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, May 22, 2018

Would you live in a library if you could?

Delores E. Topliff
When I was a young mom and grad student with two little boys ages 5 and 3, I took them with me everywhere I could, sometimes even to classes I taught. We visited public and university libraries, some with deep, dark basements, and others seven-stories tall, for lengthy periods of time. My sons took to them like ducks to water and cheerfully called them the “book caves”.  

That why I was struck by an NPR radio program of a boy who lived in a library with his parents and is now a writer. (I borrow heavily from his story below.) Is there a correlation? You betcha!

Decades back, custodians in the New York Public Library system could live in the buildings with their families. Raymond Clark’s dad was a custodian, and their family lived on the top floor of the Washington Heights branch in upper Manhattan starting in 1949, when Ronald was fifteen. Later, in the 1970s, he raised his daughter, Jamilah, in the same apartment until she was five. He later told that grown daughter that being a library custodian was like being, "the keeper of the temple of knowledge."

At first, Ronald was ashamed of his unusual home. But once the library closed for the day, he loved being the only kid in the building… “If I had any question about anything, I would get up in the middle of the night, go down, get out a book, (and) read until 3 o'clock in the morning . . . I began to realize how great I had it because the library gave me the thirst of learning—and this just never left me."

Living in the library shaped the man he became. “He was the first in his family to graduate from high school”, and (to his dad’s delight) eventually “got a position as a college professor. Read the full interview at https://www.npr.org/2017/10/13/557328529/how-living-in-a-library-gave-one-man-the-thirst-of-learning

Do you love books? Do they fuel you with wisdom and inspiration to take on limitless horizons? While you may not actually want to live in one, share your favorite ways to surround yourself with books. Please also check my website delorestopliff.com for more posts and updates.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

What if familiar stories ended differently?

Delores E. Topliff
Twice so far, the University of Northwestern-St. Paul where I teach has hosted the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association annual championships and will do so again this summer. NCFCA is the oldest and most established homeschool forensics league in the U.S. I've loved being a finalist judge the last two times and will train to do that again. The students in the competition are highly skilled and qualified candidates from across our nation delivering impassioned presentations with professional dedication. 

One duo-team's interpretive selection was Ken Bradbury's Open to Interpretation, a fun remake of Hansel and Gretel that brings it to a modern forensic setting with a canny private detective solving the crime. Here's the link: https://www.hitplays.com/hp/Scripts/Samples/OpentoInterpretation=061914.pdf

It's good to realize that no story's current ending is cast in cement. People and situations do change. We can use fresh thinking to imagine other creative outcomes. 

What if Little Red Riding Hood ate the wolf, instead of him eating her? What if the three little pigs outwit their wolf to become a clever trio going around the countryside outsmarting all wolves until the landscape is free and safe?

What if Jack and Jill don’t go up the hill at all, but down into the valley for water instead and devise a brilliant way for a pipeline or flume to carry the stream’s velocity uphill so no one ever has to climb hills to fetch water--or fall down--again?

Plot twists are refreshing. Think about any of your favorite stories that could have an interesting alternate ending, and share.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Spoonerisms, plus Victor Borge, and too much alphabetized logic for me

Delores E. Topliff
Spoonerisms are verbal errors in which speaker accidentally transpose the initial sounds or letters of two or more words, usually to humorous effect, as in the sentence accidentally saying you have hissed the mystery lectures, instead of, you have missed the history lectures, a simple tlip of the songue, or tons of soil for sons of toil, etc.

Any of us of a certain age who watched Danish-American comedian, conductor, and pianist, Victor Borge, loved the man called the “clown prince of Denmark” and the “comedian of the keyboard”. He achieved great popularity in radio and television in the U.S. and Europe after fleeing here from Denmark during WWII. He arrived with no money but soon gained a following through his music and humor. His trick of boosting numbers up a notch to make our ears hear the unexpected was wonderful. He “tiptoed through the threelips” to earn a fivetune. In other examples, "Once upon a time" becomes "twice upon a time," "wonderful" becomes "twoderful”, “forehead" becomes "fivehead," "anyone for tennis" becomes "anytwo five elevennis", "I ate a tenderloin with my fork and so forth" becomes "'I nine an elevenderloin with my five'k', and so fifth.”
He said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people,” and lived it.

