Sunday, December 30, 2007

Tools of the Trade: Another I-Never-Quite-Knew-What-That-Word-Meant Edition

It's been too long since I've done a Tools of the Trade post, but today I'll make up for lost time with a Super-Sized Edition featuring not three ... not four ... but five (yes, count 'em, five) word origins!

But, that's not all! This special edition examines not only the origins of the five selected words, but also their definitions. That's right! Two lessons in one!

And so, without further ado, I present this week's words:


Courtesy of the Online Etymology Dictionary, and Merriam-Webster's Online, we discover the following:

Gainsay dates back to the 1300s and means "to contradict," or literally, to "say against," based on the Old English gegn- meaning "against." Apparently "gain" was once a common prefix, used in now-obsolete words such as gain-taking, "taking back again"; gainclap, "a counterstroke"; gainbuy, "redeem"; and gainstand, "to oppose."

Gainsay is the only surviving example of this prefix. As such, I am hereby lauching a campaign to promote its widespread usage to preserve gain's place in the English language. Unfortunately, my campaign stalled two seconds after I typed that last sentence, when my husband challenged me to use "gainsay" in a sentence and I could not think of a single way to use it. Well, except in that last sentence. It's a start. (Anyone? Anyone? Please leave your examples in the comments section so we can all begin using "gainsay" in casual conversation.)

In a hard-fought game of Cranium Wow! over the holidays, my husband and I (who did not win but who did not come in last either, ahem), were asked to define toothsome. This was a multiple-choice question, and we had it narrowed down to two choices ("attractive" or "having many teeth.") We picked the wrong one. [Slaps forehead.] As most of you probably already know, it means "attractive." Or, to be more specific, it means (1) pleasing to the taste; palatable; (2) pleasing or desirable, as fame or power; and (3) voluptuous; sexually alluring.

Dating back to 1551, It is taken from tooth (which evolved from the Middle English toth) and some. The origins are fascinating, no? No. Nor were they helpful to me in explaining why "toothsome" should mean "attractive." That is, until I looked further into the meaning of those two words. Turns out "some" is often used to create adjectives from nouns, as in "burdensome," "meddlesome" and "troublesome." And "tooth" ... if you dig way down to meaning #8 in the dictionary, can mean "taste, relish, or liking." Aha!

On his blog this week, my husband used the word anomie in describing himself. Having never encountered this word before and being eternally curious about my husband's self-image, I wasted no time looking this up. Dating to 1591, it is a French word meaning "absence of accepted social values." Its origins are the Greek a-, "without" and nomos, "law." Um. Yep, that's him.

Of the five words featured in this post, nonplussed is the only one I already knew, however tentatively. But the question of its meaning came up during a family gathering on Christmas Day, and it turned out I was the only one who knew its correct meaning (however tentatively). The noun "nonplus" dates back to 1582 and means "a state where nothing more can be done or said," from the Latin non plus, which means "no more, no further." The verb form dates back to 1591 and means "to bring to a nonplus, to perplex." Nonplussed? Me too.

Last and (IMO) least, is hebdomadally. Least because I can't imagine anyone ever using this word. But it came up in a crossword this week, and it stumped me. So, should you ever encounter hebdomadally in a crossword or perhaps at level 50 on the Free Rice site or while competing in Jeopardy, please be advised that it means "weekly." It hails from the Latin hebdomas, hebdomad-, the number seven, and from the Greek, hebdomos, seventh, related to hepta, seven.

One fun footnote: My research this time around brought me to a very cool discovery: Folk-Etymology: A Dictionary of Verbal Corruptions Or Words Perverted in Form or Meaning, by False Derivation or Mistaken Analogy, edited by the Rev. A. Smythe Palmer and published in 1882. A mixed blessing, as it turns out, because further research revealed that the best price available for it on Amazon is $60. So, I’ll have to live knowing there are at least seven copies of Palmer’s book out there that I can’t afford. Sigh.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Skippy DiDoDa Day!

What has big ears, an oh-so-adorable face and is not a chihuahua?

That's right! Skippyjon Jones!

I had the great good fortune to win a signed Skippyjon book and a Skippyjon doll simply for leaving a comment at Kate Messner's blog when she profiled author, illustrator and Skippyjon creator Judy Schachner last month. To top it off, Judy threw in a signed copy of a second book, Mr. Emerson's Cook, as an added surprise. Sweet!

