Category Archives: language

Only Words

Seven Wonders
Khalil Gibran once said that people will never understand one another unless language is reduced to seven words. What would your seven words be?


I am quiet, tell me a story.


Droozing to Work


Play Lexicographer
Create a new word and explain its meaning and etymology.

drooze (drooz) vt. [[OE droocan]] 1 to drive a car on instinct 2 move from point A to point B with no memory of doing so 3 to have little motivation to accomplish any activity 4 to have no effect throughout — n. 1 a weak impulse or urge 2 an unenergetic initiative [Slang] mixture of drugs and booze

Down With Islam, Long Live Islam

Howard Dean told us that Muslim terrorists are not Muslim. That is probably news to them. Instead Dean calls these people a cult.

In this version of doublespeak, pedophile Catholic priests are not Catholic, they are a cult. Yet the world reviles pedophilia in the Catholic church as a horrific part of the whole, in fact, as a powerful representation of this whole.

Too much misrepresentation of the truth today passes for truth. We have lost the ability to use judgement and logic. Our language and thought processes are meant to trick us.

“Arabic activists” call themselves Muslim. Take their word for it. Why try to pigeonhole them into something else?

Call out the crap as you see it.

Ironic on Land and Sea

Oh, The Irony
This week’s challenge explores one of the oldest — and trickiest — literary devices.

She said she loved Wales. I said, I do too!

Mary was my mother’s good friend from childhood and I sometimes drove my mother over to her house for them to visit. Neither of them ever drove a car, and now that they were older, even the public transportation just a few steps from their front doors, could be daunting to them.

So I would come by and sit while they talked. I learned:

  • Old women acquire a license to say anything they want, no matter how outrageous.
  • If you don’t rinse the coffee cups inside and out, you drink coffee that tastes like soap.
  • No amount of dusting will keep 7,000 knickknacks placed about a house dust free.

Yet I got excited about my shared interest with Mary. Whales.

Whales represent America, American literature, natural beauty, grace mixed with strength; mostly due to an influential class on Melville I took in school.

Now Mary kept talking about her passion, I kept talking about mine. A few times she looked at me quizzically. And a few times I thought her comments about whales were odd.

Finally she pulled out a large coffee table book off her coffee table and showed it to me. The title was “England and Wales.” A castle graced the gorgeous book cover.

This was the most ironic conversation of my life. I tried to take another sip of the coffee.

Word Crimes

Rosencrantz: What are you playing at?
Guildenstern: Words, words. They’re all we have to go on.
           Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

She chastised me because I used a word. She told me a person cannot be Oriental, since it is degrading. I was out of the loop, I did not know. The preferred word is Asian, a person can be an Asian.

What’s in a word? It helps us communicate and limits our communication at the same time. It can be artificial, complex and ever-changing. There is heaven and hell in those words. Take pleasure in its playfulness and beauty. Find frustration when communication fails.

In Latin, orient simply means east. That was the origin of the word and the end of it became insulting. Evidently people from Asia don’t call themselves Oriental, and it’s best to call people the name that they prefer. I learned that calling a person Oriental is an antiquated term that calls to mind a time when Western peoples viewed Asians in a subordinate way.

So Asian or Asian-American is preferred. And so is African-American. Say Native-American instead of American Indian. An Indian is actually an Asian. We end up chasing our tails.

This whole idea of hyphenating Americans is a bit odd to me since hyphenation carries its own inherent flaws.

The word America is named after Amerigo Vespucci. An Italian explorer, Amerigo stumbled upon what is now part of Brazil. An early mapmaker decided to name this part of the world America after this Amerigo guy and plunked that label onto his map. Soon other mapmakers started to label the lands north of Brazil as America also. So by chance, the continents were called North and South America.

So where does this leave hyphenated Americans? You give up the words like Oriental and Black in exchange for the name of a dead-white man that poked his nose into an indigenous population beyond his own borders. I don’t see a vast improvement. Other words such as black, white, red, and yellow also fail to accurately describe human beings.

