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, November 20, 2018

Thanksgiving or Turkey Day?

Delores E. Topliff
I was sad years back to find that numerous students even in Christian high schools and colleges do not know the origins behind American Thanksgiving and join many others in simply calling it Turkey Day. The busiest air traffic day of the year, the fourth Thursday in November is a heartwarming time to join family around a table featuring turkey, but it is also so much more.  

After surviving their first year in the Mayflower Colony, during the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims invited ninety Wampanoag Indians from a nearby village to express thanks and share their harvest with them. Despite extreme hardships and losses, our forefathers thanked God for freedom and a fresh start in a new land. 
These days Googling Thanksgiving brings up a wide-range of articles including virtual turkeys with no calories and vegetarian recipes made up of gelatin or other substitutes.

Who doesn’t enjoy turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry and other salads, various pies and great-grandma’s specialty prune-spice or cheesecakes? Before we stuff ourselves and later relax with football or naps, begin the meal by singing the Doxology to thank God “from whom all blessings flow.” Look at each face around the table, and enjoy the conversations and reminisce along with the food, but pass on the best parts of this tradition. Resist the trend to take the Thanks out of Thanksgiving as well as the giving for that matter to preserve the true heritage.

For more blog posts and news updates, check my website, delorestopliff.com

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

More Interesting Word Origins

Delores E. Topliff
I love tracking the origins of words because so there are often interesting stories behind them. Apparently knucklehead refers to someone with a brain the size of a knuckle. Samuel Johnson, the compiler of England's first dictionary, claims the word nincompoop comes from the Latin phrase non compos mentis (“not of right mind”), initially a legal term.

“I'll be a monkey's uncle,” does not connect to Darwinism as I imagined but expresses surprise, amazement or disbelief. That phrase first appeared in an Ohio newspaper February 8th, 1925, with the statement, “If that’s a joke, I’m a monkey’s uncle.”  

In 1807, William Cobbett wrote about using red herrings to lay a false trail while training hunting dogs—apparently over-ripe fish confused the sensitive noses of skilled hunting canines.

The term “caught red handed” originated in Scotland in the 15th century. Based on how it appears in early references, it describes people caught with blood on their hands from murder or poaching.

Malaria comes from two medieval Italian words “mal” meaning “bad” and “aria” meaning “air” – so it literally means “bad air”. The term was used to describe the unpleasant air coming from the marshlands surrounding Rome, which was believed to cause the disease. We now know that it’s the mosquitoes breeding in those conditions that cause the disease, not the air itself.

The world’s favorite lunch item is named for England’s 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu. The story goes that 250 years ago, the 18th-century aristocrat requested that his valet bring him beef served between two slices of bread. He enjoyed eating this while playing card games as his hands wouldn’t get greasy and spoil the cards. Observing him, Montagu’s friends began asking for “the same as Sandwich”, and so the sandwich was born. Though people did eat bread with foods such as cheese and meat before this, those meals were known as “bread and cheese” or “bread and meat”. The sandwich is our ultimate convenience food.
Such findings make me want to discover more word origin stories. Please send your favorites.

For more blog posts and news updates, check my website, delorestopliff.com

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Dated Words—Here today, gone tomorrow

Delores E. Topliff
This blog highlights popular expressions made obsolete as technology marches forward. For example, I used to joke that I had a photographic memory that wasn’t developed (which worked fine in the camera film era but not in digital days). Some joke that it’s hard for any Clark Kent to change into Superman in this cell phone age when he can’t find a phone booth.

When a grandmother told her grandson she used to drive a Jalopy, he looked at her and asked, "What is a Jalopy?"

She said, “Heavens to Mergatroyd, you don’t know what a Jalopy is?”
He drew a blank again. Mergatroyd isn’t in Spellcheck. Google says the phrase is popularized by the cartoon character Snagglepuss on the Yogi Bear Show in the ‘60s but was used on the radio in 1944 by Bert Lahr, who played the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz. Mergatroyd was the family name of aristocrats living in Yorkshire, England in 1371, but no one knows how their name jumped to an American cartoon. Before Mergatroyd, it was “Heavens to Betsy!” or “Gee whillikers!” but I won’t go there.
Sometimes few years go by before such changes occur, but those unaware of earlier technologies look at us like we’re from a different planet. Other words or phrases becoming obsolete include, “Don’t touch that dial”, “You sound like a broken record”, or “You should be hung out to dry.” What?

It’s sad when familiar words enter archival museums to be replaced by space-age-and-beyond terms. To communicate with current and coming generations, we must bridge vocabulary gaps, or risk obsoletism like Gregg’s Shorthand (which I still enjoy), Cursive Writing, or Stick Shift cars which are endangered species. Thankfully our kids and grandkids can help us.

Language is alive and grows with the times. Perhaps we can part with outdated technology terms if we’re careful to embrace the new ones taking their place but still pay respectful homage to the past.

