Category Archives: Language

Weekly Photo Challenge: Merge


This week’s Photo Challenge is MERGE.   Guest-hosted this week by architect and photographer Gary Ng, this week’s challenge is to photograph two things that are normally in opposition, merging them into one work of art.

I thought all day about this challenge and the myriad possibilities, but there was no time to go out on a shoot today.  I thought that I’d look through my archives and find two photos that I could merge together to create a new work.  I tried overlaying images.  I tried a collage of photos.  I looked for two different photos that together could be juxtaposition of meaning or form.   All my attempts landed in the virtual dust heap.

But, as I continued to search through my very unorganized photos from the last year, I stumbled upon some photographs that I took last September on a brief spur-of-the-moment visit to the Morgan Library on a very dreary day.   I don’t remember what I had originally intended to do, but as I headed towards Midtown, I decided that I would go to the Morgan.   As I exited the subway, several blocks away, the sky looked ominous.  I almost headed right back into the subway station because there is nothing more miserable than being caught in the rain in New York, especially when I’ve packed like the tourist I am, wearing clothing that will not dry quickly. Instead, I ran the six or seven blocks to the Morgan, dashing up the steps of the museum just as the thunder started rumbling, lighting flashing, and the downpour began.

Although my intent was to see the Dickens exhibit, I was sidetracked by the marvelous sculpture, The Living Word, by Xu Bing in the Renzo Piano designed Gilbert Court.  The sculpture starts off as a very rooted piece, with the modern Chinese word for ‘Bird’ on the museum floor.  Then, the sculpture lifts away from the floor as if taking flight.  As the pieces rise towards the ceiling, the shapes transform from the modern written word into pictographs of birds.   It is a stunning and fascinating work and I spent a long time taking photographs.

The picture below is one that I marked for deletion.  Since I was traveling, I can only assume that I ran out of time, never finishing the editing.   I think I must have rejected this photo because the focus isn’t right and it doesn’t show off the work of art.   Yet, it seemed the perfect picture for this challenge.  It was the only photo in the series where there is the stark contrast of the vertical lines of the courtyard windows and the diagonal flight pattern of the sculpture’s birds.   In this photo, Piano’s Courtyard becomes a cage imprisoning the sculpture.  The rain-streaked windows blend with the guide wires anchoring the sculpture, and the bit of skyline through the windows makes it look like a box canyon.  These elements merge together, working together to form a sort of harmony between the energy of the liberated, free-form birds and the steel and glass that contain them.

Xu Bing, The Living Word 3

I see this sculpture in a different way now that I have revisited this photograph.  Although the artist has said that the sculpture shows the birds and the words they represent “escaping the confines of human written definition”, in this photograph you sense that there is still a limitation or, at least, an obstacle from which to break free.

You can read more about the work on The Morgan Library website.  Unfortunately, the exhibit closed last October, but there are several photographs of the installation on the site.   I particularly  liked this quote by Xu Bing, taken from the description of The Living Word:  “Buddhists believe …that if you look for harmony in the living word, then you will be able to reach Buddha; if you look for harmony in lifeless sentences, you will be unable to save yourself.’ . . . My work and my method of thinking have been my search for the living word.”

Be sure to check out others’ contributions to this week’s Photo Challenge to see how they interpreted the theme of MERGE.

Pretty Little Tiny Kickshaws


It’s been awhile since I picked up Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary and, when I got it in my head to look at it this morning, my search led me into a massive reorganization of a few bookcases, leading me to once again ponder: Is there such a thing as too many books?

I didn’t ponder for too long, though, I now have one reorganized bookcase and several more stacks around the house awaiting me to continue this project tomorrow. But, Johnson’s Dictionary was found and provided a bit of a respite from the dust in my bookcases.

If you don’t know Johnson’s work, but only know of it, you need to get your hands on a copy. It is fascinating reading. Coleridge called it a “most instructive and entertaining book” and I couldn’t agree more. Lord Macaulay is also quoted in the introduction to the edition I own (1) as stating that it is “the first dictionary which could be read with pleasure. The definitions show so much acuteness of thought and command of language, and the passages quoted from poets, divines and philosophers are so skillfully selected, that a leisure hour may always be very agreeably spent in turning over the pages.” I won’t fess up how much time I spent with dear Johnson’s dictionary today, but let it suffice to say that I might have made more progress on my bookcases had I not thumbed through as many pages as I did.

