Why I Rove Through Dictionaries

Just a few dictionaries
Just a few of the “crew.”

When I tell people I own lots of dictionaries (a number recently swelled by a trip to the thrift store), they give me The Look.

Oh, you know The Look, where the eyes go askance and seem to say, “She’s just too weird to look at directly, but I can’t drag my eyes totally away.”

I mean, who in her right mind collects dictionaries? In my life, they’re like those hairpins that cloud around the witch in that old Bugs Bunny cartoon. I have at least one in every room. (Not the bathrooms; I’m not that odd! Although…)

In an age that provides instant access to words and their meanings (and just about anything else), why would I clutter my life with books that contain just words?

See, that’s what people just don’t understand. A dictionary is not “just words.” Each holds such a wealth of information that it makes me almost giddy. You can find out all about a word from a good dictionary – where it comes from, how it’s pronounced, what its job is, and how it can transform itself.

I’ll often just wander through a volume looking at different words. This usually happens when I need to look up a word during a task I’d rather avoid. I end up going from one interesting entry to another pursuing words that catch my eye. This can last hours.

That’s one reason I have physical books instead of going up on an internet site. In a book, I can thumb through pages and have words jump out at me that I just have to check out.

Am I a closet lexicographer? Or am I just a logophile — or is that lexicomane or lexophile? I’ll have to go look them up.


Weekend Wrinkle: Warm & Fuzzy for Writing ‘Fools’

I was going to write something for April Fool’s Day, but this from Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog was just so much better!

1. A beautiful moment captured. 2. ‘Who’s coming?’ 3. The bestest friends. 4. ‘Tell me doc, is it serious?’ 5. Play time! 6. ‘Don’t be sad, you’ll get your food soon.’ 7. That baby looks comfy. 8. Sharing is caring. 9. This baby looks so content. 10. ‘Our father who art in heaven…’ 11. This […]

via AWWWWsome Kids & Their Pets Photos… — Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog

Weekend Wrinkle: Are You an Idle-headed Snipe?

normal_Jack_SnipeI was watching a program about life in the Middle Ages recently, and the gentleman was discussing falconry and expressions still in use that come from it. We still use phrases like “under one’s thumb” and “wrapped around his little finger.”

This got me thinking about origins of today’s expressions, which morphed into changes in word use, which made me think of one of my lessons on slang, which brought me to a website on Elizabethan insults. (Whew! finally made it.)

Elizabethan Oaths, Curses, and Insults has this neat little program that lets you generate an Elizabethan insult! How fun is that?

It seems to be written for those in the Renaissance Faire biz, but the idea that Shakespeare’s contemporaries got so creative with their phrasing of insults is just a blast. (Of course, they had a lot more time on their hands to think this stuff up.)

Come on, don’t you agree that “Verily, ye be a droning, idle-headed snipe” is much more interesting than “You are so dense”?

Maybe I can get away with, “S’wounds! Thou art a beslubbering, flap-mouthed moldwarp!” when I’m driving.

Think about how much more interesting road rage would be.


To Cursive, or Not to Cursive?

I recently tripped over a news item that made me do a double take. It seemed innocent enough, but it really startled me.

HandwritingCursiveCapDirIt was a short notice that a local school was offering cursive writing lessons to anyone who wanted to take them.

I was a bit shocked because

  • I was under the misguided assumption that everyone had to suffer through practicing thousands of loops in third grade, and
  • If they didn’t, why would they want to?

Apparently, there is a not-so-subversive cursive war raging through America’s education system.

Most states have made teaching cursive writing optional. The argument is that there are more important areas to concentrate on during the limited school day—like keyboarding.  In a time when kindergarteners are using iPads in schools, teaching handwriting seems as outmoded as the quill. Why not teach skills that will be more important in “real life”?

