I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Consider these larger-than-life word names in our language

Delores E. Topliff
We have words in our everyday vocabulary, with roots in history, that have grown larger than life.

Jezebel was the Phoenician wife of King Ahab who urged Israel to worship Baal. Her schemes killed Naboth, and she vowed to kill Elijah, but instead dogs licked her blood as Elijah prophesied. Today her name describes any impudent, shameless, morally unrestrained woman.

Robin Hood is the highly skilled archer and swordsman outlaw in English folk history, wearing Lincoln, who moved around Sherwood Forest with his merry band opposing the corrupt, robbing the rich, and giving to the poor. Today people displaying those values can be called Robin Hoods.

Webster's Dictionary defines Maverick as an unbranded range animal,
especially a motherless calf, or, an independent person, who refuses to follow society’s standards or customs. A lawyer named Maverick lived in south Texas in the mid-1800s. He acquired a farm and cattle, but didn’t brand his animals and let them roam free. Today the term describes unbranded cattle, but also people acting individually who refuse to be branded as members of any particular group. 

Shirley Temple was the most famous, popular child star of all time. Blue-eyed with blonde curls, she starred in movies from age three and soon reached super stardom by doing it all—acting, singing, and dancing! Fans loved her because she was cheerful, bright, bouncy, and innocent. Today her name describes people like her, and also names a non-alcoholic mixed drink made from ginger ale with a splash of grenadine, garnished with a maraschino cherry.

Paul Bunyan is a massive lumberjack in American folklore. His exploits are told in tales of superhuman labors, where he is often accompanied by his blue ox, Babe. His character originated in the stories of North American loggers, and was later captured by writer William Laughed in a 1916 promotional pamphlet for the Red River Lumber Company. Varying statues of him are found throughout North America.

John Henry is the African-American steel-driving folk hero who hammered a steel drill into rock so explosives could blast railroad construction tunnels. In the legend and popular song, his strength is measured in a race against a steam-powered hammer, which he won but died victorious, hammer in hand, with his heart over-stressed.

Pecos Bill rose from the imagination of southwestern cowboys during westward expansion and displays frontier courage, strength, and humor. Created by Edward O’Reilly, he is said to have come from range hands’ tales at the end of long days on the trail, and has much in common with other  “Big” characters like Paul Bunyan and John Henry. I’d personally like to think there’s a real Pecos Bill out there somewhere who does lasso tornadoes to ride them.

Which is your favorite? Or nominate another you believe brings (mostly positive) larger than life qualities to all of us today? 
(This post is also available on delorestopliff.com)

Monday, January 1, 2018

Hear ye, Hear ye, read all about it!

Delores E. Topliff

Welcome to 2018, a year of fresh opportunities to create history and make headlines. In fact, there’s no reason any of us might not make news in 2018 by introducing popular new products, best-selling books, useful inventions, medical breakthroughs–the sky’s the limit. The only bottom-line requirement is enough innovation to prove Solomon wrongthere are new things under the sun. 
Anyone can qualify. All it takes is seeing a problem and working on its solution. Some say genius is 10% inspiration and 90% perspirationafter lightbulb ideas, elbow grease brings concepts to reality. 
Some discoveries are made by wondering about everyday events that happen to us. For example, many apples dropped on heads before one hit Isaac Newton and set him wondering why apples only fall down—not up, out, or sideways. He considered, tested, and established the irrefutable Laws of Motion.
Other breakthroughs come from wondering about everyday events. Consider Levi Budd, a six-year-old Canadian boy, who recently birthed a new word category by what he noticed riding in a car with his mom. At a stop sign, he realized the word “stop” spelled backwards becomes “pots.” He asked his mom what they call a word that becomes another when spelled backwards. She searched and found there was no term, so Levi invented one. The “levidrome” (pronounced “leh-vee-drome”) was born, a word becoming a new one if spelled backwards. When Canada’s Toronto-Star newspaper reported the story, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary paid attention, and say they say they will include his word in their next edition.
Now it’s your turn. If you could create any new word, or invention, story line, or innovation, what would it be and what would it accomplish?

