Reviving Grammar II: Distinguishing Real Words from Made-up Ones

By Robine Jean-Pierre

Last week, I wrote a blog post summarizing the eight parts of speech in an effort to revive knowledge of grammar. Grammar is something we tend to take for granted, especially in the texting, tweeting and “meming” cyber-world of today. So many posts go viral without having ever been proofread or spell-checked, and it makes me wonder how much thought people put into writing, especially before sharing something that the entire world will potentially see.

Given the limitations on time and space, there is no way I could make a comprehensive list of grammatical mistakes to avoid in a simple blog post. Also, I don’t claim to be a grammar expert by any means. There might be errors buried in this post that my eyes, Microsoft Word and Google Docs have not even picked up on, even after several revisions. My objective here is to point out those basic corrections that we could all benefit from making.

Made-Up Idea-Nouns

In my previous post, I explained how a noun can be a person, place, thing or idea. A lot of times, you can turn an adjective (a word that describes a noun) into an idea-noun by adding –ness­ to the end of it. For example, foolish becomes foolishness, happy becomes happiness. However, this is not always the rule. Sometimes the adjective takes on a different suffix, such as ­-ity or -tion, and other spelling and pronunciation changes must occur. A common mistake is to tack on –ness­ to the end of an adjective, making up a word instead of using the proper suffix. Some hypothetical made-up words, and their preferred forms, are listed below:

  • Stupid becomes stupidity, not stupidness
  • Wise becomes wisdom, not wiseness
  • Dedicated becomes dedication, not dedicatedness
  • Brief becomes brevity, not briefness

If I ever get stuck, I say the word out loud, trying on different suffixes until it sounds like the right one.

Made-Up Verbs

I have noticed that a similar error is often made when going from idea-noun to verb. This is especially true with nouns ending in -ation.

  • Conversation becomes converse, not conversate
  • Interpretation becomes interpret, not interpretate
  • Metamorphosis becomes metamorphose, not metamorphosize
  • Analyze becomes analysis, not analyzation

An Unnecessary Prefix

Another word I’ve heard people make up is in a category of its own: overexaggerate. This verb does not exactly make sense because of its redundancy. According to Dictionary.com, the word “exaggerate” already means “to magnify beyond the limits of truth; overstate; represent disproportionately.” Saying “overexaggerate” is like saying to “over-overdo” something. Maybe you could even say that the word “overexaggeration” is an exaggeration. (Clever, right?)

Don’t Be Shy–Verify

If you are ever in doubt, do not be afraid to look it up online. There are plenty of websites and resources that elaborate on these types of grammatical issues in depth. It is probably more trustworthy if the website is affiliated with a college or other professional organization. In particular, I’ve heard a lot of positive buzz surrounding Grammarly, which recommends corrections in real time. Apparently it’s free for Chrome browser. Aside from that, Microsoft Word has also gotten better about finding nitty-gritty errors of this sort. Dictionaries will often have various forms of a word for just this purpose.

Reading Is Fundamental

But best of all, nothing beats good old reading. Reading quality literature at the appropriate grade level will allow you to come across plenty of new words and contextualize older ones. My mental trick about trying on different suffixes only really works if you have read and heard certain words enough. Frequent exposure will allow certain words to lodge in your mind. Even if you do not know what they mean yet, you will know that you have heard or seen them.

So please, save yourself the embarrassment of putting up another misspelled status update. (Facebook gives you the option to edit, but only one time.) Take the time to proofread your work, and in general, READ.

Reviving Grammar: A Summary of the Eight Parts of Speech

By Robine Jean-Pierre

Many of my peers would agree that we rarely studied grammar throughout most of our years of primary education. Grammar was a ghost that introduced itself somewhere between kindergarten and third grade, only to never be seen again–and yet our teachers would expect us to remember all that it entailed through high school, and maybe even into college.

My eighth grade English teacher, Mr. Snyder, took it upon himself to teach us all that we had missed out on, knowing that our previous teachers had done us a disservice. Before we got into building our vocabulary and writing analytical essays, we started with the basic building blocks: parts of speech. To help visual, synesthetic learners like me, he associated colors and shapes with each one. I will walk you through what I remember from his class.

Nouns

I always knew a noun to be a person, place or thing, but it wasn’t until this class that a fourth option was added to this iconic phrase: a person, place, thing or idea (also known as an abstract thought). Our teacher circled nouns in red marker. In a sentence like “Joe tried to hide his disappointment as he waited on a bench in the park,” Joe is a person, the park is a place, the bench is a thing and disappointment is an idea; these are all examples of nouns. When it’s not so obvious, you can generally identify something as a noun if you can count it, if you can put “a/an” or “the” in front of it (these are called articles), or if it ends in something like -tion, -ness, or -ity, for example, action, sadness, and unity.

Pronouns

These take the place of nouns. Imagine how clunky and awkward it would be if every time you talked about someone, you had to use that person’s name: “Angel said Angel is on Angel’s way, so wait up for Angel.” This next sentence is a lot more concise: “Angel said he is on his way, so wait up for him.” He, his, and him are all pronouns which are replacing, and referring to, Angel. We have a good number of pronouns in English: I, me, my, mine, myself; you, your, yours, yourself; he, him, his, himself; she, her, hers, herself; it, itself; one, oneself; we, us, our, ourselves; they, them, their, theirs, themselves; this, that, these, those. This may sound like a lot to remember, but we use them all the time without even realizing it.

