Labor Day celebrates our workforce as this vintage postcard suggests. It also signals the end of summer though the fall equinox won’t actually happen for three more weeks on September 21. Still we consider summer gone after Labor Day.
Labor Day celebrations look different this year thanks to COVID-19. No skipping town for faraway places. No firing up the backyard BBQ for gatherings with friends and family.
While pandemic separation may make us miss catching up with cousins and neighbors with hot dogs in hand, it also means less effort preparing for the day. No rushing to cut the grass or clean the pool, or all that other prep that goes into entertaining. That’s kinda a plus.
Bonus: we didn’t have to deal with Cousin Will’s ultra-conservative (or ultra-liberal) political outbursts or the next-door neighbor’s comparisons of yards.
Labor Day does offer a break, a change from daily routines. No school. No Zoom meetings. A day to relax. To slow our pace.
And, trust me, relaxation of any kind for any length is more important than ever in these times of increased stresses.
I like what Brian Basset suggests in a recent Sunday funnies.
As we head into days with all the back-to-school uncertainties and pre-election day chatter and other things that are sure to increase our stress levels. Let’s take Red & Rover’s advice to heart and embrace the fact that slowing down can lower stress.
Turn off the news.
Skip social media.
Sit on the porch and
Focus on the little things like cooler temperatures, changing leaves, and sitting by the lake with a fishing pool.
Remember how we learned the parts of speech for different words in school?
Nouns: a person, place, thing, or idea.
Pronoun: a word used in place of a noun.
Verb: words that express action or being.
Adjectives: words todescribe nouns or pronouns.
Adverbs: words to describe a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.
Prepositions: words placed before a noun or pronoun to form a phrase modifying another word in the sentence.
Conjunctions: that join words, phrases, or clauses.
Interjections: words used to express emotion.
And we thought that covered all the word groups. Well, we were wrong. I’ve discovered there are many more words to describe the words we use.
Retronym: a modifier added to describe what was once its default meaning, i.e. cloth diaper since most diapers now are disposable, snail mail because, you know, email, whole milk because almond milk and other flavors, regular coffee, plain M&Ms also because of the additional flavors now. Get the idea?
But be cautious, a retronym is not always merely adjective/noun combinations. It’s a word with a qualifier to refer to the original meaning of the word. Thus, chocolate chip is not a retronym, neither is cellular phone.
Tmesis: a new word formed by placing one word in the middle of another.
Not a new concept, Shakespeare used one in “Richard II”—How-heinous-ever. So did George Bernard Shaw in “Pygmalion”: Fan-bloody-tastic or abso-blooming-lutely.
Capitonym: word that changes meaning, and sometimes pronunciation, when capitalize, i.e. mobile meaning moving or Mobile meaning the city in Alabama. Others include August, the month, or august the adjective meaning respected and important.
Bahuvrihi: just saying this correctly should earn you points. If you want help, try here. The word is Sanskrit and a bahuvrihi itself. The word means “much rice” but refers to a rich man. Examples would be barefoot, graybeard, redhead or blue-collar/white-collar or old money.
Embolalia: words or sounds added into speech. It’s stammered speech as we arrange our thoughts. Examples: well, but, I guess, um, you know.
Metonym or Metonymy: using the name of one object or concept for that of another to which it is related, or of which it is a part, i.e. the bottle for strong drink, count heads (or noses) for count people, hoops for basketball, Capitol Hill for US. Congress.
Mondegreen: is a mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase in a way that gives it a new meaning. Mondegreens are generally understood not to be intentional.
Around our family the song “Elvira” is forever called It’ll fire up. Other examples dawnzer lee light for the mishearing of “dawn’s early light” lyric of the “Star- Spangled Banner” or The ants are my friends for “The answer, my friend” in “Blowing in the Wind” by Bob Dylan.
Portmanteau: two or more words are joined to coin a new word, which refers to a single concept, i.e. education + entertainment = edutainment, fan + magazine = fanzine, motor + hotel = motel, spoon + fork= spork
Slurvian: basically, this is a portmanteau that is slurred together. Examples d’ja slurred form of did you, wanna for want to, and the ubiquitous y’all for you all. Of course, that last example of a slurvian is standard English where I live. 😊
I’m a wordsmith and a word game player. I love learning new words.