Finally, I read about this phenomenon when the Nov. 2017 Reader’s Digest asked what these words have in common—"abhors, almost, begins, biopsy, chimps, chintz.”
Answer? “With 6 letters apiece, they’re among the longest English words with every letter in alphabetized order.”
Whoa—who even figures those things out?

Share any of your favorite word delights, and have a great week. 
Also visit my website, delorestopliff.com

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

April Showers bring May flowers

Delores E. Topliff
April showers bring May flowers—or so we’ve been told.One sourcetraces that phrase to an 1886 saying which might have deeper roots in a 1610 poem. Another source says the phrase should sound like this: "March winds bring April showers which bring May flowers AND June bugs."  

In general, rain does affect the timing and abundance of flowers, said David Inouye, a Univ. of Maryland biology professor. He notes that some plants flower a second time in late summer if they have a good soaking, but for most species, initial flowering is more closely tied to temperature than to rain.
April is “typically a wet month in much of the U.S.,” says another author, Libby Ellwood. “Plants may not know the (April showers) proverb, but rarely have to worry about having enough water in the spring to start producing flowers." Others say water decides flowering dates less than warming temperatures.
These are photos of Easter 2018 in greater Minneapolis, MN. Our Siberian Husky, Willow, was happy seeing an Easter snowman. The rest of us? Not so much. Easter fell on April Fool's Day this year, but we hoped the forecast of 3-5 inches more of the white stuff falling on three other days that week was a joke. Actually, it proved true as we broke records with plummeting temperatures and prolonged unseasonable cold. We didn't want to be record breakers. We just wanted a nice, normal spring!
Maybe our snow (not rain) showers will at least produce snow drop flowers! May our warm, welcoming thoughts of spring help her arrive to triumph soon. 

Albert Camus said it best. "In the midst of winter, I found there was within me an invincible summer."

Now it's your turn. 
What is your favorite season of the year and why? How do you handle it if your season  doesn't arrive on time?

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

May these thoughts spurn you on. What?

Delores E. Topliff

You may have seen this great post about Acryologia shared on Facebook. But wait, there's more; and I make no apologies. I love delightful word misuses and have a small collection of my own. Plus I also manage to goof up occasionally and get my tang toungled.

Years ago when many products were made of Naugahyde, resembling leather but made from fabric coated with rubber or vinyl resin, I was buying a new purse from a Sears catalogue. The look and price were right but I showed it to an elegant, fashionable, and well-educated Chinese-American friend for her opinion. “Do you think it’s real leather?” I asked. 
She answered, “For that price, it has to be Formaldehyde.” Once I explained, we laughed about that term for years.

Another friend who learned Dutch before English recently wrote wishing me inspiration to “spurn” my writing on. I haven’t told her and won’t, but thanks, ahem, I guess. If you read this and know her, don’t tell her. Her thoughts are solid gold.

I’m sure you’ve run across these as well. Please share your best and have a great week. Also visit my website, delorestopliff.com

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

More Punctuation History and Oddities

Delores E. Topliff
My post on using the Oxford Comma (or not) made me examine other punctuation. From speech class, I know that commas are visual directions to take a breath when speaking but also clarify written material when reading silently.
Written language didn’t always have punctuation. Its lines and dots are visual signs to indicate when speakers should take a breath, how and when to separate items in a series, when voices should rise to ask a question, and when things should be nearly shouted for emphasis.
Early civilizations invented pictograms and later alphabets for record- keeping and conveying ideas. Then users realized that some visual additions could make reading material more user friendly. Apparently commas came first. In the 3rd century BC, Aristophanes of Byzantium invented a system of single dots that separated verses to indicate the amount of breath needed to complete each fragment of text when reading aloud. The different lengths were signified by a dot at the bottom, middle, or top of each line.
The question mark originated from the Latin word qvaestio, meaning question. This word was abbreviated in the Middle Ages by scholars as just qo. Eventually, a capital “Q” was written over the “o”, and it formed one letter.
The exclamation point was also formed by stacking letters. The mark comes from the Latin word io, meaning "exclamation of joy." Written vertically, with the i above the o, it forms the exclamation point we use today.
Period usage came with the printing press and was the name for what printers called the "full point" dot on the baseline when sentences ended. 
In fact, no punctuation usage was standardized until after printing’s invention. In the 1885 book, The American Printer, the importance of punctuation was noted in these various sayings by children:
Charles the First walked and talked
Half an hour after his head was cut off.