Verbs

Next are verbs, which Mr. Snyder underlined in green. Verbs are usually referred to as action words, such as “eat,” “sleep,” and “breathe.” Since something or someone (the subject) has to perform the action, verbs tend to follow right after nouns. If you have ever taken a foreign language class, you have had to learn all about verb conjugations; depending on the subject, some changes would be made to the verb. In English, the change is simple for regular verbs: just add -s at the end if the subject uses the pronoun he, she, it or one (i.e. second person singular). For example: I jump, you jump, he jumps, etc. Our most irregular but most common verb, “to be,” does not follow this pattern at all: I am, you are, he/she/it/one is, we are, they are. (This holds true in many Latin-based languages like French and Spanish.)

Adjectives

These words, which he boxed in purple, describe nouns, giving you more information about them. If your friend is telling you about a new crush, the conversation will be oozing with adjectives: she’s so smart, funny, talented; he’s handsome, dreamy, confident. Adjectives include colors, numbers, size, quality, and other attributes. You might find these anywhere in a sentence but they can also come directly before the noun they belong to: the cool breeze or the delicious pizza.  

Adverbs

Our teacher made an orange triangle around these. Whereas adjectives describe or modify nouns, adverbs modify verbs. They tend to answer the question  “how?” and they often end in -ly. In the sentence “She entered timidly, quickly taking a seat by the door,” timidly and quickly are the adverbs, and they are describing the way she entered and the way she took a seat. Other adverbs not ending in -ly include often, just, much, and so. We use these all the time, if you haven’t noticed.

I don’t remember the color coding for the next three, and they are also not as frequently talked about, but they are good to know:

Prepositions

These include some of the smallest, most frequently used words in our language: to, at, in, on, by, for, out, from, etc. Longer ones include under, between, through, and alongside. Their name, made up of “pre-” and “position,” give a hint as to how they are used: they tend to indicate direction or placement, and can easily answer the question “where?” when grouped with a noun: “I’m at the park on West 4th street by the pizzeria.” 

Conjunctions

These connect words or parts of sentences to each other. They include and, or, but, because, whereas. Conjunctions establish a relationship between two or more elements. Or tells you that one out of several options is to be selected, not all of them: “Either I will be babysitting that night or doing my homework.”Another example: “You can only choose one color: red, green, or blue.” And may indicate that several things have something in common: “Nick, Joe and Kevin have black hair.” But tends to highlight a contrast: “It’s raining outside but I don’t have my umbrella.” Because has the word cause in it, and indeed links two clauses to create a cause-and-effect relationship. “I didn’t knock because I thought you were sleeping.”

Interjections

These words express emotion and for this reason tend to be exclaimed, for example: “Wow!” “Whoa!” “Gee whiz!” “Ouch!” It is interesting to note how these change from generation to generation within the same language (no one really says “gee whiz” anymore, unless it’s with a touch of sarcasm), and also vary from culture to culture.

I hope you found this helpful in learning (or relearning) the eight parts of speech, and that it wasn’t too difficult to follow. We shouldn’t take English for granted just because it’s our native language. The better we understand it, the better we can communicate.

Speak Life: An Introduction to Self Talk

By Robine Jean-Pierre

My fiancé Angel is an avid reader. He carries around books the way a child would a blanket or a stuffed animal. Reading is his prescription for any affliction. He doesn’t read just any book though–no graphic novels or sci-fi or mysteries. He reads the kind of books which, at their core, teach you how to be a better person and live a better life. They are often referred to as positive mental attitude (PMA) books, or even self-help books. One of the most recent books he’s read is What to Say When You Talk to Yourself  by Dr. Shad Helmstetter. Now I haven’t read the book yet, so I can’t give much of a summary. I can only share what I have gathered from conversations with Angel: self-talk is one of the most powerful forces in your life. It will be a determining force in everything you do.

I’ve had very low moments in my life when even the smallest sources of stress sent me on a downward spiral because I magnified the issue in my mind. I have rarely ever been driven to physically harm myself, but I have engaged in very harmful self-talk, which is just as bad, if not worse. To bring up an example I used in a previous post (The Right to Speak Up), trouble would start with me running late to school; this anxiety would become embarrassment from knowing I would disrupt the class and disappoint the teacher; then, frustration at myself for not having woken up earlier; then, anger for letting this happen too often and not learning my lesson, and finally, bitter self-loathing for being such a constant “failure.” I put this word in quotes because my friends and family would consider me the farthest thing from a failure. Even if it takes a few tries, most of my academic and personal endeavors end in great success and I’m not the quitting type. Yet when I’m in those really deep, dark moments in my mind, somehow I automatically end up saying these absurd statements: “I’m such an idiot. I’m so stupid. I feel like a failure. There’s something wrong with me.”

Angel would probably cringe if he read those words right now. He’s the biggest proponent for positive self-talk in my life, and without him, I might not have discovered soon enough that there is an alternative to these disastrous self-loathing cycles. Angel’s natural inclination is to compliment. He raves about food, movies and people, always finding something positive to promote. Since we are engaged, I have a front row seat of this spectacle; he tells me a variety of affirming statements like “I love you,” “you’re so beautiful,” “you’re a genius” and “I like your face” every single day, a dozen times a day each, and I’ll admit that even I get annoyed by the repetition sometimes, ironically. But then those priceless moments come when he reminds me, “Your subconscious mind can’t decipher between right and wrong. It just takes anything you give it and creates a new mental pathway for it. If I tell you something long enough, you’re going to start to believe it for yourself. Why do you think I call you beautiful all the time?” This is very true; sometimes I look in the mirror and I can hear Angel’s voice in my memory saying something sweet about every feature.

