contextual learning


As an observational-type learner, I tend to glean information and learn from day-to-day interactions.  This has generally been a fine way to learn, with only a few missteFps along the way.

At the age of four, I remember my dad talking about someone getting fired at work.  In my four-year-old brain, I imagined a horrifying scene of someone being actually set on fire.  I felt awful for my dad’s former coworker and his family. I couldn’t believe how casually my dad spoke of something so absolutely terrifying!

At 22, I entered the work-world.  While most of my coworkers enjoyed straight-swearing with a few creative twists or flourishes, there were a few that modified their language so that the words were almost swear words, but not quite.

I remember one of my bosses referring to a particularly messed-up client situation as a “cluster.” Cluster seemed appropriate. So I began to use the word freely to describe other situations that also seemed to have characteristics of a cluster.

“What a cluster!” I would lament at the grocery store, waiting in a long line behind someone paying for $400 of groceries with a check.

“Isn’t that a cluster?” I would comment to strangers about a particularly frustrating Packer’s game.

I was even freely using this new word at church. Cluster this, cluster that. Until, of course, Frank alerted me to the fact that cluster, in the context I was using the word, was usually a part of a longer word combination.  And that second word was the f-bomb.


Considering my long history of contextual and observational learning, you would think that Frank would have been smarter about his word choice for describing the period of time from December 26 through December 30. You would think he would at least thoroughly explain his word choice to avoid me using the word casually in conversations.

You would think all of that and be totally and completely wrong.

The conversation with Frank went something like this:

“Yeah, this time of the year is kind of a bummer. It’s the taint of the year,” said Frank, nonchalantly.

“Taint? Why?” I asked, curious to know more about this new word.

“Yeah.  You know, tain’t Christmas, tain’t New Year’s. Taint.”


Armed with this amazing new word that perfectly described in-between situations, I casually texted a friend of mine and asked if she wanted to get together during the taint  of the year.

I was so proud.

She was a little… surprised. Seeing that she was unfamiliar with this swanky terminology perfect for describing this in-between time of year, I explained it to her the same way Frank explained it to me.

There was a long pause in her response to me. “Sure, yeah, we can hang out.”

Later that same day, I told Frank that I would be getting together with my friend in the Taint of the Year. He raised his rather large eyebrows.

“You didn’t actually USE the word taint, did you?” he asked carefully.

“Well, yeah, sure, that’s what this time of the year is, right?” I was confused. And I was starting to become a little concerned as well.

He started to laugh. I was really concerned. He laughed harder.

When he finally wiped the tears from his eyes and pulled himself together, Frank explained that the taint is a somewhat common slang term used to describe a specific region of anatomy.  (Google it if you must…  I dare you.  Do it at work.  Use image search.)

I was horrified. I started wondering if I had used this word in any work emails.  Like, “Hey, I’ll be working during the taint of the year, so email me with whatever you need…” or something like that.  But I was afraid to search Outlook to see if I had, in fact, used that word.

So. There you go.

Happy Taint of the Year to You and Yours.

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