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Just Jot It January: Day fourteen…

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As we reach the end of week two of Just Jot It January, it occurs to me (after reading some of the other posts that follow today’s prompt; “motivation”) that there are almost as many reasons for writing a blog as there are bloggers writing them.

I suppose it isn’t all that surprising, given the fact that everyone is unique and we all want something different from life, which explains why everyone has their own personal set of criteria for what makes blogging worthwhile.

For now though, I’m more interested in finding out why one blogger in particular chooses to do what they do.

Namely, me.

Because, if I’m honest, I really have no idea.

The only reason I’ve decided to break my self-imposed rule to try this month’s challenge without resorting to Linda G Hill’s prompts, is that I have been asked several times recently why I write, or what “inspires” me to do so, and I realised that it’s not something I’ve ever really thought about.

I had little or no interest in the internet until the arrival of smartphones, but as soon as I got my hands on the first primitive version of this incredible, science fiction-like pocket computer that we all now take for granted, I was hooked almost immediately.
And my first addiction was Facebook.

Initially, the nostalgic novelty of being able to reconnect with old school friends was enough to suck me into the social network, but after it became clear that I could communicate with an endless supply of other users, all over the world, people I’d never even heard of before, let alone met, I began to really have fun.

I have always loved language; the way words work, the etymology of communication and the way sentences seem to just flow when they spill from the word processor, typewriter or pen of certain writers.
The way that writers like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett could turn an everyday phrase into a comedic gem by adding a couple (or a few) extra words, words that didn’t strictly need to be there, but oh, you were glad of their understanding of what gave those extra words power.
The way that those little black marks on a page can form pictures in your head fascinated me, even as a child, but it had just never occurred to me to try to translate that wonder into pictures of my own.

But once I began to write smartass comments on Facebook and construct little rants and memes of my own, mainly for my own entertainment, I found the idea of having a platform of my own, from which I could address the vast expanse of the Weird Wide Web, increasingly attractive.
This first dabbling in virtual creativity coincided with my introduction by a  mutual friend to the extraordinarily talented blogger, author, globetrotting urban explorer and all round bohemian, Mr Darmon Richter, who encouraged and assisted me in making my bumbling way into the blogosphere.

Meanwhile, WordPress made the process of getting started an idiot-proof experience, even for someone with my Olympian level of idiocy with all things internet related and Diary of an Internet Nobody was born.

And then I started writing stuff down. I didn’t know any better.

As anyone who knows me personally will tell you, I can talk.
And talk.
So, with an audience of, theoretically, several billion, I just started writing what I’d say if I was talking to you, (until you surreptitiously looked at your watch and mumbled about needing to be somewhere, anywhere, urgently) I didn’t see the point of having a theme, my reasoning was; I’m not an expert on anything, I’ll just say whatever comes into my head and see if anyone listens.

Then fiction came along.
Well, it had been there before, I’d read bloody loads of it.
But this time I thought I’d do it from the sharp end, so to speak.*

Then I stumbled upon Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompts and I thought I’d have a go at doing them all as short stories.
Which is where I get to the point where it all gets a bit vague, because from the first time I sat down to write a story, it was, umm, well, it was easy.

I know that sounds smug and immodest, but I don’t know how else to explain it.
My very first attempt was prompted by;
” “ke.”  Use the letter combination at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the word you choose to base your post on…”
And this came to me, literally as I wrote it.
I was quite pleased, despite the fact a few people didn’t get it (you might need to read it twice) and every other story I’ve written, with the exception of The Wrong Stuff (which I had a rough idea about for the first post and then decided it would be fun to see where it went on its own) has been pretty much the same way, with varying levels of success.
Including having three stories published in an anthology, available on Amazon AT THIS LINK, just in case I’d forgotten to mention that.

None of which comes anywhere close to tackling “motivation” I’m afraid, but then I did tell you at the start that I had no idea.

* – I read this a few times and I know it doesn’t work as an analogy, but I still like it.

#JusJoJan

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Eating our words…

It hasn’t escaped my attention that a large portion of my blog traffic comes from America, so I hesitate (ever so briefly) to do anything to alienate my transatlantic readers, but what with so much internet content generated in the U.S. and the fact that I have a lot of  Facebook friends over there, I am constantly reminded that we are indeed, as George Bernard Shaw said, “…two countries separated by a common language”

Noah Webster published his A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language in America in 1806, and anyone with even a minimal grasp of the definition of the word “dictionary” will tell you that it refers to a list of new and pre-existing words, together with their meanings.

