The Year of Words - Day 315: In memory of Bayleaf the Gardener.

Some of you will know that when it comes to words, I can be partial to a clever portmanteau. However, that is only one of the three classes of word that I particularly enjoy. The others are orphaned positives also loved by Susie Dent I believe.

Orphaned positives I hear you cry? Well, thing unkempt, unwieldy, impenetrable, non-sensical. dim-witted, ungainly and the like.

William Shakespeare

Were you to travel back to Shakespearean times, you would find the positive equivalents of these words still in common use.

A smart and kempt house occupied by witted occupants would be possible and those with good physical strength would have been called wieldy coves.

The lack of one-way systems and complex town planning would mean most settlements were easily penetrable and looked gainly most of the time. However, those positives have often long since disappeared. So, when the chance arises, I do like to drop one into a conversation.

In addition to the orphaned negatives and their counterparts are the gender benders (my classification for them).

These words either predate the loss of gendered words from the language (see day 310 for acedia) and are a remnant of a male or female form of a word. Others, such as today's twain reflect the loss of the third person singular form of a verb (or rarely the third person plural) which really only becomes necessary with gendered words.

The most obvious example of the latter would be thee or thine - think poetry if a romantic is throwing a thou or a goest around, it's probably a gender bender remnant.

Twain is a generational divide word with many being completely unaware of it. Others report a 1980s UK sitcom (Never the twain) and logophiles look on in despair. So as a fan of the gender bender remnants, I hope you'll manage a twain of sentences with today's archaic offering.

The opium of the masses?

I've been away from Facebook and social media for approaching a month which has been a very interesting experience.

Having worked with a couple of charities dealing with forms of addiction or compulsive behaviour, the distance has certainly left me observing those who would come out in a rash without their hourly (or more frequent) Facebook fix in a different light.

Very often it strikes me that people reach for their phones and fire up Facebook or Twitter out of compulsion or boredom. It's not very different to the smoker who smokes by habit after a meal or when their hands run out of things to do. An interesting comparison with tobacco for me.

The tobacco producers claimed cigarettes don't cause cancer

I can't help but wonder whether the various Senate hearings of the 1970s and 80s in which tobacco companies protested that no causal link between tobacco and cancer had been proved might be repeated.

It seems clear that social media executives are aware of the power to set A against B possessed by their platforms. It is that capacity on which their advertising and retention models are based. It's also clear they are aware of several credible studies showing excessive or compulsive use of social media can pose a mental health risk to those who are particularly vulnerable or present online as 'natural victims'

How far are we, I wonder, from the social media executives representing the playbook of the now discredited tobacco industry in defending that which they know can cause damage.

Of course, I'm not suggesting people shouldn't be allowed to use such platforms, but it does appear to me that if Marx was looking for the modern opium of the masses, it would be social media rather than religion.

Social media compulsion - warning signs

I won't labour the point too much, but several organisations dealing with addiction and compulsion are already adding social media use to their list of substances and behaviours they recognise as problematic.

I'll certainly admit to recognising some withdrawal when I stopped using Facebook and Twitter. A spike in anxiety, a sense of disconnection and catching myself reaching for my phone compulsively when I felt I had nothing else specific to do.

The 'just one wouldn't hurt' moments certainly kicked in and I had to work hard for a few days not to trawl timelines or post trivia. I also had some significant de-coupling to do where Facebook was being used to log on to sites or confirm identity. That said, it has been unpicked and that particular means of keeping me tied into the platform was successfully severed.

Messenger the gateway app

I've also managed to fend off the local dealer (in this case Vaughan) who has been telling me what I'm missing out on not being on Messenger.

I suppose he's correct, it is an easy means of keeping in touch but it's virtually impossible to keep it separate from Facebook.

I've managed to stay in touch with good friends by Whatsapp (either groups or chat) and have found them to be more useful and focused conversations. Ironically, being slightly less immediately available appears to have made the contacts more purposeful.

Finally, I was careful with my earlier phrasing when saying 'I felt I had nothing else specific to do'.

Of course, in reality, there was plenty to do. Allowing for Taz taking much of my time while he gets over his operation, there is plenty to be getting on with in the real world.

That is evidenced by the late cut lawns, planting of winter garlic and late onion sets and finally perfecting my mum's short crust pastry. Christmas cake and puddings are made and my French is improving too.

Bayleaf the gardener - works from early morn.

So that brings me to the plan of attack for today. It's not exactly tropical but there is a spring bed of bulbs to plant and some tree stump regrowth to deal with.

It'll look worth the effort in the spring with some colour from snowdrops, daffodils, crocuses and tulips pop out to bring in the spring. Last night, Vaughan asked me about the children's TV I remembered. Did they have Thomas the Tank? I was asked. I was tempted to say no, it hadn't been written. I hasten to point out it had been on the shelves for over a quarter of a century then, but the animated series Vaughan referred to was some way off.

I did mention The Herbs giving of my best Dill, Sage, Parsley and Bayleaf to varying degrees of concern and alarm. So today is (at least for the next couple of hours) going to be brought to us by Bayleaf the Gardener. Wish me luck with the planting.


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