That might seem like a glib, redundant example, but honestly, people’s abilities and characteristics do not always line up with their perceptions. (This is why it’s still possible for me to call myself a failure–somewhere deep down I believe this is true and I need to change that.) I remember watching an episode of Say Yes to the Dress in which a woman who was, for all intents and purposes, gorgeous, struggled to feel beautiful in any of the dresses she tried on (and she had tried on some number in the higher double digits). She would put on a dress and look at herself in the mirror–tall, slender, and blonde with delicate features–and start to tear up; somewhere in her head a voice that sounded like her own had to be saying, “You look terrible. Just face it–you’re ugly. You should really just stop trying since none of these dresses can make you look how you want to look.” I am not one hundred percent sure, but it may have been revealed that she had struggled with some form of body dysmorphic disorder before. This is the power that the mind has over us, and the damage that can be done if we do not harness that power.

a girl in underclothes looking at her distorted reflection in the mirror

A perfect illustration of Body Dysmorphic Disorder, by Travis Millard (Pinterest)

I am not yet at the point of fluently and actively using positive self-talk (which is changing very soon), but I have increasing awareness of my negative use of it and I plan to stop entirely. I am grateful that, until I reach the point where I can do it myself, I have Angel constantly speaking life into me whether I want to hear it or not. If I text him, “I’m struggling to get all my assignments done on time,” he replies, “Don’t worry, you got this. You always get your work done on time.” Sometimes I ask myself, “Wait, do I?” but then I realize that he is speaking in advance the reality that I am striving to attain.

The beautiful thing is that positive self-talk is not lying or simply wishful thinking. It actually works. If you think of your mind as a computer, then saying these statements is just like writing out a program or a command. Last year, when I took CST 1101 (problem solving with computer programming) Professor Siegel liked to use the saying, “Computers do what you tell them to do, not what you want them to do.” (He stressed this whenever he made a mistake in a program and an error occurred.) It is the same way with our minds. We need to tell them what to do, and in turn, they dictate what we think and how we perform, as weird and circular as that might seem.

I encourage you to give it a try. Speak positive things to yourself in the mirror. Write an affirming speech to recite to yourself daily. There is nothing cowardly about standing up to those negative thoughts in your head. You have the power to change your thoughts, which means that you also have power over your words, actions, habits, and overall self-view.

As a follow up, please check out my fellow blogger Neffi’s post, “ ‘You is Kind. You is Smart. You is Important.’ Affirmations 101.”

Their Words Still Speak to Me: Revisiting Teen Pop from My Childhood

by Robine Jean-Pierre

Last night after a long day at school, as I slipped under the covers and into bed, I did something that was long overdue: I looked up a Hannah Montana song on YouTube. I started with “This Is the Life” and next thing you know, I was a dozen songs deep and brimming with romance, joy, teen spirit, excitement, and needless to say, overwhelming nostalgia. I knew that once I had started it would be hard to stop; even though it was approaching 2 a.m. I just kept checking what was in the “Up Next” list under each video and picking the one I wanted to hear most, jumping from stone to stone like a child in a stream.

I love the musical composition of lots of Disney teen artists’ songs, like those of Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, the Jonas Brothers and Selena Gomez. Sure, teen pop is not the most diverse genre out there; the songs do tend to fall into a predictable pattern. But something about these songs was so familiar, so cozy; the lyrics spoke to my heart and even the instrumentation seemed so rich that I couldn’t resist soaking in it all.

Recording one of my own songs (Perfect Love) in a friend’s home-based studio last week made me realize just how much goes into even the simplest modern song. We had started with a preliminary acoustic version–just one layer of guitar, my lead vocals and my own backup vocals harmonizing–but I realized that if I wanted to take it to the next step in a future recording session, I would have to be thorough and specific about what I wanted. When you really listen to a typical song today there is so much going on, so many layers and nuances and effects.

Getting back to my Disney favorites, the beautiful thing about these songs was not just the instrumentation and composition, but of course, the lyrics. So many of today’s songs are too simplified–not that many words, or not much meaning or neither, just vain repetition. That’s why I hold dear to my heart the songs that have a pure, positive, universal message and are not just about sex, drugs and money. Many of these Disney songs talked about innocent romance punctuated by either fear, excitement or both (see Hannah Montana’s “He Could Be the One,” and Demi Lovato’s “Catch Me”); about having standards upon entering a relationship (see Vanessa Hudgens’ “Say OK”); about the love of a father and daughter through the years (Billy Ray Cyrus and Miley Cyrus had a few, such as “I Learned from You”); about friendship and love as a whole, not just romantic love (Hannah Montana’s “You and Me Together” and “Bigger Than Us”). These topics are not necessarily simple, but nearly anyone could relate and benefit from listening.

Some songs that really spoke to me that night were Hannah Montana’s “Make Some Noise” and Demi Lovato’s “La La Land.” “Make Some Noise” has the kind of message you don’t hear enough in mainstream music:

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not strong enough
Don’t give up, there’s nothing wrong with just being yourself,
that’s more than enough
So come on and raise your voice
Speak your mind and make some noise…”  

Sometimes we need this reminder, teenagers and grownups alike. Hannah Montana’s music was geared toward predominantly young preteen and teenage girls, I presume, and they are often in need of all the support they can get; they receive a lot of pressure from mainstream media to be something they’re not, and to keep quiet if their opinion is not popular. “La La Land” is a very feisty, edgy, playful song about someone who’s famous but not afraid to be herself, someone who doesn’t let celebrity go to her head. One verse says “who says I can’t wear my Converse with my dress? Oh baby, that’s just me.” The chorus says,

“Some people say I need to be afraid
of losing everything
because of where I
had my start and where I made my name
but everything’s the same
in the la la land machine.”

