Euphemisms

Euphemism 1Language is a fluid concept, constantly changing, adapting, creating, compensating and inventing itself.  Euphemisms are a prime example of that fluctuation and adaptation; successive generations come to know only the euphemism which in turn ceases to be one by that very definition, and which means that new ones will be invented to skirt the issue once again. For instance, there are hundreds of words for smell or stink, yet only a handful of satisfactory synonyms for words like fragrance, simply because hiding the ugly requires far more creativity than hiding the lovely.  For that reason alone, writers who fall back on expletives like the highly offensive F-word (a euphemism for, well, you know) are simply lazy in my book; they’re missing a great opportunity for creativity!  Interestingly, that word’s meaning has never shifted over time – it’s been in the English language since before the fifteenth century, and even then it was only written in cipher because it was too offensive to record in ink.  In my opinion it still is, and one should consider very carefully before offending unknown numbers of readers from continuing to read your book or blog; more than once have I ended reading a book when they used the word several times in the course of the first few chapters, because honestly it says something about the extent of their language abilities and their spectrum (or lack thereof) of creativity.

As a society’s norms shift, so do the euphemisms that they use to communicate.  In the Renaissance, corpulent women were considered the height of beauty; curvy, curvaceous, and shapely were instances of positive euphemisms; today they might be used by some idiot in the media to insult a Hollywood starlet who (by any other standard would be considered normal if not a little thin) gained a pound or two. Now idiot might be too strong a word; I could say brain cell-deficient, or someone who has delusions of adequacy.  I would like to point out the obvious here:  If you’re going to insult someone, at least spell it right… more often than not, you see people calling someone “dumn” or “dumm”, which smacks of the pot calling the kettle black…

For an extensive list of euphemisms, please click on the image.  That website also has lists of anagrams, clichés, metaphors, oxymorons, palindrome and pleonasms, so it’s worth bookmarking for writers!

For an interesting TED Talk (13:00) on the topic of euphemisms, please click here.

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26 Things to Do This Weekend!

Trinity:

If you’re like me, writing can be addicting; I’m in the final phase of two book manuscripts, and when I’m on a roll I can write 10+ hours in a day. When I have such long work days, it’s important to change gears, change pace, and get away from my desk. Here’s a great list of ideas to shake things up! I’ve done quite a few things on this list already (albeit not in the same weekend!), so I can testify to the fact that they refresh tired brains, eyes and hands; they can give a burst of creative energy the next time I sit down to work. Whatever you do in life, remember to take some time out once in a while; God told us to take one day a week to rest, because I think he understands our tendencies toward burnout, workaholism and burning the candle at both ends…

Originally posted on Stephen Halpin Life Coach:

weekend 3
Welcome to another Friday. If you are one of those people who has every minute of your weekend planned then this post isn’t for you. However, if you get half way through your weekend and think “I should really do something this weekend.” This post if for you. Part of living a full life is taking the time to engage yourself in new and exciting things. Enjoy these 26 things to do this weekend.
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Attend a life theater performance.
BikingBeach weather will be gone before you know it. Head to the beach.
Clean out your garage, closet or desk.
Dine at a restaurant you have never tried before.
Entertain a family you have been meaning to get to know better.
Farmers Markets are great places to get fresh vegetables and plants.
Gym is usually empty on weekends. Have a great extra workout.
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Vague Exactitude

Grammer Flunkies 5Recently I asked my Facebook connections if they could help me with a Latin phrase; the phrase has to do with the computation of days in the Julian calendar (calends, ides, nones, etc.).  Here is my exact post:

“Calling all Romance Language speakers (French, Italian, Spanish, etc.): Does the following phrase (any of its words) render something similar in your language, and if so, what do those words mean? The phrase is in Latin, “Principium mensis cujusque vocato kalendas” I understand the first and last words, but am curious about the three middle words… Thanks for any help.”

Quite a discussion ensued; but I still don’t know if there is an etymological equivalent or relative to “cujusque.”  One person suggested the connection of mensis (month) with the medical term – which I should have thought of as the German slang term is “Mens” for women’s monthly cycle.  But all other entries tried to help me with the first and last word, and I spent more time explaining my request than I saved by asking in the first place.

This is a trend I’ve noticed on the rise on Facebook in particular, but I am aware that it’s also happening across Cyberland; too often people skim over a text and assume they’ve understood it well enough to make an informed contribution to a discussion.  It’s harmless when it only has to do with topics of grammar and language; but when it also enters the formation process of people’s opinions in the political or social arenas, society beware.  I usually ignore such discussions with a healthy dose of eye-rolling; but sometimes I have to intervene in the propagation of half-baked ignorance, or I won’t be able to sleep at night.

The illustration is a perfect example of this vague exactitude; people took the time to reply, but they did not take the time to properly read, to inform themselves of the actual task at hand.  I have only two words to add:  STOP IT!

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On Letting Characters Loose

Mark Twain 3“If you invent two or three people and turn them loose in your manuscript, something is bound to happen to them – you can’t help it; and then it will take you the rest of the book to get them out of the natural consequences of that occurrence, and so first thing you know, there’s your book all finished up and never cost you an idea.”            Mark Twain

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The Art of Listening

ListeningAs a writer I’m constantly on the lookout for ways to improve any of my skills, be they technical, linguistic, goal-oriented (such as the skills it takes to publish a book), or basic.  Listening falls into the latter category; it’s something all of us do, yet all of us can improve on.  I don’t think I need to mention the fact that we are a generation on information overload; media screams at us to get our attention, whether through the use of power-punching, gut-wrenching headlines, or power-words written in ALL CAPS! with the appropriate punctuation, or flashing ads that give us no peace until we either turn them off or leave the website they’ve invaded.  Adds flash at us constantly whether on TV, in shops, on the internet, or driving down the motorway.  Eventually we become numb and stop listening.  We put in our ear-buds, turn on a song of our choice and try to tune out the rest of the world, at least for a moment.

