|Susan speaks . . .
poeticizing words worth enjoying!
|Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah
Blahg . . .
August 21, 2014
Waiting for an Afflatus
This immediately created a problem: what on earth do I say? What do I write about?
Shouldn’t the impulse that drove me create this new page also provide the content?
A sudden impulse. During my childhood, I frequently heard (in church settings) of people having been “called by God.” Visiting missionaries almost always testified that they were in their line of work in
response to a definite “call from God" – likewise, guest ministers and people testifying about some miraculous change of life.
I always wondered at the expression – at the sheer mystery of it. What did this call sound like? What did it feel like? Were my own faith and spirituality somehow lacking and substandard, in that I was never
privy to such a call? As I grew older and (even more) cynical, I put the whole concept of a summons from God (other than in the Tennysonian sense) somewhere on a continuum from self deception to
Inspiration? Now, that is something entirely different. A sudden impulse. A crazy idea. A brainstorm. Divine? Who can really tell? Is it the work of God, or one of the Muses, or is it simply indigestion?
Peter Bowler in, The Superior Person’s Book of Words, has an entry for a word describing such a scenario. He writes,
While dining with your beloved, you might suddenly put down your knife and fork, gasp, stroke your forehead with your hand, lean forward tensely, and say, in unconcealed agitation: “Jennifer, I think I’ve just had an afflatus!
Now, that kind of call I can relate to. And I was inspired to write the verse to the below.
Please don’t blame God, though.
September 22, 2014
The Story of O
more regular in updating this page.
So, when I proceeded to do just that, I had to select a new word to feature. That’s not easy, since there are close to five hundred verses in my “inventory.” However, that choice was narrowed dramatically
simply by my predilection for orderliness.
Order. One would never guess from the condition of my desk and its surrounding area that this is a priority for me. It’s more obvious from the title (and resulting organization) of my book, WORDS’
WORTH’S Vocabulary Verse A to Z and Back Again, that a simple way of selecting words is to let the alphabet assist.
The same is true for my featured word selection. Since I began that process alphabetically, I was able to pick – not from five hundred choices – but from thirteen. I had just posted an “n” word. Now it’s time
for “o.” Hence, "The Story of 'O'” and my search for an “o” word.
Yes, in spite of my cluttered workspace, my approach to certain matters can frequently be described as abecedarian.
(Having to do with the alphabet. Being arranged alphabetically. Elementary or rudimentary.)
William Blake wrote,"And here he lays his words in order above the mortal brain." I, too, lay my words in order. Sometimes.
I found an amusing quote from a newspaper search some time ago:
Ertner, … could DooLittle more than share some undoctored wan liners from his award-winning routine of 26 abecedarian animal puns. “Some may say it’s a harebrained attempt, but, iguana tell you, I’m no jackass – and I kid you
not,” quietly recites Ertner, … . “I’m not doing this for a lark (although maybe just a mite). So don’t nag me. In fact, you otter try to parrot me. But don’t quail from the challenge …”
The Boston Globe, “New Paean to Punny Guy,” May 26, 2002 (by Ron Fletcher).
Relax. I’ll not try to add to the puns. But the emphasis on animals, plus the fact that abecedarian rhymes with … Well, it resulted in this verse.
Care for their sick in an ordered design:
Aardvark, bird, caribou,
Dog, goose, horse, kangaroo,
Leopard, lynx, marabou, owl, porcupine.
|Date: December 23, 2014
The Story of Ose
It's not entirely my fault, though. Here's why:
After writing "The Story of O" for September, I had an idea for this very entry.
For many years I subscribed to the quarterly publication Word Ways. (Subtitled "The Journal of Recreational Linguistics.")
In the intervening years, due to moves back and forth across the country, my subscription lapsed, and my back issues got lost in the shuffle. I am once more a subscriber.
After my last (September) entry, my idea was to do an entry that included a reference to a piece that was in an old issue of Word Ways. (I'm fairly sure it was the April, 1997 issue.) In the process of resuming a
subscription, I tried valiantly to procure a copy of that issue. I must be an extremely poor communicator. I simply couldn't seem to make my wishes clear enough, and now three months later, I still cannot
make the quotes I had hoped to lift from "The Story of Ose." All I can say with any confidence is that it had inspired me to write the following verse, which its (then) editor, Ross Eckler, included in the
subsequent issue. So, you see, I've spent three months hoping that the Farrells (who now edit the magazine) might supply me with a copy. I've given up. But, here's the verse that "The Story of Ose"
Have you met Rose, the adipose?
Predisposed to cellulose?