What little-known word or term do you most wish to hang onto?

For more blog posts and news updates, check my website, delorestopliff.com

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

October 16 is National Dictionary Day

Delores E. Topliff
October 16 is National Dictionary Day, an unofficial holiday celebrating the birthday of Noah Webster who published An American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828, the earliest version of the now famous, widely-used Merriam-Webster Dictionary.


A dictionary is a book, optical disc, mobile device, or online source containing the words of a language alphabetically and providing information about their meanings, pronunciations, etymologies, inflections, and derived forms.

The best way to celebrate Dictionary Day is by expanding our vocabularies. Make sure to keep a modern dictionary in your home and that a site like Dictionary.com is tabbed as a favorite on your computer. You might enjoy the Reader’s Digest monthly feature, “How to Increase Your Word Power, or sign yourself up to a site like Grandiloquent Word Of The Day to expand your vocabulary daily.

In his book, Dead Poets Society, author N.H. Kleinbaum describes the purpose of dictionaries: “So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do.”

People who love words usually enjoy puns and team up their dictionary with a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus, so I’ll close with this quote that recently appeared on Facebook: “I swallowed a dictionary. It gave me thesaurus throat I’ve ever had.”

Groan, but only people skilled in dictionaries and vocabularies have that much fun with words.

What age were you when you began using a dictionary? Or, what is the most important thing you have learned from a dictionary?

For more blog posts and news updates, check my website, delorestopliff.com

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Danger Zone or Unwise Questions

Delores E. Topliff
Who has not accidentally asked unwise awkward questions you immediately wished you could retract? We vocalize questions in light, rising tones, but if offensive, the answers may fly back in heavy, angry tones.

Here are danger zone examples. Unless you’re sure someone is pregnant, a question to avoid if you see a friend gaining weight is, “When is your baby due?”

A risky parallel is, “What did you pay for that item of clothing?” (Your voice tone indicates how poor a choice you think it is).

Hair care and appearance present other minefields. A young woman styling my hair once commented, “You’ve got a really tight perm.” (My hair is naturally curly). Another woman cutting my curly hair asked, “Have you considered having your hair straightened?”

When one student showed up sporting a new and unusual hair style, a beloved teacher asked with a smile, “Who cut your hair? People can be sued for that.” (Because of his always-present smile, his comments were well-received.)

My sister six years younger than I enhances her hair color, but I do not. At her son’s wedding, a friend greeted her and welcomed me by saying, “How nice that your mother could be here with you.” My sister enjoyed that too much.

Now that my hair is gray, someone asked, “What color did your hair used to be?”

A student from long ago who is now in renewed contact asked, “How are you enjoying retirement? (I don’t feel that old, hope I don’t look my age, usually don’t act it, and still enjoy productive fulltime work).

Safe warning reminders might be, “Curiosity killed the cat”, or “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”.

I wish I could say I have never asked any of the above questions, but I’d be lying.

What war-zone question have you asked that landed you in trouble, and how did you (hopefully) recover the situation?

For more blog posts and news updates, check my website, delorestopliff.com

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

"Lest We Forget"

Delores E. Topliff
“Lest we forget” is a phrase often used in Remembrance Day services in English-speaking countries, but it also applies to other dates. September 11, 2001 is one such day the world remembers. Its events were four coordinated terrorist attacks by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda against the United States. It is believed that Osama bin Laden, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and Mohammed Atef plotted them after a 1999 meeting and chose the date to match 911, the phone number used for U.S. emergencies.

Regarding that and other stand-out events, most of us know exactly where we were and what we were doing when we heard  major news. On 9/11, I taught college evenings but worked days in a Minneapolis hospital. That morning, I stepped into the basement employee elevator and heard co-workers discussing a plane that had crashed into the World Trade Center. After reaching my floor, I told my work supervisor, but he had his radio on and told me a second plane had struck the Twin Towers and brought that structure down with the greatest loss of American lives since Pearl Harbor. They were not accidental attacks. Strangers encouraged one another. Churches filled.

For Americans and the world, November 22, 1963, was another unforgettable day day when at 12:30 p.m. Texas time, U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I had begun undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto, Canada and was amazed at how many students knew I was American and went out of their way to express their condolences. I was more surprised at how many Canadian homes and offices managed to display U.S. flags in sympathy. On one of the saddest days in American life, my personal take-away remains gift-wrapped by so many warm expressions of support that I will never forget.

Major events stick in our minds and hearts to pinpoint such moments forever and make us lay hold again of the the things that strengthen us most.

What days in history live in your mind? Where were you and what were you doing? Recalling them makes time fall away as if we are there again with the events and players crystal clear. Hopefully, such specifics make the memories live to not be repeated—“Lest we forget”.

