Capital Offense

Posted in Figuratively Speaking, On writing, Writers at 6:43 am by Marion


It’s Friday again and time to take a look at language. Or something.

These days, I am a “friend” on Facebook. Not only am I friendly with FB, but I am downright hooked.

Now many people will say, Just what the world needs. Another way to goof off. And I agree.

Sure there are many ways to justify it. Such as
— I work alone and it’s only fair that I have a sense of camaraderie with others during the work day
— FB allows me to express my creativity
— We all need breaks from work
— I don’t really spend that much time on FB
— It’s great keeping up with my friends

This is rot.

I rarely need a break, since I’m quite good at taking time off during the day. Usually to snack.

As for keeping up with friends, well, I’m actually a hermit.

No, Facebook is just like any other diversion. Unnecessary distraction from something difficult. Mea culpa.

(Marion, you ask, why are you going on about Facebook so today … wouldn’t it have been a more fitting topic for yesterday’s Tech Thursday? Which, by the way, you failed to post ….)

Back to Facebook and language, then.

I am finding myself somehow tossing aside some language guidelines that I’ve always embraced, clung to, even relied on for sanity. Such as capital letters.

Lately, I’m finding myself writing email messages without them … just saying what i have to say and not worrying about dressing up my words in their formal attire. not worried about being judged. free

This trend has sometimes given me shivers, as I look at my words. I am reminded of an elementary school note, written hurriedly and passed in secret.


There’s something subversive about going without capital letters. A feeling that I’m part of an underground movement. We have our language and rules, signs and codes.

I run into an internal conflict, however, when I’m writing someone a message, or making a post on Facebook, using only lower-case letters and the time comes to end the sentence. i want to close it with an exclamation point!

But as we all know, to get that exclamation point, we MUST use the shift key.

Hypocrisy? Perhaps.

or maybe i’m enjoying playing a game with rules i have a part in creating (!)


: )


Mailable … or Not

Posted in Figuratively Speaking, Life in general, On writing, Press at 7:37 am by Marion


There’s no doubt about it … if we followed rules issued by the U.S. Postal Service 100 years ago today, many of us would never open another letter. Maybe not even a bill …

The U.S. Postal Service declared that

Every obscene, lewd, or lascivious book, pamphlet, picture, paper, letter, writing, print, or other publication of an indecent character … is hereby declared to be nonmailable matter.

These days, that covers just about anything worth sending — or receiving. My Rolling Stone magazines violate just about every provision above, and I’m a pretty conservative gal. Who knows what other folks are reading.

Of course these mail standards at some time would have also included Madame Bovary, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Lolita and Grapes of Wrath.

Which brings me to the observation that in some ways prompted today’s entry — at the grocery store a couple of days ago, I ran into my former mail carrier, whose name is Bob. He has a remarkable memory … and is a genuinely nice guy.

He works in the university community here and has walked the same route for decades (he was also my postal carrier in the early 1990s).

As we were talking, he mentioned that though he’s in the same area, his routes and those of others he works with are experiencing considerable shifting and reworking because the mail volume is off so sharply. Advertisers aren’t sending us so much junk mail (a good thing for us) … but for the Postal Service, that junk mail decrease translates into lost business.

Folks just don’t send letters anymore, and we even pay our bills online.

It reminded me of when I was a little girl, growing up deep in the countryside of Edgecombe County … with corn fields in front of me … tobacco fields behind me … and mom’s daylilies farm everywhere else.

Each week in the summer, my days were unstructured and dreamy as I read novel after novel, discovered Edgar Poe and Jane Eyre; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; biographies and dinosaurs.

In those days we had only one or two TV channels and magazines and other junk culture were not pervasive, at least not in Edgecombe County.

The highlight of those summer days … the clearest joyful moment in those sun-washed hours … came when I made the trip across the street to the mailbox. For inside would possibly be a letter from a pen-pal; a rare ordered item; or, best of all, My Weekly Reader.


That four-page newsprint reader brought me such happiness and opened so many doors of my imagination. It had simple stories about far-off places, games and puzzles and suggestions for activities. I was always a little sad when I had finished reading every word … and the hopeful waiting began for the next issue.

