02 February 2011

Code-Shifters Unite! ... Redux

In honor of a two-year anniversary of the first "official" FatScribe article, I offer a redux post that is my favorite ("Code Shifters," below the fold) and a few facts about the website.  With your kind indulgence, over the last 24 months:
  • Almost 110 countries have visited FatScribe.com
  • From over 2,500 cities
  • That's tens of thousands of visitors (I know that some of you get that in a month, but still ... right?)
  • Over 120 articles written for this humble column  (that's only five a month, but it's like giving birth!)
  • The average reader (Dear Reader) spends over 7 minutes reading each visit.
As Aaron Sorkin wrote for A Few Good Men, "These are the facts of the case, and they are undisputed."  What I do dispute, however, in my typical cognitive dissonance sort of way, is why anyone would even bother to read one jot or tittle of this website, besides you, Dear Reader (we enjoy each other's blog company, you and I), or any of our blogger websites for that matter.  The answer, I think, must be a lack of conversational, personal sharing on the typical big (or small) city sheet, fish wrap, rag, er, newspaper.  I say this, because here in LA, the LATimes.com website is replete with blogs now.  And, frankly, the paper is much more personal and appealing to me because of the blogger presence.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming ... "Code Shifters" (my fave)
13 JULY 2009
I am afraid I "di'id," err, I mean I do, "code-shift" that is. Code-shifting (sometimes called code-switching) is a long-standing tradition of those amongst us who can be having dinner with our friends from the ole neighborhood (the ones called "stinky", "nails" and "princess" even though their names are Steve, Theo and Paulie), and with a "wait one" finger in the air to our pals we can take a call from a senior editor at The Times to give a comment on the Secretary of State's recent gaffe regarding an overseas speech which seemingly is at cross-purposes with current White House policy. We'll use words like "statecraft" and "hegemony" with Mrs. Senior Editor, and then when we hang up we'll use words like "bite me" and "that's what your wife said" to our pals who were mocking us brutally whilst we were on the phone. (Did you notice, btw, that I used the words "amongst" and "whilst" when its clear that I am a simpleton from SoCal? Now that, dear reader, is an affectation and not code-shifting.) Now ... wherest was I?

With our business colleagues on the road we mock-n-curse each other and the naughty competition with a toolbox rich with colorful insults, and then we insist that our youngins riding in the back of the car on the 2-hour ride to San Diego not say "sucks" when "stinks" will suffice. Or as Kate Hepburn's mom in The Philadelphia Story (1939 or thereabouts) said to her youngest, "Don't say stinks, Dinah. Say 'smells,' but then only if absolutely necessary."

I can see both sides of this controversy (it's only controversial because I say it is ... I want this article/website to have some substance after all) because on the one hand, it's axiomatic that we should all behave in a consistent and principled manner toward our fellow man (but not the fallow man, damn him!). This seems to be at odds with the code-shifting crowd's natural wont, but, upon deeper examination, not so much. We ALL code-shift. When we talk to our kids; when we speak to our child's homeroom mom; when we go on job interviews; when we're on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien; and, yes, even when we go to church.

There are lines that we shouldn't cross to be sure. If you are personally offended by cursing or sarcastic humor, then by all means behave consistently across each population of your friends (and here is where I take the 5th, dear friends). However, I am willing to bet that even amongst your most ardent of anti-swearers, there are phrases or slang that you feel comfortable using and yet would not venture to use that same vocab at the PTA meeting. See my meaning? Catch my drift? Are you pickin' up what I'm laying down? Code-shifting is natural and I believe helps grease the wheels of communication.

"How so?" you ask. First, it puts all at ease. When you speak formally toward your octogenarian grandmother, the one whom you still call "grand mere", she feels at ease, and believes that her 80-some odd years on this earth were not in vain, and that sending you to Smith Colllege (her alma mater) was in fact not good money after bad. When the President (Mr. BHO himself, the grand pubah of community organizing) talks with White House groundskeepers or staffers around him (say, Kal Penn, formerly of the hit series, House) he will in his inimitable way put them at ease and probably reference the Chicago White Sox's (his favorite team) recent win against the Nationals. This is how it works with those who are naturally gifted in this regard. They seek to put others at ease, yes, but secondly, it primes the pump of information. People talk more when they feel that someone is actually interested in them, but especially if they can relate to the person addressing them ... and that someone is you and I.

If you try code-shifting -- even if you feel silly at first -- then you'll begin a life-long journey of knowing our fellow man if not in a deeper way, then perhaps in a richer one. Greatness in this regard can indeed lead to accomplishing great things. Let's consider President Lincoln, from poverty to becoming arguably one of the greatest writers ever; President Truman (also from humble beginnings, he worked at a men's clothing store); Frederick Douglas, the former slave who became a leading abolitionist, is another personal hero of mine, who crossed color lines, even in his marriage, and could chat with Presidents and paupers alike; Queen Elizabeth is also said to be excellent at this and has met well over 500,000 people in her life time. She might not dap you up or high-five you, but she can ask you about cars (she was a mechanic during WWII), sheep, dogs, and anything else considered to be "common." Former President Bill Clinton was especially strong-suited here, although his touch was a little too common if you know what I mean, but I digress into truth. Sorry.