We know that not everything that needs to be written or invented has been, so the world needs us all to get busy. Most of all, have a very Happy New Year, and have fun being creative.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Twelve Days of Christmas (or How many people and objects can you crowd into your home?)

Delores E. Topliff

How do you manage Christmas in terms of fitting all invited family members into your home? Do you spill into the yard? Spread out even further? 

This former introvert is now a people person who tucks in all I can--the more the merrier. But even I am stunned at the high number included in the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Let’s review the song:

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me,
Twelve drummers drumming, Eleven pipers piping
Ten lords a-leaping, Nine ladies dancing
Eight maids a-milking, Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying, Five gold rings, 
Four calling birds, Three French hens, Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.
In cumulative verses, the song names a growing number of gifts each day from December 25th all the way through January 6th. On December 25th, we start out with a whole lot of noise—twelve drummers drumming, etc. By January 6th, also celebrated as Kings’ Day, things calm down to only one partridge in a pear tree. (My back yard in Mississippi has two pear trees—I am waiting for partridges.)
Some say the twelve gifts relate to the twelve months of the coming year. If so, I haven’t cracked the code for those meanings yet.
The song is believed to be French in origin, but became popular when published in England in 1780, and now around the world. But just imagine the literal results—a total of 72 people, animals, and objects, all in one place, actively drumming, piping, leaping, dancing, milking, swimming, honking, laying, and/or squawking, in all ways creating maximum noise, mayhem and Christmas celebration overload.
Now it’s your turn. Instead of drummers, pipers, lords, ladies, milkmaids, swans, geese, rings, birds, hens, doves, and a partridge, are there other elements you'd like to have in the song—and maybe present for your family’s celebration?

Thanks for sharing. Now, please have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Some fiction characters are so real, they become part of our vocabulary

Delores E. Topliff
Who hasn’t heard of Scrooge? Or seen a cold-hearted miser and been sure they’ve met Scrooge’s brother? (Disney even recreated the Dickens character as Scrooge McDuck.) Or we may meet a total optimist whose personality cheers us all and recognize a Pollyanna. Memorable fiction characters from beloved books are so familiar, their names enter our daily lives and vocabulary. Here are more from an almost endless list:

Quixotic comes from Cervantes’ novel, 
Don Quixote. The hero is a gangling, near-sighted idealist who sets out to revive chivalry, undo wrongs, and restore justice to the world. His peasant squire, Sancho Panza, is the perfect foil to highlight his master’s unreasonableness while literally tilting at windmills on his knightly quest. Today it describes those who are extravagantly chivalrous or romantic, impractical visionaries. I enjoy being around them more than the lovable but sad, pessimistic thistle-eating donkey Eeyores from A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh books.

Most say that Don Quixote partially inspired Don Juan, a fiction symbol for libertinism. At the height of his infamy, he seduces a girl of noble family and kills the father avenging her. His vitality, humor, and arrogance, are dramatic tension building to his deserved fall. His name stands for debauchery today.

Frankenstein is a creature dreamed of and then developed by Mary (Mrs. Percy) Shelley for a contest challenge she and her husband and friends initiated while touring Europe for who could write the best horror story. Her tale is of an obsessed scientist who assembles a living being from parts of exhumed corpses who then terrorizes his creator. She won, hands down, and the name entered our experience.

The Grinch, from Dr Seuss's How The Grinch Stole Christmas!, is a nicer green but grouchy, cave-dwelling monster. Today Grinch describes any spoilsport or grump. I’d rather see than be one—and they do live among us.

Jeeves, the brilliant gentleman’s gentleman who repeatedly extricates the wealthy young man he serves from trouble, appeared in PG Wodehouse's stories and novels for many years. Today his name represents capable people who consistently provide faultless answers for any social occasion.

