Tips for Writers: Trust the Story

Mitch Teemley

Presentation1

Experience is the most effective teacher (I learned more Spanish in three days in Barcelona than I did in two years of high school Spanish class). But one of the most interesting things about the human psyche is that we’re wired to learn from other people’s experiences, as well. There’s something divinely intentional about the way we not only sympathize but empathize with others, the way we “take the journey” with them.

Your job as a storyteller–as a fiction writer, or as an essayist or teacher using an illustration–is to take us there. Aristotle called it catharsis, our tendency to process or “purge” our own feelings by identifying with another’s experience. Joseph Campbell called it “the hero’s journey.” But catharsis doesn’t just happen with epic heroes (Odysseus, Frodo, Luke Skywalker), it happens with down-to-earth protagonists, as well (Woody in Toy Story, Pony Boy in The Outsiders). If it feels…

View original post 272 more words

Advertisements

Let’s Have a Passive Unaggressive.

When I am helping students with their English assignments for school or college, one problem many have is remembering what the passive voice is. The classic, grammatical answer, is that the subject is a non-active patient of the verb…..hmmmm, yeah, that makes it a lot clearer, doesn’t it?

146236-148362

Image from: http://tiny.cc/saznny

A while back, however, I came across this small piece of genius on the Grammarly blog which makes remembering almost foolproof.  The link is here:  http://tiny.cc/0dznny

In a nutshell, if you can add ‘by zombies’ to the end of the sentence then it will be in the passive voice, as opposed to the active.

20170114_blp516

Image from: http://tiny.cc/7aznny

So, it’s not really good English to say ‘Jack ate the cake by zombies’…that doesn’t really make much sense [unless, maybe, there was a party of zombies picnicing nearby?] If, however, you were to say ‘the cake was eaten by ……. ‘ and in the space you could insert either ‘Jack’ – the sensible option, or ‘zombies’ – the more interesting option, then you have a passive sentence. The cake is, basically, sitting minding its own business when it gets eaten. I’ll leave it to Sherlock to decide by whom.

One problem though….zombies don’t usually eat anything as mundane as cake. Nor do they often play football or drive cars. Hamsters, however…….

 

 

Images from:  http://tiny.cc/lbznny    http://tiny.cc/1lznny    http://tiny.cc/xnznny

So, rather than making the passive so aggressive and zombiesque, I prefer to hamsterfy it….The football was kicked/ cake was eaten/ car was driven by a hamster…. and the proof is in the pictures!

The Punctuation of Pretzels

5983b66fdf7b3-image

The following story appeared in my Google Alerts update this week, and – after careful consideration – I decided I just had to throw in my two-penn’orth.

http://tiny.cc/20ozmy

Basically, a columnist wants the company to remove the apostrophe from their sign. On the face of it, I agreed at first, but then realised it wasn’t quite as clear-cut as it seems.

How many boys are there? That must be the nub of the question. If there are more than one, then – yes – the apostrophe needs some amendment. But…should it be removed altogether or simply placed after the word boys?

This establishment could be one, singular, boy’s shop. It could be several, plural, boys’ shop. Or, Pretzel Boys could simply be the title of the business.

Think of The Fabulous Bakin’ Boys. bakin20boys

This is the company’s name – ok, they have an apostrophe elsewhere – we’ll not go there in this post!

But, maybe we’ll leave the last word to Sainsbury’s, and their response to Mr M. He asked them why their name has an apostrophe – read their reply here:

http://tiny.cc/abpzmy

 

 

Vacancy Wanted – PLEASE

If only I’d known there was such a job, I would have done all my homework – on time – studied really really hard and not messed about at school for one single minute. Promise. Sadly, I didn’t know back then what I know now – that people are paid to create languages for a living. Oh heaven! It looks like I’m never going to see an advertisement for a brickie in Legoland, so this must have to be just about my dream job.

When the Klingons first opened their mouths in Star Trek, the Dothraki bargained for Daenerys to be Khal Drogo’s bride, or we marveled at the intricacies of Elvish, did you ever stop to consider that somebody had created these languages from scratch?

9780008131395

https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780008131395/a-secret-vice

In the book A Secret Vice, Tolkien’s lecture on his creation of the languages of Middle Earth is discussed in mind-blowing detail. He created the original versions of each tongue, then worked out how they would change throughout time by contact with other languages and with changing inflections. He realised that as each group moved slightly further from its original homeland it would acquire new words for the different flora, fauna and other phenomena they encountered. He realised that words would, through time, change meaning or acquire new ones. This is exactly how language works, and Tolkien was a master of the art.

