The Reader

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A few days ago while I was on a walk around the neighborhood with Maddie, we stopped in to talk with one of our neighbors. Maddie is always happy to do this because treats are frequently offered.

We got past the usual pleasantries and then he asked me what I had been doing that day. I paused. I thought. I could have said any number of things but I told him that I’d spent the day writing. He asked if I was writing letters. I paused. I thought. Then I said that I was working on another book. I smiled and fastened my gaze on my feet.

Some of my neighbors know that I have published a novel. One of them has even read it. But in general, I’m reluctant to talk about it with the people I know. I find it to be a bit embarrassing on a number of different levels.

He hadn’t missed my use of the word “another.” So I gave him the short version. Then he had to get his wife involved because she loves to read. She has cancer and can’t get around much and reading helps her to shift her concerns elsewhere for a while.

She said something to me that triggered a revelation. She told me it amazed her how a person could write something so well that you can actually see it. Without thinking I said to her that it’s really the reader that does that. I told her it was her imagination that let her “see” what the author had written and that without her imagination, it was just words on a page. I had no idea that is what I thought until the moment I said that.

I’ve been thinking about that ever since then.

When you watch something on the big screen, or the little one, it’s all laid out for you. You see the characters and the setting. The actors arrange their bodies and faces to match the words they are saying and it all leaves little to the imagination. Watching something like that play out is very passive.

But when you read a book, even if the scene is described in minute detail, there is still a lot that is left to you to fill in with your imagination. Reading is very active.

I can tell you that the room is dark and the window is open. I can write that there is little wind to disturb the heavy draperies. I can say that the sound of an unseen owl sitting in a tree outside of the window comes quietly into the room and seems to add a sense of foreboding to what is about to happen. But the exact appearance of the window and draperies is left to your imagination. The type of owl and the sound of its hoot are only something you can know. And if a chill runs down your spine, you did that. Not me.

She told me that she didn’t think she had a good imagination. I told her she was wrong. Anyone who reads and, more importantly, who enjoys reading has a good imagination. I’m not sure she was convinced. But it didn’t matter. I knew I was right.

To be sure, an author than can create a great scene and turn a phrase well is an absolute delight. You might select that author’s work for just that reason. But there are authors who offer up the barest bones of a description but also know how to move a story along so well that you read them for that reason, filling in the missing details without even giving it a second thought. From my own experience, I’ll say that Dean Koontz is a good example of the former and Lee Child is a good example of the latter.

As a writer, I worry from time to time that I have not sufficiently described a certain scene. I worry that the reader won’t get it. But perhaps that is not as critical as I once thought it might be. Maybe all a writer ever does is set the stage. We provide the matrix upon which the reader’s imagination adds the embellishments that bring it alive and therefore makes the experience more personal and relevant.

It’s a symbiosis of sorts. Readers need writers. Writers need readers. But writers also need to have faith in the reader. It’s truly the reader who makes a writer’s words come alive.

Common Misconceptions, Part Three

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My husband thinks I’m defective because I can never see the man in the moon.

The Dark Side of the Moon

When I was very young, I wondered why we saw only one side of the moon. I was a little odd. Still am.

I set about finding the answer to that question. We didn’t have the Internet at that time. Our family didn’t even have an encyclopedia set. And my fourth grade teacher couldn’t answer the question. I resorted to a quarter coin and a dime.

The quarter was the earth and the dime was the moon. I laid them out on the kitchen table and put my finger on the moon and moved it around the earth. But as I watched, the “moon” showed a different part of itself to the “earth” each time it went around. Only if I rotated the dime once as it went around the quarter did it always show the same part of itself to the quarter. I was astonished.

I also at that time realized that there could not be a dark side to the moon. I performed the same trick with the quarter being the sun and the dime the earth. If all sides of the earth were exposed to the sun then I figured all sides of the moon would have to also. That wasn’t quite 100% of the answer but it was good enough for a nine year old. My mom was unimpressed when I showed her the “trick” with the coins.

As it turns out, that is exactly what happens. The moon rotates exactly once on its axis for each revolution around the earth. Here’s an odd fact: a day on the moon (let’s average it out to 28 earth days) is roughly equal to a year on the moon (the time it takes to make one orbit around the earth).

If you think about it for a moment you’ll realize that the times when the side of the moon facing earth is dark (as in the new moon), the side facing away is in the light.  These days the side that faces perpetually away from the earth is most often referred to as the “far side” of the moon. Still this misconception about a side that is always in the dark persists.

I learned recently that the moon was once closer to the earth and that the length of an earthly day was shorter because of it. Because of the influence of the gravity of the moon, the earth has been slowing over the millennia. They call this “spin down.” As a result of the slowing, the moon is moving further away. As the moon moves further away, the earth slows more. It’s sort of a “catch 22.”

They say that eventually, the earth will stop spinning altogether … if our sun lives that long.

As for the moon, they say that because earth’s gravitational influence is so much greater than the moon’s, that the earth slowed the moon’s rotation a long time ago to what we see now.

But I wonder if it will remain so for all the rest of the life of this solar system. Might the moon’s rotation on its axis one day stop completely? Then, if there is still life on this earth, that life would see all the sides of the moon as demonstrated by my dime. Unless, of course, our rotation has slowed so much that it coincides with the movement of the moon. Interesting thoughts.

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Makes me hungry just looking at this.

Tomatoes are a Vegetable

I seem to remember something ridiculous from years ago. I think they were trying to get catsup classified as a vegetable on school lunch menus. OMG.

I have a vague memory of saying something to my husband like, “That’s just too stupid. Tomatoes aren’t even a vegetable to begin with.” He said something like, “Hunh? Whadda ya mean?” Then he got a long lecture. Over the years, he’s learned to keep his questions to himself.

A tomato is a fruit. As I learned way back in community college in a botany class, fruits are basically defined as seed surrounded by a fleshy exterior and result from the ovaries of a flower. And by that definition, a strawberry is not a fruit. It wears its seeds on the outside. Which is a whole different and interesting topic. 

Just to be sure, I looked it up and found this:  “Botanically speaking, a fruit is a seed-bearing structure that develops from the ovary of a flowering plant, whereas vegetables are all other plant parts, such as roots, leaves and stems. … This includes such botanical fruits as eggplants, bell peppers and tomatoes.” That quote came from

Some other “vegetables” that are actually fruits are:  beans, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, pumpkins (although I’ve never thought of a pumpkin as a vegetable but I suppose it is similar to squashes and people usually think of them as vegetables), peas, string beans and zucchini (a fruit that is actually a berry).  I won’t get into the subcategories of fruits and vegetables right now. Aren’t you relieved?

But. Let’s consider corn. Corn is just weird. The leaves of the corn plant are monocotyledonous. This means the veins in the leaves do not branch. Think of a blade of grass. All grains are monocots and considered grasses:  wheat, corn, rye, spelt, oat. Almost no one calls them vegetables or fruits.

