Friday, May 27, 2016

Movin' On

No, I'm not shutting down my blog. I'm referring to leaving behind one phase of my life, heading to another, as in retirement. I've always been intrigued by words, as you folks know, and now that I'm going to retire, or be retired, in the passive sense, I figured what better time to take a look at that word.

Some folks it may cause fear or panic, others exhilaration. I fit the exhilaration category, as I've been wanting to pursue other interests for a long time, especially my writing, traveling with my wife, and researching our genealogy. but let's take a look at one of my favorite research tools, Roget's Thesaurus.

Here are a few synonyms for 'retire':

Depart, go, pull out, relinquish, remove, retreat, separate, surrender, withdraw, decamp, hand over, and stop working.

As we know, words have meaning, but also each word has its own emotional color. From the above words, I don't see myself as retreating, surrendering, or relinquishing. I definitely will not stop working, as I always want to work at something--it just won't be in my soon-to-be former occupation. I'll depart, pull out, or go, and I will hand over the reins to whosoever wants them; I will not withdraw, but I will separate myself from my former career. Best word of all from the list is decamp, as in it's time to decamp and set up shop elsewhere, doing something completely different.

You'll probably be seeing more of my on my blog, and as always...

Keep writing, friends.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Punctuator...Good Title for a Summer Blockbuster?

Apologies, all, for not posting of late. Wendy and I have been roaming among the fields and halls of our ancestors researching our genealogy. All online, of course, no field work as yet.

Anyway, I'm pulling myself away from my ancient ancestors to heed the call of my writing. And in keeping with traveling to the past, this post is about a present that a good friend of mine gave me a while back.

The device, called a wheel chart, or going further back in history, a volvelle, is a nifty little item for looking up which grammar rule to use for a particular situation. On one side of The Punctuator are punctuation rules for commas, semicolons, colons, and periods. The other side goes more into specifics for italics, hyphens, and abbreviations, for example. It's a highly useful tool, but while using it I had to keep in mind that the English language is not static--rules change.

Let's look at the case of abbreviations. The Punctuator says to "...Use a period after an abbreviation. This period is followed by any mark other than a period needed in the sentence. (Does the customer know the meaning of F.O.B.)

One thing that's changed with time is how we handle abbreviations. Sure, we still use periods in some cases, but not all. When I looked up F.O.B. online, one of the definitions is "Free On Board", without the periods. I'm certain that at one time abbreviations like IBM, CBS, and AWOL all had periods, but with time we lost them. Good or bad, that's how it works now.

I love tinkering with The Punctuator. Most of the advice is spot on, but I have to always remind myself that some rules may no longer be in play. It does, however, demonstrate how our language evolved, which is fascinating.

Always good to know from where and whence we came. Just like wandering around with all our ancient ancestors.

Keep writing, friends.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

I'll Commence to Start at the Beginning

I can start a conversation. I can also start my car. I was lying in bed in that twilight world between sleep and awake when I began thinking about how many different words there might be that mean 'start'.

Turning to the ol' Dino-Thesaurus, at least the online version at, there are 31 synonyms for 'start', including everything from 'alpha' to 'flying start'. That's a heckuva lot of choices for when a character in your books wants to 'open' a business.

Now, here's the interesting thing--one of the synonyms is 'opening', but they don't have 'open'. They do have, however, 'exit', which seems more like an antonym.

Point to consider: not all words are equal. Choose them well. See how they sound, how they feel, when you put them on the page or the computer screen.

More amazing tidbits here:

Adios, so long, see ya.

Keep writing, friends.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Maybe I'll Write a Satirical Romantic Comedy of Epic Proportions

Ever wonder where your writing fits? Well, sure, if you're a writer, you'll think of that occasionally. Some of us obsess about it, become immobilized by the idea. Or we think that because we write in one genre we can't write in others.

I've written about the whole genre thing before, how we like to put things in boxes--this one's science fiction, that one's a western, over here we have steampunk.

Now, most of the time I don't think about it when writing. I just write. But I did a couple of 'net searches a few minutes ago, just to see what genres, sub- and otherwise, exist. Naturally, which site I hit determined which genres I saw. Here's a sampling:

From, we have everything from airport novels (the quick reads for sale at international airports) to something called bildungsroman (deals with the a character's emotional and moral growth--isn't that most stories, though?) to tragicomedies (exactly what it sounds like) to a swashbuckler, which to me is just another type of adventure fiction.

Here's another site that complicates matters further: Now we have personal letters, lesson plans, liner notes, and this is the one where I raised both eyebrows--birth certificate. When did a birth certificate become a genre of literature. Was someone trying for a grant there at Colorado State?

So, I'm just going to write genre-be-damned. I'll let the academics argue about whether it's sword-and-sandals, creative nonfiction, or just plain crap.

For more musings on genre, check this out:

Keep writing, friends.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Eyes and Hands Have It

This post is being formed as my fingers (and hopefully) brain type it.

I was driving in to work this morning, wondering what to write about next, what could help folks out, me included, with writing. Then it hit me like a ball peen hammer in the center of the forehead--movies. But not just any old movies. Lon Chaney movies. And no, not his son, Lon Chaney, Jr.--I'm thinking of The Man of a Thousand Faces, Mr. Phantom of the Opera himself.

