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Odd Jobs #5:Deer Urine Farmers to Embalmers

I thought I’d switch gears for the weekend from my daily post challenge, to continue with an odd topic:  Odd jobs.  This batch has some doozies; people actually get paid to eat dog food, or smell a dog’s breath!  And while the deer urine farming sounds intrinsically disgusting, the purpose is even more dubious in my opinion:  To lure bucks to their deaths through hunting with the urine as bait.  Whatever happened to fair play… giving the buck a fighting chance?  I think I’d much rather prefer training dogs to surf, or wrangling ducks or training elephants; or maybe we could even come up with a job that combines all three!  Enjoy perusing the jobs below – just click on the links to learn more about each.

Odd Job - Dog Food Tester, Nancy Rica Schiff

Dog Food Taster – Photo Credit: Nancy Rica Schiff

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Odd Jobs #2: Ant Vendors to Beer Testers

Odd Job - Barbie Doll dress designer, Nancy Rica Schiff

Barbie Doll Dress Desiger.  Image by Nancy Rica Schiff

Here are a few jobs that, only if one stops to think about it really (really) hard, might seem logical.  I guess that if you buy a ball, someone has to have tested it – at least random spot-checking of production lines; but selling ants?  Or making post mortem portraits from cremated ashes?  Or sniffing other people’s armpits (which is easier than sniffing your own, granted…)?  Go figure.  Follow the links to read more about them.

  • Ant Vendor: There are about 12,000 different species of ants in the world, so selling ants might actually be more complicated than you think. If you’ve ever had an ant farm, there was an ant vendor at work behind the scenes.
  • Armpit Sniffer
  • Ash Portrait Artists: Gets creative with the remains of loved ones. Following cremation, some people choose to hire these artists to create a token of remembrance, like a necklace or glass sculpture.
  • Barbecue Editor: Eating at restaurants and writing about it for magazines and newspapers. It may sound like a dream job until you stop to consider the fact that they must eat barbecue several times a day, every day…
  • Backpacking Instructor
  • Bed Tester
  • Ball Tester: Assess basketballs, footballs, volleyballs and soccer balls for air-retention, inflation, roundness, weight and reboundability. This job might also be called a “performance analyst” or “performance evaluation tester”.  If you think about it, someone’s got to test sports balls, tennis rackets for pros, etc.
  • Barbie Dress Designer: Fashion designers at Mattel Toys, the company behind Barbie, create hundreds of new styles for Barbie and her ever-expanding entourage.
  • Beefeater
  • Beer Tester: Taste — and spit out — beer all day to approve new and existing flavours.

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Mark Twain on Switzerland & the Awful Language of German

This past week I’ve been quite busy getting ready for a big change in our lives:  Taking in an exchange (high school) student for nearly a year.  She’s coming from Thailand, and wants to learn German; I’m not sure she knows what she’s getting herself into, as we don’t speak the German she will need to learn for school; we speak Swiss German, which is about as similar to High German as Old English is to modern English.

In preparation, I’ve been doing a bit of spring cleaning too – might as well, right?  My main work room, our library, is also where I keep folders full of stories I’ve saved over the years, and while sifting through them I was reminded of an article about Mark Twain’s observations on the German language.  I found what I was looking for in a Kindle book; it would be astonishing (and perhaps a bit discouraging) to Mark Twain if he could see his entire life’s work reduced to an e-book for less than $ 2.00, but so it is.  I was surprised to find a short description of his time in Switzerland, as part of his Grand Tour no doubt.  And as I mentioned above, the German dialects we speak are not the German Mark Twain describes, so I can laugh along with the rest of you (and I can laugh at the fact that the WordPress spell check is going berserk).  I’ll need to resort to High German for the sake of our exchange student, but it grates on my ears and tongue like sandpaper on the eyeballs.  Mark Twain seems to have had similar sentiments.  I will first share his impression of Switzerland, and then bombard you with his opinion of the German language.  This post is a bit longer than my usual offering, but Twain is well worth it!  So put your feet up, get a cuppa, and enjoy!

