Every once in a while a word that’s as old as the language itself pushes its way front and center, suddenly used so often, mostly by people in the media, that we wonder how they managed for so long to use it, rarely, if at all.

There must have been an unfulfilled need in our discourse for le mot juste, just the right word, to describe anything memorable or extraordinary or revered. That need has at last been satisfied by a word that is permeating the  atmosphere. The word is iconic, and I have to wonder how so many objects, people and situations have suddenly earned a place among the iconic, and what they were before they achieved, um, iconitude.

My husband and I enjoy watching a quiz show you’ve probably never heard of on the Game Show Network called “Cash Cab.” While riding in a New York City taxi, passengers answer a series of trivia questions, and it’s startling to me how often, in one half-hour show, the word iconic shows up in a question. The team that puts together the questions is enamored with iconic.

 “What iconic Massachusetts Democrat was elected to the United States Senate nine times?” Answer: Ted Kennedy. "What iconic piece of sporting equipment is called a prolate spheroid with pointed ends?” Answer: football.  “What instrument is being played by the iconic toy of the 1960’s, The Musical Jolly Chimp?” Answer: cymbals. Not only is the war memorial at Iwo Jima deemed iconic but the moment that represents it is described as iconic. In my opinion defining a moment as iconic is running iconic into the ground.

Also awarded iconic status are Silly Putty, the "Thriller" music video, along with the Taj Mahal and the Hollywood sign, although those last two have by now earned the right to be called iconic.

Evidently no word from a list of previously serviceable words such as beloved, celebrated, classic, designated, famous, great, historic, illustrious, immortal, legendary, memorable, notable, quintessential, remarkable, signal, symbolic, or venerable quite fills the bill the way iconic does. So it looks as if iconic is here for the duration. You say you haven’t noticed its frequent use? Maybe not, but I bet you will now.

While I’m at it, there are a couple of other words, which, while not as pervasive as iconic, have become annoying. One of them is curate. Suddenly all manner of things, no matter how mundane, have been curated. Doesn’t curate exude a whiff of erudition? It means to select and organize items as in an exhibition of art or artifacts. But it has been hijacked to mean a whole bunch of things that don’t merit curation.

An online ad screams for my attention: “Win 25 Mystery Books curated for you!” If I wanted curated mystery books, I doubt if I'd go to that source to get them. And don’t be surprised if the next time you buy a pizza at Papa Joes it has been curated for your gustatory delectation. 

Also to be added to the list are narrative and robust. I thought maybe I was the only one flinching at the frequent use of robust until I read the following in Senator Al Franken’s latest volume, Giant of the Senate:

“Not long after getting to Washington, I started noticing the overuse of certain clichés. One that drove me crazy was ‘robust’ as in ‘robust’ funding or a ‘robust’ response. So I issued a fatwa against it in my office. No ‘robust’ in speeches, no ‘robust’ in press releases. “But,” he goes on, “my colleague reviewed a letter I’d written and agreed to sign on with one condition: that I change the word ‘strong’ to ‘robust.’ That’s when I gave up the ghost.

“So if you should happen to hear me giving a speech and I use that word, just know that I am deeply hating myself in that moment.”

Along with being robust, must everything now have a narrative? Is it no longer sufficient simply to have a story or an account or a description? An op-ed piece in a recent Sunday Post-Gazette used the word narrative four times. That may be okay, but I would think that another word could have gotten the same idea across in at least one of those instances.

Before I release my grip on this topic, another word has come along that is making me squirm: hack.  That’s what cybercrooks have been doing to get into the computer programs of individuals, companies and even countries, right? Remember the 2016 election?

But strangely, hack – what an unattractive word – has come to mean a way of making things easier, as in kitchen hacks. You have to look carefully, but among the thirty-plus definitions of hack isA trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method to increase productivity, efficiency or ease.” A quick Google search turns up “50 Time-Saving Kitchen Hacks The World Needs To Know!” Why would anyone find that notion appealing? Makes me think of Lizzie Borden offing her elders or Bill the Cat coughing up a hairball.