And it came in a mailbox.

BE SURE TO LISTEN today at noon to the Down East Journal on Public Radio East for a Figuratively Speaking commentary!

Thanks today to Jeffrey Kacirk for his calendar, Forgotten English, which gives FD such food for thought each day.


Back Next Week

Posted in Figuratively Speaking, Uncategorized at 1:03 pm by Marion

Fiction Daily returns Monday … with an all-new Figuratively Speaking on Friday!


Plants & Philos

Posted in Figuratively Speaking at 10:51 am by Marion


Today, we look at the Greeks and science.

So many of our scientific terms come from Greek it’s hard to know where to start. Being a tree lover, let’s look at our trees.

A heliophyte is a sun-loving plant or tree, such as the pine, cedar or cherry. It comes from helio, which is Greek for “the sun.” It is added to phyte, which means plant.

There are plenty of other words that build on the Greek helio. We have heliocentric, which was the radical theory that the planets revolve around the sun. (Heresy!)

We also have heliogram, which is a cool term for a message send by a mirror reflecting sunlight. You can send one of these messages with a heliograph.

Did you know that we live in the heliosphere? That’s the region of space, including the entire Solar System, in which solar wind has a significant influence.

So back to our plants. Our wonderful green friends all tend to grow toward the sun a trait known as heliotropism. I’ll never forget the science fair project someone did in the fifth grade — they grew plants upside down, still aiming for the sun.

As the Greeks might say, there’s good reason to be a phytophile, phyte for plant, philos Greek for “loving.” With courage like theirs, how can you not love plants?


Fearful Figures

Posted in Figuratively Speaking at 8:21 am by Marion


If you haven’t noticed … today is Friday the Thirteenth.

Now I don’t have much problem with the day-date combination … and it’s even rare enough to qualify as spooky. For instance the combination will happen three times this year.

Still, it’s part of our culture to recognize something ominous about it.

How did this happen?

Let’s go way back, to Good Friday. Tradition has that Jesus of Nazareth was put to death on a Friday. The scriptural account of his death that day is heart-breaking, and succeeds in giving the day a bleakness that’s hard to escape. For many of us, we grew up attending public schools where every Friday, fish was served. I just figured it was fish day everywhere.

Then I learned that a Catholic tradition is to eat fish on Friday, a small act of penance to commemorate the death of Jesus. These days we continue this tradition by fasting on Good Friday. Fasting was incorporated into early Christian practice, as it was a familiar part of worship for Jews, from where all Christians come. Thus, a natural step for us to also adopt fasting.

So despite everyone’s clamoring for Friday, it has a somber reputation.

Combine the day with the number … 13 … a witches number in jest … yet one with rich cultural traditions around the world. Some believe it may stem from our lunar year’s having 12 months … which implies a 13th month lurking out there like a bad dream.

Triskaidekaphobia is a fear of the number 13.

Fear of Friday the Thirteenth is called paraskavedekatriaphobia.

Now what’s really fascinating are the ways our culture recognizes these fears … most of us would laugh and say, Ah, there’s nothing to that.

Yet tall buildings routinely omit the 13th floor. Just check next time you’re in an elevator.

And horse races also give a nod of the jockey’s cap to this superstition … at Santa Anita track in California, there is no 13th stall.

For us word people, numbers are a little frightening anyway, so maybe we won’t venture beyond the walls of Fiction Dailyland until after 1 p.m. … that’s 13:00 hours if you’re counting.

NEXT WEEK: Fiction Daily returns with more adventures in tap dancing, writing, karma and letters of the alphabet!


Live Long and Prosper

Posted in Figuratively Speaking at 10:50 am by Marion


Today, a few words of farewell.

No I’m not going anywhere … but so many people, things and holidays are … let’s see … gone: Blagojevich in Illinois … gone: stock values … gone: Christmas holidays … gone … well you get the picture.


So in this season of ringing out the old and hopefully, ringing in the new, let’s think about saying, Bye, Bye.

Farewell is among our most obvious exclamations. It arose in Middle English and comes from the imperative form of “fare” plus the adverb “well.”