While the opposition’s arguments are sometimes specious (one Washington state lawmaker proclaimed that cursive was part of “being American”), there is research that outlines the benefits of hand writing. The tactile connection from brain to hand to paper has been shown to improve motor skills and spark creativity. It can also help mitigate dyslexia.

Should we just let cursive die out?

Personally, I would hate to see that happen. Taking the time to write something out long hand forces me to slow down and makes my work more thoughtful. I also feel that technology more and more disassociates us from what we produce. There’s something about holding what I’ve written in my hand on paper that seems much more solid than posting it up on the “cloud.” In fact, I’ve gone to using fountain pens for some of my writing.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s no way I’m giving up my computer. But I sometimes get more satisfaction from all those loops on a page.

Where do you stand?

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Resolutions!

ResolutionsI don’t do New Year’s resolutions anymore. I just can’t deal with the pressure.

Of course, I do review old goals and set new ones. At the beginning of 2015, I wanted to spend more time writing up some fiction stories I had living in my head and using my skills to help others.

I did some of that (not as much as I wanted; it’s never enough, really), but life never follows a plan.  It took me many years to realize that, and even more years to get used to the idea that it is really a good thing!

When it comes to setting goals, you may think I cheat a little. It was not too many years ago that I would write on January 1, “I will lose 20 pounds by Memorial Day,” or “I will write a novel by Thanksgiving.”

Oh, I still write my goals down. That’s one of the best ideas I ever tripped across. However, the nature of the goals has changed. They’re more like mini-goals.

Now it’s, “I’ll only eat sweets once or twice a week,” or “I’ll spend an hour a week writing fiction.”

This means I have a much longer list of goals since all these mini-goals eventually add up to major accomplishments. That also means I get to celebrate more successes.

The great thing about setting mini-goals instead of huge resolutions is they are easier to adapt to the curves life is forever throwing at me.

So, ditch the resolutions and opt for written mini-goals. If you do, I foresee many successes for you in 2016.

News Flash: It’s All Good

News FlashGoodness needs a PR manager.

Let’s face it, all the bad things – all the evil things – get the best press. We rarely see a story prominently displayed on the big news sites about something nice someone did.

Even the good things we hear about are actions taken during a bad situation.

I could rationalize that it’s an evolutionary thing. We’re hard wired to need to know what dangers are out there to avoid them.

Bull dinkey! We’ve gone beyond that primal requirement to a salacious need for bad news.

Sure, if you’re Bill Gates or Mark Zukerberg, who give away gobs of money for good causes, you can catch some headlines.

The problem with goodness is that it is, by nature, not flashy. Most goodness manifests through lots of little things that go unnoticed, unheralded.

Goodness is offering a shopping cart to someone wandering around the grocery store with her arms full and looking frazzled.

Goodness is showing up as a volunteer at the local food bank – in July.

Goodness is giving a small child that extra quarter at the checkout line to make up for the tax he hadn’t figured in when making his purchase.

Goodness is, after a long, frustrating, bad day, smiling and a saying, “Hello. How are you today?” to someone who looks lonely.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” This is the section I especially love:

And in despair I bowed my head.
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth goodwill to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep.
“God is not dead nor does He sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth goodwill to men.”

It’s true. Wrongdoing may get all the headlines, but goodness lives in every little thing.

During the darkest part of the year, I wish all of you the blessings and triumph of goodness.

One Way to Survive Word Overload

I am in word overload.

I am oppressed by of end-of-semester insanity coupled with the pressures of the holidays. I struggle to dig out of an endless mountain of poor writing sprinkled (thank every deity in existence!) with sparkling gems of excellence. (Just call me Wordy, the eighth dwarf.)

I, who love woword overloadrds with a love that can never die, am suffering the sanity-threatening effects of writing overdose. The caffeine IV barely keeps me going. I’ve been hallucinating about dancing wine glasses and sweetly sweating rum and cokes.  And I don’t drink (much).

“Come away from the keyboard! Come away! Leave those whining words and cuddle in our warm, mind-soothing embrace!”