One of the things that makes Johnson’s Dictionary so entertaining to read are the quotations used as examples of the definitions.   By far the most quoted author was Shakespeare, who Johnson said was useful for “the diction of common life”.  So, in keeping with the A to Z challenge — and because April is the month of Shakespeare’s birth & death — here are a few words beginning with the letter ‘K‘  which use the Bard’s word as examples.

Stacks and stacks and stacks....

ken n.s, [from the verb.]
View; reach of sight.

Lo! within a ken, our army lies. ~ Henry IV.

When from the mountain top
Pisanio shew’d thee,

Thou wast within a ken. ~ Cymbeline


kern n.s. [an Irish word.]
Irish foot soldier; an Irish boor.

No sooner justice had with valour arm’d,
Compell’d these skipping kerns to trust their heels,
But the Norweyan lord, surveying advantage,
Began a fresh assault. ~ MacBeth


Kickshaw n.s. [This word is supposed, I think with truth, to be only a corruption of quelque chose, something; yet Milton seems to have understood it otherwise; for he writes it kickshoe, and seems to think it used in contempt of dancing.]

1. something uncommon; fantastical; something ridiculous.

2. A dish so changed by the cookery that it can scarcely be known.

Some pigeons, a couple of short-legged hens,
a joint of mutton, and any pretty little tiny kickshaws.
~ Henry IV.


Kicksy-wicksey n.s [from kick and wince.]
A made word in ridicule and disdain of a wife. Hanmer.

He wears his honor in a box, unseens,
That hugs his kicksy-wicksey here at home,
Spending his manly marrow in her arms. ~ All’s Well That Ends Well


kidney n.s [etymology unknown.]

2. Race; kind; in ludicrous langauge.

Think of that, a man of my kidney; think of that, that am as subject to heat as butter;
a man of continual dissolution and thaw.
~ Merry Wives of Windsor


kind n.s [cynne, Saxon.]

4. Nature; natural determination.

The skillful shepherd peel’d me certain wands,
And in the doing of the deed of kind,
He stuck them up before the fulsome ewes. ~ The Merchant of Venice

5. Manner; way.
Send me your prisoners with the speediest means,
Or you shall hear in such a kind from me
As will displease you.
~ Henry IV


kitchenwench n.s. [kitchen and wench.]
Scullion; maid employed to clean the instruments of cookery.

Laura to his lady was but a kitchenwench. ~ Romeo and Juliet


knowledge n.s. [from know]
2. Learning; illumination of the mind.

Ignorance is the curse of God,
Knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heav’n ~ 2 Henry IV

3. Skill in any thing.

Do but say to me what I should do,
That in your knowledge may by me be done,
And I am prest unto it. ~ Merchant of Venice

4. Acquaintance with any fact or person.

That is not forgot,
Which ne’er I did remember; to my knowledge
I never in my life did look on him. ~ Richard II

Kern, Kicksy-Wicksey, and Kitchenwench may no longer be the “diction of common life”, but it is still fun to read about them.

1.  Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, Selections from the 1755 work that defined the English Language, edited by Jack Lynch, published by Levenger Press, 2004.

This post is part of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today’s letter is K. Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. You can find other A to Z participants by clicking on the graphic. You’ll find an index of all of my A to Z blog posts here.

A trip to the Morgan


I went to the Morgan Library today, to see the Charles Dickens exhibit. It was an interesting exhibit, displaying excerpts from several Dickens letters. The manuscripts were difficult to read, but luckily, most were reprinted in a booklet. I may have more to say about the exhibit after I have finished reading the booklet.

But, there were two other exhibits that caught my eye while there. First, in the lobby, is an installation by Xu Bing, titled The Living Word. Starting on the floor where the word for ‘bird’ is written, the sculpture moves off the floor, taking flight into the soaring atrium. As the work progresses upward, the characters in Chinese for the word ‘bird’ gradually transform into the physical shape of a bird.

