Oddities of Human Behavior and Language


Passivity. Why do people stand on the moving walkway in airports, or on the down escalator? If you walked, you’d get there twice as fast. Am I just too Type ‘A’?

Theater double doors. Notice when the first person goes through the left door, everyone squeezes through the left door, no one opens the right door.

Christmas decorations. Notice there is almost zero religion in Christmas anymore? It is all about Santa Claus and sleigh bells, with very little music or decorations about Christ or religion. Is this because of PC, or the fact that religion seems to be a dying idea in the US?

Shirt tails hanging out. When my daughter was about 13 she pointed out that cool guys don’t tuck their shirts into their pants. Look around. Sure enough, men under 30 leave shirt tails out, sometimes even with business attire. 

Don Johnson three day growth of beard. Really? Are we still doing this? I see major prestigious magazines like Vanity Fair with cover models in $3,500 suits and a three day beard. What? Didn’t have time to shave before the big photo shoot? This is not hip, it just looks stupid.

Airplane jumping jacks. Notice when the plane has landed, and the doors open, everyone from the front to the back jump up and pull their luggage down from the storage bin. Then they stand there for another ten minutes while the first 30 rows file off the plane. You’d think people would relax in their seats until the people three rows ahead of them have left. 

• God bless you. You are in a public gathering – let’s say a class. Someone in the back sneezes. The instructor, or someone else in the room interrupts everything to shout out “God bless you.” Really? How annoying. How come we don’t do this if someone burps, blows their nose, hiccups, coughs, or farts? Let’s leave the sneezer alone.

• Happy Birthday singing in restaurants. You are having a quiet dinner with a close friend. You are talking personally about your lives, your hopes, and your fears. Suddenly all the wait staff gathers around a table 25 feet away, some with noise makers, and starts blasting out a version of Happy Birthday to some hapless, embarrassed person. In the worst scenario, one of the them yells to the entire restaurant, “Come on everybody, this is for Susan.” Give me a break. 

Middle class now has tattoos. When I was a callow youth, only Hell’s Angels bad boys had tattoos. Now many of my friends, colleagues and relatives proudly sport tattoos. When our daughter, Katy, announced she was getting a tattoo of Betty Page on her back, my advice to not do it, fell on deaf ears. Could be my own “Let ‘er Rip” tattoo made my argument hallow. How come it is now OK for the educated middle class to have tattoos?



Linguistic viruses are called “memes” (pronounced “meemes.”) Memes are ideas people come to believe without knowing why. In his book “Virus of the Mind,”  Richard Brodie says we get “infected” by these ideas just like we get infected by biological viruses. We see and hear them everywhere. Some of my favorites: 

The Cloud – All my software is now “in the cloud.” Really? My software lives with God. Or, if it is a clear day, why won’t my SW work? A: Because there are no clouds. Of course the “cloud” is really just a huge server farm connected to millions of routers and copper wire. Sorry, Virginia, there is no “cloud.” 

Death panels –  No one creates memes better than Sara Palin. With the advent of the Affordable Care Act, Palin claimed there would be government “Death Panels” who would  decide who lives and who dies. Wow. That idea really caught on. We heard it everywhere. Of course there really ARE Death Panels, but not in the government. They reside in the health care insurance industry (more on that in a future rant.) 

Meanwhile the liberal “progressives” have nothing as good as “Death Panels.” They just respond by offering wonkish statistics and the 18 key elements of the new plan. Yawn. 

You just can’t beat Palin: 

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke.”

Asked if she approved of water boarding, “Water boarding is our way of baptizing the terrorists.” 

 • Abortion Barbie – Also from the right. After Wendy Davis, a Texas state legislator, spoke for 11 hours against restrictive abortion laws, she was labeled “Abortion Barbie,” by right wing pundit Erick Erickson. The meme was so powerful it got national attention. 

My bad / Good on you – Huh? 

Make Landfall –  How does a hurricane “make landfall?’ Do we mean it hits land, or comes ashore? This language was first used in 1620. 

Gone missing – How does someone “go” missing? What we mean is that the person or thing “is” missing. 

Shooter – News media use this term to describe some deranged, lonely, angry young man with an assault rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition in a school yard. The term seems so hip. It comes from a video game in the 1990s, “First Person Shooter.” Why not simply call him “the gunman,” “the alleged killer,” “the murderer?” Note to media: Stop trying to be so cool by calling these sons of bitches “shooters.”

Unbeknownst – Strangely, I’m hearing people use this word all over the place. It sounds so Shakespearean and out of place. Why don’t they just say, “unknown?”

Beheading – This term goes back to 1649. Like “unbeknownst,” it sounds so ancient, so Middle Ages. We’re hearing it all the time regarding ISIS. Wouldn’t it be better to say, “decapitate?”

Homeland – After 9/11, an entire government bureaucracy was established to protect us called “Homeland Security.” From the very beginning I disliked this term. Mostly it was the connection in my mind to the Nazis’ reference to  Germany as “the Fatherland.” Fingernails on a blackboard.

Graduate high school or college – As east coast as loafers with no socks. I always thought the west coast “graduated ‘from’ high school” sounded much better. 

This President –  When the opposing party wants to disrespect the current White House occupant, they’ll say “this president,” rather than using the formal title, “President Obama,” for example. Another way to discredit the president is to drop his formal title and call him Mr. Obama (see Fox News.)

Wheelhouse, thread the needle, anytime soon, boots on the ground, walk it back, spot on, you go girlfriend, throw him under the bus, blood and treasure, at the end of the day, the pond, not so much, open the kimono, net / net, where the rubber meets the road, ROI, square the circle, monetize it, move the needle, facetime, best of breed, drinking from a fire hose, low hanging fruit, elephant in the room, up and to the right, empowerment, drink the Kool-Aid, lots of moving parts, ducks in a row, etc., etc. 

The list goes on and on. There is nothing wrong with these cliches. In fact, they became cliches because they are so good at capturing an essence. Someone used the phrase for the first time, and it fit so well, others picked it up and before we know it, it had “memed” its way into our vocabulary. 

Existential – This one shows up all over the place, and is almost always used incorrectly. I heard a commentator say, “Israel is facing an existential threat.” What he meant was that its enemies are trying to destroy it – or take it out of existence. The world “existential” comes from philosophy (Soren Kierkegaard) and means a sense of personal deep dread about the purpose or meaning of life. It is a very inward concept and is the opposite of an external threat to the existence of a state, like Israel. 

If you have noticed odd human behavior and word usage, please share examples with me and our readers. In the meantime, as a speaker or writer, I hope you can put your own meme out there and help shape our future. Go ahead… infect our minds.

4 thoughts on “Oddities of Human Behavior and Language

  1. Robert Dvorak says:

    How about something about all the people who close themselves off from the world around them by sticking ear buds in their ears.

    Another is all those who walk around looking at their mobile device rather than the autumn leaves or the blue sky.

  2. Christian Johnson says:

    Also, shaving is a bore 😉 and I only tuck my shirt in if it’s cold (winter in Mpls) and I’m walking the dog or hanging out in the garage.
    And the sneezer definitely needs to be left alone

  3. Marv Patterson says:

    Some memes are indeed like viruses, infectious and debilitating. Others are very useful. Calculus, for instance, is a large collection of memes – a "memeplex" – one that I spent much time and effort in high school and later in college pounding into a state of usefulness in my head.

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