Demi Lovato had my heart from very early in her career and her voice is as amazing as her songwriting skill (which is an understatement). To see that she started strong, went on a decline, battled her demons and overcame to continue making powerful music is a tremendous feat. Maybe these very words played a part in bringing her back to full recovery, as she realized that she couldn’t let anything change her for the worse. (It would be unjust to not recommend her comeback song, “Skyscraper.”)

I can unashamedly say that many of those songs don’t need to stay in my childhood– they are just as relevant, some even more relevant than before (particularly for the love songs now that I’m of age and engaged). Seeing that some artists like Miley are grown now, and have made drastic changes in their career in terms of target audience, message and style, I could only hope that they are not ashamed of their past, and that they don’t dismiss the beautiful songs they made popular as childish, boring, or cliché. Their words still speak to me.

Do the Write Thing (#WhyIWrite)

By Robine Jean-Pierre

It is 11:40 pm on a Saturday evening. I worked from 5:00 to 9:20 pm on the audio/video crew for the Haunted Hotel, City Tech’s annual Halloween-themed attraction. I worked the same shift yesterday. Working on in-house shows and events is required for my technical production class, and inevitably takes away more time from an already jam-packed schedule.

It has been yet another long week of juggling six classes (17 credits) and two part-time jobs. We are about halfway through the semester and I have had a handful of anxiety attacks and emotional breakdowns. I have missed assignments and (very few) classes. I have wanted to cut my hair, or even tear it out; break computers; fling chairs; scream, kick, stomp, and curse out everyone within close range. I have wanted to drop at least one class even though the deadlines are long past. I have been playing a never-ending game of catch-up, handing in the lab report that was due last week this week, pushing off what’s due tomorrow because of what’s due in two hours, only to find that when tomorrow comes there is no time left. I have sat at a desk in front of a computer for hours, with the earnest hope of getting it all done in one shot, and next thing you know, my time is up and I have nothing to show for it. Nothing. NOTHING.

I have an overdue lab report and the current one to complete by Monday morning, not to mention an elaborate assignment for my theatrical drafting class that involves a software called AutoCAD, which I do not own at home because none of the laptops would be able to handle it. I don’t think the computer labs are even open on Sundays. Then there’s this very blog post that I am writing, also due Monday. My draft was supposed to be in since Tuesday, going by the guidelines, although Thursday has been a reasonable compromise for me and my fellow peer-reviewing blogger. I’m sure she’s tired of me failing to reach even that agreement.

I am not trying to brag about my struggles as we often do, hoping for a pat on the back for our valiant efforts or some sympathy to liven up the pity-party. It’s just that everything I have written so far is all I have been able to think about for a long time. I am hardly able to think straight and I felt like I would have gotten nowhere if I had tried to write about some topic that, let’s face it, I don’t even care about right now. (Believe me, I tried. It didn’t work.)

Even as I write this out of obligation (blogging is my job and as I said, my posts go up on Monday), I feel guilty being up this late, 12:07 a.m., writing this sob-story instead of completing my lab reports, at least. But honestly, it doesn’t matter how I arrange all my responsibilities on my priority list–it all has to get done, whether I work on something first or second or last.

On a deeper level, I have to do this. Not just because I signed up to be a blogger, not because of the paycheck. I need to write. Writing helps me to take the emotions and thoughts running around like chickens with their heads cut off, as they say, and line them up for inspection. Writing allows me to drain my mind of all the excess content, whether benevolent or noxious, although I have found that I will more readily write about a negative experience than a positive one. I know how to deal with happiness pretty well; I feel no need to transcribe it, no need to analyze it–it’s self-explanatory, and simple, and beautiful. But when turbulence comes and I’m overwhelmed with sadness or anger or guilt, writing is like the chisel that allows me to carve the masterpiece out of a hulking, rough, ugly chunk of faceless stone.

I write because it gives me healing, relief, satisfaction, and a deeper understanding of myself and my circumstances. It gives me a space to express myself without alarming anyone. I am writing this for an online audience, sure (and chances are that few people will read it, like my last eight posts) but I am writing this primarily for myself. I am the author, and that makes gives me the authority to say whatever I want to say, whatever I need to say, without feeling embarrassed or intimidated or worried about what other people might think. If I were to scream in the middle of a classroom and start pulling my hair out, that would worry people, for sure–but I could choose a better option and let these letters be my voice, and this post a scream, and at the same time, a sigh of relief. Writing keeps me sane.

 

Five Expressions in Haitian Creole That You Could Pull Off in English

by Robine Jean-Pierre

A linguist at heart, I cringe whenever I come across poorly translated phrases. While I am not fully fluent in all of them, I am familiar with Haitian Creole, French and Spanish, so I often find instances in which the fluidity, wit or meaning of a phrase gets lost when going from one language to another. It is also disappointing to hear a bi- or polylingual person trying to grasp for a term in their native tongue, saying, “It’s like… you know… well, I don’t know how you’d say it in English.” The feeling of exclusion that this provokes leaves me unsatisfied, and I believe that the language barrier can always be crossed, even when it comes to complex things like metaphors and idioms. The key is to translate for the meaning or essence of a word or phrase, even if at the expense of the actual words being used.