By improving listening, I am not implying that we toss out our MP3 players and force ourselves to listen to everything in case we miss something important.  We must all use discretion about where our “focus energy” goes.  But by improving our listening, we can begin to hear the quieter, more subtle elements; we can focus our ears and minds to perceive things that might be more worthwhile than the noise that vies for our attention.  Conscious listening creates understanding.

I recently listened to a TED talk by Julian Treasure on five exercises to improve listening; I share them with you here; click on the image above if you’d like to watch the talk yourself:

1)  Silence:  For at least three minutes a day, try to find a place of complete silence (if not possible, at least aim for very quiet).  It helps to recalibrate your ears, so that you can actually hear the quieter things once again.

2) Mixer:  In a noisy environment, whether a café or sitting by a stream, practice focusing your ears on one sound, then another;  It will improve the quality of your listening.  I use this technique with singing students; before they begin rehearsing with a song we will analyse and dissect it instrument by instrument, verse by verse, vocal by vocal.  The more they become aware of this process, the better they will understand how their vocals fit into the bigger picture as both a wind- and stringed instrument.

3)  Savouring:  There’s a “hidden choir” all around you; focusing on such mundane sounds as the dish washer or the coffee machine can reveal rhythms and build an appreciation of the simpler things in life.  Sound technicians for films use this as their greatest tool; because they’ve trained themselves in this area, they know they can combine the squishing of an orange, the grating of a cinder block across a corrugated iron sheet and the distortion of their vacuum cleaner’s sound to come up with a monster ala the Balrog of Lord of the Rings, or scraping keys along a piano wire to land Dr. Who’s TARDIS.

4)  Listening Positions:  This is the idea that you can shift your position (“level” of listening) according to what you’re listening to:  active/passive, reductive/expansive, critical/empathetic.  These adjust certain filters that we all have, such as culture, language, values, beliefs, attitudes, expectations and intentions, which increasingly focus our listening from all “sounds” down to things we specifically listen to.

5) RASA:  An acronym for Receive (i.e. paying attention to the person), Appreciate (giving verbal feedback such as small sounds of agreement or interest), Summarize (feedback of what you’ve understood), and Ask (ask questions afterward).  Practicing RASA will improve not only how we listen, but our retention of information.

Listening is one of our five senses, and one that’s worth exploring in writing; when a reader can become absorbed in the sensations of a scene – hearing, smelling, seeing, feeling and tasting the environment through well-chosen words – they will be invested in the story, and care about what happens next.

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Toe the Line vs. Tow the Line

Toe the LineRecently I used the title’s idiom, and to be honest I don’t know if I’d ever used it before in writing; I’ve heard it said onk-times, but never had much use for it so far in written form.  Then came the question, is it “toe” or “tow”?  Actually the original phrase is nautical; but that could still be either spelling.  I did a bit of research, in both etymology dictionaries and a book of naval slang, online and in my library.  The consensus, I present here.

“Toe the line,”  according to Naval History & Heritage, comes from the practice of waterproofing between deck boards with a layer of oakum, pitch and tar, thus creating a striped deck; when the crew was ordered to fall in at quarters they would line up at their designated area of the deck, toes to the line to ensure a neat line for inspection.  Toeing the line was also used as a form of punishment for lighter misdemeanours aboard a ship, such as younger crew members talking at the wrong time; they were made to stand at the line for a specified amount of time to remind them to behave.  A logical leap later and we have our idiom, because the young lads were warned to “toe the line” – they were to mentally toe the line to avoid getting in trouble.

Tow the LineHowever, “Tow the line” could be seen as a malapropism, a mondegreen, or an eggcorn.  A malapropism (also called Dogberryism) is the substitution of an inappropriate word or expression in place of the correct and similarly-sounding word.  Example:  “Officer Dogberry said, “Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons” (apprehended two suspicious persons).  A mondegreen is an error arising from  understanding a spoken word or song text incorrectly.  Example:  “The ants are my friends, blowin’ in the wind” (the answer my friends) – Bob Dylan.  An eggcorn is an idiosyncratic (but semantically motivated) substitution of a word or phrase for a word or phrase that sound identical, or nearly so, at least in the dialect the speaker uses.  Example:  “for all intensive purposes” instead of “for all intents and purposes”.  Depending on your view of things, “tow the line could fall into any of those categories.  But it has so often been misused that it has begun to develop its own connotation independent of the original idiom:  While “toe the line” indicates a passive agreement or adherence to a particular regulation or ideology, “tow the line” implies more of an active participation in the enforcement or propagation of that “line” whether political, social, or business policy, as towing an object is not passive, but participative.

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Obscure Word of the Week: Darkling

The use of Darkling over time.  Source:  Google

The use of Darkling over time. Source: Google

Darkling comes from Middle English derkelyng, and the verb darkle is a back formation thereof.  As a noun it means either darkness or a (fantasy) creature that lives in the dark.  It can also appear as an adjective meaning dark or darkening, or something that is obscure, unseen, or happening in the cover of darkness.  As an adverb it means in the dark or obscurity.

There is a Darkling Beetle, and a poem by Thomas Hardy called The Darkling Thrush, though the more usual use of the word is to be found in Science Fiction, e.g. in Star Trek Voyager, Marvel Comics, and a wide range of fantasy characters on the dark side of the fence.

According to the Urban Dictionary, you are a darkling if you are more sarcastic than charming, or if you are a geek, but a cool one.  Another application might be a portmanteau word from dark and darling.

 

 

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