But modern corn is a bit different. Whereas, all the others mentioned do indeed produce seeds from a flower, those seeds are generally small and hard. These seeds, other than corn, grow pretty much exposed to the outside world and not at all like the seeds inside an apple or a banana (which by the way is also another special case). In the case of corn, its seeds grow protected inside of the husk. So it can also be considered a fruit. It’s considered a vegetable as well (although I’m really not sure that it should be) because the seeds are harvested and eaten (but we eat oatmeal, so what’s the diff? I don’t get it). And it is also a grain because the seeds can be dried and ground into flour.

It gets even trickier when you find out that some things that should be fruits are not. And not all berries are fruits. And the people who are supposed to know about all this arcane stuff say that lemons are not fruits but are instead a berry. Look it up sometime. Or don’t. Maybe I’m the only one who finds this stuff fascinating.

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They say that water is loudest just before it boils. Based on what I’ve observed from our electric tea kettle, I’d say that was true.

Salty Water Boils Quicker

Mom didn’t teach me much about cooking. She told my sister and me that because she was the last of nine children and it always fell to her to help her mom in the kitchen because all the older ones had other things to do, that she would never require us to help in the kitchen. No matter how much we begged and pleaded to be allowed to help cook, she denied us. I suspect it really had to do with her control issues.

In any case, the one thing she did tell me was that if you want your water to boil faster, add salt to it. Turns out this is not at all true. Or maybe it is. Sort of. Depends on how you want to look at it. Sadly, so much in life is like that. You think you’ve found an absolute truth and then you find out it’s just not that simple. Like tomatoes being a berry.

This is also from  “The temperature of saltwater will get hotter faster than that of pure water,” Giddings said. “But it still has a higher boiling point, and the mass is still greater when you add salt to the same volume of water, so this doesn’t mean that the saltwater boils faster.”

So, why does anything dissolved in water raise the boiling point? Water boils when the molecules are able to overcome the vapor pressure of the surrounding air to move from the liquid phase to the gas phase. When you add a solute (salt or other soluble substance) that increases the amount of energy (heat) needed for water to make the transition, a few processes occur.

When salt (sodium chloride) dissolves you get the ions of sodium and chlorine. These charged particles alter the intermolecular forces between water molecules. In addition to affecting the hydrogen bonding between water molecules, there is an ion-dipole interaction to consider: Every water molecule is a dipole, which means one side (the oxygen side) is more negative and the other side (the hydrogen side) is more positive. The positively charged sodium ions align with the oxygen (negative) side of a water molecule, while the negatively charged chlorine ions align with the hydrogen (positive) side. The ion-dipole interaction is stronger than the hydrogen bonding between the water molecules, so more energy is needed to move water away from the ions and into the vapor phase. Ta da! Thank you

We started off on the dark side of the moon and ended up in a pot of boiling water. If we had added some corn on the cob along the way, we’d have really had something.

Office Intrigue

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“Seriously?! You did not just say that.” Gloria was red-faced and working up a good head of steam. Embarrassingly enough, a bit of spittle had flown out of her mouth with her last remark. Timothy, Timmy to his friends, just sat there with a silly little smile on his face. The situation had been building to this end for some time and he was not at all certain how it would all work out.

The two of them had acquired quite a crowd. Their office buddies had been aware of the tension building for months now and many had found some excuse to hover near. The big windows of the 14th story office were letting in bright sunshine because the rain clouds of the past few days had finally moved on. But despite the sun, the mood was dark and somewhat foreboding. They were all anxious to see how this would play out.

The world of sales can be very cutthroat. Advantages are sought and held miserly to the breast. Secrets are kept as best as possible and even in the best of atmospheres, sharing is not usually even remotely anticipated.

That Gloria and Timmy were rivals for sales champion of the month, pretty much every month, in many ways liberated the rest of the staff. The remainder could do their work, meet their goals and not have to worry about the extra mile, the 110%, or any of those other ways that employers have of saying that they want you to work your butt off. Timmy and Gloria so far outsold the rest that there was never any question. The others were happy to leave that battle to the two combatants.

But this year was going to be different. Their employer had offered a big year-end bonus for the highest producer of the year. This would be on top of the monthly half of a percent bonus on their total sales that went to the sales champion of the month. Timmy wanted it badly because he had big plans for the cash. Gloria wanted it equally as badly, but primarily to keep Timmy from getting it.

It was the middle of October and they were pretty much neck-in-neck for the year with Timmy slightly ahead for the month. Gloria could barely stand it. She agonized over it late at night. She pushed her contacts to the limit. She bought a new program for her computer to make it more secure. She kept paper-only records of some of the most sensitive information that she never let out of her sight. Well, almost never. Locks can be picked, but not always easily or quickly and bringing her lunch and eating it at her desk helped to keep the possibility of prying fingers out of her private stuff.

Timmy had a bit more faith in his fellow man, and woman, than Gloria. Even so, there was one thing he kept on his person lest Gloria stoop to the very thing she, herself, feared the most. It wouldn’t do to let that little trick out of the bag too soon. Besides, he liked it right where it was. He could take it out and have a nice little look at it in private moments and it always made him smile.

There is a saying that you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer. And while Gloria had never heard this, she was smart enough to figure it out for herself. Timmy, on the other hand, had been told this very thing by his father, a man famous for engineering hostile take overs.

So, in the course of their “hostilities” and vying for the same rewards, both Timmy and Gloria had begun to see each other outside of work as a way to get to know the weaknesses of the other (as well as the strengths) the better to compete. Timmy had been the first to ask to meet after work at a local restaurant. Gloria had looked at him for a few minutes, doing her best to determine his true motives and so into the silence he had said, “It wouldn’t be a date. I just wanted to pick your brain a bit and thought that maybe I’d have something good to offer you in return.” Over the years, Timmy had found that blunt honesty could sometimes be very disarming. The appearance of “weakness” can often relax those who think that you are being foolish. So Gloria agreed.

It was not long before they had acquired a standing date for Friday evenings at Finnegan’s Pub. Occasionally, some of their fellow employees would also show up there and they would all talk for a while. In truth, it was just grist for the rumor mill. Their fellows simply could not understand what drove those two to associate outside of work given their apparent animosity toward each other.

Thus, we find ourselves on this particular day in the middle of October in the lunch room of the offices on the 14th floor with the sun shining brightly through the floor to ceiling windows. A couple of co-workers were hanging around the coffee maker. Another couple were standing in front of the fridge. One young woman was waiting at the microwave for her frozen meal to heat. An older man was rummaging in a cupboard looking for a new canister of coffee creamer.