Haitian Creole is full of colorful, comical idioms, and I have often entertained myself by undertaking the task of finding their English equivalents. As I said, this is only effective if you go by meaning and not translation verbatim. I will give five examples (though I cannot guarantee I’ve spelled them all correctly).

1. Lè Ti Poul Fè Dan

The expression, “lè ti poul fè dan” in Creole literally means “when chicks teethe.” It is an informal way of responding “Never” to a question, since we know that chicks have beaks and will never grow teeth. If you said this in English, word for word, you would probably get a strange look from the person who asked the question, but never fear, we have the similar English expression, “When pigs fly.”

2. Mete Dlo Nan Diven Ou

“Mete dlo nan diven ou” is an expression that literally means “put [some] water in your wine.” This is a figurative way of telling someone to calm down; parents would say this to children that are acting up. It makes sense when you think of wine as something fiery and provocative, and that watering it down will diminish its strength. This is reminiscent of Bart Simpson’s “Cool your jets, man” (The Simpsons) or the simpler “Take it easy.”

3. Achte Figi Moun

“Achte figi moun” literally means “to buy someone’s face.” Think you can figure it out? You would have slim chances of hearing this in English word for word. This expression touches on the ideas of bribery and flattery, and would most closely link up with “kiss up to someone,” “suck up to” or “brown-nose.” I have mostly heard it used with a touch of infamous Haitian pride: “M’pa achte figi moun” (“I don’t kiss up to people”).

4. Ret Na Wòl Ou

“Ret na wòl ou” is actually not too far from English. It literally means “stay in your role” but links up with our “stay in your lane.” In other words, respect yourself and don’t overstep your boundaries.

5. Li Pa Gen Nen Nan Figi Li

“Li pa gen nen nan figi li” is not something you would want to hear someone say about you behind your back. The literal translation is “He/she doesn’t have a nose on his/her face.” It means that someone has no sense of dignity, pride or shame, like the archetypal nerd who keeps trying to join the cool kids’ clique even after numerous bold-faced rejections. (Maybe it comes from the idea that if this person did have a nose, he would immediately sense the obvious, kind of like when we say “You wouldn’t know __ if it hit you right between the eyes!”) After giving it a lot of thought, the only similar expressions that come to mind are “he’s a sucker” and “he hasn’t got a clue.”

The cleverness or “punch” of a phrase does not have to be sacrificed when you translate it from one language to another. Neither does the beauty of song lyrics or poetry. We may all speak different languages and belong to various cultures, but emotions and ideas are not limited to specific people groups. They are the universal building blocks of the human experience, and a bridge can always be made where there is understanding and effort.

Any funny expressions come to mind, either in English or another language? Please feel free to share in a comment below.

The Language of Love

By Robine Jean-Pierre

There are hundreds, if not thousands of languages spoken, written and articulated in the world today. Not all of us will be able to say we learned Swahili, Chinese or Urdu in our lifetime, but there is one language that we can all speak, one language alone that can unite us: the language of love. And no, I don’t mean French or Spanish.

a man in suit and bow-tie holding a martini glass and winking

© David Niven 2017

“No man is an island” (the title of a poem by John Donne). Unless you have spent all of your life in solitary confinement, you have connections with people around you. What we often overlook, even though it may seem obvious, is that these deep rooted relationships require maintenance. Your loved ones have standards that you need to meet, and vice versa, in order to keep the relationship afloat. That might mean phone calls, keeping the house clean, gifts, visits, etc. The thing is that we all set those standards in different ways, and that’s where the specific love languages come in.

In his book The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman explains that there are five main ways we express and receive love. They are: acts of service, physical touch, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, and quality time. He goes on to point out that each of us has a primary love language; we feel the most loved through it and express it toward others the most. I will explain in my own words and give some examples below.

one man holding a door open for another man

MCT via Getty Images

Acts of Service

If this is your primary love language, you feel most loved when someone helps you. You are always willing to lend a helping hand to others as well. It warms your heart when someone holds a door open for you or offers to do the dishes when it was your turn. Conversely, it really “grinds your gears” when someone does not offer you a hand, whether by outright refusing, or by failing to acknowledge your need. 

For these people, actions speak way louder than words. If you love them, you will be willing to show it, and to do whatever they are asking of you with a sincere heart. This might be doing the dirty work, like taking out the trash without being asked. This is definitely my mom’s love language, and not just because she is a mom. I have seen her offer herself wholeheartedly, not just for her children, but for people who, frankly, do not even deserve it.

two young male friends, one with his arm around the other's shoulder

photo by Vishvanavanjana

Physical Touch

You love to give and receive hugs, pats on the back, an arm around the shoulder and firm handshakes. You find massages incredibly enjoyable, and holding you while you cry is the most compassionate way someone can console you.

People might be suspicious of you because they are not as comfortable with touching, or they suspect that you are just trying to “make a move” on them–but that’s not true. Physical touch is not limited to affection exchanged between lovers. This is my fiancé Angel’s primary love language, and I realized early on that his touchiness was not simply flirtiness when I observed his interactions with family and friends. He was all hugs, all the time, and still is that way.

Words of Affirmation

a text message conversation in which one person expresses his/her feelings for the other

from Pinterest

You value words of praise and encouragement. One compliment has your mood lifted for the entire day. Love letters are the quickest way to your heart. On the other end, hurtful words inflict a wound like nothing else can.