The West creates more word crimes than anyone else. Through a modern political lens, Western civilization has a name, and that name is evil. The word and the land America may find itself in jeopardy.

Native-Americans crossed into the the Americas about 25,000 years ago; relative newcomers to this land since humans first appeared on the planet about 160,000 years ago in East Africa.

In more realistic terms, we are all East Africans that have wandered far across the globe. A politically correct analysis: We torment the rest of the animal and plant kingdoms, and tamper with the climate and the earth’s crust. All of humanity is the real evil in this world view. Paradise was lost when humans entered the scene.

The world and the words in it are not perfect and never will be. Can’t we just relax and enjoy our discourse and disagreements without a call to self-flagellation? Do the best we can, do no purposeful harm, and move on. That’s all we have to go on. Go peacefully.

I Have a Bone to Pick With Language Teachers

Reading is my first love and writing is a second love. I have the wanna-be-a-writer disease even though I let few people read my stuff and receive no paycheck from my painstaking arrangements and rearrangements of those same 26 letters across a page.

So I’m no expert but I beg to differ with many experts that I have run across in the past. The language teachers I have met have given me both good advice along with some advice that I bristle against even to this day. Cases in point:


Almost Always

My high school composition teacher singled me out for both my good writing and bad writing. One time I used the phrase “almost always” in a sentence. I don’t remember the context, but there it was. He wrote the phrase on the board and said that this combination of two words is an impossibility and should never be used. Over the years I heard these two words used constantly in the electronic media and in literature. Sometimes these two words make perfect sense. I almost always use it in my day-to-day life.

Brevity and Clarity

That same high school teacher used “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White as a textbook. One time he asked the class a question, “What is more important, according to Strunk and White, clarity or brevity?” He then called on me to answer this question. I  believed that both writing virtues were important, but since I was given an either/or question I answered “brevity.” He said, “Wrong.” Clarity was more important and that I should have clearly known it.

According to the Introduction of the book, the importance of brevity is mentioned first. Then later on in the Introduction it is noted that,”Strunk loved the clear, the brief, the bold.” And that, “boldness” is perhaps the textbook’s chief feature. But boldness was not in my multiple choice. In my copy of the book: Chapter II, rule 13. Omit needless words; Chapter V, rule 16. Be clear.

I quickly rest my case.

How Goes It

My high school German teacher translated a sentence into English. He said that sentence meant, “How’s it going?” But the literal translation meant, “How goes it?” He proceeded to add that no one would ever say it this way when speaking in English. Over the years since I last set foot in that class, I have heard the phrase, “How goes it?” spoken in English many times. Then I hear Herr W’s voice claiming the impossibility of this utterance and I laugh.

To Boldly Go 

William Shatner has angered a college English professor in the Midwest. Ever since he spoke those words “to boldly go” in the introduction of the television show Star Trek in the 1960’s, people refuse “to go boldly.” To boldly go splits an infinitive. The powerful voice and popularity of Shatner and Star Trek have made her teaching life hell since she tries in vain to correct this error in her student’s writing.

In class we argued that this grammatical rule applied to Latin and not to English. Or this just sounds right even though it may be wrong. She refused to listen to our protests. As for me, I will almost always be ready to boldly go.

And Another Thing

A high school English teacher friend of mine gives poor marks to her students if they start a sentence with a conjunction. Conjunctions can be great transitional words. She didn’t like her students to end sentences with a preposition either. What’s the harm if it makes sense? Like a good cook don’t overuse one spice in your recipes. Let those kids mix it up.


I love the sound of the written word. I’m not talking about the sound of pen on paper, although I like that too. I love the way the written word sounds to the ear. I would rather break rules than offend the ear.

Or maybe I just want those teachers to leave me alone. Too much Pink Floyd coupled with my problem with authority.

So I will write boldly but won’t forget to be clear and brief. Stop me now before that word count climbs any higher.