On Switzerland

Interlaken, Switzerland, 1891.

“It is a good many years since I was in Switzerland last. … there are only two best ways to travel through Switzerland. The first best is afloat. The second best is by open two-horse carriage. One can come from Lucerne to Interlaken over the Brunig by ladder railroad in an hour or so now, but you can glide smoothly in a carriage in ten, and have two hours for luncheon at noon—for luncheon, not for rest. There is no fatigue connected with the trip. One arrives fresh in spirit and in person in the evening—no fret in his heart, no grime on his face, no grit in his hair, not a cinder in his eye. This is the right condition of mind and body, the right and due preparation for the solemn event which closed the day—stepping with metaphorically uncovered head into the presence of the most impressive mountain mass that the globe can show—the Jungfrau. The stranger’s first feeling, when suddenly confronted by that towering and awful apparition wrapped in its shroud of snow, is breath-taking astonishment. It is as if heaven’s gates had swung open and exposed the throne. It is peaceful here and pleasant at Interlaken. Nothing going on—at least nothing but brilliant life-giving sunshine. There are floods and floods of that. One may properly speak of it as “going on,” for it is full of the suggestion of activity; the light pours down with energy, with visible enthusiasm. This is a good atmosphere to be in, morally as well as physically.

DCF 1.0

Vierwaldstättersee, taken 2006

“After trying the political atmosphere of the neighboring monarchies, it is healing and refreshing to breathe air that has known no taint of slavery for six hundred years, and to come among a people whose political history is great and fine, and worthy to be taught in all schools and studied by all races and peoples. For the struggle here throughout the centuries has not been in the interest of any private family, or any church, but in the interest of the whole body of the nation, and for shelter and protection of all forms of belief. This fact is colossal. If one would realize how colossal it is, and of what dignity and majesty, let him contrast it with the purposes and objects of the Crusades, the siege of York, the War of the Roses, and other historic comedies of that sort and size. Last week I was beating around the Lake of Four Cantons [Vierwaldstättersee], and I saw Rutli and Altorf. Rutli is a remote little patch of meadow, but I do not know how any piece of ground could be holier or better worth crossing oceans and continents to see, since it was there that the great trinity of Switzerland joined hands six centuries ago and swore the oath which set their enslaved and insulted country forever free…”

On the Awful German Language

What he had to say about the German and their language is quite different, however:

“Even German is preferable to death.”

“Surely there is not another language that is so slipshod and systemless, and so slippery and elusive to the grasp. One is washed about in it, hither and thither, in the most helpless way; and when at last he thinks he has captured a rule which offers firm ground to take a rest on amid the general rage and turmoil of the ten parts of speech, he turns over the page and reads, “Let the pupil make careful note of the following EXCEPTIONS.” He runs his eye down and finds that there are more exceptions to the rule than instances of it. So overboard he goes again, to hunt for another Ararat and find another quicksand.”

“German books are easy enough to read when you hold them before the looking-glass or stand on your head—so as to reverse the construction—but I think that to learn to read and understand a German newspaper is a thing which must always remain an impossibility to a foreigner.”

“…in a German newspaper they put their verb away over on the next page; and I have heard that sometimes after stringing along the exciting preliminaries and parentheses for a column or two, they get in a hurry and have to go to press without getting to the verb at all. Of course, then, the reader is left in a very exhausted and ignorant state.”… “It reminds a person of those dentists who secure your instant and breathless interest in a tooth by taking a grip on it with the forceps, and then stand there and drawl through a tedious anecdote before they give the dreaded jerk.”

Mark Twain, Young“Some German words are so long that they have a perspective. Observe these examples:

Freundschaftsbezeigungen.

Dilettantenaufdringlichkeiten.

Stadtverordnetenversammlungen.

These things are not words, they are alphabetical processions. And they are not rare; one can open a German newspaper at any time and see them marching majestically across the page—and if he has any imagination he can see the banners and hear the music, too. They impart a martial thrill to the meekest subject. I take a great interest in these curiosities. Whenever I come across a good one, I stuff it and put it in my museum. In this way I have made quite a valuable collection. When I get duplicates, I exchange with other collectors, and thus increase the variety of my stock. Here are some specimens which I lately bought at an auction sale of the effects of a bankrupt bric-a-brac hunter:

Generalstaatsverordnetenversammlungen.