I bet there's a list of words that drive you crazy – no doubt including awesome and amazing – although my reaction to them might be, “Gee, that one doesn’t bother me at all!”

Maybe I should stop griping as our language evolves, as it becomes more textured and certain words take on expanded meanings. When we use words in new ways perhaps we become more precise. It’s just that when the words are overused, more than anything else they sound trite, hackneyed.

Something triggers our awareness of a particular word, and from then on it goes off in our heads like Pavlov’s bell. Yet, if we're not careful, before we know it – we're using it ourselves. So – here's wishing you an iconic day!

Now, I’d love to hear what’s on your list.

Posted on Thursday, August 24, 2017 at 8:01PM by Registered CommenterPatricia P. Jennings | Comments1 Comment | References1 Reference


Have you ever listened to a podcast, a quasi radio program that can be downloaded onto your smartphone or tablet via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth? If you haven’t you’re missing out on a wealth of information and entertainment. Podcasts are “the next big thing” in media.

I’m a devoted fan of podcasts, but when I mention them to friends they seem barely aware of this latest way of listening to audio where you decide what type of subject matter you want to hear and when you want to hear it.

A staggering number of podcasts is available on every topic you can imagine, and many you cannot or would just as soon not imagine. Besides the expected NPR programs, TED Talks and the New York Times “Daily” is an ever-expanding buffet of topics – comedy, theater, history, religion, cooking, and even language courses – nearly any area of interest you can think of. And there are plenty of podcasts for kids such as “Wow in the World” and “Storynory.”

A local note: In case you’ve lost track of Lynn Cullen, she’s still holding forth in her unique fashion, just as in her radio days, at “Lynn Cullen Live,” Monday through Friday, from 10 to 11 a.m. or any time thereafter, podcast on YouTube. Callers and emailers are encouraged, and even better, there aren’t any commercials.

The podcast that takes ups most of my listening time is the “The Bill Handel Show,” which emanates from KFI Los Angeles. Perhaps you’ve heard Handel’s syndicated show, “Handel on the Law,” on KDKA on Sunday afternoons. But his four hour news/talk show is heard during weekday morning drive time in Los Angeles, and is available in podcast form as “Handel on Demand” a few hours later, depending on your time zone. (In Pittsburgh it’s around 2 p.m.)

I appreciate the Handel podcast for many reasons not the least of which is that all commercials, all news updates, all sports, and all weather and traffic reports have been eliminated. Except for bumper music – snippets of topic-appropriate pop hits between segments – it’s just pure show. Four hours of ordinary broadcast time are condensed into less than two hours on the podcast.

Joining Bill for conversation are the news and sports readers, as well as the producer, who add spice to the proceedings, and there is a lineup of high-level field reporters and experts on everything from Wall Street to Military Monday – especially interesting at the moment because of the North Korea situation – to consumer guru Clark Howard with his “Deal of the Week.” This versatile cast provides a comprehensive menu of hard news and analysis, information, and humor. And with all of that, Handel manages to be non-partisan, which is a rarity in talk radio.

Handel’s style isn’t for everyone, but enough listeners appreciate him that he ranks No. 11 on Talkers magazine’s top 100 list of talk radio hosts and he has just been voted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.

He is irreverent and proud of it, and he loves getting hate mail. But there’s a soft spot in his heart. Although it may be difficult to detect on a daily basis, it surfaces at holiday time when he devotes an entire show to raising money for a a worthy cause, a restaurant in L. A., the Anaheim White House, whose proprietor Bruno Serato feeds thousands of homeless kids every day of the year.*


On the web site where readers ask and answer questions on a wide variety of topics, the question was asked, “What are ten things that are really worth your time?” I was surprised to find among several respondents’ answers this suggestion for using extra time: “You’re cleaning the house, doing your laundry, walking to the train stop, and although it is important to stop and smell the roses, a lot of that time could be put to better use with the magic of podcasts.I agree.

So regardless of your taste, try dipping your toe into the podcast pool. You can simply Google “Podcasts.” Or start your search with “Apple Podcasts,” Slate’s “25 Best Podcasts Ever” or Time magazine’s “The 50 Best Podcasts Right Now.”  