Now you, too, know a few new words in case you want to wow your next Zoom meeting and drop one in. I’m not sure they’ll appreciate them as much as I do, though.
Alan Greenspan once said, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
To me, the quote describes the biggest issue in communication—written or oral.
An obstacle that’s brought home to me every week with my critique partners. The way critique groups work is pages are shared weekly then participants meet – pre-COVID-19 in person, now via video chat – and discuss what was sent.
Greenspan’s quote becomes reality when we discuss what we’ve sent.
Way too often what my critique partners read is not what I wanted to convey. Sometimes it’s the way I wrote something or the words I chose. Other times it’s a total fail because my critique partners didn’t get what I meant.
It’s no mystery why this happens. Each of us brings a distinct perspective to our critiques. We’re all from unique backgrounds and geographic areas and grew up during different time periods (age span of our members is over thirty years).
Misunderstanding what’s on the page can be the kiss of death for a writer because a reader will stop reading. It’s the reason fiction writers spend hours scrambling for the perfect word and rewriting a sentence a gazillion times to capture the perfect nuance.
Reading an incorrect meaning into words–whether written or spoken–happens too often.
Finding, and using, words—spoken or written—that are mutually understood is critical for effective communication, especially in this tense, trying time with COVID-19 hovering, hurricanes lining up, and important elections on the horizon.
So, let’s disprove Mr. Greenspan’s quote and make what we say, or write, match what we mean to eliminate misunderstanding.
I recently read a blog for writers discussing disembodied body parts. It got me to thinking. Do readers even notice such minutiae?
For example, do you stumble over sentences like these?
Their eyes locked across the room.
His eyes zeroed in on the man lurking in the shadows.
The man eyed the chocolate cake with the longing of a starving man.
In the first two sentences, I don’t picture actual eyes flying across a room to collide or zoom across space. I guess some people might and do according to the blog I read.
In the third, eye is being used as a verb, which it can be, and should cause no issues.
Some writers would substitute gaze for eyes in the first two sentences. And that’s the writing communities’ preferred word.
Sometimes, I will use gaze too. Other times I go with eyes. It depends on how the sentence reads. Consider this sentence:
The softest green eyes he’d ever seen rambled from his head down to his toes and back again.
I picture eye movement (something you’d see) traveling downward then back up. To substitute eyeballs which is actually what’s moving would sound ridiculous. Using gaze instead of eye would work but, in my opinion, decrease the subtle tension.
Eyes aren’t the only body part that roam.
Fingers fly: Her fingers flew to his cheeks.
Jaws drop: His jaw dropped to the floor.
Arms get shot: She shot her arm out to catch him.
Hands get thrown: He threw up his hands.
Faces fall: Her face fell.
Flying or roaming body parts don’t trouble me. If I read the character “swims through the crowd,” I don’t see splashing water. Or if someone writes “a lump of ice settled in her belly,” I don’t picture actual ice. Describing a character’s eyes with “pools of molten chocolate,” I don’t think he’s got Godiva eyeballs, just deep brown eyes?
A writer’s job is to provide a satisfying experience for the reader by creating a vivid movie in their head. One that combines the richness of language with remarkable stories. I believe being too literal can destroy the richness of language.
So, what’s your take on flying body parts? Do you cringe when you read those sentences? Are you pulled from the story?
As a writer, and avid Scrabble player, I pay attention to the definition of words I use. This COVID-19 pandemic has introduced lots of words. I looked up these to be sure I understood the meanings.
Coronavirus refers to a large family of viruses that includes SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). The first identified SARS strain caused a two-year outbreak in 2002.
Corona comes from the Latin word for “crown.” The virus’s physical shape resembles a crown.
Virus is from the Latin for a secretion, poison, or venom and any of a type of submicroscopic agents that cause disease, or a disease caused by such an agent. For example, the common cold is a virus. It’s caused by various viruses not related to coronavirus or flu strains.
The adjective form – viral is something widely spread within a culture, primarily through social media. Think how a Facebook post or Twitter post is said to “go viral.”
