Rigmarole and all that Jazz

Not long ago I was discussing the college process with a freshman attending the U.of I. I mentioned that I was glad I was finished with all that rigmarole, and she just looked at me as if I spoke Klion. She had never heard the word, rigmarole — or, rather, how some people like to pronounce the word, rigamarole. — adding an extra syllable to feel the word move around and from the tongue. I explained that the word meant the annoying process of waiting in line, in this case, to register for a class, etc.only to be told to go to another line to wait there. Sounds like our motor registration office! Hurry up and wait. 

Actually, rigmarole is more than waiting in line, it is the long, complicated process of anything — from filling out applications for college, or a job or filing for disability or preparing your tax returns. If there is one thing you can count on it will be that you will feel frustrated and annoyed by the process. That is a guarantee.

Then, the conversation started me thinking. So many of our words are changing. Take the word “brood”. The first definition that comes to mind is a brood of kids, lots of kids. But, how many times have we heard or seen the word meaning “to think alone”. Yet, it is a definition, actually a verb for all those English majors out there. Personally, I brood on many subjects. An ingénue is that näive young girl who we simply refer to as a teen in today’s standard of language. By using the word ingénue, though, we are defining the young girl. I have never heard a teen girl being described as an ingénue, yet I know many who are näive. 

Sure, we do not use words like erstwhile (at one time) or wherewhital (the means), but they are a part of our language. For the time being. I am sure they will soon go to the obsolete pile.

An obsolete word includes chirography. This word, meaning the art of handwriting, is gone, and I can bet the actual art of handwriting is nearly obsolete. I wonder how often the elementary teachers teach cursive. Cursive is being replaced with the typing of words on a computer. But that is another story altogether. Going back to words — another word that is obsolete is “battologist” meaning someone who repeats the same thing needlessly. Today, the word is perseverate, repeating a word or phrase over and over. Different words, similar meanings. Either word, you will feel irrirtated when you have to listen to the speaker battologizing, perseverating for hours on end, battologizing, perseverating for hours on end, battologizing, perseverating for hours on end…

The point is that times are changing. Words are being added and deleted from the dictionary on a yearly basis. Today’s youths have never seen or heard some words, and since words are a source of communication, a receptor for intelligence, an inroad to higher education, they are important and should be weighed. At the very least, youth should be exposed to words, lots of words. And, maybe, just maybe, the next time the young college freshman hears rigmarole, she will know what it means. Exposure. Then, there is the New York Times. Exposure. 

Until next time…

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The Scots-Irish and the Hillbilly

I am always looking for good programming on tv, and found “America’s Secret Slang” on the H2 channel. Since I love words, the title aroused my senses, and I had to watch. What followed is worth mentioning. In this blog I basically write about how we use words, cliches, idioms in our language; in this program, it explains where words come from, not emphasizing the etymology (origin of a word), but the story behind the word, like “cop”. This word is Irish, coming from the Celtic word, “ceap” which means “chief”, so our word cop is a word of respect in Irish language. A totally different connotation than how we use the word today!

Onward to the story of “hillbilly”. You will be surprised how this word came into being. According to Zach Selwyn, host of “American’s Secret Slang”, some men, farmers, who fought for King William III of Scotland against England in the late 17th century came from Ulster, Scotland, the lowlands. King William was nicknamed King Billy, and the men who fought for him were referred to as “Billy Boys”. 

After the war, the King wanted the Scots, his “Billy Boys”, to go to Ireland and convert the Irish to the Scottish Presbyterian religion, so off they went to Ireland. They tried but were never accepted by the Irish and did not succeed at converting the inhabitants from Catholicism, and eventually (after being labeled as Scots-Irish) fled to America. 

They did not fare better in America because word spread when they immigrated of what they attempted in Ireland. Once again, they moved from the east coast, this time to the Appalachians, the hills, and this is where they made their home. Remember the timing, this is the beginning of our nation, when land had to be cleared and houses built from the lumber they cut. So, our derogatory “hillbilly” was really a soldier for the King, who obeyed his King by going to another country to convert the inhabitants to a protestant religion. Instead of going home, which was filled with wars and rumors of wars, they continued to a new land called America. It wasn’t easy for them here, either, but they found a life in the hills around Tennessee, and they continued with their customs, their term of endearment, “Billy Boy”, and their music.

