The Washington Times-Herald
---- — Anomaly is a fine and useful word. Four syllables crammed into only seven letters. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines anomaly as, “something different, abnormal, peculiar, or not easily classified.” (See that Rand Paul? It’s not difficult to acknowledge sources). Synonyms include other fine words like; incongruity, peculiarity, oddity and aberration.
I think of anomaly each time I use a debit or credit card to fill my car with gas and am prompted by the display screen to “remove card quickly” only after I have already done so. And it occurs to me the whole process could be less anomalous if before you lift the nozzle the display screen would read something like, “In a moment you will be prompted to insert your card. After insertion, do not allow the card to linger. Remove it quickly and deftly, lest the pump not properly dispense fuel thereby causing you to become annoyed or perhaps violent.” It would be much more precise that way and would make far more interesting reading as I dawdle alongside the pumps.
Here’s another example: the word “Gubernatorial”. Think about it. We go to the polls every four years in Indiana and elect a Governor, not a Gubernor. This one is so strange to me that I looked up the origin of the word one day and learned that it comes from the Latin “gubernator” which, not surprisingly, means governor. A movie franchise came immediately to mind: “Don’t miss former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Gubenator”, “Gubenator 2 Love Child”, and “Gubenator 3 Rise of the House Maids.!“
The little fresh packets included in some vitamin bottles and over the counter medications are also anomalous to me. Do they really work, I wonder each time I encounter one. And how would we know if they do or they don’t? For what it’s worth, my opinion is they do little more than impede the proper flow of pills or capsules from whatever container they might be lurking inside of. We all want our milk, our bread, and our meats to be fresh, but do we really care that much when it comes to allergy pills and triple strength fish oil? When was the last time you heard someone complain, “Say honey, those new prostate pills seem to be doing the job, but boy they sure taste musty!”
Another troubling anomaly is calling public toilets “restrooms”. In a literal sense, the word restroom should suggest a tranquil, comfortable location complete with beds, sofas, rocking chairs and Barcaloungers, soft lighting and music, people napping, chatting amiably or reading quietly. But look around at the average public toilet, say in a busy rest area or crowded shopping mall. Not much resting going on is there? Rather they are noisy, hectic, sometimes foul, and not at all conducive to rest. Many now feature Exlerator hand dryers, deafening, powerful machines that blow so hard they cause little tsunamis of skin around your knuckles and wrists. Combine the explosive hand dryers with the sounds of running faucets, flushing toilets and an assortment of human sounds like… Well, you get what I mean. It’s not my idea of rest.
The phrase “Attorney at Law” is anomalous to some. Why “at law” instead of “of law”? Actually the answer has its roots in medieval English legal history and is, like much of the law itself, rather dull and convoluted so we won’t go into it here. A good friend of mine, a civil engineer by trade, once joked that he might start holding himself out as “Engineer at Dirt.” From there of course the possibilities are legion: accountant at ledger; chef at food; realtor at cell phone; pharmacist at drugs; proctologist at ... Well, again, you get the drift.
I think one of the reasons I like the word anomaly is because I remember talking to my father once and he used it in describing me. Far from being offended, I was flattered and still consider it one of the nicest things he ever said about me. Now, years after his passing, as I look back at some of what I’ve just written here, I think perhaps this column goes a long way toward validating his opinion.
Blake Chambers email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org