Bye comes from Good-bye, which expresses good wishes at the end of a conversation. It arises from the 16th-century contraction of “God be with you.” Apparently it was customary to extend God’s blessings more fully and so God became “good.” Thusly with “good morning.”

comes to us from the Japanese … when you really mean it, Sayonara, Baby!!

Mr. Spock’s trademark and very Zen salutation was Live Long and Prosper.

Among my favorites is the Russian dasvidanya … which does allow for meeting again … it means, Until the next time we see each other.

So with that, I will say, Dasvidanya from Fiction Dailyland until next week … and we’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when ….


Junk Culture, c. 1855

Posted in Figuratively Speaking, On writing, Writers at 8:58 am by Marion


Today, a slightly different look at language, within the context of culture.

A Christmas gift from my husband of a calendar named Forgotten English has given me much more food for thought. It features a word or phrase each day from past centuries of spoken and written English along with a story. It’s a project of Jeffrey Kacirk. (Love words? Visit his site here).

Last week, I came across an entry that just made me laugh.

Turns out that on a trip to see the British Museum in 1855, our beloved American author Nathaniel Hawthorne was not amused.

It is a hopeless — and to me generally a depressing — business to go through an immense, multifarious show like this glancing at a thousand things, and conscious of some little titillation of mind from them, but really taking in nothing and getting no good from anything.

The face is the world is accumulating too many materials for knowledge. We do not recognize for rubbish what is really rubbish, and under this head might be reckoned almost everything one sees in the British Museum. And as each generation leaves its fragments and potshards behind it, such will finally be the desperate conclusion of the learned.

How apt an observation, how modern. A reflection made more than 150 years ago. About an institution we might consider august and respected, the British Museum, which opened in 1759, almost 300 years ago.

Yet Mr. Hawthorne recognized something universal about us human beings. So crow-like are we; the shining glint of a button or piece of glass will draw us in, elicit desire for possession and generate all kinds of jealousy.

That’s what makes Mr. Hawthorne, with our greatest writers, a jewel, himself — he keenly understands our complex, yet juvenile, human natures and has the power to describe them with precision.

A NOTE FOR WORD LOVERS: If you enjoy scoffing at overused, meaningless phrases, then visit the 2009 List of Banished Words from Lake Superior State University.

The university publishes the list each year in an effort purge our language of its loafers, drifters and bums who aren’t pulling their weight.

Friend and Daily Reflector columnist Kim Grizzard gave the list her own signature review, and you can read it here.

High on the list this year? Green, maverick, bailout and others. Do check it out.


Cold Chills

Posted in Figuratively Speaking at 9:54 am by Marion


It’s 18 degrees F outside. There are more birds in the yard than usual, and of many kinds … ruby-crowned kinglets, goldfinches, a red-bellied woodpecker on the feeder. This year the blocks of juncos are oddly absent, though I have seen them elsewhere in the neighborhood, and one slate-gray snowbird appeared on my feeder this morning.

So today’s Figuratively Speaking gets the low-down on cold.


Where to begin! What other word gives us so many possibilities?

Cold comes to us from the Old English cald, which comes to us from German. It’s related to the Dutch koud and German kalt … the hard consonants we often see in these two languages.

Now it gets interesting: Cold is also related to the Latin gelu or frost.

This Latin word can be seen in the Italian gelato … the French geler, to freeze.

Here’s a twist fit for a cold Friday: the Latin gelu also gives us jelly … from the Latin gelata, frozen … from gelare, “freeze.”

Our variations are nearly infinite. Cold shoulder, cold-hearted, cold sweat, cold turkey … these terms all imply something difficult … or hard … just as a frozen face shows no emotion.

A fitting word for a mystical time of year, when as primitives we braced ourselves for the fearsome season and petitioned unknown spirits to keep us alive, careful not to appear afraid, though deeply so.

Image by DHD Multimedia Gallery


The Gift of Verbs

Posted in Figuratively Speaking at 9:26 am by Marion


Maybe you’re like me and still have Christmas wrapping paper and packing boxes strewn in your living room, or maybe you’ve managed to get everything put away for the year. If so, good for you.

