(under construction)

Week 1 – Material Week 2 – Custom Week 3 – Dally Week 4 – Tinker


“Material” is one of those words in English that challenges second language learners. To those whose mother tongue is English, it is also a puzzle in how, at times, to use it properly. “How material is the subject of healthcare to the government shutdown?” “How material is drama to her writing?” “The wrong kind of material weakens the quality of an engine.” In these three sentences, we see material used, but the concept it carries is different in each. We could use two dozen different sentences and the sense of how our word “material” is used would vary. Care must be applied when using this word. Use sense in what material is included!


“Raw materials” are what we begin with to build homes, offices or highways. This is the primary noun definition of material. A secondary meaning is cloth or other fabric. Data such as ideas, notes, sketches and such that may be worked up or elaborated upon is another substance source to build something. Attorneys use this word as an adjective to describe a certain type of witness that is important to their case, as in “he is a material witness.” Many think of material as the object of their actions as to acquiring “material pleasures.” In whatever way we use material, it is important to our daily activities!


“Rock, paper, scissor” we have all heard or used this little game to make choices. The items named are –material– to playing the game. These materials objects are important to the choices that are made. Also, we see that –material– is used in another way when it is referring to the elements of a discussion or the subject of a communication. Materials are also necessary if we want to make something like a quilt. Items like cloth, thread, batting and needles are basic to the process of making a quilt. Likewise, sand, gravel, asphalt or concrete are basic materials to be used in building a road. Again, iron, steel, wire and bricks are items used to construct buildings, bridges or monuments. Let’s be selective in the materials we use to make things!


“I have an idea!” “How much does that truckload of steel rebar weight?” In these two sentences, we see how material is used to express two different concepts. The first sentence expresses the content of a thought or the material substance of reasoning. The second gives us the physical impact of material to be used in a project. Both sentences express the condition or state of how “material” is to be used. Physical material such as, fabric, wood, machine parts or data can be listed as items to be included in something that is to be formed into a new substance. In another vein, things that satisfy our needs for comfort, pleasure or wealth are materials that contribute to our sense of material value!


From my childhood, I remember part of a silly poem that gives input to how our word –material– applies to relationship. It goes something like this “sugar and spice and everything nice” is what girls are made of and boys are “snips and snails and puppy dog tails.” As silly as these two phrases might seem, they do give insight into the characteristics of both sexes. To have good relationships, we must have a least a basic understanding of what makes men and women tick. Some people think that “unisex” is how we should understand people. Unfortunately, life is not that simple and without understanding the differences and how each part thinks, it will cause difficulty in the relationships we have. Take time to understand your partner. It will improve your relationship!

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Seldom do we think of what is “custom” and what is not. We know about custom made cars, clothes, shoes, etc., but do we think about our general family habits or the fees we pay to travel abroad? All of these ideas are part of custom as collective actions that are accepted. We have social conventions that we do and consent to or affirm as expected actions. Duties that we pay for foreign goods are an expected expense. Uniform practices within a people group become unwritten law. In many ways, custom is part of our daily lives and hence it is part of who we are. So, be aware of your customs!


Our custom on this day is to give definitions. Custom has 6 noun and 2 adjective definitions. Our primary meaning is “a usual practice or habitual way of behaving.” Custom also is “duties or taxes imposed by a government on imported and sometimes exported goods.” We also understand that “custom made” means made to order. Many times, custom is repeat actions by people that by common consent and long-established practice have taken the force of law. It is wise to know what your habits are. Check your habits for customary practice!


“It is the custom for a free man to act in a reasonable manner.” In our example, we see custom used in its most usual form as social convention. It is common for word usage to give us signs or indicators of its intended use. This is often necessary because a word will have multiple meanings. The adjectives, adverbs and modifiers will guide us to its proper meaning. By habit, we may sometimes misuse or misunderstand a word. When we correctly observe the signals used with the word, we can properly understand its meaning. There are signposts in the sentence; use them!


In many ways, we think of custom as an established way of doing things. This pattern or manner of interacting with others has an impact on many of our daily activities. Peer pressure is one of the signs of that interaction. We will adhere to the customary way something is done because it is acceptable to our peer group. Not doing so will incur negative feedback from our close friends, family and associates. Custom then carries with it much power to influence. Our custom then should be to win friends and influence others in a positive way!


Observing various people groups, it is interesting to see how they interact and the customs they have in relationships. In western cultures, many relationship customs are similar; however, in Mideast and Eastern people groups, customs and traditions become dominant at times with little tolerance for variation. The expression “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” works well. When traveling outside of one’s own region, observing local customs will improve your chances of finding new friends. It is wise to seek counsel from a local advisor!