The dictionary definition for viral is something with a metaphorically poisonous effect on the mind or the soul.
A novel coronavirus means a new or different virus. In 2019 SARS-CoV-2 appeared as a new/different virus and named as COVID-19.
The acronym comes from the first two letters of each word in coronavirus and the first letter of disease, followed by the last two digits of the year in which the virus strain was identified.
Pandemic, which comes from Latin for “all people,” describes a disease widely dispersed geographically and common among populations. COVID-19 is both and therefore called a pandemic.
An epidemic is different from a pandemic. Epidemic means “among or within people” and refers to an invasive but local disease.
Pandemic is used exclusively in a scientific context, while epidemic can be used in nonscientific references.
Asymptomatic means “presenting no symptoms of disease.” The connotation for the COVID-19 pandemic is what’s significant. A person, unaware of having the disease is a risk, may spread the disease to others, who are also unsuspecting.
Morbidity— I was surprised to learn in scientific and medical contexts refers to the rate at which a population contracts a disease, not death. Mortality which measures the number of people who die from a disease.
Quarantine is the policy of restricting movement of people or goods to prevent the spread of disease or pests. To self-quarantine is to voluntarily isolate.
Vaccine is familiar word—a substance injected into the body of a person or an animal to protect it against disease. It’s generally a weakened or killed form of a bacteria or virus, and the injection forces the body to produce antibodies without suffering from full-blown symptoms or succumbing to the disease.
Herd immunity is the concept of reducing the infection risk by mass exposure to the contagion or widespread immunization. Nice concept for an ideal result, but a strategy of exposing a large population to a disease to produce herd immunity only helps the survivors. Not the many people who die or continue to suffer from chronic symptoms.
These next phrases have been used so often we all know the meaning, but just in case.
Flatten the curve is the strategy of minimizing the number of cases of a contagious disease so as not to overwhelm healthcare resources and avoid an increase in cases.
The curve is charted on a graph showing the increase in cases. Flattening is visualization of the effect on the curve so that it is a long, low hump rather than a steep spike.
Flattening the curve in a pandemic is not only about mitigating the impact on hospitals and healthcare personnel but also keeping cases down.
Shelter in place originally referred to staying inside a structure when a biological, chemical, or radioactive contamination emergency is announced rather than going outside to a shelter or evacuating to another area and being exposed.
Nowadays, the phrase means staying socially isolated as much as possible to avoid contracting (or passing on) a contagious disease.
Social distancing, meaning the interpersonal interaction of individuals, is actually 200 years old. Today’s meaning refers to physical space between oneself and others to avoid contracting a disease.
Six feet apart will likely only prevent contamination through breathing and accidental exposure from coughing or sneezing because airborne solutions can project greater distances.
That’s why wearing a mask and social distancing is recommended.
I hope you’ve had a great weekend. Mine was spent working this patriotic puzzle I purchased before the COVID-19 pandemic started, thank goodness.
Media focused on the toilet paper and hand sanitizer shortages, but there’s another shortage going on—a pandemic jigsaw puzzle pandemonium.
As people tire of binge watching Amazon Prime and Netflix, they’re doing jigsaw puzzles. Worldwide puzzle sales are up more than 370% since March.
It’s understandable. Fitting puzzle pieces together is a diversion. And during these months of social distancing and sheltering in place, heaven knows we need diversion.
Jigsaw puzzles aren’t a new thing. John Spilsbury, a map engraver in England, mounted a world map to a sheet of hardwood and used a hand saw to cut around country boundaries in 1760. He called them “Dissected Maps” and sold as a tool for teaching geography.
Centuries later, I used map puzzles in my classroom for the same thing.
With the invention of the foot-pedal jigsaw in the 18th century, puzzles became more easily produced and new cardboard die-cutting techniques created puzzles like we see today. Styles have advanced with more technology. Modern 3D block puzzles let you create multiple puzzles using the same pieces.
Jigsaw puzzles provide cheap entertainment because they can be completed, scrambled, and passed around within a family or community. With increased pricing and limited availability, people have come up with creative ways to share puzzles.