Well, Rose just chose to say adios
To sucrose, glucose, and dextrose;
Fries, cakes, gravy – toutes les choses
(Et tous non-nons)
Responsible for outgrown clothes.
Now she'll be eating Cheerios,
With just a dose of skim lactose --
(I suppose). SAJones 1999
|May 18, 2015
Nash. I have a great appreciation for his verse and his humor, and am always flattered when people tell me that my verses remind them of Nash. In the foreword (by Dana Gioia) I was pleasantly surprised
by finding the following Nashian example:
Were it not for making a living, which
is rather a nouciance.
It was a pleasant surprise, since it showed me that we - Ogden and I - have sometimes latched on to the same words to highlight - to be amused by. In this case, the word - the tie that binds - is insouciance.
And its "rhyme." Here's a vocabulary verse I had written way back in 1999:
(Lightheartedness. Blithe nonchalance.)
Bad luck never daunts those bright insouciants.
All of life is just par excellence.
May nothing be a "nouciance" for you. Wishing you a generous dose of insouciance - lightheartedness, and nonchalance. May your life be carefree, easygoing, happy-go-lucky, buoyant, untroubled,
whimsical, and capricious.
|October 6, 2015
concentration, due to his belabored English pronunciation. However, it was a labor richly rewarded.
I couldn't help but notice, though, his repeated reference to talking. To communication. In fact, I counted. He used the word dialogue twelve times in the course of his speech!
Perhaps his writing/translating team could have looked up a few synonyms, if only for the sake of variety. So, for their use in future trips to English-speaking countries, I offer them this verse, and it doesn't
use the word "dialogue" even once:
To chatter, converse, chew the rag, or prate;
Commune, interface, have a tete-a-tete;
Palaver, engage in small talk. ... But wait -
There's more! Shoot the breeze, rap, chin, captivate;
Talk pleasantries, verbalize, and relate;
To pow-wow, to chit-chat, to promulgate
The news of the day, and get up to date;
Recount, and riposte, and communicate.
And ere I digress (i.e. divagate)
Just let me emphatically iterate:
The foregoing sums up confabulate. SAJones 1999
|December 10, 2015
bind up words in double meanings, and then try to untie them.
It’s in the untying – of the knots themselves – that our phrase takes its meaning and owes its existence.
What is a Gordian knot?
It is a matter of extreme difficulty; a complicated, convoluted intricate, twisted problem. Historically defined:
Resembling in intricacy or insolubility the mythical knot tied by Gordius, the king of Phrygia. It was cut, rather than untied, by Alexander the Great after an oracle declared that whoever undid it would
become ruler of Asia.
To cut the Gordian knot means to act quickly and decisively, usually by bypassing the obvious or normal means of solution; to solve a problem boldly.
So how do we deal with a Gordian knot? I found a quote from the August 3, 2006 Financial Advisor expressing such puzzlement over the dilemma:
Lift the victory-flashing sword,
And cut the snaky knots of this foul gordian word.
First, find that flashing sword. Then, just take if from my alter-ego, Words’Worth:
|April 12, 2016
A Word on (and for) Aging
water responds with a delicate, indefinable turquoise.
Perhaps a motorboat or a sailboat will be visible off in the distance. Or a workboat. Or, in the very best of scenarios, the skipjack Rebecca Ruark will sail by.
It’s a beautiful time. It’s a special time. It’s a magical time. Somewhere between daylight and evening.
Perhaps it’s all the more meaningful and precious to me because it relates to my own stage of life – somewhere between daylight and evening. It’s a special and magical time of life, too: no longer young, but
not yet old, either.
It’s a time when the successes and failures, the fulfillments and disappointments, the joys and sorrows of the past merge and resolve. It’s a time when I can come to accept what my life has and has not been;
when I can relax and take in the beauty of the departing day, and come to peace with myself. Best of all, it’s a time when I am able to see both a certain melancholy and humor in my life, in myself, in my
condition. And I can still look forward to what I hope will be a beautiful sunset.
Ivan Turgenev, in Fathers and Sons, called this time of life crepuscular. Crepuscular, meaning dimming and indistinct and resembling twilight. He wrote of
the time of regrets that resemble hopes,
of hopes that resemble regrets,
when youth has passed,
but old age has not yet arrived.
Still, though, I’m ready to accept an inevitable slowing of pace, a certain decline of the body and the senses with grace and especially with humor. Here’s how I’d describe it in verse:
I’m in my crepuscular years;
An indistinct time,
Just a mite past my prime,
And words fall on weakening ears.
|September 22, 2016
May I Take Your Order?
since I’ve “blahged.” Hence, this (with the help of Facebook) sharing.
