Category Archives: Words

Silk Purses and Sows Ears

Like most of the Baboons, I am completely done with this cold weather. We haven’t had a great quantity of snow here in western ND, but the cold is really wearing on us. The only positive thing I can think about it is that prolonged cold like this kills Emerald Ash Borers.

I remember once in grad school when a friend was dismayed to find that he and his girlfriend were going to have a baby. Another friend tried to be positive and told him “Well, at least you know that the bullets aren’t blank”.  I don’t know how comforting that was, but at least the friend tried to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Give some examples of helpful (or not so helpful) positive spin.

Riled Up by Language

Yesterday I got all worked up (again) when “pescatarian” defined as a vegetarian who eat fish. If you eat fish you are not any kind of vegetarian.

So I was happy to read this footnote in Death From the Skies by astronomer Phil Plait:

“One of the best ways to tick off an astronomer – and it can be fun sometimes just to see how he reacts – is to mix up the terms meteor, meteoroid, and meteorite.  The very best way to tick off an astronomer is to call him an astrologer.”

Guess I’m not the only one who gets riled up by language.

What are you NOT?

Epic Opening Lines

As I was wandering up the stairs at our public library the other day, my journey was arrested by the bright-colored bulletin board pictured in the header. This board is changed monthly, and frequently has things like Staff book picks, or children’s drawings with a book pick, etc.

But this was over the top! A bright orange sign up top announces “Epic Opening Lines”, and another orange sign to the left asks “Any of these sound familiar?” On brightly colored cards are printed thirty one- or two-sentence beginnings to a book; you can lift the flap to peek at the title and author of the book represented. It was a challenge to see if I could recognize any of them – a few were familiar, and one or two were obvious, but many I had never laid eyes on. I realized when I started looking them up at home that quite a few were Young Adult or children’s novels.

Since I doubt if you can read them all from the header, I’ll type several of them here, and see if any baboons can guess them – then I’ll reveal answers Sunday. Here you go:

1. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

2. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

3. They say that just before you die your whole life flashes before your eyes, but that’s not how it happened for me.

4. I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.

6. This is the saddest story I have ever heard.

10. The early morning sky was the color of cat vomit. Of course, Tally thought, you’d have to feed your cat only salmon-flavored cat food for a while, to get the pinks right.

11. The moment one learns English, complications set in.

14. “Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

15. Ages ago, Alex, Allen and Alva arrived at Antibes, and Alva allowing all, allowing anyone, against Alex’s admonition, against Allen’s angry assertion: another African amusement… anyhow, as all argued, an awesome African army assembled and arduously advanced against an African anthill, assiduously annihilating ant after ant, and afterward, Alex astonishingly accuses Albert as also accepting Africa’s antipodal ant annexation.

16. There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

17. It was a pleasure to burn.

20. Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I’ve come to learn, is women.

23. I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one. Or at least as close as we’re going to get.

24. There is a right way to do things and a wrong way, if you’re going to run a hotel in a smuggler’s town. You shouldn’t make it a habit to ask too many questions, for one thing. And you probably shouldn’t be in it for the money.

27. All children, except one, grow up.

28. It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.

29. In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

30. Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature.

Do you have a favorite opening line(s) from a book you’ve read?

Public Domain Day

Two years ago, when Dale retired from the Trail, I didn’t know anything about usage rights and although I had heard the phrase “public domain”, I didn’t really know what it meant. Dale taught me quite a bit about it and then I did further research to make sure we don’t get ourselves in trouble.  That’s why Renee and I sometimes question photos and for the most part, don’t copy poetry and lyrics of other writers.

Since 1998, a work enters public domain 70 years after the life of the author. Before 1998, it was 50 years; to clear up the complexity of that change, they put a moratorium on releasing anything into public domain for 20 years.  That 20 years is up and as of Tuesday, everything from 1923 is now officially in the public domain.

Some of the items now free to share are The Metropolis by Upton Sinclair, The Color of a Great City by Theodore Dreiser, The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie, The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, Rootabaga Pigeons by Carl Sandburg and New Hampshire by Robert Frost.

So in celebration of Public Domain Day, here is a poem that last week we could not have posted here legally!

Fire and Ice
by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Do you pay attention to expiration dates?

Descriptive Language

For some reason that I can’t fathom, I thought of my dad today and about something he said once about one of his aunts.  I don’t remember which aunt it was, although I think it was the wife of one of his father’s brothers.  He described her as “like an old sow that eats chickens”.

Dad said this in a very matter of fact way, and was just being descriptive, not necessarily mean spirited.  He wanted me to understand what his aunt was like (to him, at least), and used some pretty descriptive language to do so. I asked two of my coworkers if they had ever heard this phrase, and they had, used by  older relatives of my father’s generation. It was their sense that this was descriptive language to indicate that someone was a hag.

Tell of some  memorable descriptive language you have run across lately or recall from the past. 

Words!

I lamented a few months back the loss of one of my favorite daily websites, “The Writer’s Almanac”. Well the good news is that it’s back! Not on MPR, mind you, but back nonetheless. The same comforting music and narrative voice and the same format: notable birthdays or events in history and then a poem. And now I get an email every day instead of having to remember on my own.

About the only difference I can tell is that many more of the daily poems are public domain than not, which says to me that he has a much smaller budget for this than MPR did. This is not a problem for me.

Today the poem was by John Milton, to commemorate his birthday. One of the fun facts was a list of some of the more than 600 words that Milton coined: dreary, flowery, jubilant, satanic, saintly, terrific, ethereal, sublime, impassive, unprincipled, dismissive, feverish, fragrance, adventurer, anarchy. I can’t imagine a world where there words don’t exist and it makes me wonder how often I need a word that doesn’t exist yet.

For example, I need a word for the feeling that comes on me when YA isn’t home at the agreed upon time, worry and irritation at the same time. Worritation?

What new word do YOU need?

 

 

 

Illogical Pronunciations

Husband and I were leaving the grocery store in a snow storm last week when we decided to carry the bags instead of push the cart through the slush.  It was then I asked “why is the u in those words pronounced so differently?  Why are push, cushion, and bush pronounced that way, and why are slush, brush, and rush pronounced the way they are?”

Husband seems to think that push and cushion are of French origin , and that accounts for the pronunciations. I am not sure. Languages are so interconnected.  I know that “Good butter and good cheese is good English and good Fries (West Frisian, as spoken in the  northern Netherlands)”.    English is just so illogical.  I wonder if all languages are mongrel like English, or is English unique?

What words flummox you? What are your favorite and least favorite words.