Because both Timmy and Gloria had begun also taking their lunches together about a month and a half ago as well as meeting on Friday nights, they were already seated and enjoying the sandwiches that Gloria had made for the both of them and the pumpkin muffins that Timmy bought.

We make no claim for the presence of what one might call psychic abilities within the human race. But on this day, with so many co-workers having found cause to be present, one has to wonder. Timmy had not told anyone of his intent, and yet at the very moment that his hand went into his pocket, near silence reigned in the lunch room. The only noise was the hum of the fridge, the running of the microwave and Gloria, noisily slurping up the last of her canned soft drink through a straw.

Into this almost silence, Timmy said, “Gloria. Would you marry me?” And he presented her with the ring.

Gloria stood up suddenly and said, “Seriously?! You did not just say that.”

Breaths were held and all motion ceased. Timmy held his breath as well. The microwave finished and dinged four times in quick succession. Time then seemed to stand still.

Yet standing, Gloria looked around the lunch room. Several of her co-workers were smiling. But they were shy little smiles that she could see bore no malice. Suddenly, her knees would no longer hold her and she plopped back down into her chair. Timmy still sat opposite her, holding out the ring to her and waiting patiently for her answer.

Timmy and Gloria have never kissed. They have never even held hands. Their knees have never inadvertently bumped beneath a table or while sitting at a bar. And yet, somehow, Gloria perceived the rightness of it … the inevitability of it and she said the word that Timmy was waiting to hear, “Yes.”

There was cheering and clapping and slaps on the back. There were smiles all around.

We won’t say it was an easy marriage to maintain, but they went about it as they would anything that either of them might do … with a determination to succeed. And the small worry their employer had that it might spell the end of their tremendous sales production was completely unfounded.

I like happy endings. I always have. Even as a child I was always trying to smooth over disagreements or fights. If someone had a problem, I tried to fix it. As an adult, I’ve learned that people aren’t always looking for a solution, so I’ve also learned to meddle less.

In any case, my stories will probably always end on a happy note. It may not be realistic, but it’s how I like it.

Common Misconceptions, Part Two

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Napoleon was Vertically Challenged

I used to find solace in the fact that someone so short could still have such a profound effect on history. My God! The man practically invented canned food. Well, not literally. But he did set things in motion that eventually led to the canning of all sorts of foods.

I, myself, am vertically challenged. Short is a much better way of putting it really. Gets right to the point. At not quite 5′ 1.5″, I fall very firmly below the national average for the height of an adult American female. That would be five feet and four inches. Maybe I should move to Bangladesh. I’d be tall there. But Belgium and Bosnia are out. The average heights there are 5’6″, and 5’7″ respectively.

I recently learned that is has come to light that Napoleon was not actually all that short. It seems his purported shortness was due to a discrepancy between the French system of measurement and the British one. In French measure, he was five feet and two inches. But in British measure, it equated to five feet and six inches; an average height for a male at that time. So dang!

But apparently he did actually put his hand inside his jacket. This was a fad at the time and meant to impart a sense of calm leadership. Don’t blame me, that’s what it said online. And everything you read online is true. Right.

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Microwave Ovens Blow Up when you put Metal in Them

It’s simply not true. But it’s still a bad idea in general.

Consider the fact that the inside of the oven is made of metal. And for good reason. Yes, it’s painted but it still reflects the microwaves. Also there is a metal grid in the window. Both of these things keep the microwaves from escaping the oven and cooking you along with the food.

Only some metals are safe. Actually, it has a little more to do with shape and proximity than type. A small piece of aluminum foil smoothed over a dish is okay. A small metal tray is also okay. Also, some microwave ovens come with a metal shelf. Obviously that will be okay to use.

So what’s the deal?

If two pieces of metal are close together in the microwave, the energy is reflected between them and can build to the point where it will ignite anything flammable in the oven. Crinkled aluminum foil will actually burn. Smooth will not. And sparks can occur between the tines of a fork. There are even some foods that will occasionally spark.

I have this happen sometimes when I am warming my chopped salad. I love salads and eat them all year long for dinner, but in the winter, they are too cold for me. My favorite is a chopped cruciferous salad of cabbage, kale, broccoli, Brussels’ sprouts and radicchio. Now and then it sparks. I thought it was maybe something adulterating the salad, but when I looked it up, it turned out it was the salad itself.

Dense vegetables contain a higher concentration of minerals. It’s these metallic minerals, like iron, magnesium and selenium, which cause the arcing and the sparks.

So, food absorbs the microwaves and metals reflect it. What this means is that if there is enough microwave absorbent material (food) in the microwave to “catch” the reflected microwaves from any metal in there, you do not get arcing. If the ratio is wrong, then zaps happen. This is one of the reasons why they also say to never run the microwave oven empty. All that energy will just zing around in there with nothing to absorb it, except for the emitter of those waves: the magnetron tube. If it goes on too long, the tube will overheat and be damaged. But it still won’t blow up.

We pretty much all have and use microwave ovens. We don’t really give them much thought. But apparently, in order to use them safely, you need to keep in mind a few salient facts about the shape of the metal and the metal to food ratio. So the basic warning to never put metal in your microwave oven is the safer bet. But it can be done. Just be smart about it.

Oh, and when you are talking with your insurance claims adjuster, please be sure not to mention my name.

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The Buddha was not Fat

Those happy (or laughing) Buddha statues that people put in their gardens do not in any way reflect the reality. I have to digress for a moment. My mom had one of those. The Happy Buddha was sculpted sitting in a half lotus position rather than a full lotus. So one of his feet was tucked in close in to his groin with the toes pointing out. My mom thought that was hilarious because when it was viewed from the side, his foot looked like a penis. She loved to point that out to everyone. I just found it to be embarrassing. A lot of what my mother did was like that. Sigh.

It could be that Budai (an ancient Chinese god that was depicted as fat and always smiling) was confused with Buddha. Or it could be that the Buddha was depicted as fat because long ago, being fat was considered a sign of being well-to-do and who wouldn’t be more well-to-do than the Enlightened One. Hey, I’m just reporting what I’ve read recently. People have all sorts of ideas about all sorts of things. I’m a prime example.

It has been more years than I care to think about since I read “Siddhartha.”  But I’m pretty sure that I remember he gave up his princely title, became an ascetic, lived off of hand-outs, and became very thin. And if you boil down all that Buddhism has to say about the best way to live your life, you might be able to put that into one word: moderation. So a fat Buddha would be out of the question. So would a very skinny one for that matter.

I know that in the big scheme of things, whether or not the Buddha was fat doesn’t make a bit of difference. But, in my opinion, it never hurts to take a second look at something you take for true.

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Pseudo-Synonyms: Words that seem like they should be, but aren't quite, the same

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I thought the same thing too at first.

I love words. I love their meanings and how they sound. I love investigating their origins. But more than anything else, I love using them. And I love playing with them. That’s why I’m a writer.