The posting I saw had been copied from what I believe is Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquency and is from the chapter on hyperbaton, or the use, especially for emphasis, of a word order other than the
expected or usual one. Mr. Forsyth writes:
“Adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order:
opinion – size – age - shape – colour – origin – material - purpose NOUN.
So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac. It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost
none of us could write it out. And as size comes before colour, green great dragons can’t exist.”
I guess polka-dot, yellow, teeny-weeny bikinis can’t exist, either. You cannot have a green, great dragon? Or can you? Now, I’m going to be looking for exceptions to the rule. The rule that we know without
either knowing it, or being able to write it out.
Btw, The Cambridge Dictionary lists a slightly different order: opinion- size-physical quality- shape-age -colour - origin – material- type - purpose.
So – don’t forget to order my wonderfully amusing, little, rectangular, colorful, newly-published, paperback, vocabulary-verse book.
Grouped together, these modifiers give
notion, size, age, shape, and hue,
origin, make-up, and use. BUT, you
must make them line up just so.
(A fact you instinctively know!) SAJones 9/2016
There's a Norwegian saying,
"The word that lies nearest the heart comes first in the mouth."
That, plus being re-introduced to the "old lady who swallowed a fly" (and a spider etc.) - I've been substitute teaching in the local school district - combined to "inspire" this verse:
in the red baseball cap . . . ,
out of whose yap spews spurious crap,
|Are you getting ye olde Christmas
Christmas is coming. The geese are getting fat.
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat.
(Nineteenth century British carol)
I’ve saved some pennies, shared a few – helped fill deserving hats;
but times and habits change. Mine have for sure, and that’s
why I’m not likely to be found downtown or at the mall.
I’m home, curled up with catalogs. Rejoicing. Tra L’
a La. With fireplace going, glass of wine. Again, this year,
I’ll shop online, enjoying comfy Christmas cheer.
The shopping malls are begging for our bustle and our dough;
while I’m at home, and spending snugly. Ho Ho Ho!
I’m feeling somewhat smug and sassy, pinguid (that means fat),
complacent in my comfort; justified in knowing that
I’m not alone. The stores, alas, are being overlooked.
Those brick-and-mortar merchants – well, their geese are getting cooked.
|pinguid, (pin’ gwid), adj.
Fat. Fatty, oily, greasy, rich.
Related to ye olde word for this Christmas:
pinguefy, verb (pin’ gwǝ fī)
Archaic. To fatten; to make or become greasy, fat, or
Fatty, greasy. That’s what geese are – compared, say,
to the more currently traditional turkey.
Thus, many chefs recommend slightly different ways of
I’ve spared you the rhymed recipe.
But, even when these geese are cooked – roasted – it’s
not (except for the geese!) like the more idiomatic
expression of cooking someone’s goose, or of having
one’s goose cooked, which as we all know too well,
Upset, finished, ruined.
(Like many brick-and-mortar merchants!)
No philosophical musings today.
Simply an acknowledgment of this being Sammy's birthday.
Sammy is our rescue dog, our adopted "holy terrier."
(OR, is he an "avant-guard" dog?)
We have had him eight of his eleven years, and we continually
remind ourselves how fortunate we are to have him - and, of
course, we have to keep telling him how lucky he, in turn, is to
|April 27, 2017
At the Peak of my Pique
Earlier this month, on the 5th of April, to be exact, I saw the following sentence on the front page of
Easton’s Star Democrat:
(Italics and underline mine!)
The schoolmarm-verbivore in me just could not let it pass. I created a new verse. Then, the
next day, I sent it and the following to the paper’s executive editor, John Griep:
have made a “peak-a-boo-boo.”
Yes, interests can reach a peak,
Or lessen, and grow dim and weak.
But . . . the verb that means to rouse, excite,
and whet one’s mental appetite,
And curiosity . . . is pique.
(Hope you’ll pardon my critique.) SAJones 4/2017
Pique is one of those words that – if not exactly a contranym (a word
that within itself has opposite meanings, such as sanction or cleave) –
has very widely differing meanings.
Of course, as the verse to the left states, it means to arouse or stimulate,
especially the curiosity. But the verb can also mean to trigger feelings of
wounded vanity, and the related noun means those resulting feelings of
resentment (e.g. a fit of pique).
I hope that Mr. Silverstein was not piqued by the solecism you
attributed to him.
(Guess whether I received a reply!)
MEME WHAT YOU SAY. SAY WHAT YOU MEME
Have you ever stopped to wonder how a word can just seem to appear in your life? Suddenly, you see it
everywhere, and everyone (except you) appears to use it and know its meaning, while you’re still wondering
where it came from and what exactly it means.
