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Words, Nov. 27 

Accentuate the positive, latch on to the affirmations:

There's a humorous monthly newspaper called, appropriately, “Funny Times.” Generally, I can enjoy it on my own, but occasionally I need someone younger and hipper to help me understand what it is that Funny Times is spoofing. Since almost everyone these days fits that description, help is not hard to find.

A cartoon on page 6 of the Times' November issue shows two women outdoors talking. They're dressed for jogging, and one's T-shirt says “I have sky-high self-esteem.” This woman says to the other, “Really? You're supposed to keep your affirmations to yourself?”

Another cartoon, on the same page, has a couple seated on a couch. He says to her, “Couldn't I just copy your affirmations?”

I know the usual affirmation — “an assertion that something exists or is true” — but these affirmations in the cartoons seem to have a special meaning, not found in any of my dictionaries. A colleague pointed me in the right direction. “It sounds like some New Age c**p that Oprah might say, or you'd see in a self-help book,” she explained. “Why don't you check Wikipedia?”

A stellar idea. Wikipedia says:

“Affirmations in New Age and New Thought terminology refers primarily to the practice of positive thinking — fostering ‘a positive mental attitude supported by affirmations that will achieve success in anything.' More specifically an affirmation is a carefully formatted statement that should be repeated to oneself and written down frequently. For an affirmation to be effective, it needs to be present-tense, positive, personal and specific.”

I'm reminded of Muhammad Ali's trademark cry, “I am the greatest!” It was present-tense, positive, personal and specific. But he didn't keep it to himself, so maybe it wouldn't qualify as an affirmation.

 

In a Nov. 13 discussion of the early Mad magazine, I said that fershlugginer, or something near that, was used by Mad editors without explanation. Ben Schwartz responds: “A farshloginer is Yiddish for a beaten-down person.” That's probably the word I nearly remember. 

 

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