Archive for April, 2009

The Real Name for “Lake Webster”

April 23, 2009

 The exchange below will help provide a context for the story you can read once you click on the “MSN” link.

Maybe you know some place names that are rivals for such as the Indian name for this place. . . .


Lake with 45-letter name has spelling errors

body{font-family: Geneva,Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;font-size:9pt;background-color: #ffffff;color: black;}Verrrrrrrry inneresting,  Ron.  I’ve seen signs for towns at train depots in Wales that have excruciatingly long sequences of letters.  But the “real name” for Lake Webster would rival some of those.  I’ll try to get this posted on my Web site.  (I’ve also read somewhere the same translation for the name that you supplied.)

Thanks much,


Lake with 45-letter name has spelling errors

Thought you’d be interested in this, Dad. I spent some time around Lake Webster when I lived in Providence. A friend of mine, who’d grown up near there, could say the full 45-letter name accurately.

Officials have agreed to correct spelling errors in road signs pointing to a central Massachusetts lake with a 45-letter name.


Whose Epitaph: “On to Z!”

April 16, 2009

Let’s begin here with a bit of a tutorial about the study of language habits and forms.

(1)  To linguists only the “spoken language” is considered to be the language of a cultural or national group.  (No language has begun as a written or printed form, except for Esperanto and other artificial, created languages.  Many languages still do not have–or did not have–a written form: today languages are disappearing at a quite alarming rate.)

(2)  Languages continue to evolve until the last speakers of them die, as have, for example, a number of Amerindian languages:  see for a personal account N. Scott Momaday’s “The Way to Rainy Mountain.”

(3)  Languages change significantly over time in three main aspects: lexical (meaning new words are added), structural (changes in forms and patterns), and phonological (changes in the sounds of words in a language).  One might ask, “What about changes in spelling?”  Orthography is not without importance; still,  it is but a way of recording the words and the forms of  a language in a written form.  And often the spoken patterns of words are but poorly reflected in the written forms.  English is a prime example; we have 26 graphemes (letters in our alphabet) to represent 40-some phonemes. (Diphthongs help somewhat.)

The lexical changes (addition of words + new functions or  new meanings of existing words) are the most readily seen and are now the subject of this posting:  the lexicon and the phonological distinctions found in what we have come to call “dialects.”

So: let us pause for now in order to establish a context for a very significant study of the American language (it began in 1965 and is not yet completely finished).  Here is a two-part question:  On whose tombstone (he died nine years ago) is the inscription “On to Z!” and what does that inscription signify?

I shall be sitting at my computer, listlessly,  aimlessly, perhaps even breathlessly (“Wha! Wha! Ahhhhhhh!”) waiting to hear from you. . . .


Bloggers’ Breakfast on Friday, April 24?

April 13, 2009

Now that tax season is soon over and much of the initial yard work is accomplished,  it must be time to

F I L L   O U R   T U M M I E S!

I’ve done a bit of reconnaissance work.  I have two suggestions (we’ll plan to begin to assemble at nine o’clock, showing consideration to Tammy and perhaps other parents):  “Max & Moritz Bakery and Cafe” in Cliffwood Plaza off Skibo, or “Rainbow Restaurant”  on Ramsey Street/Raleigh Road.

Maybe you know both, maybe one, maybe neither.  But if it is possible that you can and want to come (we don’t want any footdraggers or lollygaggers),  your input would be helpful until a decision is made by “The Committee” in about a week. Or maybe you have another strong candidate (write-ins are acceptable).

It might also be good, in following up a tradition, that those who want might plan on a fifteen- to thirty-minute walk with useful conversation after breakfast is done, dishes washed, and so on.  But where?  What trail, park, or streets?

Keep in touch!


Answering a Couple of Blog Readers’ Comments

April 13, 2009

# 1

I was quite surprised to get a response just now from reader “Editor” who was replying to a posting on November 3, 2008 [THANKS, MELISSA GARCIA AND COMPANY, FOR KEEPING AN ARCHIVE GOING], titled “Ten Commandments for Writers of Fiction,”  in which I made some vanilla observations about the writing trade and then quoted verbatim a squib by Nancy Kress, who had compiled the “Ten Commandments.”   “Editor” wanted to know which of these I considered most important.  Well, I would suppose that Ms. Kress would probably have said that her first directive was most important.  Were I to choose, however, I would probably suggest a tossup between two of her edicts:

III.  Keep Sacred Thy Work Schedule

IV.  Honor Thy Readers

Most successful writers who’ve made both money and won recognition from critics and reviewers [refer to Anthony Trollope,  Ernest Hemingway,  J. K. Rowling] have typically kept a strict work schedule:  usually in the same place,  at the same time, and with the same tools to work with.