One such word has been annoying me much of this past year. The word is “meme.” How could it have crept up
on me? Am I the only one who cannot define “meme”?
A little looking reveals that the word has been around for just over forty years. It was coined in 1976 by a British
scientist, Richard Dawkins, who was looking to find a word that, as he put it, meant “a unit of cultural
transmission.” He first considered the word mimeme, from a Greek root, but he wanted a monosyllable that
“sounded a bit like ‘gene’” He came up with meme.
It was Mike Godwin (of Godwin’s Law and Internet Meme “fame”) who first applied the word to Internet
A simple definition might be an image macro.
But, then maybe we don't even know what a macro is!
Or, how about a billboard, writ small . . . (and put online).
Consider this definition from dictionary.com:
a cultural item that is transmitted by repetition and replication in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes.
Do I hear a “Huuhh?”
In their defense, however, they do give a slightly more user-friendly description:
a cultural item in the form of an image, video, phrase, etc., that is spread via the Internet and then altered in a creative or
Way back in the seventeenth century, the poet John Dryden wrote, “Words are but pictures of our thoughts.”
Had he been able to experience memes, he might have said, “Pictures are but pictures of our thoughts.” Here’s
how I (finally!) – and in verse (of course!) – define “meme.”
It’s an insight, a slogan, a fact,
a reflection – white print upon black(?) –
and it sums up the meme-ing of life.
Someone’s brainstorm – most likely all caps.
Clear. Succinct. (Facebook posting, perhaps?) -
clarifying the meme-ing of life.
Photos, ‘toons – quotes superimposed.
Timely. Funny, maybe, and supposed
to interpret the meme-ing of life.
Then, the video clips – short, wry, cute,
entertaining, instructive to boot,
shedding light on the meme-ing of life.
It’s the web’s basic unit for sharing
your gems – a device for declaring
your thoughts on the meme-ing of life.
I’m bombarded with memes. (They’re in style!)
And the tacit assumption is . . . I’ll
say, “Amen.” And share. Not on your life!
To "An" - or Not to "An"
Bulldog tenacity prompts this screed – an unwavering adherence to
what is “right” – right, according to my unbending prescriptivist sense of
grammar and usage. I still try to put on the “descriptivist” label, but
frequently it just doesn’t fit. So . . .
What am I fuming about?
Something that is more than a usage pet peeve, or a bête noir, or even
abomination, and something that might seem petty and trivial to most. In
the larger scheme of things, it certainly does rank low in importance.
To me, however, it is an anathema.
Yes – it is an anathema that so many writers use this lovely noun
(meaning a detested thing or person) without an article.
Anathema is a noun, folks. Some descriptivist apologists mealy-mouth
that it is an “uncountable” noun and/or is used as a predicate nominative
(what my generation was taught to call a predicate noun). They posit that
it can therefore be used without a determiner – (that’s spelled “article!”). I
maintain that it still requires an article – (“determiner”). Predicate nouns
(nominatives) still need an article.
Do we say, “Mary is nurse,” or “Mary is acrobat”? No. And
“uncountable” nouns, too, are not necessarily exempt. I don’t
recommend saying, “Mary is pleasure to be with.” Certain nouns that are
qualities would be spared from requiring the article: “Mary is sweetness
itself.” However, anathema is not a quality. By definition, it is a thing or
person. Use the article. Use an.
It seems, though, that I’m fighting a losing battle.
In fact – let’s face it – I’ve lost!
When I search OneLook.com, I bring up 42 general and specialized
dictionaries that list anathema.
Out of the first twelve I checked, all of them classify it as a noun.
Yet, only two give examples using the indefinite article. An anathema!
A search for recent articles in the Washington Post similarly brings up
example after example of writers omitting the “an.” Of the first
twenty usages, only two were “right.” Thank you, thank you, Jennifer
Rubin, for being a beacon of correctness.
One of the most inane excuses for the omission of “an” that I found
came from one website inviting anyone/everyone to chime in on the
issue. This opinion: “An anathema” makes one sound as if one is
stuttering so one should avoid it all costs.”
By that argument, one should also avoid speaking of an
anachronism, an anaconda, an analogy, an anthology, an Anabaptist,
an anesthetist, lest one be taken for a stutterer. Perhaps this person
wants to be anarchist when (s)he grows up.
The point is that today’s writers are using the word anathema as an
adjective and not as a noun.
Why don’t we just call it an adjective and have done with it?
I realize that I’m outnumbered
by writers/speakers unencumbered
(as I am) by grammar's laws.
Please say, “It’s an anathema,”
and spare the righteous wrath of moi.