Taking flight from the word


Soaring

Soaring Closeup

The other exhibit was about Lists: To Do lists, inventories, lists of demands. Being a list-maker I had to walk through this exhibit. Among the lists was one list that I think must rank as one of the best love letters ever: a list by Eero Saarinen to his wife Aline Bernstein:

Best Love Letter

I love everything about this list. I am especially taken that there is a IIIa, nestled between IX and X. I also love the comment, with arrow, at the bottom, acknowledging that the last sentence is poorly written.

This post is poorly written as well, but it has been a tiring day. I’m about to nod off.

Dapple, Pied, Spotted


dap·ple   
[dap-uhl]
noun, adjective, verb, -pled, -pling.
-noun
1. a spot or mottled marking, usually occurring in clusters.
2. an animal with a mottled skin or coat.
–adjective
3.dappled; spotted: a dapple horse.
–verb (used with object), verb (used without object)
4.to mark or become marked with spots.
Origin: 1545–55; probably back formation from dappled

Word Origin & History
c.1400 ( dappled ), perhaps a back-formation from dapple-grey “apple-grey” (late 14c.), by resemblance to the markings on an apple (cf. O.N. apalgrar “dapple-gray”), or, as it was used of gray horses with round blotches, perhaps of apples themselves.

Dappled. Dictionary.com. Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Dappled (accessed: August 06, 2011).

Pied Beauty in the swamp - Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Bird Sanctuary, Naples Florida

The falling of light on the vegetation is one of the things that I find achingly beautiful about the woodlands. I was thinking of the word dappled as we drove through southern Indiana farmland last weekend, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, Pied Beauty came to mind, especially the line “Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough”.

This has always been one of my favorite Hopkins poems, although I hadn’t read it for a long time. Missed you, old friend. I particularly like couple-color, role-moles, chestnut-falls, swift,slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim. This poem MUST be read aloud!

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

>And now for something non-political


>A fun controversy:

What generic term do you use to describe a drink such as Coca-Cola, Sprite, Pepsi, 7-Up, etc.?

You can submit your choice at this site. There is a map of the results submitted. And, at Strange Maps you can see a national map by county based on use of the terms Soda, Pop, or Coke.

Where I live, the majority of people say ‘Coke‘. I find this humorous; at my office, by majority opinion, Pepsi brand products are stocked in the drink fridge. Beer, of course, would have been the first choice, but that was vetoed for obvious reasons.

What do I say? My dad was from Chicago; my mom from Philly. I think it was a compromise: Soda-Pop. Not Soda. Not Pop. But Soda-Pop.

Another common word usage in my neck of the woods that makes people from elsewhere laugh: there isn’t such a thing as a ‘potluck‘ dinner; it’s a pitch-in!

I can’t explain it for the same reasons I can’t explain why the locals pronounce the word wash as if it is wahrsh.

>Dipped in Raspberry Juice: Some musings on metaphors


>About a week ago, Bloglily wrote a post titled “It was Like, You Know”, about figurative language. As an example, she included, from her story “The Centerfold Club”, this bit describing a pole dancer as “a rotisserie chicken, all heated, bronzed, exposed skin, rotating around them both, for as long as the green light stayed on”.

In her post, Lily wrote about a literary agent who decreed that one should never have more than two metaphors or similes in an entire literary work. As you might expect, many of Lily’s readers offered their opinions in the comments, disagreeing with the literary agent. Write without metaphor? You must be joking! I don’t think I can converse without metaphor or simile.

Lily writes:

I think writers use simile and metaphor because thinking up a good simile/metaphor is just plain fun. Wit, as I recall, has to do with combining dissimilar things, in a way that gives the reader (and the writer) pleasure.

I agree with Lily that metaphor works similarly to wit. And both are good fun. But, the writerly pleasure of crafting a great metaphor is the aftereffect of achiving one’s purpose in writing: to communicate with your reader. If humor is the recognition of the intersection of two incongruent thoughts, certainly metaphor is also.

As I wrote in the comments on Lily’s blog, I like to think of metaphor as like a Venn diagram. Each vector in the diagram is disparate, but where they overlap, in the unexpected, not previously explored, region is where the writer uses figurative language to clarify something for the reader in a new and exciting way.

Although seemingly a simplistic way to describe a complex thought process, I see it like this:

What I know and what you know may be different, but if I am trying to convey an idea to you, I should start on common ground. I take two things that you have knowledge of and link those concepts together so that you can understand what I want to convey. F. Scott Fitzgerald is credited with saying that “[T]he test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” What a writer does with metaphor is to stretch that common ground in unexpected ways to broaden the reader’s understanding by purposely forcing the reader to not only hold those two disparate ideas, but at the same time to merge them into a new concept.