In podcastland you will discover a new way of entertaining yourself at home, in rush hour traffic, on long drives when you finally admit that you’re not enjoying the audiobook you brought along, or during those sleepless hours in the middle of the night.


*In February 2017 fire destroyed the Anaheim White House restaurant. The disaster made national headlines and was featured in a segment of “Sunday Morning” on CBS.

Posted on Thursday, June 29, 2017 at 3:23PM by Registered CommenterPatricia P. Jennings | CommentsPost a Comment


“No. I don’t know what they do, nor do I care. If I thought I was going to live another fifty years I might take the time to explore their arcane secrets.”

“Never. They’re a mystery to me.”

“No, I’m askeered to.”

“I haven’t a clue why they’re there. Can you enlighten me?”

“To be honest I’ve never even noticed they are there!”

 By now you are doubtless wondering, “What in the world was the question?”

The question was: “Do you know what the F keys on your computer are for and do you use them?”

I’ve been a computer owner since 1995. If I’ve acquired a new one every five years, which is about average, a conservative estimate says that I’ve had five personal keyboards under my fingertips. But I have never, not even once, used any of the F keys above the numbers row. I’ve paid for them but I have never had any idea what they do nor have I taken the time to find out.

You wouldn’t think it would take me this long to start wondering about them, but here I am, twenty-two years into computer ownership Googling “What is the purpose of those F keys?”

I conducted an email survey among some of my correspondents and the replies above demonstrate that, as I suspected, I have plenty of company.

I have always assumed that the F keys – function keys – perform shortcuts, and that is indeed what they do. But I feel as if I know all the shortcuts I need and that getting tangled up with the F keys at this point would only slow me down. Point and click is the shortest cut I need. Even if I were to discover that some of these shortcuts are nifty, I wouldn’t be able to remember most of them, some of which require using two hands to press three keys at once, a degree of dexterity I’d rather reserve for a Steinway.

And speaking of musical keyboards, deciding which F keys to use in combination with other keys reminds me of playing a pipe organ on which one must decide which stops, which pistons, and which combinations to use. Pistons, by the way, are those little buttons under the keyboards that allow the player to set combinations of stops so that he can control all the keyboards and the pedals with the flick of a single button. There are stops that I would never use, combinations that wouldn’t occur to me that have been set by some previous organist, which I can change to suit myself.

And that’s true with the F keys. The only friend who answered my survey who knows much about F keys – he’s been a programmer – wrote, “I’ve often made use of the F keys to the extent of customizing them to my own needs. This is called creating a ‘macro’ and can be useful.” I’m sure it can, but I can’t imagine twisting my brain around a macro any time soon.

Of the many F key functions that I’ve learned during my little study, there are only three that I plan to add to my repertoire, F2, F3 and F7.

Control + F2 – Shows the Print Preview and is absolutely easier than doing it with the mouse. Doing it twice opens and closes the Print Preview.

Shift + F3 – Too often I look at the screen to find that I have inadvertently pressed the Shift key resulting in AN ENTIRE PARAGRAPH OF CAPITAL LETTERS! But by highlighting those caps and pressing Shift + F3 – poof! – the caps are changed to lower case. Press those keys again, the first letter of each word becomes capitalized; press them again you get all lower case. What a boon!

Shift + F7 – Third, and quite handy, this one gets you quickly to the Thesaurus. Highlight a word, say pusillanimous, press Shift + F7 and the Thesaurus opens, bingo! There you will find every synonym for pusillanimous from “timid” and “nervous” to “faint-hearted” and “lily-livered.”

Except for Control+Alt+Delete, which opens the Task Manager and is useful when all else fails, when the computer is acting up and you need to close programs that might be gumming up the works, I doubt if I will otherwise be using three keys at a time when I could just as easily point and click.

One other shortcut that you might find useful is Control + z that undoes your last move. That easy one is a timesaver if you’ve hit something by accident or done something stupid.

And now, if you haven’t yet nodded into your soup, there is a list below of F key functions that you might want to fiddle around with. I’ve included only those for PCs. I have no idea if they perform the same functions on a Mac or if the Mac even has F keys.

