31 December 2008

Post 175

What is the difference between a safety net and a comfort blanket?

100 words. Go.

One must never mistake a comfort blanket for a safety net, nor vice versa; a net will never keep you warm, and a blanket will never break your fall. It is always nice to have a comfort blanket, but safety nets are, on the whole, a good deal more useful. A blanket, I suppose, merely gives the illusion of safety or strengthens what confidence we have. A net, on the other hand, is what you really want to have around should you ever have to walk that line alone. It’s okay to take the blanket with you when you get


50 words. Go.

Safety blankets are for a placebo sort of effect; safety nets can really save your life. Everyone should work to not need either, but you should probably always keep a safety net handy even long after you don’t feel you need it anymore. No one doesn’t need a safety net.


25 words. Go.

Comfort blankets make you feel better about yourself, but safety nets actually protect us from real dangers. While everyone must eventually outgrow their blanket, no


5 words. Go.

You never outgrow safety nets.

29 December 2008

Post 174

So, I've been cuddling with my parents' dictionaries again. I love these things, man. 1984 World Book Dictionary--if you can get your hands on 'em, they are so much fun! Every time I go to look up a word in them, I get distracted by some other word, and then I get lost in all the awesome words I'm learning.

For example, this evening I was looking up prolix because I was a little unsure of the way Hong was using it in his translation of Kierkegaard's Works of Love. After reading its definition ("using too many words; too long; tedious") and being satisfied, I permitted my eyes to wander around the page, whereupon I noticed prolegomenon ("preliminary material in a book, teatise, or the like; preface; introduction"), prolegomenous ("of or having to do with prolegomena"), and prolegomenary ("=prolegomenous"). Just above them, I found prolapsus, which is the same as prolapse, which means to slip out of place but is only used when speaking of bodily organs. Cotinuing to the other half of the open spread, I found prolongate (which is merely a prolonged form of prolong) and prolusion (which is yet another word for an introduction and has it's own adjectival partner prolusory). I also learned that Prom (like in high school) is short for promenade, that pro memoria is Latin for "for a memorial or remembrance," and that Promoter of the Faith is the same as devil's advocate.

Now, all of these things may be the sort of stuff you can find in a normal dictionary; it was when I took my que from Promotor of the Faith and headed over to D that I remembered just why I love this particular two-volume dictionary so much.

I have to wonder what sort of standard the editors of this great work used to establish what a word really is. Now, I'm all for including any utterance that communicates something in common usage in a dictionary, but that's more feasable now that we have online dictionaries; back in 1984, space constraints were certainly a big deal, so how do you decide what makes the cut?

And how common was the word demothball back in '84? Especially meaning "to return (military or naval equipment) to use by removing the preservative coating in which it has been stored"?

But that's not the best one. My new favorite word--the one of all of these that is, I hope, most likely to become commonplace in my vocabulary--is deux-chevaux. Literally, it's French for "two horses," but my dear, dear 1984 World Book Dictionary defines it as, "an automobile with a badly worn-out engine with only as much power as one would suppose a two-horsepower engine to have."

Lookout, world: I'ma gonna be insulting your cars in French now! Deus vult!

(Deus Misereatur....)

Deus vorbiscum.

23 December 2008

Post 173

I picked up Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman from the Provo library before heading home for the holidays. I was intrigued by the book's subtitle ("A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary"), and when I saw that William Safire called it the "linguistic detective story of the decade," I figured I couldn't go wrong. But it's that darn voice thing again, you know? This is a fascinating account of modern British history, but I just don't like the way Winchester writes.

Some examples:

In talking about the sacrifices of some Connecticut soldiers in the Civil War, Winchester writes, "The world, President Lincoln was to say six months later when he consecrated the land as a memorial to the fallen, could never forget what they had done there." Wow. Way to break up a simple and very direct quote with an unnecessarily lengthy reporting clause. (Page 51, btw)

A couple pages late (53), Winchester gives this lengthy editorial paragraph:

"Given what we now know about the setting and the circumstance of his first encounter with war, it does seem at least reasonable and credible to suppose that his madness--latent, hovering in the background--was triggered at that time. Something specific seems to have happened in Orange County, Virginia, early in May 1864, during the two days of the astonishingly bloody encounter that has since come to be called the Battle of Wilderness. It was a fight to test the sanest of men: Some of the occurrences of those two days were utterly beyond human imagination."

I dunno. This just sounds like a chintzy, "Cower in fear, O reader, for the horrors our hero is about to face far surpass what he has hitherto known." Yeah, yeah. How 'bout we just move on with the story, huh? Don't tell me that you're about to tell me something really great--just tell me!

