Bundles, Weasels and Words

“He’s just so damn … weasely!”  My co-worker’s grimace made it look like he’d just bitten into a lemon. Or maybe leftovers that had been in the fridge long enough to have a fuzzy green undercoat.

“Hey!” I yelped before I could think twice about it. “That’s an insult to weasels!”

We were doing what we always do on Monday mornings, at least when there’s a season of Game of Thrones in play. There are three of us in the office who are supergeeks when it comes to the show, and we gather with our coffee to recap the previous night’s episode.

Yes, I know. We’re dorkerfic. But that’s better than giving in to the Monday doldrums that are right around the bend for we office worker-bees, isn’t it?

That particular morning, we were talking about Varys and Littlefinger. I promise you I’m not going to go off on a GOT tangent like I did last week. If you’re into the show, you’ll probably agree with my co-worker that “weasely” is a fitting description. If you’re not, don’t worry. Just think of someone sneaky, sniveling, sharp-eyed and shifty, either in your world or in a show or novel you do like.

You’d probably call them a weasel, right?

Not me.

That little Monday morning conversation between me and my GOT buddies got me thinking about words and how we use them. Of course, as a writer, I think about that all the time. We storytellers must. We mercilessly hunt those perfect descriptions – that one word or phrase that lets us capture the essence of a character or setting or thing without overloading our readers with descriptions. When we land on it, we roll it around on our tongues and tap it out on our keyboards. Then we do a happy dance.

OK, maybe you don’t do that part. But I do.

Over the years, I’ve heard sneaky, shifty-eyed, pointy-faced, conniving people referred to as weasels again and again. In real-life conversations. In books. On TV. I really never thought twice about it. When someone says “he’s weasely,” I know what that person is getting at. But I only know this because I don’t live under a rock. To me, “weasely” doesn’t conjure up the sneaky bad guy no one trusts. When I hear “weasel” or any variation of the word, this is what I see:

Yep. I see my sweet, cuddly, playful pets. Technically, they aren’t weasels at all. They’re ferrets. But ferret owners have referred to their pets as “weasels” long before I came onto the scene. It is just something that many of us do. We even refer to the marvelously entertaining little forward-backward hop-bounce they do when they’re happy and excited as “the weasel war dance.”

So when my co-worker called Varys or Littlefinger – I can’t recall which – “weasely,” I had to think about it. Both are characters who will smile to your face while stabbing you in the back. They fight wars with words, and never get caught in the bloodbaths. They sneak and scheme and twist the words of others. Littlefinger even has the pointy face and shifty eyes. Varys, on the other hand, is a chubby eunuch.

That’s about the only thing he’s got in common with any of the weasels I’ve shared my home with, though. My male ferrets have always been neutered.

So what is the point of this off-the-wall tirade? Just that as writers, there’s one thing we can’t always predict in crafting our stories. That’s the reaction of individual readers to certain words and phrases. Of course, there are general associations that come to mind for common words and descriptions, but there’s always going to be that oddball who sees things differently. The connotations that pop into our heads when we hear and read a certain word are colored not just by actual definitions, but by our own life experiences.

I’m not saying we should totally avoid those descriptions. For 90 percent of readers, calling your sneak  or his actions “weasely” works well. I’m just pointing out that there might be that small percentage of the population who sees things differently. For me, a weasel is something I want to hug and give treats. I certainly wouldn’t want to do that with Varys, Littlefinger, or that co-worker you called a weasel the other day because he’s always blaming his screwups on you when he thinks you’re out of earshot.

As another example, what comes to your mind when you hear the word “bundle?”

If you’re a parent, perhaps you think of the old “bundle of joy” term that was splattered all over the cards you received at your baby shower. If you’re a camper, it might be your pack of gear or a pile of kindling. If you just hit the lottery, it might be how you refer to your money. Or maybe it is just a collection of stuff.

Whichever of these rings most true, most people find the word “bundle” fairly harmless.

Not me. I’ve cringed every time I’ve typed out the word writing this post. For me, “bundle” brings on an instant gag reflex.

My job is managing, supporting and administering a major software system at a university. Four times a year, the company that owns and develops this software provides upgrades full of patches and fixes to known problems and new features. When those upgrades arrive, we have to spend two weeks intensively testing every single process we do in the system – on top of keeping our regular day-to-day wheels spinning. These two weeks suck. Then, we have to move the upgrades into our real-time system during the weekend, when no one else is using it.

Anyone who reads this knows how my slacker ass feels about working on the weekends.

The four-times-a-year upgrades are referred to as “bundles” because the software company throws a bunch of stuff into them and gives it to us all at once.

Four years ago, the word bundle did nothing out of the ordinary for me. But ever since this has been my job, I think of “bundles” as a pile of stuff that will make my work-life insane four times a year and eat at least some of a precious Saturday. Thus the gag reflex.

So when someone says “bundle of joy,” my first thought isn’t a cuddly newborn. I can’t even get past the word “bundle” to process the “of joy” part. I’m too busy throwing up in my mouth a little bit.

What about you? Are there words or phrases that mean one thing to most people but bring to mind very different images or connotations for you?

About hawleywood40

Writer, Steelers Fan in Baltimore, Frequent Visitor to the Shot Fairy
This entry was posted in Slices O' Life, Uncategorized, Work, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Bundles, Weasels and Words

  1. l'empress says:

    I am inclined to call people of that type “slimy.” Then again, I dislike anthropomorphic descriptions; if I wouldn’t insult snakes or toads, why would I insult weasels?

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Slimy works much better for me in this context, L’empress. When I think about it, I tend to avoid any description that uses an animal as a negative fashion, but I have been known to do the opposite and use the more positive connotations – like describing a graceful movement as catlike. Of course, Sylvester has kind of blown that for me since he’s the klutziest cat to have ever shared my home : ).

  2. I have an issue with ‘chortle’. The word enough to make me want to not finish a book if I run across it. When you mix chuckle and snort, it’s just ugly.

  3. tsonoda148 says:

    Being from the South, I have to be mindful of the slang I use when writing. Anyone not from the South might take my words differently. Of course, extending that thought to other cultures in general brings up a much larger perspective. I have an online friend from India, for example, who makes her living as a freelance writer and speaks and writes English better than most people I know. However, every now and then a slang word I use will make her question the meaning of a particular piece I might be writing. So, my point is, culture plays a major part in writing these days…as well as interpretive reading. It’s pretty cool to actually realize that as writers displaying our work online, we’ve gone “global” without even trying. That, in and of itself, is quite an accomplishment. Awesome!

    • hawleywood40 says:

      You are so right, Terri. Culture plays a huge part in our interpretations of words and phrases, especially when it comes to slang. I work in a very multicultural setting, and my co-workers and I have often had some laughs over this very thing. And the fact that it is so easy to go global with our words still awes and amazes me. I remember being a college newspaper writer and editor and thinking me and my fellow writers were “the it thing” because anyone on campus could pick up our weekly rag : ).

  4. Ter says:

    I’m soooo borrowing this (with your permission, of course) to use next semester as part of a mini lesson on word usage and connotation!

  5. I love your posts–they get me thinking. The word “dog” has nothing but positive connotations for me, but it’s often used in negative ways: you dirty dog; she’s a dog.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Thanks Lorna! Now that you mention it, “dog” is another one that always got to me. Girls calling each other “dogs” as an insult was a big think when I was in middle and high school, and it never made sense to me, because I thought a picture of a dog should be part of the dictionary definition of “cute.” : )

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