And I also think it is important that a writer be honest and consider the audience for his work.  For a diarist, he or she might be that reader.  For a letter writer,  it might be one or only a few readers.  For the greatest success and personal satisfaction, the intended audience is likely to take the shape of an “ideal reader” or “readers.”  The writer would seek to satisfy the standards and expectations of that audience before he or she would try to publish more widely.

RJR  (continuing)

# 2

Dennis wrote an E-mail on March 27, which somehow slipped by me until very recently.  He had a very interesting point:  “I’m curious as to whether or not you have read that book *Freakonomics.*  Steven Levitt discusses the impact the name one is given at birth has on one’s life.” I suggested in a reply to Dennis that the topic itself was very interesting and that I had not read Levitt’s book, but I thought I had come across some commentary or maybe a review of it quite some time back.

Continuing now (RJR) after  a bit of online research.  I confess to being an ignoramus for being ignorant of the book, the title of which Dennis provided.  Since then I’ve found out that Steven Levitt is a Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago and that his coauthor,  Stephen J. Dubner, is an author and journalist who lives in NYC.  This book came out some five years ago, I believe, and it has sold worldwide something over 3,000,000 copies and been for many, many weeks on the bestseller lists.

Dubner and Levitt cohost and comanage a blog site in the online version of the “New York Times.”

My first impression here is that these two authors have taken “the dismal science” (as economics as a field of study has been termed) and turned it into “The Katzenjammer Kids,”  an old comic strip with bratty kids that I used to read and enjoy.  I’m now eager to learn more!

RJR (and continuing)

# 3  Jeff Thompson noted that “alumnus” is always a singular noun, its plural being “alumni” [just as,  I might add, “alumna” is singular for a female graduate as “alumnae” is plural for more than one female graduate: and “alumni,” natch, is always the plural for a group of mixed graduates].  He goes on,  “How ’bout we discuss pet peeves.”  He is particularly perturbed by the misuses of “take” and “bring” and by how considerably “due to” has become familiar usage while  the preferred “because of” seems little used these days.

In reply to the first peeve:  the Second Edition of Fowler’s English Usage (1967, outdated a bit) takes no notice of any problem with misuses of “take” and ” bring,”  which suggests that that misuse is largely or totally American, not British.  He does take umbrage, however, with the prominence of “due to” being used in place of the well-established two-word preposition “owing to.”  But he (or a later revision by Sir Ernest Gowers) seems resigned of the triumph of usage over what had been a well-established idiom.  No mention is made of the possibility of “due to” being substituted for “because of.”

To bring American usage into clearer focus on these two matters,  I strongly recommend Robert Hartwell Fiske’s Dictionary of Disagreeable English,”  which is subtitled “A Curmudgeon’s Compendium of Excruciatingly Correct Grammar.”  Published in 2006, the book takes 357 pages to cover a wide-ranging and nearly comprehensive issues in contemporary English (American) usage.  Many of these are acronyms and what I have now come to call “approxinyms.” In other words, Fiske is “my kind of guy.”   He is essentially prescriptive in his comments and suggestions and thus to a great extent is swimming against the tide of permissiveness stirred up by the descriptivists who essentially consider it their task to “describe” the language’s eddies and tides and thus neglect established or desirable norms and rules.  Professor Fiske adds some color by quite often interleaving experiences and suggestions from others in his observations.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  The book can probably still be acquired for a very reasonable price from Daedalus Books, my preferred bookseller.


Latinate Word Origins and Problems Therefrom

April 4, 2009

As I have written a time or two before in my Observer blogs, I regard my one year of Latin studies in my small Kansas high school (thank you, Mrs. Hazlitt!) as the most valuable course I ever took.  I still have that book–somewhere.  Inside the cover is this legend, which I learned, I am sure, from an older and wiser classmate:

“Latin is a dead language, as dead as it can be.  First it killed the Romans, and now it’s killing me.”

Latin, many decades ago, was regarded as the first course of study in a sound curriculum, then followed by Greek. Thus, Ben Jonson, in his “To the Memory of My Beloved Master,  Mr. William Shakespeare, and What He Hath Left Us,” could write of that “Star of Poets,”  that “Sweet Swan of Avon,”  that he “had small Latin and less Greek.”

Even some small Latin, as I pointed out very recently in my posting dealing with Latin origins of common “Last Words,” can be useful.

It would perhaps have helped persons quoted, or reporters writing, or editors parsing, or nine readers reading, a couple of stories in very recent local newspaper issues.  I will give you the sentence I am questioning and am asking alert blog readers to discover what is likely wrong and what would be correct.

(1)  In Friday’s “Faith” section, a woman who is in charge of the annual living tableau of a “Stations of the Cross” service at Good Shepherd Catholic Church is quoted as having said, “‘This is a serious representation of Christ on the Via de Rosa, the Street of Sorrow,’  she added.”       ???