He based his languages on ones he found grammatically interesting, such as Finnish. He created writing systems for them, designing runic characters to give a feeling of ancient mystery. He also understood how a language’s traditional tales and mythology affect its structure and phraseology. The book A Secret Vice makes for fascinating reading.

So, Dothraki, anybody?

18896a5a282988dee5d209dcaa6e63aa
Image from http://nikolina-angelova.deviantart.com/art/Dothraki-308236043

The language was created by David J Peterson who is a leader in this, admittedly niche, area. He also created High Valyrian for GoT, along with languages for many other sci-fi shows.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/the-man-who-invented-dothraki/471495/

If you fancy learning a few phrases, there is an online course offered, according to this site:

https://www.dailydot.com/parsec/dothraki-creator-game-of-thrones-online-course/

To make a language credible, it needs to have a complete grammar, orthography and other such components which you probably think are best left to Latin teachers! However, if characters just opened their mouths and muttered gobbledy-gook, they would soon sound ridiculous. The rich, full, characteristics of these languages is what gives them their own life and makes them so compelling to listen to.

So, we now come to Star Trek, and Klingon. Did you know that James Doohan, who played dear old Scotty, first devised the phonology and a small vocabulary for it? It was then turned into a full language by Marc Okrand and has been used to write books and an opera; there is even a Klingon language Institute!

One last Star-Trek related fact:

 

When they decided they needed a Vulcan hand gesture for ‘Live long and prosper’ – Leonard Nimoy suggested using the one he had seen used in the synagogue when he was young. Although, in the worship setting, it is done with both hands, the famous gesture is based on the Hebrew hand-sign for Shin. All Hebrew characters have intrinsic meanings and this one stands for Shekinah and Shaddai – names of God. Live long and prosper is, I feel, a lovely sentiment. Knowing the accompanying sign stands for the name of God makes it even more beautiful.

http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/06/the-iconic-live-long-and-prosper-hand-gesture-was-originally-a-jewish-sign/

PS. Sadly, Minion is NOT a language, despite having a wonderfully mixed vocabulary from many, many other languages. They do have real words – and below I have reproduced a handy phrasebook should you ever need it –  but unfortunately the rest of it is utter nonsense. From a Minion, you wouldn’t really expect anything else, though, would you?

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/do-minions-speak-real-language

2e4486410735854a44a7c297c378fb19-minions-love-minion-stuff

Amanda Lichtenberg   https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/456482112202405140/

Well, ha/e/i/o/ullo!

poh

Simple little word, hello, isn’t it? We probably say it several times a day; we use it to answer the phone, to greet customers or clients at work maybe, as a greeting in slightly formal circumstances where ‘Hi’, ‘how do’ or other variants aren’t right, all sorts of ways. Try counting over a couple of days and see what the tally is.

So, Walter Raleigh to Queen Elizabeth I – ‘Hello, your majesty’

Romeo to Juliet ‘Hello, my darling’

The Wife of Bath to The Pardoner ‘Hello Pardoner [or maybe Pardy, they might have been on very friendly terms for all we know!]’

They don’t quite ring true, do they? The word hello is, actually, not that old at all. The OED records its first use as a greeting in 1853; not very long ago, is it? It had been  recorded being used to attract attention or express surprise as far back as 1826, but still, where and how did it suddenly become the default greeting for the English speaking world?

Raleigh would probably have said ‘Good Morrow’ to Bessy 1; Romeo might have said ‘How farest thou?’ to his Julie and Bathy could have greeted Pardy along the lines of ‘Ey, maister, welcome be ye’*.

The etymology of Hello is not totally clear – and why it suddenly grew in popularity is also open to discussion. It can, with varying degrees of frequency, be spelt hallo, hullo, hillo and even hollo apparently.  The tale goes that Thomas Edison decided the word was clear enough to be heard from 20 feet away and, therefore, would make a perfect opening greeting for the new-fangled telephone. Alexander Graham Bell, meanwhile, was insisting the word Ahoy was the correct way to open a telephone conversation. Thankfully, despite his inventing the phone, his idea of how to use it did not catch on. For more about this, see, among others, http://www.nytimes.com/1992/03/05/garden/great-hello-mystery-is-solved.html

So, where did it come from? Bill Bryson, in his book Mother Tongue,** informs us that it is a derivative/contraction of the Old English hal beo thu [hale be thou] – in a similar way to modern goodbye being a form of God be with ye. The OED, however, states that it originated in old High German halâholâ  –  being used to attract attention, especially of ferrymen.

death_as_a_ferryman

                     “Death as a ferrryman”, a satirical drawing from Punch, 1858

Hmmmm, if this is what a shout of ‘Hello’ could bring, maybe ‘Ey maister’, or even Ahoy could be safer words to use after all?