Here's my quarry:

While I was setting up this shot, the resident puppy, apparently jealous of all the attention being paid to the Skippyjon doll, appeared with her favorite throw toy.

"Hey! Look at me! I am a chihuahua!"

Thank you, Kate and Judy! I love my gifts and will enjoy them for years to come. And I'll be sure to keep the puppy away from the doll!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I Am Writer, Hear Me Roar

Danette over at Summer Friend has given me a Roar for Powerful Words award. Thank you, Danette! I'm honored you feel that way!

As part of the award, I am asked to (a) name three things that make for powerful writing and (b) award the Roar to five deserving bloggers.

So, three things that I feel make for powerful writing (and I'm going to focus on fiction writing here):

1. Strong, believable characters. The best plot in the world won't hold my attention if I don't care about the characters.

2. A distinctive voice. Writing needs to have personality and rhythm. I read everything "out loud in my head" so I pick up a nuanced voice right away. Without it, writing falls flat.

3. Solid mechanics. To write well, we need to write well. This means good grammar and punctuation, yes, but it goes beyond that to include smooth transitions, effective dialog tags, strong verbs, etc. A compelling idea, put to paper in a well constructed sentence, can be a powerful thing indeed.

Now, onto the five awardees. I read lots of great blogs, so this tough. But here goes:

Sara Lewis Holmes
Sam Riddleburger
Adrienne Kress
J (a newbie to blogging, but she packs a punch!)
J.K. Mahal

You can accept your awards over at The Shameless Lions Writing Circle. I'll see you there, assuming we all make it past the paparazzi in one piece!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Ha!

This week I read Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I was hoping to post a review of it, but the only thing I can think to say about it is: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

My usual M.O. when I review a book is to take one aspect, one thing I feel the author handles really well, and analyze it. Well, the one thing Kinney does really well ... and he does it really, really well ... is make you laugh. He's funny. So you can see my dilemma. You try to analyze funny and, well, we all know how that goes.

So suffice to say, if you have not already read this book, get thee to a library or a book store or Santa's lap and secure a copy posthaste!

P.S. Before reading, you may want to check this out.

The Season Just Got a Little More Joyful

Two posts in one day ... 'tis is a season of wonders, to be sure! But, I simply had to share.

Here is our Christmas tree. Lovely, as are all Christmas trees. But ... do you notice anything particularly lovely about this tree?

Here, look a little closer.

Ho, ho, ho! I adore my snowflake. Thank you, Robert's Snow. And thank you, Elizabeth!

Renga Stew: Mmmm

Thanks so much to JK, Wendy, cloudscome and Madelyn for participating in my Renga Experiment this weekend!

Here is the finished product. The traditional renga calls for two verses of seven syllables each at the end of the poem, so I have gone ahead and wrapped it up with the last two verses myself. Compliments to the chefs!

Let's try. What's the harm?
Art is a lonely pursuit;
Perfection, more so.

But friends both new and old bring
their happiness to this road

changing the lonely
journey to one of comfort,
joy, messy thoughts all.

participation. you call,
we come to join joyfully

what can we make here?
how much of ourselves can we
bring to fill the pot?

on a cold and lonely night
hot stew bubbling on the stove

poems bubble, too
add fancy words and carrots
don't forget the salt

Perfect? No, but delicious
and strangely satisfying.

Our words blended together
In an ancient recipe.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Poetry Friday: The Renga Experiment

This week I was doing some research on Haiku and learned that it originated in Japan in the 15th century, when a poetic form named "renga" became popular.

Renga is a poem several poets create cooperatively. Members alternately add verses of 17 syllables (5, 7, and 5 syllables) and 14 syllables (7 and 7 syllables), until they complete a poem (generally composed of 100 verses).

The first verse of renga is called "hokku," and so this has since led to the proliferation of haiku!

What better forum for creating renga than the Internet, where so many can come together and share? I am no poet, and I'm sure some of you who visit this blog do not consider yourselves poets either. But it can't hurt to try, right?