The Irish Athol Congregational Church created a drive-thru puzzle swap. You stay in your car, drop off a puzzle to be disinfected and move forward to pick out a disinfected puzzle.
In Omaha, Nebraska a bookseller runs a puzzle exchange. You trade a puzzle for a puzzle or a donation to the local food bank.
This puzzle mania may be to relieve coronavirus boredom, but psychologists say puzzles are so much more than just a way to pass the time.
Jigzone.com has a variety of puzzle sizes and shapes. You can even upload your own pictures and make them into jigsaw puzzles or send a jigsaw puzzle postcard. My favorite feature is the daily jigsaw puzzle in my email.
These COVID-19 pandemic days of self-isolation have made quarantine a common part of our vocabulary.
But did you know the word’s been around since the 9th century?
Its quad root dates to the Proto-Indo-European or PIE language kwetwer, and linguists trace the PIE language to between 4500 BC to 2500 BC. We hear quad in words like quadruple and quadrilateral.
Quadraginta is the Latin word for forty. Quarantena referred to the desert where Jesus fasted for 40 days. In both Italian and French, the word also applied to Lent.
Today we we use the word to mean a period of isolation to prevent the spread of contagious disease.
The use of isolation traces to Middle Ages and Renaissance and the plague-ridden 14th century when Venice required the crews of ships from afflicted countries to remain at anchor offshore for forty days before docking.
According to The Visual Thesaurus, being quarantined isn’t all bad. There are famous cases of creativity that have risen from periods of quarantine.
Shakespeare wrote King Lear
Isaac Newton worked on his theories of optics and gravitation
Giovanni Boccaccio wrote The Decameron, a book about people telling each other stories during quarantine
And stay-at-home authors create word origin searches like this to blog about. Which, if you were honest, is probably more than you wanted to know about quarantine.
What have you done while you stayed at home or quarantined during this COVID-19 pandemic?
Memorial Day is the holiday set aside to remember the men and women who gave their lives while serving this country. To say thank you for their supreme sacrifice.
Because parades and gatherings are cancelled this Memorial Day weekend, retired Air Force bugler Jari Villanueva and CBS News “On the Road” correspondent Steve Hartman are asking buglers and trumpet players across the country to stand on their porches this Memorial Day at 3 p.m. local time and play “Taps.”
The rest of us can pause for a moment to remember the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice serving this country as well as all the victims of the coronavirus pandemic while maintaining social distancing guidelines.
If you’d like to dust off your trumpet or bugle and sound the call, click here for directions on how to participate.
If you’re not a bugler then perhaps you can play a version of Taps from YouTube like this one.
Our local county judge issued an order requiring residents ages 10 and over to wear some sort of protective face covering when in public places. It goes into effect today.
Face coverings may be a homemade mask, scarf, bandana, or handkerchief, as long as it covers the nose and mouth. And there are exceptions for eating or drinking, exercising, or doing physical activities outdoors, and if wearing a face covering posed a mental, physical, safety or security risk.
Still the order raised all kinds of social media chatter and protest. Within the day, a legal challenge was issued. Did she have the authority to do so?
Consensus seems to be a resounding NO. But, so far, there’s been no rescinding.
Which led to this to-be-or-not-to-be Shakespeare question blog and my favorite thing – research.
The answer lies in the reason behind wearing a mask. Is a mask worn to protect the wearer from getting infected or is a mask worn to protect others from being infected by the wearer?
Imagine the coronavirus pandemic like a wildfire. People breathing out invisible embers when they speak, cough, or sneeze. Studies show sneezing spreads embers farthest, coughing second, and speaking least.
That’s a scary image and wearing a mask begins to make sense.
Wearing a cotton mask dramatically reduces the number of virus particles emitted from our mouths by as much as 99 percent. Fewer virus particles floating around means a better chance of avoiding infection. And if infected, a better chance of only a mild illness.
Mask wearing is like the emission filter on car exhausts and chimneys. My mask protects you; your mask protects me.
It’s called public good — something we all do to that eventually helps everyone. But how much public good depends on the level of participation.
In a perfect world there be lots of good mask wearing. Unfortunately, emission filters had to be mandated to cut air pollution. I suspect that’s why our county judge put out her order mandating mask wearing.