Picture from Kankakee Community College Power of Hello campaign. http://www.kcc.edu/campaigns/pages/power-of-hello.aspx
*http://www.zora.uzh.ch/44707/1/Jucker_2011_Chaucer_proofs.pdf
**https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/56790/mother-tongue/

Shun the disingenuous equivalent and Avoid the shifty metonym

tumblr_spock

Hmmm, what on Earth does that title mean? Even Spock* looks puzzled. What it started out as, before I searched online for replacement words, is:

Beware the sneaky synonym.

Ok, why am I prattling on like this? Well, today a member of my family asked me for help with a cover letter for an application she was writing. As I was quite busy, most of the conversation was done by text messages:

Her: What’s another word for interesting?

Me: Tell me the rest of the sentence.

a few minutes passed………

Her: It’s ok, I found one.

Me: [Having been wrestling with good synonyms for interesting ]What, exactly?

Her: Intriguing.

I was firstly puzzled, then slightly alarmed, then I just had to stop what I was doing and phone her. I could not think of a single thing which she could describe as intriguing in a formal cover letter.

The original sentence had been What I find most interesting is palliative care. **

Now, although, when you look on a site such as Thesaurus.com and enter interesting in the synonym finder, it will return intriguing, it gives you many other suggestions too. Among these are:

alluring; amusing; delightful; exotic; fascinating and provocative.

Yes, they are all, in the right context, exchangeable for interesting. Surely, though, nobody would say What I find most amusing is palliative care. Please…you wouldn’t, would you?

The good old OED gives these two definitions:

Interesting; adj

That concerns, touches, affects, or is of importance; important.

Intriguing; adj

That intrigues; forming secret plots or schemes. Also, that excites interest or curiosity; fascinating.

As you can see, although they are similar in some ways, they are very different in others. The English language [as we were taught in my undergraduate days by Dr Vikki Hulse] has no exact synonyms.  Sites such as Thesaurus.com, and the synonym tool on Word, are very helpful when you’re not wanting to repeat a particular word too often. Remember, however, to avoid the shifty metonym at all costs and, whatever else you do, shun the disingenuous equivalent .

*image from http://abcwednesday-mrsnesbitt.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/i-is-for-intriguing.html
** the version we finally agreed upon was ‘The aspect of nursing which I am most drawn to is palliative care’

 

If you need help with a CV, cover letter or similar, please get in touch through the blog’s contact page or email me: starfishenglishservices@gmail.com

How Do You Do?

It’s a simple question, isn’t it? Not that we are expected to reply!

howdoyoudo

Image from http://simonelia.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/how-do-you-do.html

Informally we often ask ‘How are you doing?’ Another simple question – inviting a proper answer, unlike its more formal cousin.

so-how-you-doing-hippo

Image from http://weknowmemes.com/2012/05/so-how-you-doing-hippo/

But recently I was asked by a foreign language student of mine ‘What does doing mean?’ Hmmmm, well that’s….errrr……actually not so simple. Doing and also Do don’t actually mean anything. Except they are quite vital to English sentence structure. The sharp-eyed among you will notice I had to use don’t = do not in the sentence before last. I quite probably will again. But….WHAT DO THEY MEAN??? [Yup, I used it again just there. Aaaargh]

The OED has a few suggestions:-

Do:

n  The action of doing, or that which is done; action, business.

vb  I. As a main verb.

1.trans.

a. To put, place. to do onoffinout,

Doing:

The action of do v.; action, proceeding, conduct, behaviour; performance or execution of something. Frequently with possessive, attributing responsibility to a specified agent.

So, there you have it – Do is the action of doing and doing is the action of do. What more could we need to know?

The best way I could try to explain this pesky word in any meaningful way was that it doesn’t [yup, there is is again!] really mean anything, but can be used as a sort of ‘catch-all’ verb to cover a range of activities:

Do the dishes [including washing, drying, putting away]

Do the housework [Hoovering, doing the dishes, dusting, emptying bins…not a range of activities I do very often!] [Yup, another 2 uses of it just there]

Do homework [reading a book, writing an essay, conducting an experiment in nuclear physiscs……I have no idea what homework might entail nowadays!]

But, you get the general picture – and, thankfully, so did they.

However, it doesn’t [another one] stop there. We need do to make negatives and questions. It doesn’t add anything of any semantic value to the sentence, but it is quite vital in English .

I like coffee – I do not like tea

Do you like tea? No, I don’t.

