By flabby prose, I mean prose that includes unnecessary words. Besides improving the quality of one’s prose, cutting out excess words can help keep the word count down when there are page or word limits.
Stop Mentioning the POV Character’s Senses
Yes, sensory images are rich and desirable. What’s unnecessary is citing the character’s senses.
~She heard squirrels scampering up her tree. ~He smelled the tantalizing scent of acorns. ~They saw flying squirrels swooping overhead.
~Squirrels scampered up the tree outside. ~The scent of acorns filled the breeze. ~Flying squirrels swooped among branches overhead.
If the character describes a squirrel stealing a banana, the reader knows that character sees it and needn’t be told that he sees it. Ditto for other sensory systems. If they are mentioned, make it a conscious decision for a writerly reason.
Don’t forget the other senses! In addition to the five we all learned about in school, scientists classify up to 21 neurological senses. The body’s awareness of its place in relation to surroundings (proprioception) is invaluable to any character in tight spaces or moving quickly. Feelings of hunger or lack of air are classified as chemical senses, very useful to characters undergoing any kind of physical deprivation.
Consider also balance, gravity, pain, temperature, air pressure, the passage of time, itching, muscle tension, or even the perception of magnetic fields. There is an entirely separate set of nerves to detect stretching in the lungs, stomach, bladder, and blood vessels. Just think what a character could do when paying attention to that!
Stop Telling What a Character Notices, Remembers, Etc.
If a character recounts something from the past, it’s clear s/he remembers it. When a squirrel was a hairless kit, his mother taught him how to steal from bird feeders. He doesn’t have to tell his friends that he remembers being a kit.
Your reader doesn’t have to be told that the POV character noticed the squirrel hanging off the bird feeder again. It’s probably an event that happens every time the bird feeder is filled.
This is similar to how one handles what a character sees, hears, feels, smells, or tastes: it’s typically obvious in the rest of the sentence.
Beware Is, Are, Was, and Were
By and large, these verbs should be replaced by something stronger and less passive. “Fatigue weighs her down” is much stronger than “She is fatigued.”
Reconsider -ing Verbs
Is, are, was, and were often precede an -ing verb. For example, ”is walking” or “was walking” might better be replaced with “walks” or “walked.”
Question Every Adverb and Adjective
Some writing teacher or other once told me that an adverb modifying a verb is often hiding a stronger verb. For example, consider replacing “walked fast” with “rushed” or “hurried” or “scurried” or whatever fits the context.
Saying something is very tall or very beautiful is vague, triggering different images for different readers. Specify “over seven feet tall,” for example, or say what is beautiful about the person, object, scenery, etc.
And for goodness sake, don’t modify things that shouldn’t be modified, that are already specific. There is no such thing as ”very unique.” Unique means one-of-a-kind. If it isn’t truly unique, switch to “very rare”—and then consider whether the “very” is really needed! A second and a glance are, by definition fast/brief. Enough said.
Probably everyone knows that the most frequent, useful, and unobtrusive attribution is “s/he said.” True, when multiple people interact in a scene, the writer needs to identify whether it’s Joan, John, Susan, or Sam speaking. But when there are only two people in a scene, identifying/attributing every change of speaker gets clunky. Use sparingly.
If you’re unsure about whether it sounds clunky, try reading it aloud.
Grief, deep sorrow at the loss of someone/something important, comes to everyone in one form or another, at some time or another. According to healthline.com, grief is personal, not necessarily linear, and doesn’t follow timelines or schedules. Everyone grieves in his or her own way.
People usually recognize when someone is grieving the death of a loved one. But other deaths—other losses—any change that alters life as one knows it—can cause grief. What might cause your character(s) to grieve? Loss of . . .
A love relationship
Loss of child custody
A pet (or pet custody)
A close friend
How Would Your Character(s) Grieve?
In 1969, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross published On Death and Dying, based on her years of work with terminally ill people. Subsequently, it was applied to other losses as well. Because grief is so complex and personal, various numbers of stages—from two to seven—have been posited. The original model had five stages:
Models with seven stages include the following three after depression:
Reconstruction and working through
Acceptance and hope
Important to note: Stages can vary in order, can overlap, or can be skipped altogether. The duration of any given stage can vary widely, from days to months to years.
What Would Your Character(s) Grief Cycle Look Like?
Bowl of spaghetti?
Expressions of Grief Reflect One’s Personality
For example, people who express anger physically will continue to do so while grieving, very different from those who express anger verbally. Grieving can be self-destructive, triggering harmful eating, drinking, or risk-taking behaviors. Some might grieve by intellectualizing (finding out everything possible about the causes, prognosis, etc.) or compartmentalizing (confining conscious grieving to certain times or places).
BOTTOM LINE: What causes feelings of loss and how your character(s) respond are rich sources of adding depth and feeling to your plot.
I blogged about beach reads (i.e., anything read at the beach) in 2016, 2018, and 2019. I was in the Rocky Mountains in 2017, and we all know what didn’t happen in 2020. But here’s this year’s take on what people actually read at the beach. These 16 people are ages 12 to 90, and 8 are female. FYI, some raved about their reads; no one said, “Don’t bother.”