Malapropropisms connect to Mrs Malaprop, a character in Sheridan's 1775 play, The Rivals. Known for her muddled use of language, her name comes from the French phrase mal à propos, meaning "misplaced" or "wrongly positioned”. Her lines include many entertaining unintentional terrors. Today the term stands for a comical misuse of words resembling others in sound. Here are some fun ones: He had to use a fire distinguisher. Dad says the monster is just a pigment of my imagination. Good punctuation means not to be late. He's a wolf in cheap clothing.
Many other endearing (or unendearing) characters deserve mention. Tell us who you believe should also be on this list, and why?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

If the pen is mightier than the sword, don’t let your pen get dull.

Delores E. Topliff 
My last post featured the popular phrase, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” I was surprised to find it was written in 1839 by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton, a contemporary of Charles Dickens. He also originated the phrase, “the great unwashed,” and “the almighty dollar.” However, he is most remembered for less-successful words. The opening sentence of his 1830 novel, Paul Clifford, reads, “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”


In Peanuts, beloved cartoonist Charles Schulz often shows Snoopy daydreaming about writing books with that opening.

A contemporary of Charles Dickens, Bulwer-Lytton, a had many writing accomplishments, including some truly successful novels, but is sadly remembered most for this mocked, often-parodied phrase described as, “the archetypal example of a florid, melodramatic style of fiction writing” known as purple prose. In fact, since 1982 San Jose State University has sponsored a Bulwer-Lytton  Fiction Contest, “a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.”

Critics admit that Bulwer-Lytton’s original lines did fulfill the requirement of starting with a generalized scene and then filling in specific details. BUT he went too far. It might be funnier if many of us aren’t sometimes guilty of similar overwriting. Meanwhile, we are entertained by intentionally bad entries in recent Bulwer-Lytton contests.

“She slinked through my door wearing a dress that looked like it had been painted on. Not with good paint like Behr or Sherwin-Williams, but with that watered-down stuff that bubbles up right away if you don’t prime the surface before you slap it on, and just like that cheap paint the dress needed two more coats to cover her.”

Another often-quoted favorite: “Edmund waited, then immediately waited again.” And then, “As a scientist, Throckmorton knew that if he were to ever break wind in the sound chamber, he would never hear the end of it.”

I won't ask you to write similar words, unless you want to enter that contest. Instead, name an author or book whose writing you enjoy. I admire Barbara Kingsolver’s thoughtful, informative fiction and what Annie Proulx accomplishes in her newest ambitious historical, Barkskins. Now, please share yours.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Collective Nouns—charming delights for word lovers

Delores E. Topliff
This post began when I saw a delightful bird in Scotland and asked its name.
“It’s a Chaffinch, in the Finch family,” my friend said. “A group is called a charm of finches.”
That had me off and running since I’m a logophile, a lover of words of nearly all kinds. Some of the most fascinating in our English lexicon are the wonderful, unique terms used for collective nouns.
Ants and bees come in nests or swarms, and we have skeins or gaggles of geese, while butterflies are a flutter or kaleidoscope.
A group of penguins in the water is a raft; on land they are a waddle.
An assembly of crows is a murder, but a gathering of ravens is an unkindness.
We have parliaments of owls and flights of swallows. Swans are in bevies or banks until they fly, when they are also flights or wedges.
Donkeys or asses, cattle, and sheep are considered herds. So are giraffes, zebras, camels, elk, caribou, reindeer, and even people when in a crowd or mob.
Sheep, goats, chicken, ducks, and geese are also grouped in flocks.
Pigs and hogs are drifts or droves, but piglets come in litters.
Fish are in schools until they are caught when they become a catch, drought, or haul. Whales or dolphins are pods.
Baboons or apes are a troop or shrewdness, but we have a crash of rhinoceroses, and prides of lions.
We see basks of crocodiles but congregations of alligators.
The British Egerton Manuscript from around 1450 lists 106 collective nouns. The Book of St. Albans in 1486, mostly in verse, has 164 and adds leaps of leopards, a busyness of ferrets, yokes of oxen, and burdens of mules. Some groups are named for their young, like coverts of coots or kindles of kittens, or by how they respond when flushed, like a sord of mallards, or routs of wolves.
I find these fascinating but even this list is not exhaustive, so I’ll keep my ears open for more. I hope you'll tell us your favorite—or even bravely suggest a brand new one.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

If 'Home is where the heart is', mine keeps growing.