This music eventually gave us some great music and musicians — from Elvis to Hank Williams to Loretta Lynn to Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton. Today those Scots-Irish fiddles and banjos are assimilated into the music we know as country.

This program is worth watching. Usually, I do not promote a series, but this so correlates to what I do here that I had to share. I have looked to see when the next episode airs, and the shows I found (and recorded) were from the 2013 season. It looks like more will air in April, 2014, but I am not for sure. I will keep you posted, but in between time, if the series airs as reruns, they will be worth your watch.




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Once more, I am going to hunker down!

Here, in Chiberia, we had a reprieve from the weather, and we did — for a fleeting moment. Then, during that moment, I dreamt of temperatures hovering around freezing, sunshine, and tempting myself with thoughts of a balmy 40. I didn’t think I was unrealistic — it is winter. Now, reality has set in — the forecast is prepping us for another round of snow and ice with the most on Saturday (all day Saturday) with a possible total of a foot of snow by Tuesday. It has started, but not enough to mention.Then, after we have more of the winter white piled on our driveway, we return to the frigid air. Me — I am preparing to hunker down. Again! Gas is in my car, food is bought, made a list of projects to work on, and, hopefully, I will get out on Sunday. But, there is no doubt, I will be hunkering down.

Strange word, isn’t it? — hunker — the connotation is even stranger. We live in a world where we are to be active, get the muscles moving, stay strong, and yet, when we anticipate we need protection, we hunker down. Literally, according to the Oxford Dictionary, it means to “squat, with the haunches, knees, and ankles acutely bent, so as to bring the hams near the heels, and throw the whole weight upon the fore part of the feet.” (That’s a pretty detailed description of “squat”). 

Personally, I am not going to squat. I am going to simply stay inside for as long as necessary — do a few calisthenics, read a book, write a page or two. And not a minute longer. I am tired of hunkering down; I am getting cabin fever — that claustrophobic feeling when I am in one place too long. If this continues I will be ready to cast my cares to the wind, become the captain of my own vessel. I visualize myself as Kate Winslet, the young Rose, standing at the tip of life, the tip of the Titanic before its impending doom (Maybe I should rethink that scene considering the outcome!)  If I were younger, I would consider sowing my oats, but that is for the young before they settle down. Right now, though, I am hunkering down, readying for the next storm to pass. 

I have a feeling this spring will be more active than most. That is, if we ever get to spring.

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Writing the short story

It has been longer than I wanted since I have written my blog. I have thought about posts, jotted notes on sayings and what I have observed in my surroundings, my blog has been on my mind. So why haven’t I sat down, opened my laptop, and posted those small words or cliches that I have heard and stored in the niches of my mind. What have I been doing? Writing, traveling, teaching, tutoring — and researching my story — don’t forget the research, traveling to the libraries and special publications of those libraries  whose keepers have opened the doors to give me the information I needed to make my latest story reliable, filled with facts of times gone by — in other word, I have been doing what I do best. What I love to do. With that in mind, I thought I would write today about the short story that I have been working on — give you the first couple of paragraphs of a short story turned novelette (a story over 7500 words). There is another story (my final story for this collection) that will also be of this length, but the rest of the stories are short so you can read them during a break from routine. Enjoy this beginning. And let me know your thoughts. Do you want more? If so, I will give you excerpts.


John Doe #32

The old man, shrunken and withered with age, shuffled down the timeworn maroon carpeted hall, caressing his fingertips, mumbling, “It’s all Tom Sawyers fault, you know. Damn Tom Sawyer. It’s all your fault, Tom Sawyer. You know that, don’t you?” Over and over, hour after waking hour, day after day, the old man continued his ritual, continued his litany cursing Tom Sawyer.