Here, in the order people wrote them down, with writers’ comments where noted
And this doesn’t even include the 7 books bought the last afternoon before leaving!
And some people don’t choose what they’ll be reading at the beach. Work demands, school demands, parenting demands… Does reading the newspaper count as pleasure reading or required reading?
Student papers to grade
Reports for work, if the internet connection cooperates
Legal something-or-other for an upcoming court appearance
Coursework for Continuing Education requirements
Comparing textbooks for homeschooling
Manuscripts to edit
And there you have it folks: 16 people, 25 books (and other reading materials)—plus turtle viewing, boogie-boarding, brewery touring, thrift shopping, sewing, story telling, cooking, euchre, dancing, cribbage, Mexican Train Dominoes, hair, makeup, nails…
Bottom Line: Yep, lots to do at the beach—but don’t leave home without at least one good read!
Today’s blog entry was written by Kathleen Corcoran, a local harpist, writer, editor, ESL teacher, luthier, favorite auntie, duct tape sculptor, frequent ER visitor, and nosy acquaintance of medical professionals.
The human body is a complicated mess of electricity and wobbly bits, delicately balanced on a knife-edge of temperature and calories. All this pain and suffering is wonderful! …in fiction. Spectacular injuries, sudden deaths, miraculous recoveries, selfless healers all make great stories, but medicine doesn’t always oblige authors by being acceptably dramatic.
In reality, many of the most common medical scenes are impossible. People who have drowned don’t open their eyes to gaze adoringly at their rescuer giving them mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. A pregnant patient won’t feel her water break like an exploding water balloon and then go immediately into screaming contractions. The tough warrior can’t simply pull a knife from a stab wound and run back into the fray. It’s perfectly fine to wake a sleepwalker.
No One Comes Out of a Coma Like Sleeping Beauty
Fairy tales (and soap operas) would have us believe that a patient in a coma state will flutter their lashes and smile their way to consciousness at the most convenient moment in the plot. Of course, hair and make-up are always perfect, and any IVs or breathing tubes are just for show. Immediately, the patient is able to sit up and provide vital information to conveniently stationed witnesses.
In real life, a patient comes out of a coma slowly, often over the course of hours or days. Random mumbles and muscle contractions are far more likely than eloquent confessions. Of course, that’s assuming the patient doesn’t have a breathing tube in their throat, pneumonia and bed sores from staying in one position for so long, and permanent brain damage. Any extended time in bed will result in muscle atrophy, which makes dancing around the hospital room a little difficult.
CPR Doesn’t Magically Bring People Back to Life
When someone’s heart stops beating, there is no point shocking their chest with defibrillator paddles and shouting, “Clear!” while the patient’s body jerks like a dolphin. Those scenes have plenty of tension and drama but not much medical fact.
A trained onlooker leaning over the lifeless body and thumping on the chest is a little more accurate, but the outcome is unfortunately not. Applying enough pressure on the chest to force the heart cavities to squeeze blood nearly always is also enough pressure to crack ribs. It’s an exhausting process, and the person providing CPR can’t stop. The American Red Cross no longer trains first aid providers to stop and force air into the patient’s mouth, because it is so much more important to stimulate and simulate heartbeats.
Unlike those dramatic scenes in medical dramas, real CPR scenes are frequently unsuccessful. Only 10-20% of patients undergoing CPR recover at all. Those whose hearts do resume beating on their own are likely to suffer permanent loss of function and brain damage.
People Knocked Unconscious Don’t Just Pop Back Up
Knocking characters unconscious is a very convenient way to take them out of a fight without racking up the body count. Unfortunately, it’s not very convenient to the brains of those knocked unconscious.
A blow strong enough to knock someone unconscious, even briefly, is strong enough to cause brain damage, possibly even skull fractures. Hematomas (bleeding into the skull) can leave scars on the brain that can be seen on X-rays years later.
Like coma patients (which head trauma patients may become), a character knocked unconscious is likely to be groggy and uncoordinated when they come to. Someone who has been repeatedly knocked unconscious might develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), as football players are finding out now.
Fictional Medicine Never Includes Enough Paperwork
Medical TV shows almost always show the characters taking long coffee breaks, jumping in and out of relationships, creating miraculous cures just in the nick of time, and doing everything else except practice medicine. The same rules seem to apply to nurses, technicians, radiologists, residents, EMTs, office staff, and everyone else employed in or around sick people.
What these fictional settings almost never show is the reality of medical practice: paperwork. So much paperwork. When not attending directly to patients, everyone has to dig their way out from under mountains of unending paperwork.
There are far more examples of medical inaccuracies than I can cover in this one post. Watching a medical professional watch TV is often more entertaining than the show itself. I have it on good authority that Scrubsand Sirens are two of the most accurate portrayals of the medical profession, despite (or perhaps because) they are both absurd comedies.