Delores E. Topliff
“There’s a Tibetan saying: “Wherever you have friends, that’s your country, and wherever you receive love, that’s your home.”

In my life, many valued ongoing friendships result from my many years of teaching high school and college in various places. A friend of mine made a list, and found that during that time, truly over 100 mostly young people have lived in my home while pursuing educations.

When people from North America or any nation live in your home for one to three years, sometimes with their parents or other relatives also visiting, amazing and meaningful relationships form and we become extended family. That makes me unusually rich in widespread relationships that have given me opportunities to visit their homes and enjoy bird’s eye views of their homes and homelands.

I’ve just returned from 34 never-to-be-forgotten amazing days in Denmark, Spain, Ireland, and Scotland. Many of my friends are openly jealous, but these connections have grown deeper and even more precious beyond the initial years of our times together. You don’t have to master the language to have a good time, though all efforts are appreciated. There are 5-year-old boy and girl twins in Denmark I do antics for, and they giggle every time and easily communicate they want more. I loved being invited into multiple homes near Madrid and Seville, Spain, where one dinner was served at 10:30 p.m. after a day that reached 42 C or 107.6 F degrees. Respect and understanding grows even deeper with each time together and continues long after I board a train or plane for the next place. I spoke with a friend yesterday who is considering housing a foreign student; of course, my unqualified recommendation was ‘yes’.

The only downside to such travel experiences is that the more often you enjoy close times together, the more you miss those visited after your return. Of course my door is also wide open for them their visits anytime possible.

Meanwhile, long live air miles and patiently-researched airline seat sales. Long live friendships that are warm and close whilel we laugh at minor cultural differences and enjoy each other whether or not we agree on political viewpoints or other minor differences. So much more unites us than will ever divide us. I recommend travel opportunities and exchanges to anyone who can manage them, and am forever thankful for the rich experiences that so far are mine.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

People Who Influence Our Lives

 If you had to list seven people (or groups) who influenced your life, who would they be?

My list would look something like this.

My mother
1     1.     Jesus – Oh, but some might say, He’s not a real person. I beg to differ! There’s plenty of historical evidence that Jesus lived in this world and died on a cross. The Bible also speaks of over 500 witnesses of His resurrection.  So I choose Jesus as the first on my list because He has made the greatest difference. I have peace about the future because of Jesus. I have the certainty that my sins are forgiven through faith in Him. I have wonderful friends that I would not have had if I didn’t know Jesus. So, yes, the number one person is my Savior.

       2.     My Parents—They loved me unconditionally and were always in my court. My mother radiated a sweet spirit for my family. My dad made me memorize whole chapters in the Bible. I am so thankful for them.

My brothers
      3.     My 3 brothers—Oh, yes, they sometimes tease me mercilessly, but they never leave me any doubt that they love me, their only sister. Even if I sometimes try their patience, I know I can always count on these brothers. Their texts, phone calls and visits lift my spirits.

       4.     My Adopted Kids, Tommy, Danny & Sarah—Although I loved them at first sight and chose them, they have turned that love right around on me and now show me daily how much they really care. And for the record, this includes their spouses as well.  It’s a good day when I get to spend time with any of them! And cheering for the Dallas Cowboys with Sarah's hubby, Treviel, makes it extra fun.