To my way of thinking, the single best modern example I can think of in this regard, is business leader extraordinaire, Richard Branson. Completely without guile (from news articles and his books that I've read, at any rate) and is just unabashedly immune to bruised ego syndrome. That is the downfall of so many leaders, viz., not considering that others may be right or at least should have a voice (insert here, Mssrs. Steve Jobs, Al Gore, certain religious leaders, et. al., for examples of impolitic behavior and those without code-shifting abilities). Branson flies around the world and has a beer with mates (aka, his employees) in Australia, the US, and the UK with abounding aplomb. He has meetings on his Necker Island with world leaders as well with equal ease. Indeed, he receives the FatScribe code-shifting award for 2009. Well done, you, Sir Richard!

And, that is, after all, what code-shifting is all about, viz., the common touch, the kind that Kipling wrote about in his If: "If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings -- nor lose the common touch." Even the Apostle Paul said "I become all things to all people." I think his point was that we have to reach folks where they're at if we want to be their friends or at least help them understand where we're coming from. That's the essence of code-shifting. I've been seeing a lot more of it recently, and that to me is a good thang!


Little Dragon said...

First! I just blew coffee out my nose. Thanks for the laughs. (Just visited from Vimeo)

Kathy said...

FatS.....you get better with age (your postings that is) Code-Shifting....I didn't know there was a name for it..I just thought it was "good form"....love it though...k

My Dog-Eared Pages said...

Brilliant! I did not know there was a name for this ability either. Some are, and some are not. And, I agree that shifters do live richer lives. Because they "embrace." Wonderful post-redux. Happy anniversary FatScribe. ; )

Char said...

when i read this i thought i was going to be lost in some kind technical haze. when you think that i'm 2nd in charge in my state to vision and support the building of a health information exchange, it is amazing that i do not like the tech talk. but...yes, you quote a favorite poem - the common touch. i think it is why we loved diana so much.

Shelley said...

This is a great post, I can see why it's your favourite. One's blog stats are awesome and humbling, aren't they? Who would have guessed so many people would actually re-visit my ramblings (but I can't touch your 7 minutes). I thought code-shifting might be about computer programming, silly me. I found I needed to pick up the lingo here in order to make myself better understood on the phone with the public. I'm aware that the funny phrases and the whilsts and amongsts make my writing a tich more fun, but also that Oklahoma, to a Geordie, is exotic (now that's major shifting!) I've known a few people - mainly Brits - who refuse to shift. They use their French and Latin phrases and their $10 words at every opportunity. As you might guess, nobody likes them, not even those public school types who understand it all. Another thing about changing continents - swear words are tough to gauge. I was never certain how bad some of them were. I've probably got a better handle on it, but there is still room for getting into loads of trouble!

Caleb S. Garcia said...

Congrats on FatScribe...I've been known to send traffic your way.

Classic post. "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien"- this really is 2009, this blog is now a time capsule.

Julia Christie said...

Happy Anniversary JG.! Here's to many more posts such as this - No wonder you only produce an average of five a month...takes me a good bit to read and digest these lovely offerings; can't imagine what it takes to produce them!

Smiles and I will check out the post your recommended.

Barbara said...

Code-shifting? I think my mother referred to it as good manners....accommodating others.....friendship. Even my best friends DO annoy me from time to time so I guess I must be an old hand at it. Fine line here...you don't want to become a complete toadeater.

I remember dating a guy (someone I'd been dying to go out with) and he treated the waiter sooooo badly, that I never went out with him again. And I doubt he ever knew why. He flunked Code Shifting 101.

Happy 2 year anniversary, J.G.!

Dumbwit Tellher said...

Simpleton from So. Cal, hardly! I too had not heard of 'code-shifting' but what I thought about quickly as I began to read is the lack of many to practice this 'art form'. For instance a group of young adults sitting next to a family with young children. These 20 somethings oblivious to their use of 4 letter expletives in ear shot of the young tikes. I'd like to think I'm good at knowing when to code-shift. Knowing when it's appropriate to use such verbiage and when it's not. Like you stated, your grandmother deserves to spoken to in a respectful manner. Happy 2nd anniversary Jg. Your blog posts are truly about quality rather than quantity.
Cheers! x Deb

Lou said...

Code-Shifting, I like that. I recognise that, BIG-TIME. I'm off to chat up the chickens now. Toodles.

Back to read more later.

Jg. for FatScribe said...

Little D -- you're my (our) favorite band right now ... and thanks!

K -- thank you; you're correct, i ... am ... aging!

Jg. for FatScribe said...

Barbara -- thanks for the agreement. i agree with your agreeing with me! ;)

Char -- didn't know you were such an IT guru (or at least a leader of IT gurus!). Re: Diana, when she passed, my ex and I stayed up all night watching the news coverage. the next evening we felt silly for doing so, but she was a very gifted code-shifter to be sure.

Jg. for FatScribe said...

Shelley -- you must have the best of times code-shifting over in jolly ole, esp. with your oklahoma background. Re: $10 word controversy, every sesquipedalian worth their salt wears it well.

Caleb -- thanks for the reminder that Conan is time capsule fodder! (he got jobbed!)

Jg. for FatScribe said...

Julia -- hey thanks for recognizing the effort there chief! you are very nice to extend the warm wishes.

Barbara -- yeah, good manners is definitely part of it. "flunking code-shifting 101" is a classic comment. WWBD ... what would branson do?

Jg. for FatScribe said...

DT -- if quality is measured against your blog, than i'm in trouble! look forward to watching your progress in your new gig!

Lou -- thank you for the follow! very nice of you. code-shifting with your little chickies at the Larches (and those cute kids) must be interesting to say the least!