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“Please don’t dally. We need you here right away.” We have heard these words or used similar thoughts to express concern. “Dally” is a simple word, yet it has some subtle meanings. For instance, when you have responsibilities and you find things that interest you and then you delay in carrying out those responsibilities, that can be “to dally” or be slow in action. Again, we see this in the following sentence “The two of us dallied over our coffee that morning.” Dally here implies a slow and leisurely pace of action. The use of “dally” can be positive or negative depending upon its use. If quick action is needed, don’t dally!


Dally has three basic meanings. 1. to flirt or play at love, 2. To deal lightly or carelessly with someone or something, 3. To waste time or loiter. This is an action verb and we will find several synonyms with like meanings. Words like dillydally, hesitate, tarry, dabble or trifle will quickly come to mind. We have seen children that “dally” over their homework. They will waste time playing instead of doing homework. To dally is to deal carelessly with one’s responsibility. Nike’s ad “Just Do It!” is good advice!


A way or sense in which dally can be used is to think about something as in: “toy with” and idea. The use of dally in this manner is to deal lightly or carelessly with some proposed action. With this thought, we see some signs. These words could describe that thought: dawdle, idle, putter or dabble with. These sign words give the sense of moving slowly to do something or decide something. There is even a hint of a lack of seriousness in the need to make a decision or take an action, as in “he ‘toyed’ with the notion of moving to South America.” Dally has an element of indecisiveness in its meaning. Don’t dally, go for it!


“Dally ‘round the flagpole, boys!” Oops! That should be “rally ‘round the flagpole, boys!” However, those two expressions do reflect distinct differences in impact. “To dally” gives us the indication of shallowness of action, where “To rally” means a pulling together or bonding together to accomplish a purpose. Dally means intent to loiter or waste time without a clear intent or call to action. There is even a sense of teasing to the meaning of dally or even to flirt with. In this sense to toy with or flirt with lacks any kind of serious intent. Dally with your decisions and you will flirt with disaster!


The chemistry of a good relationship does not include the ingredient of “too dally” except in the sense of occasional flirting. Like any chemical ingredient, there is balance for the things that go into any relationship. The primary meaning of dally is to flirt or play at love. Flirting can be a good component, but if it is overdone, it can be a source of weakness in the interaction of relationship partners. As the saying goes “a little goes a long way.” As in any formula, the ingredients require proper proportions and added at the right time. Dally a little, but not for long and your relationships will last!

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Many of us when we see the word “tinker” think of a person who putters around with machines or other apparatus or appliances to make them work. However, this word means a lot more than just an aimless fussing around. It can also be used as a name for a fish, someone who is unskillful, a dabbler. For those of Scottish or Irish background, it brings to mind a gypsy-like person who is forever on the move. The sense we get from tinker is someone or something that lacks focus. Don’t tinker with it if it is working right!


In recent weeks, we have seen our Washington politicians struggle with debt and healthcare policies. One might say, “They have been tinkering with the economy to find a suitable fiscal policy.” Tinker is both a noun and a verb depending upon its use. With five noun and four verb definitions, pinning down the exact meaning can be a challenge. A person who makes minor repairs to pots, pans and appliances is one meaning. Another is a clumsy or unskillful worker, a bungler. This latter meaning is closer to what our example statement means and is probably closer to the verb form “to putter aimlessly or uselessly.” We are in deep trouble when politicians try to tinker with and patch up our economy!


“Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy” is the name of a recent highly acclaimed espionage movie. An old spy is forced out of retirement to find an inside leak within the British intelligence organization. Because of his past experience and varied background, he is asked by MI6 to find the mole who has “tinkered” with the organization’s security system. The movie moves through several stages but eventually turns up the mole. Within this movie we can see the complexity and signs of tinker and some of its meanings. This word has diverse uses from the “Jack-of-all-trades” to one who can “patch-up” an organization that needed repairs. Look for those signs of aimless tinkering!


The usual sense most often associated with tinker is to fuss or putter with something. Not often do we think about the impact of this kind of activity. In the frontier days, a tinkerer was a very useful person. He would travel around an area looking for work doing odd jobs as a “Jack-of-all-trades” to those who needed his skills. He performed a needed service during our country’s westward expansion. Today, the tinker’s skills are rarely needed in our present “disposable” modern community. It is easier and cheaper to junk it and buy a new item rather than tinker with it to get it to work. Today, to tinker is senseless since it is easier to go to Walmart and buy it new!


A common admonition of today is “if it isn’t broken don’t fix it.” That advice can also be taken for any relationship as in “don’t tinker with it.” There is a proper way to mend a broken relationship. It is called dialogue. Talk about relationship problems until you come to a common agreement as to what the issue is and search for appropriate solutions. To tinker with a relationship means to wander aimlessly around sticky issues without a serious intent to resolve them. Don’t just tinker; focus on real issues!

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