Their seducing siren calls swirl inside my brain as I diligently mend a sentence fragment.

“No. No!” I cry with halfhearted determination. As if it isn’t hard enough resisting distractions on a normal day! I will finish what I need to do. I will cross off all of today’s tasks on my list. I will push through with all I’ve got until I am finished. I will!

Oh, yes. I will sip my glass of wine, but not until everything is done – soon, very soon!

How a Gratitude Attitude Makes Life Better

Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. is Thursday. People look forward to huge meals (anchored by turkeys), parades, football games, and holiday shopping.old-fashioned cornucopia Are we letting the “thanks” in Thanksgiving fade away?

The trappings of the holiday (the food, the sports, the entertainment, the gathering of loved ones) came about as outward manifestations of the gratitude the Pilgrims felt at making it to a point where they weren’t facing starvation and death.

I was organizing my thoughts for this piece, thinking about all that I am thankful for when it hit me: one day of gratitude is not enough.

Yes, it’s nice to have a day to relax and reflect on the blessings of life, but the many little things that make life good should be celebrated continuously.

I was crawling around under the house the other day doing “maintenance” that quickly turned into a fiasco. I was becoming increasingly frustrated and angry. I was close to the screaming point when this thought popped into my head: “At least you have a house to crawl under and the health to be able to do it.”

It was amazing how quickly my anger and frustration fizzled away.

When I concentrate on the good things that life offers, it really is tough to wallow in negativity. Mona, my dog, has no patience for negativity. When I start feeling sorry for myself, she looks at me, wags her tail, and seems to say, “Don’t just sit there! Play with me.”

A positive outlook, created with a gratitude attitude, makes life healthier and more fun. So, here are some of the things I am grateful for on Thanksgiving Day and every day:

  • Family and friends who love me
  • A comfortable home filled with good memories
  • Fur babies who keep me busy (and sometimes sleep deprived)
  • The ability to explore new ideas and new things
  • My health
  • Work that is fulfilling
  • A sense of humor
  • Good, nutritious food
  • The freedom to think, act, and live without oppression
  • A phone conversation with my father
  • The inherent goodness of people

How do you cultivate your gratitude attitude?

When Words Fail

Eiffel Tower Peace SignWords are my best non-animated friends. They always seem to be there when I need them to express what’s in my heart and soul.

But, just like any friend, there are times when they just aren’t capable of filling the void, no matter how hard they try. There are times when words fail me.

Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris were one such time. It represented many things in the world that defy my comprehension and my ability to use words to makes sense of them – the killing of a child in a road rage incident, the picture of a toddler on a beach who died as his family sought a safer life, video clips of people being beheaded because they don’t think “right,” the slaughter of a prayer group in a South Carolina church, and the bombing of a mosque by people of the same faith.

The human psyche is mysterious. I try to be sympathetic and empathetic; I try to see things from all sides. But there are some sides that I just can’t comprehend or organize in my head enough to try to write them out.

The only words that come close at these times are “my heart aches.”

Voices of the Valorous

Poppies in a field

At the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, hostilities for the most horrific war in human history up to that point were scheduled to end.

Then known as The Great War (for who could imagine another conflict that was even more horrific was coming?) it changed the popular image of war as something glorious to something bathed in sweat, mud, and blood.

The poppy became a symbol of those who had sacrificed their all to conflict. It became that symbol from a poem, “In Flanders Fields,” written by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian physician.

Soldiers throughout history have written and continue to write, struggling to show the inexperienced a glimpse into war’s character — and aftermath.

I introduced my readers to the Veteran’s Writing Project and its online journal, O-Dark-Thirty, in May. For a modern take on the war dead, you can read the recently published “Valor” by Cameron Filas there.

Veterans Day  (November 11 in the United States, formerly known as Armistice Day) is on Wednesday. When you buy a poppy from a veteran, remember those who have fallen through the voices of those who have served.