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, 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.

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.