Also, I’ve deleted a few that sound a little too abstruse to consider even investigating such as the following, which describes what F12 will do: “Accesses the list of bootable devices on computer at startup, allowing you to select a different device to boot from (hard drive, CD or DVD drive, floppy drive, USB drive, and network.”) Hunh?


                                FUNCTIONS OF THE F- KEYS


• Almost always used as the help key, almost every program opens a help screen when this key is pressed.

• Windows Key + F1 would open the Microsoft Windows help and support center.

• Open the Task Pane.


• In Windows renames a highlighted icon, file, or folder in all versions of Windows.

• Alt + Ctrl + F2 opens document window in Microsoft Word.

• Ctrl + F2 displays the print preview window in Microsoft Word.

• Quickly rename a selected file or folder.


• Often opens a search feature for many programs including Microsoft Windows when at the Windows     Desktop.

• Shift + F3 will change the text in Microsoft Word from upper to lower case or a capital letter at the   beginning of every word.

• Windows Key + F3 opens the Advanced find window in Microsoft Outlook.


• Open find window in Windows 95 to XP.

• Open the address bar in Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer.

• Repeat the last action performed (Word 2000+).

• Alt + F4 closes the program window currently active in Microsoft Windows.

• Ctrl + F4 closes the open window within the current active window in Microsoft Windows.


• In all modern Internet browsers, pressing F5 will refresh or reload the page or document window.

• Ctrl + F5 forces a complete refresh of the web page, clearing the cache and downloading all contents of the page again

• Refresh the list of contents in a folder.

• Open the find, replace, and go to window in Microsoft Word.


• Move the cursor to the address bar in Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and most other Internet browsers.

• Ctrl + Shift + F6 opens to another open Microsoft Word document.


• Commonly used to spell check and grammar check a document in Microsoft programs such as Microsoft Word, Outlook, etc.

• Shift + F7 runs a Thesaurus check on the word highlighted.


• Function key used to enter the Windows startup menu, commonly used to access Windows Safe Mode.


• Refresh document in Microsoft Word.

• Send and receive e-mail in Microsoft Outlook.


• In Microsoft Windows activates the menu bar of an open application.

• Shift + F10 is the same as right-clicking on a highlighted icon, file, or Internet link.


Enter and exit fullscreen mode in all modern Internet browsers.


Open the Save as window in Microsoft Word.

Ctrl + F12 opens a document In Word.

Shift + F12 saves the Microsoft Word document (like Ctrl + S).

Ctrl + Shift + F12 prints a document in Microsoft Word.

Access the list of bootable devices on a computer at startup, allowing you to select a different device to boot from (hard drive, CD or DVD drive, floppy drive, USB drive, and network).


Source: Computer Hope

Posted on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 at 7:47AM by Registered CommenterPatricia P. Jennings | CommentsPost a Comment | References2 References


I recently stumbled upon a book by novelist-historian Kevin Baker titled America the Ingenious: How a Nation of Dreamers, Immigrants, and Tinkerers Changed the World. Baker tells the stories of a stunning variety of American visionaries without whose genius our lives would be much the poorer.

Consider what the skylines of the world’s cities would look like were it not for Elisha Graves Otis’s invention of the Safety Elevator. “Safety” is the operative word. Passenger and freight elevators had existed long before his, but the perception was that they were dangerous. However, in 1854 a dramatic demonstration of the safety of his elevator, at P. T. Barnum’s world’s fair in New York, secured Otis’s place in history. At the end of an astonishing free-fall performance Mr. Otis proclaimed, “All safe, ladies and gentleman, all safe!” And with that, orders began to pour in. Otis's custom-built elevators were installed in stores and other multi-story buildings in Manhattan and beyond, and it wasn’t long before Otis became a household name around the world.

Incredible inventions and achievements from the massive to the minuscule have enhanced our lives, from the building of large-scale projects – the Erie Canal, the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge – to a plethora of smaller-scale developments such as dry cleaning, air conditioning, the dishwasher and even the lowly safety pin, which have enhanced our lives in ways that we have long taken for granted.