We watched a biography about Lon last night, along with a Turner Classic Movies compilation of still shots from the lost (?) film, London After Midnight, and the one thing that kept coming home was the expressiveness of his eyes and hands. Most all of his films were silent, and he was a natural at acting in these films, partly because his parents were hearing-impaired and could not speak, so Lon learned at an early age how to communicate non-verbally.

I sat there, watching how he could express torment or menace or pure joy with his eyes and his hands, and I thought, how perfect. I'll bet that can be adapted to writing. I've ignored that, or rather, neglected it, previously. I've written about the use of white space in our writing, how to use pauses and silence to convey meaning. Now, a new way to express thoughts. Brevity and economy of words.

A man walks into a room. Large room. Several people in there, milling about. His friend sees him and walks over, looks at him. "Hal? You okay, man?"

Hal says nothing, but sweat forms on his forehead as he tries to look calm. He leans against a wall, his fingers running through his hair, his eyes darting about, scanning the room, glancing quickly at the one door into and out of the room.

His friends asks him again, "Hal?"

Hal finally makes eye contact with his friend as though for the first time.

Okay, well, you get the idea. This was a ham-handed first shot, but you see how you could handle a scene with minimum dialogue.

Give it a whirl. And watch some Lon Chaney movies. Study them. The man can scream with his eyes and hands.

For more on white space in writing, check this out:

Keep writing, friends.

Monday, May 9, 2016

They Had that Word Back Then?

They sure did.

Today I thought we'd time-trip to 1916 just to see what words were birthed in that year--words that we think are so modern.

Superbugs--When we say the word 'super' we may first think of Superman or superheroes, but its first use originated with some tough little insects that would laugh at a can of Raid. Yep, all the way back in 1916 we had superbugs. The little rascals were already taking a page from Nietzche: "That which does not destroy me, makes me stronger."

Hush-hush--Wars and spy guys have been around, well, since we've had wars, but the term 'hush-hush' wasn't used until 1916...that we know of. means that, uh, we can't tell you what it means. It's a secret.

Goof--Interesting that this word, meaning "a stupid or foolish person," came out about the same time as 'hush-hush'. Could it be a coincidence? I wonder.

Dysfunction--And going right along with the last two words, we have this psychological word, meaning "impaired or abnormal functioning."

Over the top--This one has a grisly origin, from World War I trench warfare, where soldiers charged over the top of trenches to storm the enemy, with, of course, disastrous results. By 1935, the word's meaning had evolved to simply mean some form of excessive behavior. However, depending on the circumstances, it may still have disastrous results.

I thought this little trip into our wordy past might prove insightful. Sometimes it's good to see where some of our common words originated.

Keep writing, friends.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Who Ya Gonna Call? Clichebusters

Yeah, my blog post title doesn't have the same ring (cliché) as the original version, but it highlights the fact (cliché) that clichés are everywhere. What may or may not be surprising to you is how prevalent they are. So, I thought I'd take another dip into the turbulent waters of the 'net and perhaps surprise myself with just how common they are.

Brief aside: I couldn't figure out how to make the acute accent above the letter e in the word cliché, so I went to Microsoft Word and created it, copied and pasted it in the body of my blog post. Now, I just discovered, when I type the word cliché, Blogger inserts the accent. Hmm...artificial intelligence, anyone? HAL, are you in there? But when I do the spell-check in Blogger, it yellow-flags cliché. Allrighty, then.

First up is a sited called Cliché, at Let's see what we have, shall we? I'll highlight the clichés.

Seems these clichés are all over the map.

Here's an oldie but a goodie--I'd bet the farm I can't make my way through this post without tripping over at least a baker's dozen clichés. Like shooting fish in a barrel.

How to make our work more original, more us? Well, one thing we can do is take those tired old cliches and tweak 'em a little. Play around with the original cliché, then see what words you can substitute. You'll get some clinkers, but, who knows, you might even do a Bill Shakespeare and invent your own phrase that will eventually become a cliché.

Here are my attempts at rewording 'sleep with one eye open'.

Sleep as though awake
Sleep as though your were awake
Sleep with one eye awake

In the meantime, don't take any wooden nickels.

Keep writing, friends.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Beware the Power of the Octorhorpe

No, it's not one of Godzilla's enemies, or a beach monster in a 1950's B-movie. We use it every day, or at least, many of us do, the little critter called an octothorpe. It's the symbol on the keyboard directly above the number three that we make by pressing that key and holding down the Shift key. Also known in the Twitter universe as 'hashtag', it looks like this: #.

This versatile little symbol has had several names over the years, including: the pound sign, number sign, tic-tac-toe, gate, crunch, and square. Its origin is lost in that dim history of printers' marks, but supposedly it goes back at least to 1850. Possibly it derived from the abbreviation for 'pound' (lb), but with a horizontal line midway across the top. I can't begin to type that on here, so I won't even try.

As far as its name, octothorpe, there's even wilder rumors about that name, but it seems the 'octo' root derives from the fact that it has eight points. One of the craziest explanations for the 'thorpe' part says that it came from the last name of Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe. Why? No telling.

Today, many folks call it a 'hashtag' because of the original 'hash' designation and it's used to 'tag' key words in Twitter.

For more information on punctuation, see these posts:

#Keep writing, friends.