Monday, March 31, 2014

COLUMN: Strangl(ulat)e

When you're stuck on your sofa for six weeks with a broken ankle, life takes on new meaning.

Sleep schedules get thrown out the window. So do meal times. Priorities get all wonky. Television shows become your most important appointments of the day. Time and temperature lose all meaning. This might have been the coldest, snowiest winter in the history of history, but in MY world, it was 72 degrees and t-shirt weather all January long on Couch Island.

Most of all, though, you find yourself devoting great amounts of time and thought to things you never expected to care one iota about. This is my only explanation as to why I woke up the other day with only one thing on my mind:

"What's the difference between 'strangle' and 'strangulate?'"

If you look up the dictionary definition of the word "strangulate," it tells you that it's a verb that means "strangle." But strangle is a verb in and of itself, right? So do both words mean the same thing? You can strangle someone, but that person would die of strangulation. So are they interchangeable?

Perhaps I should ask someone with a job as a writer. Oh wait, that would be ME. But I'll be totally honest with you guys: I don't know a thing about grammar. I was no English major. I just usually know when something sounds right and sounds wrong -- but on this issue, my grammatical jury is sequestered and locked.

I suppose the more important question at hand is: Why on Earth did I wake up with this strangle/strangulate question in my head? As to that, I'll have to continue my honesty streak: I have ABSOLUTELY no idea. Was it the remnants of a bad dream? Something on TV while I slept? Should I not have eaten that last piece of pizza? I'll never know. But the question was there, it wasn't going away, and I had nothing else on Earth to think about. As stupid as the question was, it gnawed away at my brain until I wanted to strangle someone. Or perhaps strangulate them. I wasn't especially sure.

But there was one other thing I had: the internet. Thankfully Couch Island came with wi-fi, and questions like this are the precise reason why God made Google. And that, friends, is the only reason I can give you as to why I was balancing a laptop computer on my cast at 4:15 a.m. the other morning looking up definitions of the word "strangle" as though my life depended on it.

As we all know, Google is a pretty smart website that prides itself on being intuitive to the needs of its users. That's why if you're using it to search for a particular phrase that it doesn't recognize, Google will try to second-guess your typing skills and offer more common constructive alternatives.

Now, I don't remember exactly what I searched for -- it WAS 4:15 a.m., after all. It was probably something like "DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STRANGLE AND STRANGULATE" or "STRANGLE VS. STRANGULATE GRAMMAR." I honestly don't remember. But whatever I searched for, here's what Google replied with:


Umm, no, Google. That is definitely NOT what I meant. I may watch some pretty bad TV. I may have some fairly weird dreams. But not once, not ever once in my life, have I found myself wondering how to strangle a chicken. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, there should only be two sets of people concerned with the fundamental principles of chicken strangling:

(1) Agricultural professionals, and

(2) Fifteen year old boys, though I believe they're more concerned with choking than outright strangling.

Slightly off-color sentiments aside, though, am I the only one who finds this response SERIOUSLY disturbing? Google only suggests search phrases if they're COMMON. This means that, over the years, LOTS of people have Googled how to strangle chickens. WHY? Is there some underground fetish network of internet-savvy poultry murderers among us? Perhaps there are regions of our great big world where hordes of marauding wild chickens go on routine rampages solveable only through serious hand-to-giblet combat. Heck, I couldn't even tell you how one goes about acquiring chickens, let alone how best to wring their little chicken necks.

So, purely in the interests of science and hard-hitting journalism: YES, Google, I DID mean "How do I strangle a chicken." Please inform me.

(Dear FBI, I'm pretty sure internet searches like this are what get people put onto your 'watchlists.' Please believe me when I tell you that I have no real interest in asphyxiating innocent poultry as either hobby or profession at this time. K thanx. Luv, Shane.)

What I learned is that the internet doesn't really have a clue how to strangle chickens. There must be some seriously disappointed would-be chicken slaughterers out there.

But Google did lead me to a pretty great children's toy called Choke-A-Chicken, which is a cute little stuffed bird whose eyes bulge out Bart Simpson-style when you squeeze its neck. Then, because everyone on the internet hates everyone else, I also found a website belonging to an animal rights group that condemns Choke-A-Chicken as 'grossly irresponsible' and claiming that kids will play with this toy and then immediately rush out to strangle (or perhaps strangulate) their housecats.

Then I found a page on Wikipedia Answers where someone posed the question: "If you strangle a chicken, where does its blood go?" Whoever this person is, I don't think they'd make a good sociopath. Time for a new hobby, guy. Another asks, "Can I legally strangle a chicken in New York City?" to which I respond "WHY DO YOU HAVE A CHICKEN IN NEW YORK CITY?"

I found a wicked blues song called "Chicken Strangle" by Olendrio Chucrobillyman available for $0.89 on Amazon. I discovered that chicken strangulation plays a pivotal role in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller "Rope." And thanks to Biblenet, I even discovered Acts 15:29, which says "you must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from fornication."

So in case you were wondering if I picked up any McNuggets of wisdom during my forced sabbatical, I sure did. And it's this: Strangle all the chickens you like, unless you're irresponsibly influencing children or live in metropolitan New York City where it's of questionable legality. But once you've strang(u)l(at)ed that chicken, don't eat it. And apparantly don't fornicate regardless of your current poultry situation.

And I still don't know the difference between "strangle" and "strangulate." But I know that "Chicken Strangulate" would make a lousy blues jam. I really need to get out of the house.

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