The speaker of The Red Red Rose, to use Robert Burns’ poem as an example, says “My love is like a red, red, rose”. The reader thinks: “okay, she’s like a flower. A pretty, red flower”. The poet and the reader both understand love, and roses, and now they both understand that the speaker of the poem sees his love like a beautiful rose. The poem continues: “That’s newly sprung in June”. Now the reader understands more — it is a fresh, just blossoming flower. But Burns doesn’t stop there: O my love’s like the melody/That’s sweetly played in tune. Now the reader can move on to another image of the lover’s sweetheart; his understanding is deepened by the second metaphor. The overlapping area of the diagram expands in yet another unexpected way.

But, you might say, the image of a lover as a red rose — or any kind of rose, perhaps even a sickly one as Blake used (see “The Sick Rose”) — is cliche. And you would be right. But when it was first used, it was not cliche; it was unexpected. The same could be said for Homer’s description of ‘rosy-fingered dawn’. But, the lasting power of these images is due to their effectiveness.

But metaphor and simile aren’t only used in poetry. Anytime something needs to be described, metaphor is the tool to have at hand. Take this passage from Howard Nemerov’s essay “On Metaphor”:

While I’m thinking about metaphor, a flock of purple finches arrives on the lawn. Since I haven’t seen these birds for some years, I am only fairly sure of their being in fact purple finches, so I get down Peterson’s Field Guide and read his description: “Male: About the size of House Sparrow, rosy-red, brightest on head and rump.” That checks quite well, but his next remark — “a sparrow dipped in raspberry juice” — is decisive: it fits. I look out the window again and now I know that I am seeing purple finches.” (A Howard Nemerov Reader, pp223)

I first read this essay of Nemerov’s many years ago and I used it to describe metaphor to a classroom of bored teenagers. They may not have understood Burns or Blake on the whole, but they understood what Nemerov was writing about when he described his recognition of the birds dipped in raspberry juice.

Whether the metaphor is describing dawn, a beloved, a unfamiliar bird, or a pole dancer, each of these examples uses the common knowledge of the dissimilar to communicate precisely what the writer wants the reader to understand. Perhaps it is the cliched use of figurative language that the uncredited literary agent was referring to. I would agree that the cliched should be avoided. But using metaphor to convey an image by comparing unlike things that are known to the reader — like comparing the exotic dancer to a rotisserie chicken — is a tool that all writers use. It is basic to communication. That region in the Venn diagrams of our minds where two unlike ideas come together is where our limited vocabularies and mere words on the page are used to stretch our imaginations and to make something perfectly clear.

>Wednesday: Words and Winter


>I read recently that the collective noun for Ravens was an unkindness of ravens. “Before or after Hitchcock made that movie?”, I thought.

This led me to a search engine to confirm. While I can’t find a definitive origin (I’m sure it’s out there, but I didn’t look extensively), I did find that there are numerous collective nouns for birds.

How about a murder of crows? Or a siege of bitterns? Others include:

a wake of buzzards
a cast of falcons
a confusion of guinea fowl
a kettle of hawks (Dinner, anyone?)
a parliament of owls
a congress of eagles
an exultation of skylarks

I thought a A Unkindness of Ravens, A Murder of Crows might make a good title for a mystery. I don’t read mysteries, but I wasn’t surprised when I queried Amazon that I found results. Ruth Rendell wrote a book called An Unkindness of Ravens; Cuba Gooding starred in a movie in 2000 called A Murder of Crows. More on collective nouns for birds can be found here.

********

Winter is still a few weeks away, but we had our first snowfall overnight. I love the first snow of the year: new, fresh, bright, the whiteness of it all. I like celebrating the cycles of the seasons and snow, rather than ice or cold, is the sign of winter to me. I like to be reminded of it, but I would be happy if winter only lasted a few days and then we could get on with it. Snow that melts after a few hours is the best kind. Today’s was like that, at least on the roadways. I had to grab my camera to capture the snow before it melted away:

The thick wet snow coating the limbs of the trees:

The last few green leaves on the undergrowth, struggling against the elements:

Chimneys seem purposeful. I like the monochromaticism of this picture, all whites and grey. A plume of smoke would have been perfect!