But they mystify me sometimes. And synonyms (words with similar or related meanings such as shut and close) are sometimes the most confusing to me. Why do we need so many different ways of saying the same thing? It begs the question is there really such a thing as a true synonym. And then there are the words that seem to be synonyms but, in reality, are not.

Defensible vs. Defendable

We live in an area of Arizona that gets wildfires from time to time. Thankfully, the one that killed all those hotshots was not close to our home. Though it did threaten many of our friends and their horses.

We did have one wildfire that required us to be ready to evacuate. I got some good footage of borate bombers dropping retardant on the flames from the back deck of our house. It was a fairly tense few days.

We didn’t have to evacuate, which was a blessing.

After both of these fires, the signs that are always present, but mostly ignored, got a cleaning, replacing or upgrading as necessary. The signs say simply:  Create defensible space. I’ve always wondered why they don’t say “defendable” instead.

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So what is the difference between defensible and defendable? Turns out it’s fairly subtle.

Defensible is generally defined this way:  able to be protected as in “a fort with a defensible yard at its feet.”

Defendable is generally defined thus:  capable of being defended against armed attack.

But if you look them up together in a search for how they differ, you get: “As adjectives the difference between defendable and defensible is that defendable is capable of being defended while defensible is (of an installation etc.) capable of being defended against armed attack.” (From Which would seem to be something of the opposite of when you look them up separately.

But I think the most important thing to consider is the word “installation.” So a sign that cautions you to “Create defensible space” (the assumption is around your house or property) is more correct than if it used “defendable” instead. And I would have to guess that a moral position would be defendable but not defensible.

Still, I think it would be a serious case of nit picking to call someone out for using them interchangeably. Hopefully, I’m not quite that anal. Though if you asked my husband, he might have a different take on it.

Affect vs. Effect

Over the years, these two words have given me more trouble than just about any other two words that seem the same. And it doesn’t help that they sound similarly. Often when someone is speaking one word or the other, I am not certain which one they really mean.

I find it helps to think of them this way. Affect is a verb as in “have an effect upon” or “make a difference to” or “move emotionally.”

Effect is a noun and generally means a change that is a result of an action. Think of special effects in a movie if that helps. Or consider this sentence, “Most prescription medications have side effects that affect about one third of the general population.”

But I find that calling the one a verb and the other a noun is about all I need to keep me straight on the usage. Usually. But not always. I can be stubborn with my misconceptions. Luckily I have Microsoft Word to come to my rescue.

Lie vs. Lay

This one gave me fits for years. Still does to some extent. So many people say lay when what they really mean is lie. I cringe every time. I know. I should relax a little. After all, language and words are defined by usage and usage changes over time. Consider the word “fuck.”

There was a time in the history of the English language (although the word is probably Germanic in origin) that this was an acceptable way of referring to sexual intercourse. Over time, it fell out of favor and then became more or less completely unacceptable for use in polite society. It was actually outlawed in print in England by the Obscene Publications Act, 1857, and in the U.S. by the Comstock Act, 1873. The word continued in common speech, however.

It stayed that way for a very long time. But the legal barriers against its use in print began to break down in the mid twentieth century. It seems to me that recently, it is being used more and more. Who knows, maybe one day it will again be a perfectly acceptable way to refer to the sexual act.

So where was I? Oh yes, lie and lay.

My dog, Maddie, and I might like to lie down for a nap, but I will first have to lay her down in her bed. I will not lay down for a nap, but as in the prayer, I might “lay me down to sleep.” It seems to be all about the action involved. Is something doing it or are you doing it to something? It can be very confusing. And then there is flatness and surface to be considered.

I got this definition of the difference from  Lay means “to place something down flat,” while lie means “to be in a flat position on a surface.” The key difference is that lay is transitive and requires an object to act upon, and lie is intransitive, describing something moving on its own or already in position.

So, is a book lying (already in position) on a table or is it laying on a table? From the book’s perspective (if it had one), I guess it is lying. But from my perspective it would be laying. Ack!

That’s about as clear as mud. I like my way of looking at it better. So having straightened out (or have I really?) when to use one or the other, there is still the problem of conjugating them. The present tense of lie is lie, past is lay, present participle is lying, and the past participle is lain. But I have to tell you, saying something like “Yesterday, I lay down for a nap at 1:00 p.m.” just sounds weird. My mouth wants to say laid instead of lay really badly.

The past tense of lay is laid. More often than not, my husband will ask me where he left something. I might say something like: “An hour ago you laid it on the table, but that’s only where I saw you lay it last. It might not still be there now. Why don’t you just look for it?” But I wonder about that first sentence and more often than not, because I’m often just too unsure to commit myself to possibly saying something incorrectly, I might just say, “An hour ago you put it on the table, but that’s only where I saw you put it last.” End of problem.

The word put seems to be its own past tense, which sort of simplifies things. And while it can stand in for lay fairly well, I can’t see it standing in for lie. Oh wait a minute, I don’t think I’d ever want to say, “I’d like to lie down for a nap, but first I have to put Maddie down in her bed.” So I guess we are just stuck with lie and lay and the mess we make of them.

Inspire, Promote, Encourage, Sing!

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There is no doubt that songs can be inspirational. Songs are written about all manner of things and because words put to music are often easier to remember than otherwise, songs have been used through the ages to teach and inform as well as sell and influence and even warn.

A national anthem tells the people who sing it how they should feel about their country. And an advertising jingle tells consumers how they should feel about a particular product. So songs “inspire” in more ways than one.

Songs that inspire feelings in me usually have nothing to do with propaganda or consumerism. I use songs in my daily life to motivate me or change how I am feeling about something. For instance, when I am being tailgated by some idiot (I use the word “idiot” freely because tailgating someone while we are all doing 65 miles per hour on a two-lane undivided highway is just stupid) I frequently find myself singing out loud to: (1) distract me from the anxiety the tailgater causes me and (2) help me past the anger it produces in me.

Most often in that situation I find myself singing “Blackbird” by the Beatles. Don’t ask me why that song in particular because I don’t really know. But if the problem continues for quite some time and I need a little more distraction I might start singing “Ghost” by the Indigo Girls. I don’t listen to the radio or play CDs while driving. That’s just too much distraction. I know my limits.

When I am having trouble getting my workout started, I’ll put on a Dirty Vegas album (or something else with a really good beat) and just let it move me around the living room for a while. After a song or two, I’m warmed up and ready to get down to business.

But you know, for the most part, I like silence. What I mean by that is an absence of distracting noises (music, people talking, dogs barking). I can ignore the refrigerator as it cycles or the sound of the neighbor’s hot tub. But anything that has content and meaning is hard for me to ignore. So once I’m warmed up and ready to work out, I turn off the music. I listen to my breathing to be certain I keep it even and regular. I focus on the song the blood in my veins sings as my heart works harder and harder. Of course, hearing my pulse in my ears as I bend over to put my knuckles on the floor might not be such a good thing.