     No one was mindful of his body. Simply, he was a worn ornament dressing the halls of the nursing home — a state-paid bed for the displaced residents of the nearby shuttered mental institution, a bed and a body among the people who needed more care than what family members could provide. He was John Doe #32 — nameless, faceless, and lost to society and mankind like those who were lost in Alzheimer’s; only, they had names and faces, and they would have reveled in their memories, shared their life with anyone who would listen. No one stopped John Doe, no one asked him a question; rather, everyone allowed him to roam the halls, mouthing his litany, reinforcing the nameless, faceless, invisible man. They never brushed against him, touched his skin or clothes, made a direct contact with his body; instead, they walked around and by him, talking, laughing, singing their songs of life.

     It was then that mother worked at the nursing home as Activity Director. Her job was to provide games and enjoyment for those who made those walls their home…


Well, how do you like the opening?

Gotta go — get back to what I do best….






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It was an all thumbs beginning!

Have you ever had one of those days where every time you picked something up, you dropped it, or handled it awkwardly enough to not have the item do what you want it to do? That was me a few days ago. I felt I was “all thumbs”.

I was going to write, and then I dropped the paper, and I dropped the pen. I picked up the pen and before I could put it on the table I dropped it again. I picked up the paper and that was okay. The piece of paper made it to the table. I thought to myself, this is crazy. So, I decided to go out for breakfast. I got the key from my purse, dropped the key, I picked up my sunglasses, dropped the sunglasses. I knew I was tired, but this was crazy. So, I did the next best thing.

I took a nap; really, a “cat nap”. You know, the one that lasts for about 20 minutes and you’re ready to go. I think they call those naps “speed napping” now. Personally, I like the idea of cat napping instead — sprawling on the sofa like a cat, hunkering into the recesses of the sofa, and closing my eyes to slumberland. It’s dream time. The time where I live another life. It’s just that I usually can’t remember what the other life is doing. There is not a care in this world, I am like a cat, napping.

I don’t want to think that I have to hurry up and sleep (“speed napping’). Shoot, we hurry too much in the world now. Who wants  to hurry while you sleep? Could you imagine speed sleeping — instead of enjoying that cup of java with friends in dreamland, you are speeding around making the coffee, talking while you are working, you are “on the go”. Wears me out just thinking about it, and I am suppose to be sleeping, rejuvenating my body for the next 16 hours! No thank you, I’ll stick with cat napping.

Simply, I needed to start my day over. And I did. I cat napped, and I was no longer “all thumbs”. It’s amazing what a little “shut eye” will do. I was ready to start “speed living”, finish what I had on the agenda for the day. My “thumbs down” day because of being “all thumbs” ended with a “thumbs up”. Pens and paper were on the table. Keys were back in my purse. Life continued.

Have a great day!

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Making a Piece of Cake a Piece of Cake to Make

As I have written before, my student gives me many ideas on phrases/cliches to write on. The other day he asked me about “a piece of cake.” I explained to him that when anyone says “that’s a piece of cake” it means that it is easy (to do). So, we discussed what was easy to do, and whether it would be “a piece of cake” to do the task or assignment. The problem is that the longer we talked about something being a piece of cake, the more I wanted a piece of cake. Not good for someone who attempts to follow weight watchers! Cake is not good unless if you can stop at one piece and that one piece of cake can be your food for the day. Not for me, though. I see cake, and I want all the cake — over a few days….I am not a sharer when it comes to cake. So, I never have cake in the house. Period.

In comes Facebook, the social media that I browse at night in front of the tv. On Facebook, my contacts continually stream wonderful looking food to my screen. I look at the food, drool a little over the gooey ones, and pass them along for others to be tormented. Then, someone sent a 37 calorie brownie. Come on, 37 calories! That’s less than one weight watcher point. I could have 4 pieces and still be in my limit. I had to take a better look at this recipe. 