However, what Noah proposed to do was to list and re-spell any words he didn’t like the look of, purely on the strength of aesthetics;

Find that “re” at the end of centre a bit difficult to remember?
No worries, let’s make it “er” and say no more about it.

Have trouble with that pesky “ough” sound in plough, it’s hard to get your head round isn’t it?
Hey presto! Plow.

As for all those ridiculous “..nce” words like licence.
Pah! Henceforth let them end in “se” and have done with it.

Worst of all, who could forget the trauma caused by all the unlicenced, sorry, unlicensed “U”-shaped interlopers in good ol’ American words like color and humor?
Begone foul vowel!

And the national antipathy towards poor maligned vowels didn’t end there. Even official names of natural elements weren’t safe.
Not content with removing extraneous silent letters from words, the language police denuded aluminium of its penultimate “i”, changing the pronunciation forever to aluminum, like something out of a bad fifties sci-fi movie.

Fortunately sanity prevailed when Webster proposed changing the traditional spelling of women, to the more literally-minded and aesthetically pleasing wimmen. This was one semantic step too far and was vetoed.

But words themselves are not the only English hand-me-downs that get the stateside language makeover, plenty of their definitions go through the linguistic blender too.

Let’s start with the traditional English biscuit.
All biscuits in America are cookies apparently, not just the ones made of cookie dough (or possibly Doh!) that we call cookies, but all biscuits.
Except crackers.
And biscuits.
Because they’re scones.

Yes, in the States what we would call a scone is called a biscuit and is eaten with gravy.
And don’t go imagining a cream tea with Bisto over it either, that’s not what they mean by gravy.
No, “gravy” is a thick white sauce, often with sausage meat in it, poured over scones biscuits and eaten for breakfast.

What’s wrong with bacon, egg and fried bread?
Well, it turns out that what’s wrong with that is, the fried bread.
From what I hear, raw dough is fried, presumably resulting in a sort of bread dumpling, but a decent fried slice is harder to come by.
Unless you want Toad in the Hole, that is.

Excuse me, what?

Ok this gets a little complicated, so listen up.
Over there, Toad in the Hole is basically a cheesy fried slice with an egg in the middle.
Explaining that it should be made with Yorkshire pudding won’t help you either, you’ll just get blank looks unless you have the extraordinary luck to guess the word Popover.
That’s right, Popover is what they call the same batter mix (with added butter) that we put sausages in and call Toad in the Hole.

– You want vegetables with that?
– Thanks, how about some nice mashed swede?
– No, sorry. How about some rutabaga instead?
– Ok, I’ll try anything once…..Hang on this is swede..

Of course being so enormous, America can be excused for playing fast and loose with its own version of English. I mean, if you’re going to make up words anyway, why insist on them meaning the same thing everywhere.
Ok, there’ll be minor differences in pronunciation and usage.
In one state for instance, the generic term for carbonated soft drinks might be soda, in another it could be pop.
But some places take this grammatical laziness to a new level.

I’m reliably informed that in some southern states, even ordering a Coke is not as simple as it sounds.
Because everything is Coke.
If you want Coke, order Coke.
If you want Fanta, order Coke.
If you want Dr Pepper, (what’s the worst that could happen?) order Coke. (you could get Coke, that’s what)
If you want… well, you get the idea.

Must make vending machines very confusing;
– Hey! That goddamn machine just gave me a Coke!
– I’m sorry sir, what did you order?
– A Coke.
– Ah…

 
 

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What came first, Easter or the Egg…?

Being an atheist, I don’t celebrate Easter.

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This doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in the root of such things, in much the same way as words and their meanings fascinate me, and I find it especially interesting when a biblical story is closely linked with something that came from a entirely different culture, and a totally different period in history, it always amuses me when religion can’t get it’s story straight.

And what about the Easter bunny?
And Easter eggs?
Where does all that come in?

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                  “Who, me?”

I don’t remember (and correct me if I’m wrong) a flock of Disney-style bunnies helping to roll away a stone shaped like a giant hot cross bun, to revive the sacred star of the show with a nice soft boiled egg and some soldiers.

So imagine my delight when I was confronted by one of those generic, captioned pictures on Facebook, claiming that Easter was in fact based on the similarly pronounced Ishtar.

This was more like it.
A festival centred on the cult of a demented courtesan – a sort of church-appointed prostitute – whose status as Sumerian goddess of fertility, sex, love, and war would have made for a much wilder Easter Sunday gathering.
The symbology of the rabbit and egg makes perfect sense, given her responsibility for rebirth and fertility, and the rabbit’s reputation for being at it like, well, rabbits all the time.