I had an assignment once to write about a song that inspires me. But how could I pick just one? Really. I’m just no good at that. And over time, those songs have changed. And what about songs that don’t actually “inspire” (I tend to think of that word in terms of inspiring to create) but instead simply make your heart soar with joy and make colors bloom behind the lids of your closed eyes … or sink to the very brink of despair. And there are songs that are good simply for no other reason than that they are good.

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Dan Fogelberg

However, years ago there was a song by Dan Fogelberg titled “Nether Lands” that would almost always make me cry and I couldn’t tell you what I was feeling. That song alone caused me to buy a book of his songs for the piano (“Complete Songs, Volume I”) in which I found so many other songs that were simply wonderful and evocative. Something I read by another blogger this morning reminded me of this and other songs that have inspired me over the years. But “Nether Lands” still stands out:

“High on this mountain the clouds down below I’m feeling so strong and alive.

From this rocky perch I’ll continue to search for the wind and the snow and the sky.

I want a lover and I want some friends and I want to live in the sun …

And I wanna do all the things that I never have done.”

Those are the words of the first verse and the melody fits the words so well that it makes my heart ache. Check out the full lyrics of the song when you have a spare moment and maybe you will find something inspiring in them too.

Image result for Netherlands by Dan Fogelberg

Things I Just don't Understand, Part One

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The caption for this one read: “100% recycled toilet paper.” You have to know what that made me think.

Bath Tissue

“If I put bath tissue on the shopping list, will you know which kind to get?” My husband, Bernd, actually said that to me. Me. Just who does he thinks does all the shopping around here? The Shopping Fairy? Why wouldn’t I know what kind to get?

But that’s not what I don’t understand about bath tissue. Who the heck came up with that misnomer and why does it persist? Have you ever tried taking a bath with toilet paper? Of course not. You have way more sense than that. So why call it bath tissue? We’ve had toilet paper and toilet tissue for years. Suddenly it is no longer acceptable to mention the word “toilet?” Oy!

Allain 3-Light Vanity Light Laurel Foundry Modern Farmhouse Finish: Oil Rubbed Bronze
I don’t see a tub or shower. Do you?


This could just be another example of the desire never to utter the word toilet. Why do people say they have to go to the bathroom when what they really mean is that they would like to use the toilet? We once lived in a condo that had a half “bath” downstairs. It consisted of a toilet and a sink. I could maybe bathe my foot in that sink, but for sure nothing else was going to fit. In my book, the Brits have the better answer to this dilemma. They call it a water closet. While not ideal (consider a clothes closet and then one for water?), at least it doesn’t mention bath. Doesn’t mention toilet either, but I’ll still give the Brits props for gritty realism in general.

And people say they have to use the bathroom when they are out in public and need to use a public restroom. I’ve been in a couple public toilets (well, you know what I mean, the building or room that houses the toilets!) that had a sofa or a couple of chairs in them so you could actually sit down and rest for a bit. But mostly, that’s not the case. Lord, I could go on about this forever. Maybe it’s my age or just general contrariness, but it seems like people don’t want to admit that what they really have to do is urinate and/or defecate. I ask you, what’s wrong with that?

Okay, so maybe I say “pee” when I mean urinate, but I won’t ask to use your bathroom. I’ll ask to use your toilet. If the room just so happens to also contain a bath tub or a shower, well I can’t help that. I won’t be using either of those. And I won’t look in your medicine cabinet either.

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Just kidding. Not really. Well, maybe.

And Standing in for To

I hear this so much now that I worry it will never be remedied. I’ve heard it in commercials on television and I’ve heard it in movies and television shows. “I will try and see if I can come up with a good solution,” should really read “I will try to see if I can come up with a good solution.” And in reality, “I will see if I can come up with a good solution” is all you actually need. I have no good solution for this one. Although, I can sort of understand why someone would be inclined to add the “try” to the sentence. Saying it without might seem to be too much of a promise or a social contract to deliver. Apparently, there’s a bit of weaselly politician in all of us. And please don’t get on me about the word “see” in that final sentence in quotation marks. That one has just been around too long for me to get up much energy to argue about it.

These Ones or Those Ones

I love the American English language. Really, I do. I just don’t always love what some people do with it. I get as big a kick out of using interesting analogies and dialectical phrases as the next person, but how did this ever become so widespread and … dare I say it … acceptable?

“Which ones do you like best? These ones or those ones?” Argh! The word “ones” behind these and those is totally unnecessary. And for that matter, the word “ones” in the first sentence is also totally unnecessary. Consider: “Which do you like best? These? Or Those?” Simple, straight forward, uncluttered.

I’ve always marveled at how few words it takes to say something in English as opposed to, say, Spanish. It’s no wonder that Spanish speakers talk so fast. They have to just in order to keep up with the sheer volume of words necessary to get the point across. American English has impressed me over the years with its brevity and ability to come to a conclusion rapidly and succinctly (unlike me). Adding these superfluous words seems like sheer idiocy.

Alright, so I’ve used an inordinate number of “reallys” and other unnecessary words. Sometimes I use them to make my point more memorable or just (see, I did it again) emphasize my position. We all do that unless we are intolerably anal about the rules of writing. I’m not intolerably anal am I? Please say that I’m not.

Maybe I should have titled this “Things that Get my Panties all in a Bunch” instead. Oh! Aack! That’s a one sentence paragraph! Oh wait. No it’s not because I’ve added these ones.

Common Misconceptions, Part One

In my ongoing efforts to educate and delight, I thought I might start a new series. Also, series of these sorts are handy to have around when you don’t really have anything truly amazing to write about (this statement predisposes that I sometimes do). In other places and at other times, I’ve written copiously about the things I don’t understand or the things I have learned.

As always, my intent is to amuse and entertain. I hope that I can do that with this new series. And I might have to resurrect the older ones too.

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Sharp Knives are Dangerous

Seems like a no-brainer. Right? Well, it’s not as simple as that. And I write from experience.

Sure, if you are talking about a knife held to your throat by some hoodlum intent on separating you from something you possess, that said hoodlum dearly wants, and isn’t of a mind to ask you nicely for it, then yes, sharp knives are dangerous. That’s one nasty, long, run-on sentence to be certain.

But if we are talking about the kitchen variety of knives, well then you are dead-wrong. Maybe not exactly dead-wrong, but possibly maimed-wrong.

I keep the knives we use for cooking extremely sharp. Why? Think about it. A dull knife that does not immediately bite into whatever you are slicing/chopping/dicing is more likely to slip off of what you are attempting to slice/chop/dice. Dull knives do not always slip in the fortuitous direction.