I am going to start off here with a Haiku and invite anyone who wishes to do so to go ahead and contribute the next verses. Mine will start with 5, 7 and 5 syllables, so the next should be 7 and 7, then back to 5, 7, 5 ... and so on alternately.

Please leave your contribution in the comments section and I will eventually add them to the front page of the post. Any and all contributions are welcome, and feel free to take the poem in a different direction at any time!

Let's try. What's the harm?
Art is a lonely pursuit;
Perfection, more so.

For more Poetry Friday, stop by Miss Rumphius Effect.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Conquering Block, With a Sock

I'm back in writing mode again, after a (too long) hiatus!

To mark this happy occasion, I wanted to share a rather goofy but very fun idea that might just help with writer's block.

A few months back, Eve of the Disco Mermaids wrote about the inspirational powers of the Sock Monkey, which she'd learned about from the talented and prolific Lisa Yee. Lisa herself then went on to post not one but two entries of her own on this phenomenon.

Here's my very own Sock Monkey, next to my nicely progressing work in progress.

Now, courtesy of Sam Riddleburger, you can create your own Sock Monkey and watch it do the boogie.

Pretty hilarious, and might even kickstart your creativity.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Poetry Friday: I'm a Nut

Thanks to Madelyn for turning me onto this week's poem, which is actually a song. Apparently her son learned it in school. Comes complete with hand movements:

I'm a Nut
I'm a little acorn round (make circle with thumb and forefinger)
Lying on the cold cold ground (wave arm across front with palm facing down)
Somebody came and stepped on me (stomp foot)
That is why I'm cracked you see (zig zap motion with forefinger)
I'm a nut (clap clap), in a rut (clap clap), I'm crazy (circle finger around ear)

That's the first verse. You can read the rest here.

Thanks to Becky's Book Reviews for hosting this week's Poetry Friday!

Monday, December 3, 2007

It's a Start, Part V

Today's "It's a Start" will highlight books from my high school AP English class ... way, way back in the day.

If you're new to this blog, It's a Start is an occasional feature in which we take a look at the first sentence (or so) of books picked randomly from the Acorn bookshelves (only this time it's not so random, I guess).

Each of the following books is considered a classic piece of literature, so let's see whether they manage to draw readers in with the first sentence, as today's authors are urged to do. Before we start, let me say that I tend not to care much for "classic literature," or any literature, for that matter. I prefer commercial, genre stuff. So if you disagree with these ratings, well, it's all good. Let me have it in the comments section. Note: Maximum # of stars = 5.

I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story. Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton

Intriguing start. We know that whatever tale is about to unfold has been told over and over, so it's gotta be good, right? I love the voice here, too. Not "I heard the story," but "I had the story." An unusual turn of phrase to launch the book. In the interest of full disclosure, I have a soft spot in my heart for Ethan Frome, as I wrote the essay portion of my AP exam on it. However, I am confident this first sentence deserves each and every one of its stars: *****

The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods. Babbit, by Sinclair Lewis

Well, it's literary, I'll give it that. Would today's author get away with a semicolon in the first sentence? Hmm. I do appreciate the word choices, especially "aspired." So much better than "rose." If I knew what silver rods were, maybe the contrasting imagery at the end would have worked better for me. Mixed feelings on this one. Stars: ***

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

Bingo!! Voice. Attitude. Even takes a swipe at a literary classic ... now, that's my kinda book! And, of course, the reader doesn't really want all that background stuff, anyway. We want to start where the action is, and that's precisely what this first sentence tells us our narrator is going to do. A great start to one of my all-time favorite books. (Hey, I said I "tend" not to go for classics ... there are of course some exceptions!) Stars: *****

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem's fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his injury. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

I love this book. I'm not so crazy about the first two sentences. But, um, it's Harper Lee. She seemed to know what she was doing. The day I can write a book one-tenth as compelling as Mockingbird is the day I'll criticize. Stars: ***

Mr. Sherlock Holmes, who was usually very late in the mornings, save upon those not infrequent occasions when he was up all night, was seated at the breakfast table. Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Can't help but read that one with a British accent, can you? Wonderful voice. I also love that it starts us out with a little mystery. Why is Holmes at the breakfast table already? Was he up all night? Or is he up unusually early this morning, and if so, why? Sir Arthur has me hooked. Nicely done, old chap. Stars: ****