Monday, August 31, 2020

Unusual American words and phrases

    Last post, I talked about language learning during the pandemic and how difficult learning English must be.
    Yet another confusing aspect to English, even for Americans, is regional slang.

    I grew up in New England, where we had our own jargon. Some examples:
    Grinder is Yankee for a sub sandwich. (It’s ‘hoagie’ in Pennsylvania.)
    Jimmies are called sprinkles most everywhere else.
    A tag sale in New England is a yard sale in NC where I live now.
    A rotary is Yankee for a highway roundabout.
    A milkshake in Massachusetts is just that, milk and syrup blended into a frothy confection. If you add ice cream it becomes a frappe (pronounced frap). And around Boston, soda is pop.
    When the ground thaws in Yankee land it creates a mud season, and many a farmhouse has a mud room to keep entrants from tracking up the whole house.
     In the fall, roads like the Mohawk Trail and Route Nine through the Western Massachusetts hill towns are filled with leaf peepers, folks who come from afar to view the traditionally spectacular foliage displays.
     Wicked is an adjective used as an intensifier for anything. Powder snow makes for wicked good skiing and snowmobiling. Cheeseburgers in the old-fashioned diners that remain are wicked delicious.

     When I moved south, I had to learn a whole new regional phraseology.
     Y’all, and hankerin’, and down yonder, and pitch a hissy fit, and bless your heart, and well, I’ll be.
     And you don’t just say could in Dixie because that’s too committal. Better to say might could to hedge it a bit. Then you’re covered if'n you can’t.
     Y’all be safe and well now, hear?

No matter where you’re from, check out the North Carolina suspense series Guns, Diamondback, Kllrs, and Deathsman in print or Kindle on Amazon or through my website for some distracting pandemic reading that will take you away from our current troubles. People seem to like the yarns.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Language Learning in the Pandemic

    To get something positive out of virus hibernation, I decided to learn a second language. But which one? Of the world’s roughly 6,500 languages, the most common by far throughout the Western Hemisphere is Spanish. I figure it’s the most likely to prove useful, especially considering our many immigrants from Mexico, Central America, and South America. It’s also the fourth most common language on the planet behind English, Mandarin, and Hindi in that order. I also like the sound of Spanish and I love the music and food.
    I’m learning on the Duolingo site. It’s going well, except the sentence examples are spoken so fast it’s hard to sort out words. Spanish is second only to Japanese as the fastest spoken tongue. French is third, then Italian, and English is fifth fastest, though as a pilot I think busy air traffic controllers near our big cities ought to get the Blue Streak Award. English, by the way, is the universal ATC language, so pilots the world over must learn it, although a limited aviation vocabulary is all that’s necessary (no pilot needs to order food or dicker for a new car or make a date or engage in a political debate in English to do the job). In my pilot training I had a young Norwegian instructor, and because he was still learning clear pronunciation of English he had me do most of the radio conversing with ATC.

    I find it odd so many Spanish words are genderized. The Politically Correct reformers have not yet tackled that issue as sexist, I guess.

    So far, Spanish seems fairly easy to assimilate, but it strikes me that English must be exceedingly difficult to learn as a second language. Think of all those words that are spelled the same but have different meanings, for example. There are at least 150 of these homographs, including club, bay, drill, file, tap, date, season, and kid. Then there’s a subcategory of homographs called heteronyms, at least 75 common words that have the same spelling but more than one meaning and different pronunciations, like lead, bow, bass, wind, row, and present. Many can be used as nouns or verbs or even adjectives. Then you have hundreds of slang words scattered throughout English. It gets complicated.

    There are roughly 100,000 words in common Spanish use, compared to 200,000 commonly used English words. This is not to say Spanish is any less expressive, because they have ways to be quite passionate and persuasive and erudite in communicating.

    For rudimentary use of either English or Spanish, 800 to 1,000 necessary core words lets you understand up to 75% of the language as it’s commonly spoken, which would serve at least minimally in travels to a foreign land. But to understand movies or TV would require some 3,000 words, and to read a novel in either language you’d need 8,000 or more.

    Which means true fluency in a foreign tongue—up to the level of the native users—is difficult to ever achieve without having been raised in that language from infancy.

    I’ll be happy just to impress Naomi by ordering in Spanish at a Mexican restaurant.

    If we ever go out to one again.
    Hasta luego.

For some good pandemic reading, check out my seven published books on Amazon, or order easily through my website. Money back if you don’t like your choice.

Please mask up and social distance. Together we can beat this virus.

Monday, August 17, 2020

A Presidential Do

Hey, I can relate.

I haven’t had my usual cut since early March.
I look like Einstein in the morning although, sadly, don’t feel any smarter.

But I do feel somewhat presidential. Especially in a breeze.

I’ve decided that to protest females getting all the hairdo attention over the generations, I won’t shave or get a haircut until at least spring.