Adding a semi-colon and a comma makes it read:
Charles the First walked and talked;
Half an hour after, his head was cut off.

Or try: What’s that in the road ahead?
Versus, What’s that in the road, a head?

There are plenty of more examples, but this is long enough. Please share your fun entries and if there’s continuing interest, we'll discuss more later. Also visit my website, delorestopliff.com

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

To use, or not to use, the Oxford Comma

Delores E. Topliff

While critiquing a friend’s work, I had a question about comma usage so checked the definition of the Oxford Comma. Here’s what I found. “The Oxford comma is used before the words “and” or “or” in a list of three or more things. Also known as the serial comma, its aficionados say it clarifies sentences in which things are listed.”

Grammarly's website notes, "the sentences 'I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty' and 'I love my parents, Lady Gaga, and Humpty Dumpty' are different. Without a comma, it looks like the parents in question are Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty."

They give two more examples. “Among those interviewed were Merle Haggard’s two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duval.” And, “This book is dedicated to my parents, Ann Rand and God.” Bold claims.
Besides the definition, there are Oxford Comma memes (that's one at top), a song with that title by the singing group, Vampire Weekend, whose lyrics can’t be quoted here, and a law case where the lack of the comma may win Maine dairy farm truck drivers millions in overtime pay. The written statute says, “workers who do not get overtime are those involved in, "the canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment - no Oxford comma  - or distribution of perishable foods."

Their lawyer responded, “It's unclear. Is it packing for shipment or distribution, or is it packing for shipment, or distribution? Driver distributors aren't on the list of people who don't get overtime because there's no comma." He filed a class action suit representing 75 drivers seeking $10 million in unpaid overtime.
Correct punctuation matters!
Share any example you enjoy where punctuation, or its lack, changed what is written or said, and have fun.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Happy Valentine's Day tomorrow, and every day

Delores E. Topliff

Valentine’s Day is a happy occasion for receiving flowers, chocolates, sweeter words, and maybe good books. If you’re a book lover, there are few things finer—and some of us have a hard time parting with any of them. But really, why should we? One of life’s highest joys is being surrounded by friends—and favorite books qualify. (Picture dedicated readers surrounded by books on bedside tables, stacked in piles on the floor, and maybe even one or two close at hand on the bed for when you wake up at night, as I sometimes do. Especially if it’s a beautifully written book, and a friend lent me a few recently.

Last night one of my sons told me I shouldn’t buy him a card for his close to Valentine’s birthday, (although I already have). Why? He said I’d already gave him the best possible greeting years ago when our budget really limited us to bare essentials that didn’t allow a card. I routinely wrote my sons birthday letters telling them how much I loved them and the things I appreciated most. But apparently one year, I took my youngest into a high-end store, searched for the most meaningful card regardless of expense, and said, “If I could afford it, this is the card I would buy you.” Thankfully, that imprinted his heart. He says it was his best birthday card ever. I’m thrilled that became a permanent memory.

Maybe I should really say, Valentine’s Day is an occasion for flowers, chocolates, and most of all, sweet, meaningful words. After all, words are (almost) free. Don’t miss the opportunity. Select your very best and provide a gift your loved ones will always cherish.

Now, please take a moment to describe your best Valentine’s Day gift or greeting, and why it is your favorite? Or maybe hint how you will express things to loved ones to make it their best greeting to remember every day.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Humorous words to make us sit up and take notice

Delores E. Topliff

Paraprosdokians are figures of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected, and frequently humorous. (Winston Churchill loved them). Instead of predictable words we might tune out, they snap us awake and make us sit up to take notice.
There are plenty, and here are several fun examples:
Where there's a will, I want to be in it.
Or, If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong. 
Check out https://www.englishforums.com/content/humour/paraprosdokians.htm for more.
Comics and satirists make good use of these. Here are a few fun ones. The first two are probably familiar:
1.    I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather, not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.
2.    Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.
3.    I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn't work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.
4.    Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.
If you know other great examples, please share them, and join our crusade to make spoken and written English, crisp, clear, sparkling, fresh, inspiring, and delicious, so that whether we’re reading, or having good conversations, our words taken in and given out are like breaking bread together to be nourished. Basically, at their best, excellent shared words are communion.

Please tell us your favorites. Beautiful words shared during cold seasons (or anytime) help our steady advance towards spring when bright flowers arrive to do their job.