The abandoned, seasonal bench on the front porch, where it isn’t too welcoming at this time of year:

The beauty of a single leaf upon the new snow:

>words on wednesday


>At the beginning of the year, one of my non-resolutions was to blog more often. As frequent visitors might note, that didn’t happen. In fact as there became less opportunity for frequent visitors to be frequent readers, they, unsurprisingly, became less frequent visitors.

One of the things that I thought I would do would be to have a weekly post titled something like this one — Words on Wednesday. It was to be about, duh, words. It’s only taken me to the 45th week of the year for an inaugural Words on Wednesday post.

One of the reasons I make non-resolutions: Follow-through. Or lack thereof.

This evening, after continuing reading more of Thomas Paine (on to The Age of Reason), I was looking for something in the bookcase. Whatever it was, was lost to me once I glanced upon the copy of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary that I picked up on a bargain table months ago. This is not the full 2-volume dictionary, but selections from Johnson’s famed work.

In the introduction to this edition, Coleridge is cited as saying that it wasn’t so much a dictionary as “a most instructive and entertaining book. A quick look through some of the “A” entries supports that:

abbey-lubber. A slothful loiterer in a religious house, under pretence of retirement and austerity.

This is no Father Dominic, no huge/overgrown abbeylubber; this is but a/ diminutive sucking friar.

abecedarian [from the names of a, b, c, the three first letters of the alphabet.] He that teaches or learns the alphabet, or first rudiments of literature.

This word is used by Wood in his Athenae Oxonienses, where mentioning Farnaby the critic, he relates, that, in some part of his life, he was reduced to follow the trade of an abecedarian by his misfortunes.

abracadabra A superstitious charm against agues.

ague An intermitting fever, with cold fits succeeded by hot. The cold fit is, in popular language, more particularly called the ague, and the hot the fever.

Our castle’s strength/Will laugh a siege to scorn. Here let them lie/Till famine and the ague eat them up. Shakespeare. Macbeth.

answer-jobber [from answer and jobber] He that makes a trade of writing answers.

What disgusts me from having anything to do with answer-jobbers, is, that they have no conscience. Swift.

And two of my favorites:

to hang an arse A vulgar phrase, signifying to be tardy, sluggish, or dilatory.

For Hudibras wore but one spur,/As wisely knowing, could he stir/To active trot one side of’s horse,/ The other would not hang an arse. Hudibras, cant. i.

asshead n.s. [from ass and head] One slow of apprehension; a blockhead.

Will you help an asshead, and a coxcomb,/and a knave, a thin-faced knave, a gull. Shakespeare. Hamlet.

I will have to continue to read the introduction to the Dictionary and Johnson’s Plan. Maybe I’ll post some more on this. Maybe on a Wednesday.

For now I need to get some sleep, or I will hang an arse getting to work tomorrow and have to deal with some real assheads.

>Of Islands and Oranges


>My job took me to this island, the island of the City Like No Other, many times over the last 6 months:

As much as I love New York, I was more than ready to spend some time on a different type of island:

When I logged into Blogger this morning, I was surprised to realize just how long it had been since I posted to this blog. I composed dozens of vignettes this summer, mentally thought of writing about different scenes, sights, sounds and smells in NYC, but few have made it to paper and none have been posted here. Perhaps they will be posted in the future.

For now, I’m enjoying my time at the beach, listening to the surf pound, the birds squawk, and the occasional squeal with delight as the waves break around a child’s ankles; feeling the warmth of the sun absorbed by the sand as I walk at the shoreline, watching the coral and pink skies at sunset, eating fresh seafood, drinking fresh squeezed orange juice, and — what else? — reading!

On impulse the other day, I picked up a copy of John McPhee’s Oranges. How many books can you think of that are categorized as both ‘Food’ and ‘Literature’, as this one is?