Alterthumswissenschaften.

Kinderbewahrungsanstalten.

Unabhängigkeitserklärungen.

Wiedererstellungbestrebungen.

Waffenstillstandsunterhandlungen.

Of course when one of these grand mountain ranges goes stretching across the printed page, it adorns and ennobles that literary landscape—but at the same time it is a great distress to the new student, for it blocks up his way; he cannot crawl under it, or climb over it, or tunnel through it. So he resorts to the dictionary for help, but there is no help there. The dictionary must draw the line somewhere—so it leaves this sort of words out. And it is right, because these long things are hardly legitimate words, but are rather combinations of words, and the inventor of them ought to have been killed.”

“My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years. It seems manifest, then, that the latter tongue ought to be trimmed down and repaired. If it is to remain as it is, it ought to be gently and reverently set aside among the dead languages, for only the dead have time to learn it.”

 

Quotes from the Complete Works of Mark Twain (Illustrated). Delphi Classics. Kindle Edition.

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‘Tis the Season

Sometimes despite the best of intentions real life takes over.  I’ve been silent in cyberspace for nearly a fortnight as real-world events took precedence over the virtual world.  I try to post only when I find something interesting to share or to write about, and can take the time to make it worth my time and yours; but we all know those times when our energy and concentration power are required by more pressing events or situations, and so I hope you’ll pardon me for having been silent.

With Christmas approaching, perhaps your thoughts are turning toward the season of giving, of slowing down to spend time with friends and family, and perhaps it’s also a time of contemplation about the past year and the future:  What would you change if you could?  How can you move forward and learn from mistakes or challenges, and take positive steps to see things change for the better in the coming year?  I don’t mean New Year’s Resolutions; those rarely hold for more than a week or two, because they are purely decisions of the head, and if our hearts are not in agreement with those choices, it’s only a matter of time before they fall flat.  If it’s a decision of both head and heart, why wait until the New Year?  The old adage holds true:  “We cannot be guided unless we are moving.”  The greatest journey begins with the first step, followed by the next, and the next… eventually we’ll arrive at our goal, but only if we step out first.

I recently watched a TED talk by Brother David Steindl-Rast, of the Gratefulness movement; for him one of the keys to finding moments of gratefulness in everyday life is to “Stop. Look. Go.”:  To pause in our hectic lives and take a moment to smell the roses; to open our senses to the world around us and become grateful for the things we take for granted, such as clean, flowing water on tap (even cold and hot), or for the roof over our heads.  The more we look around, the more we’ll find to be grateful for.  The “Go” part of that equation is to act on that gratefulness – passing it on to those around us.  Positivity and smiles are contagious, and they are magnets that draw people; negativity and scowls are also contagious, but they will repel and isolate us.  We all have times of trials, difficulties and challenges; how we choose to face them decides whether they master us, or serve us.  One example from my own life was this past summer, described in the article, “I got Staffa’d“; I chose to be grateful in the midst of it, and it made it much easier to master it.

Whatever you’ve got planned over the coming weeks, I’d encourage you to take a moment to stop, look and then go; become aware of things in your life to be grateful for, look around and see how you can bless others, and move forward with a fresh awareness of the beauty of life.

Ps.  If you’d like some ideas for advent calendar- and stocking-stuffers, click here.Gratitude

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Novel Writing Pyramid

Novel Pyramid

When writing or drafting a new story, sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the forest due to the trees – in the myriad of ideas that flash up in a brainstorm.  The pyramid above helps remind me of the emphasis each area needs in the overall structure:

If a story is too complex, you’ll lose or confuse your readers; but if it’s too simple, it becomes predictable and therefore no challenge to the mind of the adventurer who’s picked up your book to get lost in another world.  Most of the best stories are, at their heart, quite simple – “boy meets girl”, or “person achieves goal”.