It was true. I calculated the points, and whoola — I found something to eat. But, would it taste good? Flavorable? I had to try making it and seeing if it was going to be a keeper. Now, mind you, it doesn’t look like a piece of cake; you know, the kind I love, double or triple layered with butter frosting in the middle and on the sides, and oh yes, the frosting is piled high on top, too. There shall be no skimping there. But, my new-found piece of cake is chocolate, and there is flavor, and the ingredients are good for you, and I was satisfied. It suppressed my chocolate craving, and tantalized my tongue with a bit of that cake texture.

Not only that, but it was a piece of cake to make. My new-found piece of cake is a piece of cake to make. The great thing about it is that those three little pieces are less than one point each. 

Here’s the recipe:

3/4 cup nonfat Greek yogurt

1/4 cup skim milk

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/2 cup Old fashioned rolled oats

1/2 cup Truvia (or any natural/stevia based sweetener that pours like sugar)

1 egg

1/3 cup  applesauce

1 t baking powder

1 pinch salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 8×8 pan. Combine all ingredients into a food processor or blender until smooth (about 1 minute). Pour into dish and bake for 15 minutes. Cut into 9 large squares.

That’s it. A Piece of Cake. Really, the piece of cake was a piece of cake to make. 


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What’s In a (Sur)name?

Last week when I wrote about the shared surnames my friend and I have, I got to thinking about what all  those surnames mean and where they really came from. Here is what I discovered. 

First, there were no surnames before around the year 1000 A.D. because there simply were not that many people. Then, the population began to expand and it was needed that when John owed Paul, someone needed to know which John and which Paul, so instead of being called, John, son of James, John was called John Jameson. And so it began in those early days in Western Europe. Keep in mind that these examples are for the English origin of surnames. There are endings for German, Polish, Russian, etc., etc.,, which will tell their own story. Common “son of” names include: -son, O’-, Mac-, or Mc-, -ucci, -wicz, Fitz-, and -ski.

(As a sidebar, all given or first names back then were either derived from the saints, or Christian names — courtesy of the Pope. He outlawed pagan names in the 4th century, first saying all names had to be from the saints, then a later Pope said they simply had to be Christian names. Since it was only Popes and Kings who had the “say” back then, in the beginning, we were all Peter, Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke,  John, Mary, Margaret, and Elizabeth.) Thank goodness that the population was small. Could you imagine 1000 Marys walking around at one time! Could you imagine someone yelling, “hey, Mary” and all Marys turn around at once!!

Back to the surnames. There are four distinct categories how we got a surname: 

#1 — Kinship — what I wrote on above, being the son, daughter, or family of

#2 — Location — Nobles took the name of their estates, peasants took the name of their village. So, if you lived in London, your last name could be London, or Green, or if you lived near a mill, you could be named Mill. Churchill was a man who lived near a church on a hill. Or, think of compass directions — Eastman or Westwood. Maybe your last name is Greenwood. You could have came from the village of Green by the woods. Fun to try to figure out, huh?

#3 — Occupation — Here is where we get common surnames — Smith (blacksmith), Miller (mills), Taylor (altered clothing), Cook, Farmer, and Bishop (employed by the Bishop). So, if I was going to get a surname today, it could be Mary Writer, or if my father wrote, I would be Mary Writerson, or maybe Mary Wordsmith, or Mary Wordson, Of course, the vast majority of people were not educated (only the nobles and clergy), so unless if I came from that family, I never would have learned to write let alone know how to read the alphabet.

#4 — Nicknames — Here is where Armstrong got his name because he was strong in the arm, or Redman because he was a man with, say, red hair or had a red cast to his skin, or Little, or Small.

Now that I have explained how the surnames started some 1000 years ago, I need to let you know that as we migrated to America, all may have changed, or the spelling changed. I know that my surname has gone through some four different spellings as the years wore on. Also, if you could not read or write and you were coming to America, it was up to the person who was taking your information to spell your name correctly, if they did that at all. You just may have gotten a surname of the village or river you came from in the “old country” because the intake person could get that information from the ship’s log.

The next time I see a Taylor or Miller or Armstrong or Davidson or Greenwood, I will know what your forefathers did, or maybe a characteristic they were known for. Names are fun…

Until next week, enjoy yourself….

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