I haven’t put away my holiday language grievances either, so today, Figuratively Speaking hauls them out one last time before we move on.

I’ll start with the main offender this year: Gift.

Everyone loves to get them, and that’s the kind of gifts we should receive: NOUNS.

Some people, however, have developed a fondness for giving gifts of VERBS … as in, He gifted me a cheap rain poncho, which I regifted to my sister.

Of all the offenses in the above sentence, I think you can find them pretty easily. Not to mention the clear transgression of actually giving someone a cheap plastic poncho.

The gifting of “gift” brings to mind a troubling trend which I’ve railed about before, in one form of screed or another. That is forcing nouns to work double time as verbs … jobs they are not suited for.

Other examples of misuse, not limited to this type of “verbification” include

Prioritize. You may set a priority for the New Year, but please do not use this as a verb. Set goals and determine their relative importance. In other words, do something authentic in 2009.

Grow. Your hair grows (intransitive). This spring, we hope your beans grow (intransitive). If you are a farmer, you may grow corn (transitive). If you are a banker, you may see your accounts grow, though it’s not likely for this calendar year. You do not, ever, grow your accounts. Not even during a recession.

Impact. A noun. A noun indicating the action of one large mass colliding with another, often with sparks flying. A missile has an impact. Budget cuts do not. And you certainly don’t ask whether the boss’s permanent vacation will impact the bottom line. Try using the perfectly good verb affect.

So as we look ahead to this wonderful New Year, with so many fresh, hopeful months ahead, I wish everyone out there in Fiction Dailyland a happy 2009 full of correct language usage.


For the Birds, My Dear Part 2

Posted in Events, Figuratively Speaking at 8:12 am by Marion


Happy Christmas Eve to everyone in Fiction Dailyland! I hope today, everyone will slow down, sit with someone you love by a fireplace and enjoy a few hours of peace, calm and hopefulness. Draft someone else’s child if you don’t have one yourself. They’re still having fun with this.


So let’s wrap up the Twelve Days of Christmas with our litany of gifts for the Epiphany:

On the twelfth day of Christmas
My true love sent to me

Twelve lords a-leaping
Eleven ladies dancing
Ten pipers piping
Nine drummers drumming
Eight maids a-milking
Seven swans a-swimming
Six geese a-laying
Five gold rings
Four colly birds
Three French hens
Two turtle doves, and
A partridge in a pear tree.

As a child I enjoyed making private jokes with words, and amused myself by running together the lines so the geese were actually laying the gold rings. Ha ha, we writers just know how to tell a joke!!

What’s so fascinating about this holiday song is the image we have of imagined courtly life. In today’s America, or even in yesterday’s America, we have little sense of the feudal system that reigned in Europe for centuries and frankly, defined our modern world.

I saw some of the big picture in college, when I slogged through book upon book … I was at times a political science major, history major, pre-law, chemistry and English major before finally settling on French. (Seemed a wise career move at the time.)

All those books demonstrated our human (western) progression from a time when class — birth — determined everything about a person’s life. That’s why events such as the signing of the Magna Carta are so pivotal in human history: It marked one of the first times when individuals other than the monarch were able to assert a modicum of autonomy, and participate in making and enforcing the rules.

By the late 16th century we have the rise of landed gentry … another revolution … and while today, it’s considered a bit barbaric to assign rights based solely on property ownership, at the time it was downright radical.

Of all the things I love about this country (and there are many, present administration excluded), among the most precious is our largely classless society — and the idea that if you work hard, you are somebody … and anyone with desire can have a say in the way things operate.

Still we look back somehow to olden days, imagining ourselves either as happy peasants content with our king … or the kings and queens of olde.

And so, this seasonal song remains a favorite, allowing us to be the fortunate lover of a wealthy, aristocratic, suitor, destined to live in a glorious, tapestry-filled castle, with servants in waiting, livestock, peacocks and pheasants running around the yard, and happy peasant farmers who adore us.


FD will return next week

« Previous Page« Previous entries « Previous Page · Next Page » Next entries »Next Page »