I wasn’t always as conscientious about the sharpness of our knives as I am now. Slicing through a finger changed all that.

Think about it some more. The duller the knife, the harder you have to push, the harder you have to push the more force will be applied to whatever part of your anatomy is in the way when the knife slips.

Sure, it doesn’t happen all the time, but why take the risk. Keep your knives sharp and worry less.

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Shaving Hair Makes it Thicker

Come on now. Does anyone really believe this anymore? Apparently they do because I found it on a list of common misconceptions.

Okay, here’s the thing. When I was younger (in my teens), I had a pretty good mustache. If I were a guy, it wouldn’t have been a problem. But I hated the thing. I wanted to shave it off. Yeah, sure, I’d have to do that regularly and I was willing to do that. But, enter Mom and Grandma. They caught me doing just that one day and said, “Oh no. Don’t shave it off. It’ll just grow back thicker.” The thought absolutely terrified me. And I spent a lot of time with a pair of cuticle scissors, trimming the hairs as close to the skin as I dared without running the risk of cutting off part of my upper lip.

Most of the females my age had little or no hair on their upper lips. I was just special that way. I can think of about a hundred better ways to be special. Also, most of the older women I knew had very hairy upper lips. So at the time, I surmised that as you get older, your upper lip gets hairier. And that got me to thinking. And worrying some.

I wondered, was this some ploy on the part of older women to convince younger women not to shave their upper lips because they themselves were reluctant to do it because it made them feel less feminine? Or were they maybe so afraid to try it that they conspired to condemn all women to a life with a hairy lip? Okay, I know there are a load of logical fallacies in those statements because I’d made so many unsupported assumptions. I wasn’t the perspicacious individual then that I am today. But it did make me look at the situation a little more realistically.

I asked myself these two questions: (1) Has the hair on my upper lip gotten any thicker for having cut it off close to the skin? And (2) Does a hair know the difference between being cut off right at the surface of the skin or two inches from the surface of the skin?

The answers were, it hadn’t and it doesn’t.

I went to my mom and asked her question number two. She gave me the oddest look and went straight away into her bathroom and shaved off her mustache. Actually, that’s only what I hoped would happen, but it didn’t, except for the odd look. She held firm to her belief despite years of having the hair on her head trimmed regularly and that having provided no help at all for the wispiness of it.

I, on the other hand, began shaving my upper lip and still do to this day. Oddly enough, I need to do it less now than I did then, instead of the other way around that seems to be true for most women as they get older. Boy, I’m on a run with run-on sentences today.

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Fortune Cookies are not Chinese

I loved fortune cookies. Sadly, I can’t eat them anymore since developing an allergy to wheat.

They were always the highlight of a meal at a Chinese restaurant. Can’t eat Chinese food anymore either, unless I make it myself. Some of the dishes aren’t as hard to prepare as you might imagine. But I’ve never tried to make a fortune cookie. Not sure it could be done with oat flour. And I’ve no idea how they get that little piece of paper inside the cookie and manage not to incinerate it. Maybe I should Google that.

Anyway, I learned some years ago that fortune cookies are not Chinese. In fact, they are not even a tradition in China. Imagine my surprise. They are actually Japanese in origin.

As far back as the 1800s, a cookie looking very much like a fortune cookie was made in Kyoto, Japan. The fortunes were a temple tradition called omikuji. I didn’t pull that word out of my memory. I had to cheat and look it up.

The Japanese version of the cookie differs in several ways from the Chinese restaurant version: they are a little bit larger; are made of darker dough; and their batter contains sesame and miso (doesn’t really sound much like a cookie, but a lot about the Japanese mystifies me) rather than vanilla and butter. Also, the fortune is placed in the bend of the cookie rather than in the hollow space.

It’s thought that the fortune cookie as we know it today was invented in California by immigrant Japanese bakers sometime in the very late 1800s. But not even that is certain. There are a couple of different bakers, though, to whom the first fortune cookie as we know them is attributed. (I do seem to be the queen of awkward sentences today.) There is also an account of the cookies being exported to Hong Kong and advertised as “genuine American fortune cookies.” So go figure. Seems the Chinese fortune cookie is actually American. Kind of like chop suey.

The Incarceration of Serafina

Day One

Well, that most assuredly did not go as well as planned. What started out as a simple look-see to determine why so many of my crew have gone missing did not turn out well at all. At least they have not relieved me of my personal journal. In this way, I can keep a record of my incarceration among the aborigines of this planet.

It’s a lovely planet, and because we had been in transit for so long, I surmised that my crew was simply taking advantage of the natural beauty and getting a little well deserved rest and relaxation. Now it seems that is most likely not the case.

I was detained and confined within a few hours of my arrival in one of the aborigines’ city centers, if you can call it that. I have been placed in a cell with others, similar to me, in cells around me. Unfortunately, none of them speak my language and so I have been unable to determine where I am, how long I might be held, or even why I am being held.

The accommodations are terrible. They have thrown some blankets on the floor for a bed. The sanitary facilities are pathetic. And the food was delivered without eating utensils. I did not eat any of it. It was horrible and not at all suitable to one of my station.

They have turned out the lights and my cell mates are settling down to sleep. I guess I must do the same. Best to be well rested to prepare for whatever might transpire tomorrow.

Day Two

I do so wish they had not divested me of my uniform. The pockets thereof contained a few items that might have allowed me to break out of my cell. That shall be my main purpose and focus … breaking out. I will take as many of these others with me as I am able. I feel very exposed without my clothing. But none of the others around me is clothed. We are all naked. It must be some sort of attempt to belittle and control us emotionally. The aborigines are all clothed. Perhaps it makes them feel superior. Once I learn enough of their language, I will give them a piece of my mind about that. Of course, though, I hope to be long gone from this sorry world before I can learn enough of their language to do that.

I am fairly certain I know their single sound for “cease what you are doing this instant,” but beyond that, the aborigines have not been exceptionally forthcoming with dialogue.

A short, very round aborigine arrived shortly after the sun came up. It is assumed that she is a female of the species due to the presence of pronounced mammary glands and a higher pitch to her vocalizations. Although, it was observed yesterday as I was being unceremoniously detained, that the individual detaining me was most likely male by the hirsuteness of his face and the lower pitch to his voice, and yet, he had pronounced mammary glands as well. Perhaps both sexes of this species are capable of nurturing the very young.

The short and round aborigine has delivered breakfast. She has removed my uneaten dinner from last evening while making some sort of note on a form she has hanging on her cart. The breakfast is no different from the dinner and is still completely unappealing to me. Yet, the others around me are eating greedily and quickly. I cannot imagine how they can stand it. I refuse to eat the slop.

Quite some time has passed since breakfast was delivered. Very little has transpired. Those around me speak to each other now and then, but mostly they sleep. I can see why that might be if they have been here any length of time. There is not much else to do.