Also, this guy really loves dashes. I mean, I like dashes a lot, but look at this from page 55:

"The fighting therefore was conducted not with artillery--which couldn't see--nor with cavalry--which couldn't ride. It had to be conducted by infantrymen with muskets--their guns charged with the dreadful flesh-tearing minie ball, a newfangled kind of bullet that was expanded by a powder charge in its base and inflicted huge, unsightly wounds--or hand-to-hand, with bayonets and sabers. And with the heat and smoke of battle came yet another terror--fire."

I dunno. I'll probably finish the book because it's short and I'm on vacation and I wanna know how this story unfolds, but I really don't like the way this guy writes.

This has been a problem for me lately with the non-fiction I've been looking at. During Thanksgiving, I picked up Theric's copy of Hooligan by Douglas Thayer, and I was so annoyed by the way he dropped his verbs that I had to put it down (unfortunately, I didn't take note of any examples of that, so I can't really tell you what I mean, but I remember thinking, "Dude, who do you think you are, Michel Thaler?"). A week or two before that, I picked up Prozac Diary by Lauren Slater because I had heard such good things about her engaging and distinctive voice, but here I ran into the opposite problem because, even though I did find her writing fairly engrossing, the subject matter was a bit disturbing to me, so I walked away from it too.

*sigh* What's a poor boy to do?

17 December 2008

Post 172

I finished my finals yesterday--and already I'm going through academic withdrawls. I suppose the next couple weeks will find me striving to become inured to ennui. Oh well. At least I have my vocabulary to keep me warm....

13 December 2008

Post 171

And now for a poem I wrote on my mission. Enjoy!


Christmas comes, and Johnny's sure
To remember what it's for,
So writes his prayer out on a list,
And, just to make sure he's not missed,
He leaves an off'ring for his god
(A greedy being, so it's not odd):
A plate of cookies and some milk,
Then goes to bed wrapped in a quilt.
He stays awake (he cannot sleep)
And so a silent vigil keeps
To see if he can hear a sound
When his god comes roaming 'round.
Then Santa Claus, his Christmas god,
On Johnny's snowy rooftop trods,
Goes down the chimney, to the table,
Eats all the cookies he is able
Then picks up Johnny's little list
And holds it tightly in his fist.

Now if you don't obey the laws
Set up by fat ole Santa Claus
You'll end up like Johnny, who
Got just old coal and nothing new.
I don't believe in Santa Claus;
If you must know why then it's because
He's a false god, and that is bad--
Don't worship him: it makes me sad!
If you love Santa and his bells
More than Jesus, you'll go to hell!


I'm not quite that bitter any more, but the sentiment always makes me smile. And whenever I hear that "Grown-up Christmas List" song, I think, "Wow, you really do pray to Santa, don't ya?"

Anyway, I realize I haven't posted very regularly lately, so I thought I'd put something up to say, "Merry Christmas!" and "I'm still kickin'!"

05 December 2008

Post 170

I have been enjoying pretty much the coolest sickness ever these past couple days. I've never known a sickness to be so--convenient. But this one ROCKS! Check it out:

This coming Monday (December 8th) I have two research projects, a four-page assignment, and an oral report due. I, of course, figured I could slap them all together this week, but such was a poor decision, and I was pretty stressed out when I went to bed Wednesday night.

And then a glorious thing happened: I woke up early Thursday morning, choking and hacking and nearly asphyxiating because my throat was sore sore and congested. I had no voice. Recognizing that I couldn't possibly work in such a condition (Tuesdays and Thursdays I work eight-hour days), I texted a work friend of mine saying something like, "I'm sick so I can't come to work and I don't have a voice so I can't call in. Please tell them I'm not coming," and then turned off my alarm clock and went back to bed.

I slept till sometime between 11 and noon and then got up. I felt physically weak, but my brain was clicking just fine, so I spent about 12 hours working on final projects, so now I'm all caught up.

Thank you, sickness.

I woke up this morning and realized very quickly that I had forgotten to turn my alarm clock on and had therefore overslept. I looked at my clock and learned that I had slept through my first two classes--one of which I had a test in. Luckily, that teacher teaches another section of that same class a couple hours later, so I hurried off to campus, found her class, and went to talk to her.

Kinda. Ya see, I still didn't have a voice, and power walking through the chilly air had only made it worse. As I tried to explain what had happened, she said, "Kyle, you sound sick. Take the test on Monday when you're feeling better."

So this sickness helped me get my projects done and pushed a test back!

Thank you, little sickness. Thank you so much.