For more blog posts and news updates, check my website, delorestopliff.com

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Onomatopoeia – sound effect words make storytelling live

Delores E. Topliff

Profound thanks to the Greeks for creating sound effect words. The term comes from two combined Greek words, onoma meaning “name” and poiein meaning “to make” or create words that sound like the action described. This post gleaned information from http://examples.yourdictionary.com/5-examples-of-onomatopoeia.html
Onomatopoeic words can be verbs or nouns. "Slap" is the sound heard when skin hits skin but also describes the action of hitting someone with an open hand. “Rustle” is the sound of dry things, like papers, brushing, but also describes the sound when they are moved around and brush each other. 
Here are examples for you to see, hear, and sound out. These words sound like water or liquid: splash, spray, sprinkle, squirt, drip, and drizzle.
These describe vocal sounds made in the back of the throat or by air passing over or through the lips, tongue, and teeth: Giggle, growl, grunt, gurgle, mumble, murmur, and chatter.
More describe the sounds of two or more objects colliding: bump, bang, cling, clank, clunk, clang, chop, click, clip, thud, thump, and clap.
Others describe air blowing through things or rushing through the air: flutter, swish, swoosh, whoosh, whiff, whizz, or whisper.
Distinctive identifying animal sounds include bark, bray, buzz, chirp, hiss, moo, oink, purr, quack, tweet, and warble. However, they are described differently in various parts of the world. For example, chickens may cluck, bok, tok, or kot.
Chug, puff, ding, dong, and buzz, are action words. We all know Alka Seltzer's successful slogan, “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.” In the U.S. and Canada, Rice Krispies snap, crackle, and pop, but in Spanish-speaking countries they go pim, pum, pam.
The Greeks created this word category gift to express life and fun. Let’s clap our appreciation and invent more sound words to capture the woofs, bangs, toots, cracks, crashes, snaps, and sizzles, that express life.
Now, please share your favorite onomatopoeia word or create your own.
For more blog posts and news updates check my website, delorestopliff.com

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Truisms - Pithy statements of obvious truth

Delores E. Topliff
Tru·ism - a statement that is obviously true but says nothing new or interesting. Synonyms for the term include platitude, cliché, banality. This post exists because I’ve thought up several lately, (guess how they occured): “You can hold a book in your hand but only read if your eyes are open.” “You can place a packet of vegetable seeds on garden soil but seeds only grow if they’re planted.”

A large number of truisms come from the Bible, Shakespeare, or politicians. Many are so well-known, people think they’re from the Bible when they are not. Common examples are, “You get what you pay for;” “Look before you leap”, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”

This website provides 1001 truisms in alphabetical order. Find your favorites there. http://www.freewebs.com/1001truisms/truisms.htm
I’m not enclosing them in quote marks, but some easily recognized are: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. A coward dies a thousand deaths, a brave man dies but one. A fool and his money are soon parted. A house divided against itself cannot stand. A job worth doing is worth doing well. Cross that bridge when you come to it.  Dead men tell no tales. Birds of a feather flock together. Blood’s thicker than water. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All’s fair in love and war. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. An army marches on its stomach. Beauty and brains don’t mix. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is only skin deep. Beggars can’t be choosers. Better late than never. Better safe than sorry. Charity begins at home. Cheaters never prosper. Children should be seen and not heard. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Don’t make a federal case out of it. Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
The number is almost endless, and they do sum up obvious truth. Listen for them today. Tell us your all-time favorite, or, invent and share your own.

For more blog posts and news updates, check my website, delorestopliff.com 

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Books accomplish many important things . . .

Delores E. Topliff
Books accomplish many important things . . . They refresh and fill our minds, encourage our hearts, and rest our feet—sometimes literally.

At least that’s what I’m saying after taking my College English Comp. and Editing students on a library tour where I teach at the Univ. of Northwestern—St. Paul, MN. This picture of a perfect reading nook shows you why.

The good news is I had no idea the library was so up to date and with so much wide-ranging material available online from vast network options, greatly expanding our local holdings. With fast service, too, to receive even literal books to hold in our hands from surrounding libraries. Plus I’m told such improvements are generally true everywhere.

One of my students walked in unsure how to narrow a broad writing topic into a manageable one, and the library director’s informative slide show of in-house and online holdings took care of that in a heartbeat. It listed subjects and many detailed sub-categories that generated more than enough ideas for all of us. Later, touring literal attractive book stacks, titles practically shouted their names. I spotted a volume of an explorer’s century-old botanical survey of South America, including a jungle region where I once spent three and a half happy months helping teachers, schools, and school children. That book came home with me, and as a faculty member, I can keep it for four months. If I need to, I can even renew it longer.

Books, all kinds of them. On shelves, transmitted through the air, to fill our minds, encourage our hearts, and even rest our feet before taking more and better journeys through the wonderfully-expanded world they bring us.

It doesn’t get much better than that. Visit your local library in person or online, and happy reading!

Please tell us what book you’re reading now, or name a lifetime favorite. What has either meant to you?

For more blog posts and news updates, check my website, delorestopliff.com