As I began to read America the Ingenious, I wondered if any African Americans would be included. So I was heartened to read, not too far along in the book, the following advisory: “You will find among our inventors a relatively small proportion of women and people of color. This is because both were prevented, for many years, from filing patents, by law, and then by social custom and persecution.”

Because of the enormous success of the film “Hidden Figures” I thought I would bring to your attention a somewhat hidden figure who is still very much with us. Patricia Era Bath, born in 1942, is a pioneer in the field of ophthalmology. Her name was unknown to me until I read about her in America the Ingenious although she is probably behind the success of the cataract surgeries many of you have had performed and that will be on my schedule in the not too distant future.

Baker writes: 

Patricia Era Bath grew up in an almost unimaginably different world from ours today and is a living embodiment of how far African Americans have managed to push past the barriers imposed by the old Jim Crow system. She would overcome them all and invent a revolutionary new procedure and device for removing cataracts with lasers.

“Her parents instilled in her the idea that she could do anything she put her mind to. When she was still a sixteen-year-old high school student, she took part in a summer cancer research project run by Yeshiva University and the Harlem Hospital Center. While there she developed a mathematical equation to predict the rate of growth of a cancer – work that so impressed one of the doctors running the program that he included it in a paper he presented at a conference in Washington, D.C.

“She achieved a long list of prestigious firsts, all while completing a fellowship in corneal transplantation and keraprosthesis at Columbia University. But her most resounding contribution was her invention of the Laserphaco Probe for cataract removal.

“At the start of the 1980s, cataracts could still be extracted only through a difficult and extended surgical procedure that basically involved grinding them down – if they could be removed at all. Dr. Bath conceived of doing the job faster, more easily, and more safely with lasers.

“Performing the most basic research proved difficult because most laser technology in the United States was reserved for military research. Dr. Bath went to Berlin in 1981 to find an available laser.

“After five years of work she developed the Laserphaco, a sort of ‘three-in-one’ instrument consisting of ‘an optical laser fiber, surrounded by irrigation and aspiration tubes’. The laser probe is inserted into a one-millimeter incision in the eye, where it vaporizes – ‘phacoblates’ – the cataract and the lens matter, almost painlessly, and in just a few minutes. What remains of the cataract lens is then washed and sucked out of the eye by the irrigation and aspiration tubes, leaving it clean to insert a new lens.

“By 1988, Dr. Bath had earned three patents on the device, making her the first African American doctor to earn medical patents. Today her invention is used around the world.“

I would be surprised if anyone reading this has heard of Dr. Patricia Era Bath. Except for athletes and politicians, the media tends to overlook the many individuals such as Dr. Bath who have made significant contributions in a variety of fields.

It is a miracle, considering the enormous forces needed to get a motion picure made by a major studio, that the film “Hidden Figures” has become a reality. And despite the naysayers who dismiss the story as fiction, the film is enjoying extraordinary success in this age of razzle-dazzle special effects, animated fluff, and “50 Shades” dreck. It has picked up Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Perhaps you have not needed cataract surgery. But if and when you do it is possible that a figure not quite so hidden, Dr. Patricia Era Bath, will have been responsible for the fact that the removal of your cataracts, rather than being a painful ordeal, was a safe, speedy and essentially painless procedure.

Posted on Saturday, February 11, 2017 at 5:03PM by Registered CommenterPatricia P. Jennings | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference


Why is it that hindsight is always 20/20? Why does it take us so long to recognize things that seem so obvious in retrospect?

My husband and I recently watched the Netflix series “The Crown” that begins before the death of Britain’s King George VI, in 1952, and follows the events surrounding the accession to the throne of his daughter, the current queen, Elizabeth II.

Episode 1 begins, jarringly, with the king coughing up blood in the bathroom sink. We soon learn that he has lung cancer. Yet despite that terrifying diagnosis, he is seen smoking in every scene. And even after one of his lungs has been removed, he carries on smoking while indulging his love of hunting and boating, wheezing and choking until the bitter end.

And he is not the only smoker in the royal family. The queen’s grandmother, Mary, is seen puffing away every time she’s onscreen, even on her death bed, near which an ashtray is overflowing with cigarette butts. 