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Ishtar – Didn’t get the memo about the Easter party dress code.

Appearing to lend even more credibility to the connection is the fact that one of the targets for Ishtar’s affections was, according to ancient texts, legendary Mesopotamian superhero Gilgamesh, whose mythology runs in parallel to many of the biblical stories, including Noah’s flood.

(Interestingly, eighteen centuries before Christ, Gilgamesh was a contemporary of Enkidu –  the “Mesopotamian Adam”, created by their top god, Anu, from clay.)

But even he found Ishtar too high maintenance, rejecting the advances of the ancient world’s champion bunny-boiler, saying;

“Listen to me while I tell the tale of your lovers. There was Tammuz, the lover of your youth, for him you decreed wailing, year after year. You loved the many-coloured Lilac-breasted Roller , but still you struck and broke his wing […] You have loved the lion tremendous in strength: seven pits you dug for him, and seven. You have loved the stallion magnificent in battle, and for him you decreed the whip and spur and a thong […] You have loved the shepherd of the flock; he made meal-cake for you day after day, he killed kids for your sake. You struck and turned him into a wolf; now his own herd-boys chase him away, his own hounds worry his flanks.

Fair enough, I would steer clear of her too.

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Gilgamesh – “Leave it mate, she’s not worth it”

She wasn’t happy with this, stomping back to her dad, chief godfella, Anu, and demanding he give her the Bull of Heaven or else she’d open the gates of hell to turn the kingdom into a scene from The Walking Dead.
For the sake if a quiet life, he gave in, only for her to set the bull on Gilgamesh and Enkidu, who promptly killed it.

A woman scorned, never gonna end well.

But sadly, I had to put my Easter orgy on hold as, with the very minimum of research, I discovered that none of these connections were in fact, factual.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is real enough, and you can read it here should you so wish, and Ishtar’s part in that story isn’t in question.
It’s the connection to Easter that is nonsense.
The only non-Christian root of Easter, in English anyway, is the 8th century Saxon pagan goddess, Éostre, whose name in translation means April in old high-German.
And that’s only according to proto-journo, St (the Venerable) Bede.

             

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                      Éostre
Oi! Remember me? No? Anyone?

Nobody else seems to have noticed this quirk of language, and by the time even Bede wrote about it, the tradition of the Éostre festival had died out, replaced by the now familiar Christian resurrection myth.

All of which is a bit of a disappointment, as it would have made an interesting, informative, and educational blog post.

Oh well, never mind. I’ll think of something else to write about…

 
8 Comments

Posted by on March 31, 2013 in Blogging, Etymology

 

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American idle…

I feel as though I should apologise.

I won’t of course, I rarely do, but if I was the type to do so, this would be the time at which I’d be doing it.

Right, that’s that out of the way, now let’s move on to what I’m definitely not apologising for.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am slightly hooked on Facebook (although I’m having so much fun doing this, I’m neglecting my fb duties more and more of late), and one of the things I enjoy about it most is the ability to make friends with people that you would never have met in normal life.
In my case, this, for the most part, seems to mean Americans.

In my dealings with our US cousins, I have frequently found myself with the opportunity to say things like “I’ve heard of those on American TV shows, what exactly are they?”
For instance, how many times have you seen people in US TV shows order “biscuits and gravy” in a diner? Always puzzled me, that one. Then it occurs to me to ask one of my new friends across the water, and I find “biscuits” are in fact a type of heavy savoury scone mix, often eaten with sausage meat. With gravy.
For breakfast.

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Now, I know that I could look all this sort of stuff up on the net, but when I see one of my friends, Max – a maple syrup producer, homesteader, and fixer of pretty much anything mechanical from what I gather – post, "Sloppy Joe is actually pretty good for breakfast.” then you just have to ask don’t you?
Turns out that it’s almost exactly what we would call a Bolognese sauce.

Once again, two countries separated by a common language.

Anyway, my point is, I may have been slightly unfair when I accused the Americans of having stolen acquired most of their language from the various settlers to the New World, instead of relying on the native dialects of the indigenous population.
For a start, the very word we use to describe them, Yankees, derives from the native American word yengees or yanghis, which was used to describe English and French colonists. Dutch settlers picked up on the word as soon as they arrived, and used it to describe all Americans.

They have also given us several common phrases that we use today, and to avoid being collared by a Lynch mob for not giving credit for their contribution, and being forced to Eat crow, before I Knock off work for the day, and this post Peters out, I will attempt to explain.

