, to feel that someone cares if they’re OKYes, there’s a balance – no-one likes those constantly, dreary-for-no-reason, purposefully attention-seeking statuses. But a song lyric can bridge that gap between being whiny, and saying something that is really meaningful to you.

In today’s society, where poll after poll shows that loneliness in young people is rife, if posting song lyrics – or even a painting of them – DOES elicit a friendly response from someone, and brightens up that person’s day for a bit, then what the heck is wrong with that?

I refuse to subscribe to this idea that unless you’re being unremittingly negative or dark, then you’re being “annoying”.

Don’t reduce people’s feelings – or their braveness in revealing them – to a mocking, pretend-concern, sneering greetings card. Because the only thing more insincere and cynical than someone seeking sympathy online, is someone mocking that in response.

And never mind song lyrics, it was one indisputably great writer who said it
best: If music be the food of love, play on.

Only then can we fully express the feelings we have, until they might no longer trouble us. And we can feel all the better for it.

What would Maya Angelou do? Her best quotes

The great, late Maya Angelou was pretty damn perceptive (understatement). I quoted her in this piece about personal heartbreak, but there are a lot of incredible phrases from her floating about in light of her death at the end of May, and I wanted to honour them, too.

I’ve been reading her I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and although it’s a bloody shame that she had to die before I really discovered her wisdom, I guess it’s better late than never.

Meanwhile, here are some of my favourite, most meaningful quotes from her, taken from this piece on the Guardian.

  • You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.
  • It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.
  • I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.
  • We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.
  • Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.
  • I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights (I think this is true, but I also include “missed flights/trains” into the lost luggage bit, and “tangled headphones” into the last one).

And the last, most galvanising of all:

  • Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.