You’ll win, instead, prescriptivist applause.
I am lustration, and the sea is mine!
I wash the sands and headlands with my tide
My brow is crowned with branches of the pine;
Before my chariot-wheels the fishes glide.
By me all things unclean are purified,
By me the souls of men washed white again;
E’en the unlovely tombs of those who died
Without a dirge, I cleanse from every stain.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882),
“The Poet’s Corner”
Bah, Bah, Blahg?
Not long ago, I overheard a conversation between two fellow writers. Both bloggers.
They were agreeing with each other in extolling their practice of posting their blogs at regular intervals. Just the discipline of cranking out weekly columns, they concurred, made them better writers. It
made them practice. It made them produce. Essentially, they were saying, it had made them into the wonderful writers they had now become. They were self-congratulatorily convinced of it.
I have to wonder. Apart from the primary question of whether anyone at all is interested in what we have to say (more on that later), there is the secondary question of whether this self-imposed output
routine – this repetitive process – truly guarantees increased quality. Certainly many – most – of my favorite columnists have deadlines to meet. But they also have accountability and editorial oversight.
And a critical readership of non-friends/relatives/co-workers.
But deadlines for the sake of deadlines? Does repeatedly practicing uneven scales improve the pianist? I think not. Does having to produce daily meals for the brood make one a better cook? Maybe in
some cases. More frequently not. Repetition can smooth things out, or it can iron in wrinkles. It depends. If at first you don’t succeed, doing it over and over again the same (perhaps wrong!) way is not a
proven path to success. One of my best music teachers/mentors advised that when practicing, I would accomplish much more if I practiced as though my teacher were in the next room, or sitting next to me.
Perhaps the blogger likewise should pretend that every column is being graded or red-penciled. (Or being read critically by a dispassionate, non-captive audience.)
But the primary question I have of blogging, including this rambling example, is simply: Who cares?
The recent proliferation of blogs is mind-boggling. (Mind- "bloggling"?) Are our literary lives the richer for it?
Do these two fellow writers – Do you – Do I – have something worthwhile to say? Is that even the critical question? I wish I knew.
It’s one thing to be driven to write – for any variety of reasons: scholarship; self enlightenment; self discipline; amusement; obsession; soul searching; finding one’s voice, sharing. Our libraries give
testament to this enriching drive to write. And we thank the scholars and storytellers who have yielded to their obsession to write.
But to make the enormous leap of assuming that anyone would look for my weekly postings? Where does egocentrism leave off and blogging begin? Or vice versa? I wish I knew! And if you have the
answer, please share!
Somewhere between the whimsical, the trite,
the droll, ingenious – it’s hard to say.
At any rate, I knew I had to write
it down. And write it down I did. And then,
these musings having made it into writing,
assumed a lofty sheen. Somehow, my pen
had been a magic wand, my words delighting
and delightful. And I knew I had to share.
“I’ll write a blog,” I said. And then, alas,
I had to wonder, “Who on earth would care?
Just why would people give a rat’s . . . patootie? SAJones 1/2016
A close second to Shakespeare as the most-quoted author in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations is a man whose birthday we observe this week.
Alexander Pope was born in London on May 21, 1688 and was one of the most celebrated poets of the eighteenth century. Known for his satirical verse
(e.g. “The Rape of the Lock”), his translation of Homer, and his essays, he is also given credit for one of the most widely know of quotations. From “An Essay on Criticism” is the sentence
To err is human; to forgive divine.
His philosophy was that all people commit sins and make mistakes. God forgives us, and we in turn act in a Godlike (divine) way when we also forgive. Here are my musings on this
quotation we know so well:
Mankind backslides and goes astray.
So – here’s our question for the day:
Do we “air”? Or do we “ur”?
Respected sources still concur
the second, “ur,” is de rigueur.
We “ur” when we say “air.” Some days!*
So now we know. To paraphrase:
We’ve learned the “urror” of our ways!**
Forgive such errors – yours and mine,
and join the ranks of the divine.
My main source is Charles Harrington Elster’s classic (c1988) There Is No Zoo in Zoology: and Other Beastly Mispronunciations. However . . .
* I say, “Some days,” because in all fairness, it must be noted that dictionary.com, merriam-webster.com, and oxforddictionaries.com give “air” as the second, therefore acceptable, pronunciation.
And ahdictionary gives “air” as the first, preferred pronunciation! Still others (e.g. Collins, vocabulary.com and Macmillan, give only the “ur.”
**And no (for the literalists among you) the noun error is not pronounced “urror.” Just my little joke! It is “airor.” Go figure.