(Elizabeth II has never smoked, which may account in part for her longevity, although it is said that the Queen Mother, who lived to be over a hundred, smoked into her eighties.)

Humans have been smoking for thousands of years. Wouldn’t you think that common sense might have told us, before Surgeon General C. Everett Koop decided to do so in 1984, that setting dried leaves on fire and inhaling their smoke into the lungs might be doing us bodily harm?

Yet it was several hundred years before scientists decided to examine the situation. For the first several decades of my life cigarettes were everywhere – in restaurants, on airplanes, in offices  just about everywhere except church sanctuaries and public school classrooms. No sophisticated actor in a movie was seen without a cigarette, often in a sleek, metal holder. Television doctors proclaimed the health benefits of one brand of cigarette over another. When we see old videos of those commercials now we find them laughable but also pathetic in their naiveté.

I was one of the millions who got sucked into the joys of smoking myth. At the age of fourteen I stood in front of a mirror in my cabin at Deerwood Music Camp determined to teach myself to blow smoke rings. Smoking was cool, but blowing smoke rings was really cool, a further degree of sophistication. And there was a fellow camper, from New York City of course, who smoked unfiltered cigarettes and used her pinky finger nail to remove a particle of tobacco from the tip of her tongue before exuding a thin column of smoke. Her style was to be emulated. She was probably all of fifteen.

We smokers did crazy things in order to satisfy our cravings. For the thirty-plus years that I was a church organist, I would sneak down to the ladies room during the Sunday sermon to have a smoke. And on Good Friday, when there was a sermon for each of the Seven Last Words, I got more than the usual amount of exercise running up and down from the choir loft.

Early in Episode 3 of “The Crown,” the name Donora is mentioned. I wonder, Donora? Is there another Donora besides our Donora? One of the characters had said, “Donora, Pennsylvania, somewhere near Philadelphia.”A second character corrected him: “No, Pittsburgh.”

They were indeed referring to our Donora. But why?

The 1948 Donora Smog was an air inversion that created a wall of smog that killed 20 people and sickened 7,000 more. It was referenced in “The Crown” because a similar but much deadlier smog was bearing down on London.

The Great Smog of London, among the deadliest environmental disasters in recorded history, occurred between Friday, December 5 and Tuesday, December 9, 1952. “Four thousand people died as a direct result of the smog and 100,000 more were sickened by its effects.

The Smog was the result of “a period of cold weather, combined with anticyclone and windless conditions and collected airborne pollutants – mostly arising from the use of coal – that formed a thick layer of smog over the city.

 “During the day on December 5, the fog was not especially dense and generally possessed a dry, smoky character. But when nightfall came, the fog thickened. Visibility dropped to a few meters.

“The following day, the sun was too low in the sky to burn the fog away. That night and on the Sunday and Monday nights, the fog again thickened. In many parts of London, it was impossible for pedestrians to find their way at night because the fog was so thick people could not see their feet.

 “The weather changed on December 9 as wind swept in unexpectedly, and the killer smog vanished as quickly as it had arrived.”*

In England a series of laws, including the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968, were enacted to avoid a repeat of the disaster. These acts banned emissions of black smoke and decreed that residents of urban areas and operators of factories must convert to smokeless fuels.

The Donora incident is credited with triggering environmental safeguards in the United States, including the Clean Air Act of 1970.

It took a while longer for the public and the medical community finally to acknowledge that inhaling smoke from cigarettes was taking a toll on our lives.

It is difficult for us to imagine today how pervasive cigarette smoking was in everyday life until relatively recently. I was a pack a day smoker, thought nothing of it and had plenty of company.

I am lucky to have reached this point, unscathed so far, after polluting my lungs for more than thirty years with the poisons emitted by cigarettes. I finally saw the light in 1978.

It’s too bad the members of the British royal family during the reign of King George were not able to benefit from the enlightenment that was to arrive a few decades later.


*All quoted material is taken directly from Wikipedia.

Posted on Thursday, February 2, 2017 at 3:38PM by Registered CommenterPatricia P. Jennings | CommentsPost a Comment | References8 References
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