As for myself, I have remained alert. I sit at the very front of my cell so that I may see more of what transpires; precious little that it is. A different aborigine from the breakfast aborigine came through the cells a while back. She was accompanied by a male with a long stick. The female engaged herself by cleaning the sanitary facilities in each cell. The male only applied his stick if any of the inmates attempted to escape their cells.

I witnessed one such encounter and was counseled by it to not attempt my own escape. That the male seemed to enjoy his duties was not lost upon me. And on several occasions, it looked as if he might be encouraging an attempt at escape in order to apply his stick. In my opinion, that is totally reprehensible behavior.

It is once again evening. We have gone straight from breakfast to dinner with no lunch offered in between. Dinner is the same disgusting fair as breakfast. But hunger is starting to gnaw at my stomach and so I may have to eat the slop whether I will it or not. Oh, how I long for my uniform and my tools.

Day Three

I did indeed consume the meal that was offered last evening. It did not taste as bad as it looked or smelled. I find the latter to be an odd contradiction. There were some hard bits which I carefully set aside. They did not seem to bother any of the others, but they seemed out of place to me and so I did not eat them. I worried that they might contain some drug to make me more docile. For it seems to me that my sad compatriots are extremely docile and not at all involved in their situation.

The same short and round aborigine has delivered breakfast. And the same pair have been along and cleaned the sanitary facilities. It looks as if this day will play out much the same as the last two. With one exception, the female cleaner made a few interesting noises with her mouth that sounded a little like music. I had no idea these aborigines had any kind of culture. Maybe they are not quite as backward as I first assumed. They do, after all, possess some technology. Still, I have encountered races that made use of ancient technologies with no understanding of them whatsoever. They thought it was magic or some such silliness.

So, I guess I shall just have to settle down and wait to see what might transpire. Oh wait, what is that commotion? I hear many different noises. As if a group of aborigines is approaching.

Oh look. That must be what the young of this species look like. They are a lot more pleasing to gaze upon than their elders. But what are they doing?

They are stopping at each cell in turn and looking at the occupant. Now one is poking its fingers through the bars and the occupant is licking them. Why would she lick the fingers of the young aborigine? The other young one is saying something to one of the elders. Is that laughter? Are they laughing at the plight of me and my compatriots? That seems totally lacking in compassion.

Now the elder is speaking to the male with the stick. It seems they want the cell opened. Yes! They are opening the cell. The male with the stick is gesturing for the occupant to exit the cell. The occupant seems very happy to be out of her cell and they all head for the door at the end of the hallway. It is much quieter once they have all passed through the door and the door is closed.

I had not realized it, as engrossed as I was in what was occurring, but many of the other occupants of the cells had started vocalizing quite loudly when the one occupant was released. In hindsight, the vocalizations sounded distressed. And yet, the body language of the one released seem to be indicating happiness on some level. Oh I so wish I could speak with the people around me so I could find out what this place is and what is its purpose.

Once again, no lunch was offered. I would really appreciate some lunch. It is a very long time between breakfast and dinner.

The individual that was released never returned. I fear the worst. And there is now a new individual in that cell. I worry that something bad has happened to the previous occupant of the cell. Still, I did not at any time sense fear. I wish I knew what was happening.

Day ?

I have no idea how long I have been here. I stopped making entries into my journal after day three because every day was the same as every other.

I have made some small progress at learning the language of the aborigines. It is a very limited language, unfortunately. How they manage to conduct their society with such a limited vocabulary is beyond me. I have theorized that perhaps a major part of their communication is empathic or perhaps even telepathic even though our scientists assure us that telepathy is a myth and simply not possible.

I now know the sounds for “put your back side on the floor” and “remain right where you are until I tell you differently.” I also know the sounds for when you have behaved as required, and not as required.

Day ??

I do not know how much more of this I can bear. On several occasions, aborigine families (that is what I now know them to be) have come and looked at my cell mates. Several have been removed never to return. What happens to them? I still fear the worst.

But I have decided that should any aborigine families approach my cell in future, I will go to the front of the cell and lick the proffered fingers. If it wins my release from this cell, it will be worth it.

Day ???

An aborigine family has skipped all the cells before mine. They are stopping at my cell. I will hurry to the front of it. Look! The small female is sticking her fingers through the bars. Much as it pains me to do so, I decide I will lick them and so I do. The face of the small female changes abruptly. Her lips part and she shows her teeth. But I have learned that among these aborigines it does not indicate aggression. It is an expression of pleasure. She is speaking to her elder and the man with the stick is coming to open the door to my cell. I find my tail wagging quite vigorously in response.

We all walk down the hall and out of the door. We stand at a counter where the elder aborigines shuffle papers around for a while.

Oh no! They are attempting to remove my necklace with my personal journal pendant upon it. It seems they want to replace it with another necklace. If they do not return it to me, I shall not be able …

The elder male says, “Well, Mother, that is the grumbliest dog I have ever laid eyes on.”

The elder female replies, “Yes, dear, she certainly does seem growly, doesn’t she? I have no idea what Susie sees in her.”

Susie says, “Mom, Dad, she’s just talking. Can’t’ you see that. She’s going to be the best and smartest doggie ever. I just know it.”

About two years ago now, when I was looking for a dog to adopt, I spent a lot of time online looking at the various rescues and the local humane society. I saw a lot of pictures of absolutely adorable dogs. But many of them didn’t meet my needs. One of which was size. I needed a small dog because I was still in recovery from a bad accident and subsequent surgery.

There was one dog that I thought would fit the bill. But when I went to the humane society, she had already been adopted. Her name was Serafina.


There was something about her photo that spoke to me. I had to write the story that you have just read. I sort of formed whole in my mind and kind of amazed me with the detail.

When I did finally find a dog I thought we should adopt … that would be Maddie … there was also something in her photos that said I am the one. We almost didn’t get her because someone else with a fenced yard was interested in her. But Maddie’s foster mom decided I really needed her. And she was right.

The weird thing is, Maddie is probably the grumbliest dog I have ever known. She grumbles when I rub her belly. She grumbles when I pick her up to put her on the bed at night. She just grumbles a lot. I figure she’s talking. She’s telling me how she feels about this, that or the other thing. It’s not her fault I can’t translate her various grumbles.

She has a number of other also endearing habits. She pokes me in the leg with her nose to get my attention. If I continue to ignore her, as when I am in the zone and writing like a fiend, she will clap her jaws together. If I ignore the clapping, she’ll say gerroww-Ruf! And then I really can’t ignore her any longer.

Maddie is smart and funny and loving and lovable. Our lives are better for having her in it.

