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Mother Nature dropped a bitterly cold nastygram on our doorsteps this week. While I abhor cold weather in all its guises, I admit I am crushing on the meteorological moniker sometimes bestowed upon these events: 'polar vortex'.

A NASA image of a past polar vortex. Image source here.

Polar Vortex.

Polar. VORtex.

I find myself swishing it around in my mind as well as my mouth, enjoying the feel of it as that V and that X come tantalizingly close to colliding, were it not for the abrupt intervention of R and T. I really don't care what it means (although I did Google - NERD). It's one of those great phrases I will be tossing around for as long as I can get away with it. Somebody please name a car and a lipstick and a Ben & Jerry's flavor after this thing ASAP. Marketing gold, I'm tellin' ya.

Which of course got me thinking about other phrases I enjoy saying, hearing, thinking, regardless of what they mean. In my favorites, the words just sound great together. Much like a fine wine, the individual components intertwine in a way that guarantees satisfaction. It's all about the perfect pairing of consonants with syllable count. Too many vowels, and you come off wheezy and ineffective. Too many syllables, and it's clunky and unpronounceable. And don't forget about a touch of emphasis at the proper time. In the above example, it must be the VOR; not the PO, not the LAR and certainly not the TEX.

Here are a few more of my favorites. Check out those consonants!

Battlestar Galactica - it's all about the 'ac', a little about the added 'a'. Battlestar Galactic would be fairly cool, but that extra 'a' is the cherry on top.

Big Bang - short and sweet, yet explains a complex astronomical phenomenon even a four-year-old can understand. And you can't ignore the sexual overtones here. Apologies to all the four-year-olds.

Event Horizon - maybe due to the perfectly wretched eponymous movie, but a shiver runs down my spine whenever I hear this phrase. It says Ruh Roh! in the classiest possible way.

Superconducting Super Collider - all those S's slamming around, describing something so smashing, one 'super' doesn't do the job!

Boom Stick - Originally intended for baseball bats, but I hijacked it for my tennis racquet. At my age this is a bit of a stretch to describe my game, but it amuses me, so it stays.

Seeing a pattern here. The science community must have a heckuva marketing linguist stashed away somewhere!

There is some science behind my amateur analysis of what makes words 'sound' good together. Turns out most people prefer words with a good balance of vowels and consonants. Words containing letters that make more noise ('plosive' to you linguists out there) attract more attention - the backfiring cars of phonetics. And as in most things, sexism also rears its ugly head. Some letters are perceived as masculine; others feminine. There is some overlap between the noisy letters and the masculine letters, as anyone who has raised boys could have predicted.

The cold is already receding from  my part of the country. I won't miss it, but I will miss hearing and reading about the Polar Vortex throughout the day. I know I can count on the wordsmiths to come up with a few more delightful word pairings to get us through the winter. A pity we also have deal with the not-so-delightful weather they accompany.

 

This post originally appeared in January 2014.

I know I promised a series of travel posts about our 2016 trip to Europe as newbie tourists. But after spending the first week of 2017 in bitterly cold South Dakota during Winter Storm Helena, I thought I would re-share this post instead. Enjoy and stay warm!

Bald Eagle Lake is under all that snow and ice

January 2001 was our third winter in the Great White North that is Minnesota. By then we had adjusted somewhat to the infamous Minnesota winters, mainly due to two things: an excellent road-clearing infrastructure, and the extreme weather clothing industry.

We lived in Minnesota for eight years, and I kid you not - we had TWO snow days. In eight years. Think about that for a minute. We had two snow days the first six months after we moved to South Carolina. That doesn't mean it didn't snow all those years in MN. Oh no. It snowed. Not inches. FEET. All those pretty little white flakes contributing to the PSC - the Permanent Snow Cover - from about December to March.  But the snowplows were out there like banshees. Roads plowed pretty as you please in plenty of time for the school buses to come chugging along. Man, my kids were ticked off.

Mine wasn't this shaggy

I had so many different types of coats when I lived there. Along with all the windbreakers and hoodies and sweaters and parkas, I had two super heavy, beastly thick coats. We're talkin' Jeremiah Johnson here. One was a sheepskin-type coat, buff color suede on the outside and the woolly business on the inside. But as a brunette (a 'Winter' for you gals who know your season colors) that buff color never looked particularly good on me (dead giveaway - people always asking me if I felt okay when I wore it), so when I found a similar style coat in a gorgeous dark chocolate brown for a sweet deal at a consignment store in St. Paul, I snagged it. You look at this coat and your first thought is 'buffalo hide'. A really stylish, well-tailored buffalo hide. Talk about warm! It was like walking around in a toaster oven. They were some of the first things I gave away when we got word we were transferred to South Carolina. Absolute rock-solid guaranteed lock I was never, ever going to need those coats south of the Mason-Dixon line.*

And then there was the temperature-rated footwear. I was not aware such things existed until I moved to Minnesota, and boy was I glad they did. Let's not forget the special socks, underwear, hats, gloves for wind, snow, ice, sleet, fog, and all the various combinations. Minnesota is a very clothing-intensive place. If you go there in any month other than July, you will need to pack lots and lots of extra items. Layer!! If you move there, buy a house with lots of closets and storage space - you will need it.

But I digress.

Snowplows and cold weather gear notwithstanding, I was born and raised and lived most of my first 30+ years in a warm weather climate, and not just any warm weather climate. I am a Native Texan, and when I say warm, I mean HOT, and not just your garden variety hot. We're talking preheat the (electric) oven, open it up and take a deep breath, singe your nasal hairs hot. People say if you live in a warm climate, your blood is thinner. I don't know if that is true or not but I think it is true in spirit - you just never get used to cold weather. In addition, based on my informal survey aka Common Sense, there are way more people moving south or traveling south to escape cold weather than there are those going in the other direction. Just ask Ohio and Long Island how many of their former residents now have a South Carolina zip code, and for good reason.

It was a struggle for me, getting through some of those long, cold winters. I remember the time I got an ice cream headache walking into a headwind from the parking lot into the grocery store. I think it was 4°F before wind chill calculation. Hey, at least it was above zero! Here's how crazy my thinking got after a few years up there: it wasn't cold as long as the temp was in double digits (above zero, of course). So as long as it was 10° or warmer, I could usually trick myself into bearing one more day of winter. It didn't take me long to get my thinking straight after we moved to South Carolina, where everyone knows anything below 50°F is cold. That reminds me of the time my folks (also Native Texans) were visiting and my mom kept asking me why the children we passed playing happily outside weren't wearing coats. It was probably about 50 outside, and to a Minnesotan, that's downright balmy!

Minnesota is a gorgeous place and I love my Minnesota friends. But after eight years there, I am convinced hell is not a place of fire and flame. Nope. It is icy and cold, dreary and overcast. The wind is always in your face, you are always one layer short, you've lost your only hat, and you are out of lip balm.

* Extra points if you actually know where the Mason-Dixon line is. Google if you must.