Monday, April 25, 2016

What do these names have in common?

     Hagrid’s Dragon, Thor’s Helmet, The Yin-Yang, The Oyster, Cleopatra’s Eye, The Helix, The Sliced Onion, The Fiddlehead, The Ghost, The Turtle, The Baby Eskimo, The Hockey Stick, The White-eyed Pea, The Little Gem, The Snake, The Captain Hook, The Heart, The Coal Car, The Raspberry, The Double Bubble, The Silver Streak, The Cat’s Paw, The Cheerio, The Little Beehive, The Starfish, The Ink spot, The Emerald, The Phantom Streak, The Frigate Bird, The Magic Carpet, and The Chandelier.

     They’re all imaginative names astronomers have given to star clusters, galaxies, nebulae, and other celestial objects.

     Of course, these names are not necessarily what other creatures out there in the Universe call the same objects.  They might call our magnificent spiral Milky Way something like The Dishwater Going Down the Drain Galaxy.


Monday, April 18, 2016

The emotions wheel

     A friend sent me the link to this wheel which is supposed to help writers with their fiction:

     The wheel has a certain logic to it, but if any writer starts resorting to this stuff she or he really misses the whole point.
     There are all kinds of writing advice books.  Most are junk, written by folks who have not actually accomplished much in writing.  Some talk about constructing elaborate story lines using index cards that you can shuffle around to build a structure, or charts that purport to lay out a proper story flow, or certain arcane formulas.  
     Problem is, life doesn't follow charts.  How would we set out to chart the dark and bizarre thinking of ISIS, for example, or hope to predict its future using some fiction formula?
     The best writers work from habitual in-depth scrutiny of surroundings and people and experiences, much like the best photographers and painters and sculptors.  Of course you have to work within a certain recognized genre, and for good reasons.  Nicholas Sparks writes romances, for example, and has worked to nail that genre.  His readers come to his books with certain expectations (some kind of spotlighted human relationship that is troubled or in jeopardy, with some kind of believable resolution that has romantic resonance).  He satisfies those expectations and thus makes lots of money.

     And writers who can additionally imbue their work with enough power and wisdom and beauty and empathy can rise above all the rest and help change the world.  Steinbeck did it with The Grapes of Wrath, for example.  There are many, many more examples.


Monday, April 4, 2016

Wrong use of words

     Our language is almost endlessly expressive, but it must be used correctly to preserve its integrity and to be most effective.  Many times words are misused, so the language suffers.  Here are a few examples.

     Unique:  The original meaning was one of a kind.  As such, it could have no modifiers.  You cannot have something that is very unique (very one of a kind).  The proper word you want if you’re going to use a modifier is unusual.  Often something can be very unusual.

     Enormity:  The original meaning was an horrific abomination on a vast scale.  The Holocaust was an enormity.  An elephant is not, therefore, an enormity.  An elephant is enormous, or unusually large.

     Bemused:  It originally meant confused or perplexed.  If you appreciate some humorous comment or incident, you are amused, not bemused.

     And a phrase that particularly lights my fuse is “center around.”  The center of a circle or sphere is fixed and unmoving in relation to that circle or sphere.  Therefore the phrase is impossible.  You can center on something or revolve around it, as the planets revolve around the sun, which is at the center of our solar system.  But the earth cannot center around the sun.

     Here’s a list of commonly misused words:

     Of course, if enough people continue to misuse a certain word or phrase, the folks who write the dictionaries will eventually cave in and add the misuse definition, sadly to the detriment of our language.