If you know individuals like this, it is crucial that you constantly boost them up with the power of your words. Don’t dismiss them as being vain or conceited when they fish for compliments. Tell them “I love you” often, because even if you hit all of the other four love languages, they might not feel certain until you say it. Don’t just think good toward them–be very vocal about your appreciation and generous with compliments. Be careful, even when joking, about what you say to them.

 

Receiving Gifts

You feel most loved when someone gives you a gift. Whether something small like a flower or expensive like new sneakers, just the fact that someone thought of you means the world to you. Someone’s presence is also a present to you; you would be greatly offended if your significant other got you nothing on Valentine’s Day, but also if your best friend did not make it to your birthday party. 

a man embracing a woman to whom he has given a gift

Vogue (http://www.pulse.ng)

I feel as if this can be mistaken for being materialistic, but there is a difference. From what I have observed, this is my younger sister’s primary love language, and it took a while for me to realize that she wasn’t just being greedy whenever she asked me to bring her something on my way back home. Her attention to detail when choosing and packaging gifts for others also says it all. Because of this, when I have the money and time, I am less reluctant to pick up a Snickers bar or buy her something she’s been raving about every now and then.

Quality Time

You are an unofficial event planner, always coming up with a new idea for a date with your friends, family or significant other. You value long conversations, especially with an engaged listener. If you had one complaint in a relationship, it would be, “We never spend enough time together!” You give your phone a side-eye when someone does not reply back to your messages quickly enough or answer your calls.

a father reading a picture book on the couch with his daughter

Photo courtesy of United Way of West Alabama

This is definitely my primary love language. Nothing hurts me more than a missed opportunity to see someone I love, especially Angel. It drives me crazy when he’s not texting me, even if he has a very legitimate excuse, like work. I can spend a whole day with him and still feel disappointed when we have to part ways. This was true even with my best friend Marsha when we were younger; I often cried whenever I had to leave her apartment, and we lived in the same building.

People like me need as much time as you can afford to give. Make sure that in the midst of all your responsibilities, you don’t make a “quality-timer” feel as if he/she is at the bottom of your list; we are more likely to get jealous of things (e.g. work, sports, video games) than people. Set aside time for dates, phone calls, etc., and as a tip, it’s not enough to just be in the same room together–make sure that the activity requires you to give each other undivided attention.

Get Out There and Love Someone

Chapman explains that each of us has a love tank that needs to be filled. Often times, people act out, complain, or are unhappy because their tank is not filled. Marriages often crumble because two people are working hard to please each other in the way they know how, not in the way their spouse wants. The main way to fill the tank is to show love in that person’s primary love language.

If you are wondering what your primary love language is, think about which one you show others the most, and what bothers you the most (and see the quiz online). I highly recommend you get a copy of the book for yourself and take the quiz. Just as a final word of advice, the goal here is not to win people over, but to love them for the sake of love. If something is to be done, it might as well be done right. Do you want a boring relationship or an exciting one? Do you want nagging parents or happy parents? Love people wholeheartedly, expecting nothing in return, and this world would be radically redefined.the cover of "The 5 Love Languages" book by Gary Chapman

The Right to Speak Up

“I am speechless, but I can’t keep quiet
And I am wordless, but I can’t stay silent”

-Lauren Daigle, “Wordless” on her album How Can It Be

Have you ever been so overcome with emotion that you were completely speechless?

We often put ourselves in others’ shoes, imagining what we would do if we were in their situation; but when it happens to us, somewhere between the realm of the hypothetical and reality, we lose our thoroughly-thought-out, immaculately articulated responses.

There will be times when, frankly, life will shut you up. Something so shocking, painful, or nerve-wracking will leave your lips locked and your tongue tied. Choosing to speak up will not be the easy, automatic thing to do, but you will know that it is the right thing to do.

Two weeks ago, in my blog post The Right to Remain Silent, I talked about how silence can be a constructive form of communication. On the flip side, there are times when keeping quiet hinders more than it helps. It is imperative to know when to break the silence. 

a broken brick wall exposing a partly cloudy sky

Getty Images (Vkyryl)

Speak Up against Injustice

Victims of injustice often have a hard time seeking justice on their own. The stigma, pain, and residual feelings of weakness stifle their attempts, and they remain silent because it seems to be the only reasonable option. This is especially the case for victims of sexual assault, violence, and harassment. Nevertheless, whether you are the victim or you know one personally, speaking up about it might be uncomfortable, but it is the only way to initiate change.

City Tech has taken a stand against crimes of that nature by providing mandatory When Yes Means Yes… Sexual Assault Training for Students and  Title IX Training for Employees. The goal is to make more people aware so that the excuse “I didn’t know” evaporates. Bringing the issue to the light affirms the victims, exposes the perpetrators, warns potential offenders and calls the bystanders to action.

Speak Up about Secret Struggles

If you are anything like me, the worse a problem gets, the less willing you are to tell people about it, especially if it is an internal problem. By internal I mean something going on inside of your mind, a struggle in which you are battling your own thoughts, emotions, or habits.

a man with his arms crossed in a pool of dark ink, refusing to receive help from the many hands reaching out to him

Art by Katherine Choi (NY Times)

To give one example, I am guilty of being too much of a perfectionist at times. If I am running late to school, I would much rather it be due to delays and packed subway cars, rather than my oversleeping or not being able to find my glasses. I end up red-faced and teary-eyed on the train platform, angry at myself for making the same mistake over and over, angry that I did not get to bed early enough so that I could wake up comfortably and early this morning, angry that the reason I stayed up is because it took me hours to complete an assignment that other people could do in just one… Next thing you know I’m angry at myself for being angry and making such a big deal over nothing.