In this context, do has a rather wonderful name grammatically – the Dummy Do. Lovely isn’t it? Much better than fronted adjectival phrase or similarly boring titles. A vital, very useful, much-used word in the English language that really means very little at all. One last thought – should I tell my students about one of the other ways it can be used?

Maybe next week………we’re not learning about coarse language just yet!

 

 

It’s a Timey-Wimey, Spacey-Wacey Thing.

Imagine….no please don’t burst into a John Lennon impression…but imagine people who think of time differently from the way we conceptualise it in English. People who see the past as in front and the future as behind them. People who see time as static and humans moving through it. And…people who really don’t measure it in any numerical way.

 

time-shutterstock-112763713-webonly

Photo: Shutterstock

Whilst I was away last week at a language and linguistics conference at Colchester University [more about the beautiful city itself on my Travelling Hamster blog site], one of the speakers explained how she has been researching Amazonian villages where they only have the numbers 1 to 4, where they have no concept of how old people are, and..best of all…no concept of ever being late 🙂

It blew our minds as we sat through the talk. Time is, well, however long something takes. Words for tomorrow, today and yesterday simply don’t exist. They have stages of life which are marked by new names;  being ready to marry, being too old to work,  yet these are whenever they occur for each individual – not some arbitary age of consent or retirement age such as we have in our culture.

They use concepts such as rainy and dry seasons, height of the sun, depth of the flood-waters to refer to events, but again these simply happen when they happen – there is no set clock or calendar date to  announce the first day of summer and other similar chronological divisions. Somehow, in a way incomprehensible to we time-obsessed cultures, time does not exist as a separate concept to the event which is happening. How happy would Alice’s white rabbit be at that thought?

 

8f752a2ba421f3e95e41454ec0191a8f

For more on languages which encode time in different ways, the following may be of interest:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-13452711
http://language.ucsd.edu/papers/language-time.pdf – Boroditsky – How languages Construct Time
https://www.google.co.uk/search?tbo=p&tbm=bks&q=isbn:1483506088 – A Walk in the Garden of Time

And, the paper by the speaker at the conference [whose name is Vera and is great fun to have curry with]

https://www.academia.edu/32901057/When_Time_is_Not_Space_2016_from_Lewandowska_ed.pdf – Da Silva Sinha

Oh Auto-Predict! You’re no poet.

I was sending a text to a friend recently about foggy Frisco [San Francisco]. As I hit ‘send’ I noticed that the predictive texting had changed it to ‘fight frisco’. Hmmmmm. What else might it get up to? I decided to give it a real test…….Jabberwocky 🙂

Jabberwocky

So, with many, many apologies to Lewis Carroll…here’s the first verse, courtesy of my phone:

‘Twas brilliant and the slight gives

Did gyre and marble in the wave

All mimsy were the borogro estate

And the moment rather outgrabe.’

OK, so it would appear that gyre mimsy and  outgrabe are genuine English words it has no need to change at all. Off to the trusty OED for clarification.

Gyre, v.  appears as a genuine, though rare word, dating back to c1420. It means to Turn, or whirl round.

It is also a noun, from c 1566 meaning:  A turning round, revolution, whirl; a circular or spiral turn.  The word must have its etymology in the same root as words such as gyroscope then. Mr Carroll obviously knew his obscure old words.

Mimsy, it says, is a blend of miserable and flimsy,  nowadays meaning unhappy but…

Only in Carroll and later allusions. So it IS a word, though one apparently created by good old Lewis.

So, finally, we come to the most interesting of all – Outgrabe.

According to the OED, this is a factious word [sounds like another of Lewis Carroll’s creations, that!] and is the past tense of Outgribe. I have copied the entry below:

 

intr. A nonsense word; (most frequently) to emit a strange noise.

Etymology: A factitious word introduced by Lewis Carroll (used in the past tense), and described by him as follows:

1855   ‘L. Carroll’ Rectory Umbrella & Mischmasch (1932) 140   Outgrabe, past tense of the verb to outgribe. (It is connected with the old verb to grike or shrike, from which are derived ‘shriek’ and ‘creak’.) ‘Squeaked.’
1871   ‘L. Carroll’ Through Looking-glass vi. 129   ‘And what does “outgrabe” mean?’ ‘Well, “outgribing” is something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle.’

Apparently intended by Carroll as a past tense, but generally understood subsequently as a regular verb, with present tense outgrabe and past tense outgrabed.

If you have access to the OED online, more can be read here:

 http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/133662?redirectedFrom=Outgrabe#eid

So, if you thought Jabberwocky was just a lot of nonsense words created to sound amazing, it looks as though Lewis Carroll actually knew his etymology and used it very cleverly indeed. RESPECT!