(2) In a story on Saturday about the installation of Fayetteville State University’s Chancellor Anderson, the reporter made reference to President Peter Donahue of Villanova University, who called the Chancellor his mentor:  “Anderson is an alumni and a trustee at the Philadelphia school.”          ???

Fustest with the mostest is the bestest.


How Many Vote for “Euro-English”?

April 2, 2009

My friend and former student at Pembroke State in the 1970s, Jemi VanZandt (this the name he adopted a year and more ago from his original name) sent me the following proposal, one that we would be much more interested in, no doubt, if we lived in one of the countries which are part of the “European Union.”

Keeping in mind that, although George Bernard Shaw said that the United States and Great Britain were “two countries separated by the same language,”  we might well find some appeal,  certainly to those of us who are indifferent spellers and who struggle with the written tongue, in having this proposal adopted.  (A disclaimer:  I have discovered in earlier e-mails similar, if not nearly identical proposals.  But only Jemi’s was prefaced by a greeting and a message in contemporary German.  Until now, I did not know that Jemi had mastered that language.)  Enjoy, and vote!


European English:

The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the European Union rather than German, which was the other possibility.

As part of the negotiations, the British Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5- year phase-in plan that would become known as ‘Euro-English’.

In the first year, ‘s’ will replace the soft ‘c’. Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard ‘c’ will be dropped in favour of ‘k’. This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan have one less letter. There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome ‘ph’ will be replaced with ‘f’. This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter.

lifelines60: In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where! more komplikated changes are possible.

Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling.

Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent ‘e’ in the languag is disgrasful and it should go away.

lifelines60: By the 4th yer people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing ‘th’ with ‘z’ and ‘w’ with ‘v’.

During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary ‘o’ kan be dropd from vords kontaining ‘ou’ and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensi bl riten styl.

Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru.

Und efter ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst plas.

from Jemi

Shelby Stephenson: A Son of Middle Creek and “Paul’s Hill”

April 1, 2009

     My “Sandspur” column today (April 1, 2009) was a profile of Dr. Shelby Dean Stephenson,  Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke,  Editor of the renowned literary annual Pembroke Magazine,  and mentor and preceptor and comrade-in-arms to hundreds of writers and aspiring writers (especially poets) in North Carolina and far beyond.

As the headline to the “Sandspur” profile suggests,  Shelby’s love of poetry transcends and encompasses all of his other interests and endeavors, even including the “old black magic” he can wrest from a guitar as he plays and sings, along with his devoted wife Linda (known familiarly as “Nin”) the favorite pieces of his Country and Western icons.   He and Linda have produced three albums of their performances, some accompanied by other members of the “Stephenson Family Singers.”

Shelby Stephenson’s humanity is deeply entwined in the roots of his family’s heritage in Johnston County, not far from Benson.  Middle Creek is a central feature of the community in which he was born and reared, and “Paul’s Hill” is the name of his family’s farmstead.  It is out of the homely, plainspoken, and hardscrabble history of his family, and the larger culture of which they were a part, that he has wrought his poetry, now collected in several books.

W. H. Auden,  in a marvelous essay titled “Writing” has made a nice distinction between three aspirations that may inspire writers:  to be original, to be sincere, or to be authentic.  Auden believed, and I agree with him,  that the only indisputable, necessary factor in literary creations is authenticity.  And this is the quality that Shelby Stephenson has in bushel basketfulls.

His most recent book,  “Family Matters:  Homage to July, The Slave Girl,”  brought him his greatest challenge:  accept and also authenticate as part of the story of his life and the story of the antebellum South the raw facts:  that his ancestors trafficked in slaves,  owned slaves, and perhaps sometimes even abused slaves such as “July,”  who came into the family’s life at the age of nine or ten.

It is, however, not enough just to be authentic.  The poet must also be a wordsmith,  a writer who works his words and sentences in much the same way as the blacksmith heats, hammers, and twists iron and other metals into useful tools.  This too Shelby Stephenson, as an artist, has conveyed so impressively.  Here, for an example, is Division VIII of the section he titled “Playing Off One Another”:


muscling up in arches

on the leaves, balls

caught in webs;  Daddy, Percy, and I

among the yellow smell

taking the tobacco off the sticks,

Daddy, head down, bundling the leaves:

“You’ll get ringworms, boy, go get some shoes on.”

A thin lull of work

keeps us in that swell of time,

longbench, sticks in holes to separate the grades,

Daddy by the window, a cigar hanging in his mouth,

lost in thought on a foxrace,

his dogs lying on the pitdoor:  Tony with white hairs

over his eyelids like and old man’s winter, grim and profuse,

Butler yawning and yearning to run a rabbit in Beaver Dam,

Percy, snuffcontented, easing around the room.

Comments and advice always welcome and usually mulled over and weighed.