It can be a simple character flaw or a clinically diagnosed disorder, but whatever inner struggles you are facing, I encourage you to speak about it. If you were able to handle things yourself, then you wouldn’t be battling yourself. So what will keeping it to yourself do, except make things worse? Reach out to counselors at school, a trusted friend, a professional, a spiritual leader, family member–any confidant can make all the difference. Sometimes you need to hear a voice other than your own, but first, someone has to hear yours. (Please check out my fellow blogger Samantha’s post on a similar topic, Virtues from Motherhood: Needing Help Will Never Make You Weak.)

Speak Up and Get “Greased”

Have you ever heard the saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”? This means that if you have a need, you should make it known. As a college student, and especially a transfer student, I have often felt lost in a sea of demands. I have had to fill out dozens of applications, and I did not always know if I was doing so correctly.

It can be very nerve-wracking to have to go to an office and ask questions, especially if you don’t even know where to start, or if the clerks appear to have a bad attitude. Even so, there are countless resources at your disposal, both on and off campus, to help you with whatever you might need (if you are a City Tech student, see our academics site and student services site). And all of those intimidating officers and professors, guess what? They are paid to help you. When I was at NYU and facing plenty of financial conflicts, one particularly helpful bursar officer gave me his card after an appointment, and repeatedly encouraged me to come back and ask more questions because that was why he was there in the first place. So please take my advice; as the song says, “For / no one can fill / those of your needs / that you won’t let show” (“Lean On Me” by Bill Withers).

Speak Up and Be Yourself

one red game chip among dozens of blue game chips

istockphoto.com

On a lighter note, it’s not always a matter of being in need. It is important to speak up just because you have the natural born right to do so. We are all entitled to have our own opinions and to express them freely (and respectfully).

We live in a time where the lines between fact and opinion are often blurred. Sometimes opinions are given even more importance than facts. People will think you’re crazier for saying “I think Trump makes a good president” rather than “the moon is not real, it’s man-made.”

What’s more, everyone goes around saying “be yourself,” but the fine print under that statement reads, “as long as ‘yourself’ fits into this mold, or is popular, or is politically correct.” You might feel pressured to keep quiet because you are afraid that people will disagree or look down on you. My response, in short, is so what?

As a reserved Christian, my opinion is almost always in the minority, but “minority” does not mean “negligible” or “does not exist.” If you think a certain way and have taken a firm stance on something, no one has the right to silence you.

I encourage you, reader, to do something different today. You can even start small, and work your way up. Raise your hand in class if you don’t understand what the professor just said, rather than nodding absentmindedly. If you think that the person next to you is wearing an awesome shirt, tell him so. Tell your sister that she really hurt your feelings, because she might have been totally oblivious. I dare you to break the silence, because you are most definitely worth hearing.

a microphone pointed at the reader

Shutterstock image

Louder Than the Beat

by Robine Jean-Pierre

You hear a song playing on the radio. You start humming along and nodding your head, and your friend who notices says, “Oh, you know this song?” You recognize it as a song that’s been on every station, every hour, for weeks now, so you reply “yes.” But when he or she asks, “What’s it called again?” you are embarrassed to realize not only that you do not know the title, but that you don’t know any of the words either. Does this sound familiar?

This is the tragedy that has especially befallen our generation. Tragedy might seem too strong a term, but as I may have made clear in previous blog posts, I take words very seriously. I live by the maxim “my word is my worth and my worth is my word.” I give music the same value, so when you put the two together, I have very high expectations for songs. This is why I am appalled by how oblivious people can be to song lyrics.

Let’s indulge ourselves for a moment and consider the following examples: I have heard Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me” played at the funeral of my family-friend’s mother, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on at least one Christian gospel album, “Say Something” by A Great Big World at my high school prom, “I’m in Love with the CoCo” by O.T. Genasis at an elementary school block party, and most recently, Rihanna’s “Kiss It Better” played at a sweet sixteen. These are just a few of the scenarios where the songs did not match the occasion at all. I can imagine what the DJs might have been thinking when they made these selections. However, I’ll explain why each was an inappropriate match-up.

Only one or two lines in the chorus of Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me” are suitable for a funeral: “Oh won’t you stay with me? / ‘cause you’re all I need.” This is something you might wish you could say to a loved one you just lost. Take the first verse, however (“Guess it’s true, I’m not good at a one-night stand”), and that should make the context of the song clear.

I have seen way too many people mistake Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” for a gospel song, which is so unfortunate. Hallelujah does mean “Praise the Lord” but the only thing being praised in this song is sex, not God. In short, it is filled with disturbing sexual references hidden behind Biblical allusions (such as King David and Bathsheba in the first two verses).

In terms of music alone, “Say Something” by A Great Big World might sound like the perfect slow dance, but I would hope that the words “I’m giving up on you” and “you’re the one that I love / and I’m saying goodbye” are far from what you would want to say to your lover or date on prom night.

On the surface, “I’m in Love with the CoCo” by O.T. Genasis is a catchy and funny sounding song. Nevertheless, it ultimately promotes cocaine addiction. I don’t see how drugs and kids go together, ever. Someone just wasn’t thinking straight at that block party.