If you don’t know what your settings and themes are, how can you effectively work toward the final outcome?  If you don’t know who your character is, and what your basic plot (goal and how it’s achieved) is, how can you guide the reader through dialogue or prose toward the desired conclusion?  Diction is important because it is central to creating the voice of each character, and sticking to genre-specific vocabulary and expressions (i.e. no proverbial airplanes through the scenes of a historical novel).  As Mark Twain once wrote,

“The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

And if you have the top four slices of the pyramid in place, but don’t have proper foundations – in other words, know your grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax (sentence structures, tense usage, etc.) then no matter how brilliant your plot might be, or your character development, if readers can’t get past your bad diction and grammar, you’ve lost them as present and future readers!

I’d like to encourage you to know your weaknesses, and develop them into strengths!  If grammar or spelling is a weakness, work on it – invest time into reviewing the rules – Wikipedia is an excellent source for articles on how to use punctuation, etc.  Buy a good grammar book, or even a grammar practice book with an answer key at the back (The “English Grammar in Use” series is one I used for years with EFLA students).  If plot or character development is a weakness, then make a list of questions for each, and take the time to think about and answer them.

Good writing is about quality; it’s about solid foundations and constant development, the honing of your skills; it’s about research, thinking outside the box, and being able to convey in words the images born in your mind.  Just as sharpening a pencil makes it easier to write, so does sharpening your mind and skills.

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Creative Writing over Christmas Holidays

I don’t know about the rest of you, but Christmas has snuck up on me this year!  Between publishing two books in November and all of the work involved in that process and the aftermath (promotion, etc.), I came up for breath last weekend, as I wrote about last week.  I took a short break, and now I’m beginning work on the next project (diving into research and scene layout).  But with Christmas coming up, it’s time to shift down a gear or two, and enjoy the season.  If you are a writer like me, writing can be addictive; it’s a good habit to write something every day.  But who says it needs to be a book manuscript, or whatever your next project or usual format is?  If you write poetry, try your hand at calligrams; if you write short stories, try writing an ambigram.  If you write constantly, take a break and read a book that has absolutely nothing to do with research or preparation for your next project!

Here are a few different styles to choose from, just to shake things up a bit:

  • Flash fiction (300-1,000 – word stories)

    One of my first calligrams; not very neat, but cathartic!

    One of my first calligrams; not very neat, but cathartic!

  • Short stories (fiction or nonfiction – limit yourself, e.g. to one page)
  • Nonfiction
  • Anecdotes
  • Jokes
  • Profiles
  • Travel writing
  • Children’s books
  • Screen writing
  • Play writing
  • Poetry
  • Freelance
  • Novel
  • Novella
  • Memoir
  • Autobiography
  • Biography
  • Song writing (lyrics, if you can’t write/read music)
  • Calligram (do a Google Image search to see examples)
  • Asemic writing
  • Book report
  • Fan fiction
  • Letter
  • Journal
  • Dialogue
  • Creative doodles (with or without words)
  • Cartoon strips
  • Ambigram
  • Micography (Microcalligraphy)
  • Concrete poetry (or any number of poetry styles – check out a small list here)
  • Haiku

 

 

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Ye Olde Spelling Laziness

runesymbols

Have you ever wondered about the old-fashioned “ye” in shop signs?  It was a lazy printer’s solution to saving space for “th”, and should be pronounced as “the”, not “yee”!  The Old English character “y” was a graphic alteration of the Germanic rune “Þ” (which came over with the Viking raiders and the Norman King Canute and his rabble, but that’s another story).  When English printing typefaces couldn’t supply the right kind of “P” they substituted the “Y” (close enough, right?).  That practice continued into the 18th century, when it dropped out of use.  By the 19th century it was revived as a deliberate antiquarianism – to give a shop a pedigree, so to speak (read “marketing scam”), and soon came to be mocked because of it.  And now we think of it as the quaint way they used to write…

For a short, fun video on the topic, click on Ye Olde Web link, below.

ye-olde-web-link

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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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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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Obscurities: 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.

Obscure 2

 

 

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