In honor of National Dog Day and Women’s Equality Day, it’s only right that we post some fun facts about women writers and their dogs. Continue reading “Friday Fun Facts: Women Writers and Their Dogs”
Nearly a year ago, I was at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee (which is awesome, by the way, and you should totally go), and was able to see a talk by Piper Kerman (yes, of Orange Is the New Black) and her husband, Larry Smith. Piper talked about prison reform and her experiences, and Larry talked about his work on Six-Word Memoirs. I’ll be the first to admit that I went to see Piper because I am a fan of the show, but Larry’s portion surprised and excited me.
Today, I thought I’d share some strange stories I’ve come across this week online. Perhaps they will serve as inspiring writing prompts for you, or perhaps they will just make your Friday a little more interesting. Enjoy!
- Hearing Color is a short documentary about a self-proclaimed cyborg. Neil Harbisson was born with achromatopsia, which is complete colorblindness. He now has an antennae to help him hear colors.
- The Valley of the Shadow is a fascinating, interactive display detailing the daily workings of two U.S. towns—one Northern, one Southern—before, during, and after the Civil War. Explore letters, newspapers, census records, and speeches left by these two communities.
- Sam Van Aken’s tree grows forty different kinds of fruit. Van Aken, a professor at Syracuse University, plays with grafting to sculpt trees into works of art that blossom and fruit in fantastic ways.
- “What It’s like to Be Face-Blind“ is an essay by someone with prosopagnosia, which is the inability to recognize faces. It took the author until she was 25 to realize she was different, and her ways of managing the disorder are inspiring.
- Nate Baraty’s Intersection series explores intersections from a higher different vantage point than normal. His photographs capture the combination of chaos and order that are New York City’s streets.
Learning about strange etymology last week got me thinking about where we absorb our vocabularies from and in what ways those sources end up changing language. It’s interesting how much entertainment and technology can affect how we speak.
My favorite comic strip will always be Calvin & Hobbes. As a kid with a growing vocabulary, I was able to see each large word of Calvin’s in context, unlike a random list of vocabulary. Also, that context was generally comical; I still use transmogrify on a regular basis. And unlike many books or comics built around a specific grade level, Calvin isn’t afraid of three-syllable words. He uses them with gusto, much to the chagrin of his parents. There is even an SAT vocabulary site that pulls from the comic! Continue reading “A Comic Vocabulary”
Today, we’re going to look at unusual etymologies. After all, what’s more fascinating than the strange and forgotten backstories of weird words?
Consider the word dunce. It generally describes someone dumb or ignorant. But where did this word come from? Turns out, we owe this word to a pre-Renaissance theologian and philosopher named John Duns Scotus. He had many students and admirers known as Dunsmen or Dunsers. Unfortunately, once the Renaissance happened, Scotus’s ideas became outdated. Despite this, his Dunsers clung tight to the old-fashioned ideas. Hence, the term dunce!
Now let’s look at gerrymandering. Once again there is a point person: Elbridge Gerry, the governor of Massachusetts in 1812. He deftly passed a bill that changed the districts based on voters in order to secure his party’s win. The shape of his new district ended up looking kind of like a salamander (though it looks more like a sick dragon to me). And thus we have gerrymander.
Finally, let’s explore clue. This word stems from classical mythology. Theseus was given a ball of string, or a clew, to help him escape the labyrinth at Minos. Eventually, clue came to mean a hint to help you figure out a situation. Cool, right?
For more strange etymologies, check out Listverse’s collection.
Years ago, I participated in a writing workshop at an Appalachian Writers Association conference. One panel was all about using adjectives sparingly. When used more than necessary, they become a crutch. Vague adjectives in particular keep you from being as creative and honest as you could be otherwise. Continue reading “The Adjective Crutch”
Lesley’s daughter, Story, wakes up as a different creature every day. She has done this consistently for the last three years. A script accompanies the morning routine, during which Story hatches from an egg, Lesley oohs and ahhs over her newborn, the zookeeper refuses to let Story go home with her mom, and a battle ensues with Lesley as the victor. Three years, people. Three years.
Rachel is obsessed with Merriam-Webster’s word of the day. She’s been lettering them each day this week.
Every month, the Chicago Manual of Style folks answer questions they’ve received. Following are a couple excerpts from the Q&A of August 2015. To read the full month’s Q&A, visit www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/qanda/latest.html.
Q. Dear CMOS Editors, Although strict grammar would suggest that “if I had been you, I wouldn’t have done that” is correct, I feel that using “if I had been you” in this case instead of “if I were you” implies that the condition of my being you is impossible only in the past and may somehow have become more possible as time went on. Because it is not a changeable condition—I cannot be you, whether in the past or the present—I feel that “if I were you” is the right conditional to use in this example. I have not been able to find an authoritative explanation either way. What do you reckon?
A. This isn’t philosophy—it’s just grammar. “If I were you” puts the reader in the present. If you want to stage “if I were you” in the past, it becomes “if I had been you.”
Q. “The larger the parameter, the smaller the region.” This construction is just fine, but what’s the justification for implied rather than fully present verbs? Why don’t we get to imply parts of speech whenever we want to? And as an editor, am I wrong to delete the verbs when they are used? “The larger the parameter is, the smaller is the region”?
A. You are right to delete the verbs. Your first version is idiomatic English; the second is pedantic overkill. As for your whys and wherefores, I’m afraid you will need a linguist rather than a style guide to get the technical backstory. Let us know what you find out!
Happy August, everyone! As we start this new month, let’s look at the latest prompts from Poets & Writers, which explore end-of-summer themes. How do they inspire you? They’ve got me thinking about planning a road trip to Asheville, North Carolina, next month for a wedding; the difference between what a man and a woman would notice when witnessing a crime; and the arc of the Milky Way I can see from the house I grew up in.
The concept of the American road trip has compelled many writers—Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck, Tom Wolfe, Cheryl Strayed, Mark Twain, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, to name a few—to pen memoirs or novels exploring themes of exploration, adventure, and discovery. Take inspiration from this map of American literary road trips from Atlas Obscura, and write a short travel essay of your own. Recount your experience whether it’s making the journey from your front door to a neighbor’s house, or to a city you’re never explored. Find the balance that feels right for you between observations of physical or geographical details, and the interior landscape of emotions and memories.
Penelope Lively says, “History is in fact not so much memory as it is an examination of conflicting evidences. And this is the same for a fictional purpose: in any scene there can be as many accounts of a scene as there were people present.” This week, write two separate accounts of a scene in which a crime is unfolding, witnessed by two people who are standing side by side looking out the same window. How might two individuals be compelled to notice different details? What might this reveal about their personalities and emotional states?
The “dog days” of summer typically refer to the hottest days around July and August. The term originates with the ancient Romans who associated this time of year with the brightest star Sirius—also known as the Dog Star—rising and setting in sync with the sun, supposedly making the days hotter. Explore other natural occurrences that coincide with summer—fire rainbows, foxfire, midnight sun—and write a poem in tribute to the hottest days of the year.