Oranges is a thoroughly delightful work of non-fiction that seemingly describes all there is to know about the luscious orange (at least at the time it was published in 1967): where they came from and how the introduction around the globe of this succulent, sweet fruit has followed the courses of history; how oranges have inspired poetry and wars and been used as religious symbols in art and influenced architecture (think orangeries); how they have have been coveted as objects of beauty; how crop failures due to insects and freezing weather have wrecked havoc on the economy of towns; how the engineering inventions to make concentrated orange juice almost destroyed the market for the fresh fruit, and how an adequate mechanical means for harvesting had yet to be invented. After finishing the book this afternoon, I read a bit on the web on oranges. Consumption of oranges has decreased in the last few years. The acreage of orange groves has decreased since McPhee wrote his book 40 years ago although the number of trees and yields per acre have increased. Brazil — the originating place of the navel orange — is now the leader in orange exports, exporting almost twice as many as the US. But, apparently, oranges are still hand-picked in the field, a difficult task described by McPhee when he profiled the ‘Orange Men’ of the Florida groves.

One curiosity spawned by this book is the origin of the word orange. McPhee writes about the origin of the English word, evolving from the Sanskrit, then likely, after many linguistic transformations, being confused with the Provencal place name for the town that eventually became known as ‘Orange’. In many parts of the world, there are two words for oranges, differentiating between sour oranges (like the blood oranges of Seville that are so delicious in marmalade) and sweet oranges. Sweet oranges in many languages are known as “portugals” because they were developed in that country. But — and this is my curiosity — what about the derivations of the word for the color orange? The fruit can be a range of colors. The word orange to represent the color wasn’t used until the mid-1500’s. In Thailand, oranges are as green as limes. Yet, the Thai word sohm is used for both the fruit and the color.

Did Western Europeans have a word for the color orange before oranges were brought to Spain by the Arabs in the 12th century? Or did they need to invent a word for the color of the fruit that grew in the luxurious gardens of the Alhambra? Apricot, bittersweet, coral, peach, red-yellow, salmon, tangerine, titian are all listed as synonyms for the color orange. Three of them, interestingly, are names for other types of fruit. In some languages (e.g., Dutch, German, Russian) the word for orange has a similar origin to the word for apple, as oranges were once called ‘Chinese apples’ by the Romans. As different as apples and oranges: whether fruit or hue, they are very different things on my mental map.

I started to read McPhee’s In Suspect Terrain about 15 or 20 years ago. I never finished the book, although sometimes, when I travel through northern Indiana and southern Michigan, I think about the theoretical existence of undiscovered deposits of diamond pipes under the Great Lakes that I learned about from McPhee’s book. After reading Oranges I think that I will read other books by McPhee. Looking to read “Literary” nonfiction? McPhee would be a good choice.

>Odds and Ends; Bits and Pieces; Rats and Mice


>Verse Libromancy
Go to Bud Bloom Poetry blog to get the Verse Libromancy button. Clicking on it will direct you randomly to one of over 500 literary sites on the web. Fiction, non-fiction and cultural commentary sites are included as well as poetry sites. The VL button code at Bud’s site contains the listing if you’re not willing to rely on serendipity. Link courtesy of Frank Wilson at Books, Inq. I’ve added the Verse Libromancy button to my sidebar on the right. Pretty cool.

AWAD Live Chat
Anu Garg at A Word A Day (AWAD) is hosting a live chat (9/26 6PM Pacific) with Paul Dickson, whose recent book is Labels for Locals: What to call people from Abilene to Zimbabwe?. Dixson has published several books. I’m particularly fond of Toasts; Words; and There Are Aligators in the Sewers. If you don’t know AWAD, check it out. Anu’s email will send you a new word every day with definition,pronunciation, and origins. Past chats with wordy people (ranging from cognitive psychologists to authors to dictionary editors) are archived on the site.

Dorothy at Of Books and Bicycles mentioned this explication of Marmaduke today. It may be my new Daily Zen.

Lastly, with regards to this post’s title. The astute reader will notice that I have not mentioned anything to do with rodents today (I don’t think I ever have). Several years ago, a co-worker told me that New Zealanders use the expression “Rats and Mice” to mean Odds & Ends or Bits & Pieces. Apparently some of our NZ co-workers told her that, but I never heard any of them use it. She was a bit gullable. Maybe they really were talking about rats and mice? Is anyone out there familiar with this expression? It doesn’t seem at all the same as bits & pieces, rodents being nasty things that you want to be rid of, where as odds and ends fill up the junk drawers in our brains, precisely because we don’t want to be rid of them!