There are benefits. Soon I’ll be able to weave it into an effective mask. It’s already long enough to serve as a soup strainer. Half a can of hair spray and it can become a nifty cycling helmet. I’ll have Naomi braid it for those special ceremonies, and when I want to read a book, I’ll simply part my bangs. I can maybe even get a job as a Neanderthal model for National Geographic.

Yes, showering is becoming an issue, as we’ve seen with Mister T, but a dab of liquid car wash and the garden hose will make me shine.

Only problem is mother birds have been eyeing me.
I suspect that’s why they seem to hang around the Rose Garden tweeting, as well.

It takes me an hour each day to get every hair in place just so until I can consider my do done, which puts a dent in my time on the links, but whenever I look in a mirror it’s quite gratifying.

A real Trumpian tonsorial triumph.

Phil Bowie
New Bern, NC

For some distracting pandemic reading, try the North Carolina suspense series Guns, Diamondback, Kllrs, and Deathsman in print or Kindle on Amazon or through my website. People seem to like the stories.


Monday, August 10, 2020

The (female) Brave Ones who fight for the elephants

    Wednesday, 12 August 2020 is World Elephant Day, established in 2011 and observed by 65 world wildlife conservation organizations to raise awareness of threatened elephants, the largest creatures that walk this planet. Despite bans on ivory trade in most countries, a persistent lucrative black-market demand for it goads poachers to kill 20,000 African elephants each year. An elephant dies under poachers’ guns—often in great agony—every 21 minutes on average, a much faster rate than they can possibly sustain with their long-gestation single-baby births. Herds have declined 70 percent over the past 40 years. The World Wildlife Fund for Nature projects that without aggressive action they could go extinct by 2040. There are several organizations fighting for the noble beasts in their dwindling habitat, but the cumulative effort is sadly still not enough to stop the decline.

    There are two African cadres that are especially interesting—and successful. And they’re exclusively female. The Akashinga (“The Brave Ones” in Shona) are often from impoverished backgrounds, some orphaned by AIDS or violence. They undergo rigorous special-forces-type training and are charged with protecting an area where thousands of elephants have been killed over the past 20 years in the Zambezi River Valley of Zimbabwe. Founder of the nonprofit organization, Damien Mander, an anti-poaching trainer, says women are protective by nature and are far less likely to take bribes than male rangers. The Akashinga are fiercely proud, well-armed, and unafraid to fight it out with poachers. They’re fast gaining wide respect.

    The other group is the Black Mambas, three dozen unarmed women who patrol South Africa’s Limpopo Province in their neat camouflage uniforms by foot and Jeep, reporting poaching activity to trained special forces rangers who then deal with it. They’ve been credited with cutting poaching in the areas they patrol by 76 percent.

    The world is of course preoccupied with the continuing virus threat, but let’s not forget we share this planet with a wonderful variety of wildlife that needs our concern and protection to survive. You can help with a donation to any of the legitimate organizations or by simply spreading the word among friends. (By sharing this message, for example.)

    I researched and wrote the novel Killing Ground to help raise awareness of vicious ongoing African ivory poaching. Proceeds go to elephant protection. Check it out on Amazon in print or Kindle, or you can order easily through my website.


Please mask up and keep at least six feet from others in public. These simple measures can save thousands of American lives over the coming months if enough of us can just be persuaded to do it.   

Monday, August 3, 2020

The secret storm namers
     The secretive people whose job it is to assign such commonplace names to hurricanes as Fran, Bertha, Charlie, Irene, Floyd, Florence, and Dorian, all of which (and more) I’ve experienced to greater or lesser degrees of expense and chagrin, living in the Hurricane Hook of eastern North Carolina as I do, must have gotten bored this season. They apparently decided to assign some names that will be a challenge to pronounce, Isaias being one they likely giggled over. “Let’s see those pompous, spotlight-hogging TV weather guessers try to pronounce this one.”

     I have some suggestions of other potential names that should send the namers into happy tearful paroxysms.

     How about Andrze (Polish). Or Zariyah or Aksiniya or Fimochka or Kotyusha, all of which are Russian? Or Eiichi (Japanese)? Or Xiaoice (Chinese)?

     The Irish have some especially good ones that the namers could use. Saoirse, for example, or Seanán, Líadain, or Aoibheann.

     The ultimate in names that could tie square knots in a newscaster’s tongue, though, are African. Examples: Achieng (not a Tanzanian sneeze), Tafadzwa, Sithembile, Nosizwe, Onyekachukwu, or better yet Oluwafunmilayo.

     If they do a perplexing enough job, some of the storm namers might even graduate to the ranks of those charged with assigning creative names to thousands of new drugs.

     Then there are those anonymous six-year-olds who are given different colored chalks and cut loose on a big floor map to scrawl those various predicted hurricane spaghetti tracks . . .

Please mask up in public and keep a six-foot distance from other people in public. Together we can beat this virus that’s sickening and killing way too many of our fellow Americans.