As for Rihanna’s “Kiss It Better,” this was one of too many songs played at a sweet sixteen that would have better suited a strip club or someone’s bedroom.

The DJs in each case must have given precedence to the musical components, as in the rhythm or melody, rather than the lyrical components of the songs, and that is where things often take a bad turn. They did not consider who would be present or what the overall purpose of the gathering was. They just wanted something that people could “bump” to or “turn up” to and that was it.

Music is not just about the beat; if it were, why have lyrics at all? Why not just make instrumentals? The truth is, music is such a powerful force, one that can be used for good or evil. Without getting into detail on the moral component, every song has a message to get across or a mood to express. If we can mindlessly play, sing, or dance to certain songs without acknowledging the message they are conveying, that just goes to show how clueless, vulnerable, and unsophisticated we can be.

To me, there is something beautiful about choosing the right embellishments for the right occasion–the decor, dress code and especially the music all contribute to creating the perfect atmosphere. This stylistic decision-making, practiced by many wedding and party planners, is an art in itself. My hope is that people will value it more, and that lyricism will not become a lost art.

The Right to Remain Silent

By Robine Jean-Pierre

In my Elements of Music course at NYU, the professors pointed out that the rests, or pauses between sounds, make up a piece of music just as much as the actual notes do. The intro to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is so powerful and memorable, in part, because of the rests.

If we take things outside the realm of music, we see that silence is a crucial part of communication. Some of us may be more talkative than others, but no one is ever speaking 100% of the time. We pause when we are listening, when we are thinking about what we want to say, when we feel respect, nervousness, concentration, guilt–it all depends on the scenario, and so it is important that we understand these distinctions.

a man (Simon Cowell) with duct tape over his mouth

Copyright Verizon Wireless

The Silence of Concentration

The quietness in a library tells you that people are focused and busy at work. The silence in a church might tell you that people are deep in contemplative prayer. A classroom is usually quietest when the students are taking a test. In these examples, the silence itself is not the focus; it is simply a result of some deep, inner process at work.

The Silence of Unity

There are times when silence is the main focus. In school, we often had moments of silence in observance of 9/11, and we did it to demonstrate respect for the friends, relatives and heroes who lost their lives that day. Whenever people take part in a unanimous display of solidarity, it moves me. There is something so powerful about everyone agreeing to stop what they are doing and focus on one shared experience.

The Silence of Disunity

There are other times, however, when silence represents disunity rather than harmony. You might be familiar with what is called “the silent treatment.” Imagine you insulted your father by doing something very foolish behind his back, and now he hasn’t spoken to you for days. Obviously, it’s not because he has nothing to say. I personally hate the silent treatment. One of the easiest ways to hurt me is to deliberately ignore me–but the people who are enforcing it are usually the most hurt of all. They feel that their silence, rather than their words, will more effectively convey their pain, frustration, or disappointment.

Using Silence Constructively

Since silence can convey a message or emotion that is either positive or negative, I want to suggest ways in which we can intentionally use it to promote effective communication.

The Silence of Consideration

In my personal experience, I do not like it when someone answers my questions too quickly or abruptly, as if they knew what I was going to say before I said it. A pause before replying to someone’s question can actually be beneficial for both parties. If, for instance, my sister asked me, “What classes do you think I should take next semester?” pausing will give me time to come up with a thoughtful answer. Plus, it will make her feel important, knowing that I cared to give her my time and thought, rather than hastily dismiss her with the first answer that came to mind. (I highly recommend reading the book Skill with People by Les Giblin; it is a thin handbook full of advice on how to communicate more effectively.)

The Silence of Listening

I have often heard it said that God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we could listen twice as much as we speak.  If you are anything like me, you get irritated when people cut you off mid-sentence (especially when they start their sentence by saying, “Not to cut you off, but…”). I once read somewhere that a person lasts an average of 17 seconds of listening before he/she feels the need to speak again in a conversation.

The basic fact of the matter is that we cannot listen and talk at the same time; even the greatest “multi-taskers” must admit this. Being a good listener means having a willingness to stay silent while someone else has the mic, whether that is for 17 seconds or five whole minutes (I know, that’s a long time, especially for our generation!). If you never pause to listen, and you are the only one speaking, that makes it a monologue, not a dialogue.

The Silence of the Wise

I will end with a word of advice: sometimes silence spares you from a lot of trouble. Think of all those police shows where you have heard this portion of the Miranda rights: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be used against you in the court of law…” It would be smart for an arrested person to exercise that right, rather than say something foolishly that would further incriminate him or her. On a more relatable note, whether it’s the school bully or a family member, silence can be the strongest defense against someone’s antagonism. It can keep you from saying things you will regret, or from stooping down to someone’s level.

I hope this helped you to see silence with a new perspective. I will leave you with a poem I wrote below, titled (of course) “Silence.” Thank you for reading.

The absence of sound.
The brief moment when thin air rests in your ears.
A dull void, empty, cold,
yet as leaden and suffocating
as darkness itself…
are these the definition of silence?
Possibly… but I offer a different interpretation.
Silence
is the ear-splitting screech of raw, pure thoughts
huddling, hesitating in their last moments of privacy:
some yearning anxiously for their spontaneous departure;
others holding on, settling at the bottom of
the ocean floor we call our conscience.
Silence
is the thick black cloth
that envelops these thoughts
(providing protection, yet restraint):
some too fragile to be forced out
into the open;
Others so dense, unstable,
EXPLOSIVE,
that they would drop
like bombs
on the world.