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“That’ll teach the limey bastard to complain about our spelling”

Back in the 1780’s, two US military men, both called Lynch, were having trouble with outlaws and bandits in their respective, neighbouring states. So they made an agreement that they should form a group of men – dubbed “Lynch’s mob” – who would bring these law-breakers to justice.
Corporal (Corporeal in those days), not capital punishment, would then be administered, such as beatings, floggings or horsewhippings etc.
The term to “lynch” somebody, or to have a “lynching” were only applied later on, usually to the mass hangings, by mobs, of mostly black, innocent victims.

(In fifty years, between 1880-1930, ten states alone recorded 2,805 lynchings. 2500 victims were black)

I had always assumed that the American term “Eating crow” was similar in origin to the british “Humble pie” (Literally, a pie made from the left-overs and offal, by the cooks in kitchens of large houses, to feed the staff)
But it is far more amusing than that.

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Now serving at Heston’s Little Chef

During a temporary armistice in the Anglo-American war of the early 19th century, a US soldier inadvertently crossed the English lines whilst out hunting crows.
Some smartass English officer heard about this and went to confront the man. He approached him unarmed, and in a friendly, conversational way, congratulated him on his haul of birds.
Having gained his trust, the officer asked to try shooting for himself with the American’s rifle.
Of course, immediately he got hold of the unfortunate soldier’s weapon, he turned it on him, forcing him to take a bite out of a dead crow, as a punishment for trespassing on british territory.

The story does, however, continue. Once he was satisfied that the US soldier was sufficiently defeated, the typically arrogant English officer gave him back his rifle, at which point the amazed American forced him, at gunpoint, to eat the rest of the crow.

“Knocking off for the day” is another phrase with it’s roots in a dark period of US history. During the days of slavery in the Deep South, the slave workers were transported between plantations on river boats. When it was time for the man beating out the rowing rhythm to change shifts, he would include a particular beat, to indicate it was time for the next man to take over.

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And finally, a saying that is due to our friends across the pond’s propensity for creative spelling.

In the 1800’s, during the Californian gold rush, gunpowder was commonly used to blast out seams of gold ore.
One of the constituent compounds of gunpowder is saltpetre, but the Americans spell it SaltPETER. So when a gold mine had come to the end of it’s useful life, it was said to have “Petered out”

Much like this post…

Incidentally, should you wish to try biscuits and gravy, go here.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on August 12, 2012 in Etymology, social networking

 

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A question, for sport…

Right, time for a quiz.
What is a quiz?

Well?

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A quiz, I hear you cry, is a load of tricky questions, asked by some smug bloke in a pub, the point of which is to enable you to win a bottle of Scotch or a leg of lamb.

Or a TV show where a famously smug bloke asks desperately cheerful families in shellsuits how many people they think might have the same inane opinion on something as they do.

Or it’s sitting in a spotlit chair, answering questions about things you really should know the answers to, having thought about those same things To The Exclusion Of Everything Else for the last three months, making you a pariah amongst anyone who won’t “test me on the history of lampposts of the UK (1879-2005), go on, ask me anything”

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No, in fact it’s a discussion about graffiti.

Many words are made up.
Now, that sounds like a bit of a fatuous statement, but quite a lot of words come from a root of some sort, often in a completely different language i.e. Latin, French, etc

(In the case of America, of course, most of it came from somewhere else. Although they seem to have a creative way with spelling sometimes)

But that’s ok, we’ve got a sense of humor about it.

But sometimes, new words come along that supersede any ancient root, which is why new words are always being added to the dictionary – yuppie, girl power, chav, all words that have fallen into language through repeated common usage.

My absolute favourite example of this is the story of an Irishman called Daly.
This 18th century Dublin theatre manager bet his mates that he could introduce an entirely new word into the English language, a word with no meaning whatsoever.
Well, his friends took him up on the bet as he was obviously onto a loser with such a ambitious scheme.

So Daly set about his plan without delay, spending the following several hours criss-crossing the city, leaving his enigmatic message wherever he went:

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Within hours, people all over Dublin were discussing it, and the subject became such a hot topic that a newspaper ran a story about the graffiti epidemic.
At which point, Daly’s friends had to concede, as everyone was talking about the “quiz” and what it might mean. In fact it went on to be a subject of discussion all over Ireland, and England, for months afterwards.

The word has since been taken to mean the seeking and receiving of answers.

So the next time you see someone looking at you with a quizzical expression, you can tell them why.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on August 8, 2012 in Etymology

 

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