Fourteen pounds of enthusiasm and joy.
Photo by Deborah Mayne

Weird Words, Part 7

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 1973 edition


No seriously, this is a preface and it’s not about the word “preface.” Although, it is kind of a weird word if you think about it too much. I tend to do that … think about words too much. Many times to the point where they suddenly seem meaningless. I got hung up on the word barrette once. Said it so many times that suddenly it seemed like I couldn’t pronounce it properly any more. That ever happen to you?

When I’m at a loss for any real inspiration, I start thinking about words. Happens more than I care to admit. I’ve also thought about adding posts that begin “Things I Don’t Understand” and maybe “Random Thoughts” to help me get through the uninspired times.

I had decided to dazzle you with information about the word “preface” despite my disclaimer. Don’t try to find the etymology of “preface.” It’s a circular mess that offers very few satisfying facts. Certainly nothing I could make into a joke no matter how obtuse I might get. Sorry.


I can’t (or won’t) say that I use this word very often. But when I do (or might), it is most likely followed by a sharp exhalation of air from between my mostly closed lips (pfft!). Isn’t that how it was always done in all those old black and white movies that only the insomniacs (or diehard film addicts) watch anymore?

The first use of this word is said to have been recorded around the 1590’s. That’s pretty darn old. Like so many seemingly made up and nonsensical words, the exact origin of this one is not known. Originally, it was said to be a jumbled mix of liquors. For example, milk (milk is a liquor? Hey, I’m just reporting what others have written, don’t blame me) and beer, beer and wine, etc. So I guess that technically many of the drinks you might find in some upper class bar (I’m not talking about the “establishments” on Whiskey Row in downtown Prescott near where I live) are balderdash. I can sort of get the “dash” as in a dash of this and a dash of that. But what’s with the “balder?”

In Norse mythology, Balder (or Baldr) is a god associated with light, beauty, love and happiness. Hmmm? I suppose that some could argue that happiness could be found in a cup of balderdash. Personally, I’m doubtful.

Somewhere around the 1670’s it came to mean a senseless jumble of words. That’s an interesting leap. Or maybe not so much so. Consider someone who is profoundly drunk trying to say something a little more complicated than “Gimme ‘nother.”

Today, most dictionaries define it this way (except for mine which is, it seems, totally inadequate to the task of satisfying my curiosity):  trivial nonsense, stupid or illogical talk, absurdity, bull, drivel, fiddle-faddle, gibberish, piffle, poppycock, rubbish, trash, twaddle. There are a few really good weird words in that list. But I’ll move on to another that I found while researching balderdash.


I don’t remember actually using this word, but I have been called this in the past. It wasn’t all together a pleasant experience. I remember there was a fair amount of yelling involved.

Usually I really like Etymonline, but today they haven’t been of much help to me. Witness this:  1674, apparently a “jingling extension” [OED] of *whip-snapper “a cracker of whips,” or perhaps an alteration of snipper-snapper (c.1590). Cf. also late 16c. whipperginnie, a term of abuse for a woman.  Goodness! Guess I’ll have to try some other sources because to my mind “whippersnapper” is used to indicate someone young and inexperienced in the ways of the world. How we got there from a “cracker of whips” or a “term of abuse for a woman” I can’t imagine.

One of the main roads where I live was built on an old dirt track that haulers once used to get from Prescott to the outlying areas east of there. They had to go over Bullwhacker Hill in the process. It was named such because you had to really whip the bull oxen in order to get them to pull the heavy loads up that hill. The name has always conjured images of dusty men in cowboy hats sitting on a wooden bench in front of their loads yelling at and cracking their whips at the poor oxen; whip snappers. The downgrade on the east side of the hill isn’t as bad as the upgrade, but I’ve often wondered how the oxen felt about that. First you pull really hard and then you have to hold back really hard. Boy, I’ve certainly gone off on a tangent here. I could eliminate this whole paragraph, but then you might think there was something wrong with me if I did. Oh wait, you wouldn’t even know that I did that. So I could go ahead and do it anyway. Nah.

 Back to topic, I got this from the Word Detective:  “Whippersnapper” is a somewhat archaic term, rarely heard today outside of movies, and then usually from the mouth of a character portrayed as chronologically-challenged and hopelessly old-fashioned to boot. (I wish I’d written that, it’s really good.) A “whippersnapper” is an impertinent young person, usually a young man, whose lack of proper respect for the older generation is matched only by his laziness and lack of motivation to better himself. (Guess I’ll have to revise my definition of whippersnapper. Not to mention my opinion of the person who used it on me. Were they blind as well as rude? Although, there was this one older woman who thought I was a boy when I was working in a fast food restaurant. But I think it was the cap, uniform, and my hate of traditional brassieres that was to blame for that.)

One might imagine that the term derives from the understandable temptation among more productive citizens to “snap a whip” at such sullen layabouts, but the whips in question actually belonged to the whippersnappers themselves. Such ne’er-do-wells were originally known as “whip snappers” in the 17th century, after their habit of standing around on street corners all day, idly snapping whips to pass the time. (They must have been bored out of their minds if they thought that was entertaining.) The term was based on the already-existing phrase, “snipper-snapper,” also meaning a worthless young man, but in any case, “whip snapper” became “whippersnapper” fairly rapidly.

Though “whippersnapper” originally referred to a young man with no visible ambition, the term has changed somewhat over the years, and today is more likely to be applied to a youngster with an excess of both ambition and impertinence. I’ll add that often it also is applied to those young folk who want to do things differently from their elders. Maybe that is the impertinent angle. I have to say that impertinence is really a matter of perspective. I probably shouldn’t get started on impertinence. Does anyone else besides me find this stuff at all interesting? Goodness, I certainly hope so.


I just had to revisit this word from the balderdash definition. It’s just too darn juicy to ignore.

Again Etymonline has let me down. All they had to say on the subject is that it dates back to 1782 and is probably from “twattle” which dates back to 1556 and that it is of obscure origin. Another source also says that it is sometimes used as “twiddle-twaddle” which would seem to link it to “fiddle-faddle.” Wasn’t that a snack food that was popular many years back? And what does that say about snack foods in general?

I think it’s the “twattle” relationship in “twaddle” that first piqued my interest and elicited the “juicy” remark. A little piece of “twattle” is “twat” and twat has some interesting definitions. The Urban Dictionary says that it is a great word to shout out, although I have my reservations about that. It also says that it is a woman’s vagina (oh dear, am I allowed to print that here!), a blow (as in punch, not the kind you drink) to the face or genitalia (“You twatted me, I’ll twat you back), that it is used by Tweety, or that it is an offensive term for a person, and an acronym for The War Against Terrorism. To me that last is probably the best use for twat. Can you just see some politician using it that way when we all know what we mainly associate with the word? Could be funny though: “Our TWAT is doing well, don’t you think?”

So, anyway, much of what I write is just balderdash. But what do you expect from a young (at heart) whippersnapper like me?