My 3 precious kids

       5.     My hubby –Yes, I have to say he’s stayed by my side and put up with me for over 40 years. (And since I can often be a “pickle”  that’s saying a lot.)  We’ve shared adventures in Canada, Mexico, Bolivia, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic. We encountered snakes, Gila Monsters, poisonous asps, microscopic weird things I’d never heard of and a military coup.

Pam, my angel
         6.  Then there's Pam!  It’s a long story, but after an aneurism, she basically gave me my brains back and became my "angel". 

6       7.     My friend, Becky—Since I didn’t have a sister in the flesh, God gave me a close friend so I’d know what a sister is like. There are no words that can describe the friendship, the fun, the fellowship and more that we’ve enjoyed over the years. We were toddlers when we met, so I cannot remember not knowing her. She even shares her granddaughters with me by bringing them here for tea parties.

That’s not everyone, by any means. I have wonderful cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and friends. What about you? Which folks have influenced your life?  Share, please!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

How things get their names Part 2 (and what does twine have to do with cars?)

Delores E. Topliff
This is my second post about car brands, often named for inventors or developers. "Automobile" is a French-coined word adopted by manufacturers.

In 1909, when it was clear automobiles were not a passing fad, eight Detroit businessmen partnered to make and sell cars for less than $1,000 (equal to around $26,000 today). That company was Hudson Motors, named for Joseph L. Hudson, entrepreneur founder of Hudson’s Department Stores. 

DeSoto, offered by Chrysler in 1929, was named after Spanish explorer, Hernando deSoto.

The first wheeled Dodge was a bicycle. The Dodge brothers’ reputation for craftsmanship led to making car parts. In 1902 they won a contract for 3,000 transmissions for the first Olds car. Henry Ford was so impressed, he teamed up with them and Dodge produced all parts for Ford’s 1903 Model A Runabout except the wheels and cabins. For the next 11 years both companies partnered and prospered.

The name Jeep probably comes from World War II slang for "new, unproven recruits or unproven vehicles." Others say it’s a contraction of G.P., General Purpose.

Nash Motors made cars in Wisconsin from 1916-1937. Until 1954, they were the automotive branch of Nash-Kelvinator, bringing innovations like the heating-ventilation system still used today, unibody construction in 1941, seatbelts in 1950, the first US compact cars in 1950, and muscle cars in 1957.

Plymouths, by Chrysler, introduced maybe the most famous engine in car history. They were named after Plymouth Binder Twine, produced by Plymouth Cordage, a twine with high popularity among farmers.

Studebaker was an Indiana wagon and automobile manufacturer. Begun in 1852 as Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing, they  produced wagons for farmers, miners, and the military, and later began automotive production in 1902 with electric cars, and in 1904 with Studebaker Automobile Company gasoline vehicles.
Jaguar is considered the best ever name for a sports car, winning above other animal names suggested by a British ad agency in 1935. Ford scored with Mercury, the fleet-footed messenger of the gods in Greek and Roman mythology, also the source for Lincoln's Zephyr, god of the wind.

Many current names were not originally part of the auto industry. Toyota came from Toyoda Loom Works in Japan. When their family began car production, they changed the "d" to a "t", more elegant in Japanese script.

Mechanic Soichiro Honda produced motorized bicycles after World War II and then graduated to cars.

Volkswagen resulted from Adolf Hitler's call for a car for the common folks, meaning "people's car" in German. The prototype was earlier known as "
Strength through Joy."

There are many interesting origin stories beyond this partial list. Some people select car makes or model based on their personalities. I name the cars I personally owndo you? My Nash Rambler years back was “Laplander” because it “lapped up the miles.” I began a list of suggested model names once when stuck in traffic, but haven’t sent it anywhere. Great current model names like Voyageur, Ram, and Sequoia are clear winners. Due to size, we might associate Hummer with Guzzler.

So what’s your answer? If starting companies to manufacture products, do we name them for ourselves? Or use terms emphasizing product qualities?

Now, please suggest the name for the next dream car, or any product of your choice.