Before writing about injuries, death, doctors, nurses, medicine, pharmacists, or anyone or anything else involved in healthcare, I strongly suggest doing plenty of research or asking a medically inclined editor to take a look at what you’ve written.
We’re all aware of accidents that can happen in kitchens. The bathroom may be the most common room for injuries, but kitchen injuries come in a wide variety of gory types. For example
Injury from machines
Slips, trips, and falls
Head and eye Injuries
Crowded workspace risks
Infection or contamination
Similarly, most people take steps to minimize accidents. For example, keeping knives sharp because dull blades will more easily slip off food and into a finger; keeping floors dry; and making sure ovens and stove burners are turned off after use.
Writers, think home invasions, homicide, domestic violence, and torture. What can happen accidentally in the kitchen can be inflicted on purpose or in the heat of the moment.
Serious burns are easy to come by in the kitchen: touching hot surfaces, direct flames, hot oils, hot pots and pans, or scalding from hot liquids like boiling water, oils, and steam. All provide an opportunity to inflict serious injury or even death.
Long hair is particularly hazardous around heat. Extra long tresses can swing too close to the flame or get caught on knobs and catch fire before the owner even notices.
Steam can reach temperatures over 400°F. Steam burns tend to be far more intense than scalding from boiling water. And don’t forget burns caused by electricity or chemicals.
Any variety of cutting implement, including vegetable slicers, food processors, and table knives, are a natural, and offer a variety of possible injuries depending on size, serration, etc.
Removing body parts that may or may not be essential
According to lore, the most commonly seen injuries in New York Emergency Rooms are from people cutting open their own fingers while trying to slice bagels!
Even without tools specifically designed for cutting, serious injuries can be inflicted lots of ways. Kitchens have plenty of glassware and crockery, all of which can be broken and used to slice someone’s skin. Being thrown into a window is always exciting!
Beside knives, stabbing can be done with scissors, metal kebob skewers, fondue and cooking forks, corkscrews, or nearly anything pointy a very determined stabber can lay hands on.
For other skin injuries think graters, slicers, garbage disposals, or food processors.
Blunt force trauma isn’t just for the head—think broken fingers, feet, or limbs. Any heavy object will do.
Cast iron cookware
Counter top KitchenAid mixer
Liquor or wine bottles (which can then be used to stab or slice)
Cartons of ice cream (though that seems like a waste of perfectly good ice cream – blood does not improve the flavor)
Besides bludgeoning someone in the head, there are plenty of other methods of attaining a head injury in the kitchen. Many are caused by being pushed or shoved, or falling into kitchen fixtures. Water, oil, grease, and things you’d rather not think about are often spilled on kitchen floors, making slips and falls much more likely.
Corners of open doors
Being forced into a tight, confined place such as a walk-in pantry or chest freezer
Especially tall people will hit their heads on everything
Especially short people are likely to climb on counters or stepstools, with the associated risk of falling
When considering head injuries, go beyond concussion and bruising. Consider intentionally popping out an eyeball with a fruit spoon or strawberry huller—although accidental eye injuries in kitchens more commonly result from hot oil, steam, or water.
Stuffing something down the victim’s throat
Accidentally (or tricked into) eating something that causes anaphylactic shock
So, do what you can about accident hazards in the kitchen. Avoid overcrowding for injuries are often caused by bumping into or tripping over another person. Do not try to do kitchen work if you are overtired, ill or under the influence of alcohol or medication. Remove all trip and slip hazards. But …
Bottom line: Whether accident or attack, the kitchen is a great place to ramp up tension, develop plot, or create a puzzle.
There is an abundance of on-line information about the meaning of prison tattoos, and it’s generally consistent. But keep in mind, there are varied meanings, and context is important. One example here would be playing cards, typically found on the knuckles. In Russian prisons, the suit chosen have meanings. In other settings, this type of tattoo may indicate someone who likes to gamble, or who sees life as a gamble. (See below.)
The Nature of Prison Tattoos
Overall, prison tattoos tend to look dark and crude. Inmates tattoo each other using whatever equipment they can gather, such as staples, ballpoint pens, paper-clips, improvised needles, molten rubber, styrofoam, etc.
Sometimes the “artist” will draw a picture on a wooden plank, place needles along the lines of the design, cover the needles with ink and stamp the whole tableau on the prisoner’s body. Another method is to slice the image onto the skin with a razor and daub the cut with indelible ink. When prisoners manage to get an electric shaver and a syringe with a needle, they can jury-rig a tattooing machine.
Ink is hard to come by, so for dye, they can use pen ink. Also, they can burn the heel of a shoe, and mix the ash with the prisoner’s urine – a practice superstitiously believed to reduce the chance of infection. Research has revealed a connection between tattoos and high rates of hepatitis C among prisoners.
Tattooing is typically slow and nearly always painful. Conditions are inevitably far from sterile, so infections and complications are common. Suffice it to say that what prison tattoos convey is important to the wearer.
Not All Tattoos are Voluntary
The most famous instance would be during the Holocaust when concentration camp inmates were tattooed with an identification number. Also see the section on gender below. Any tattoo that stigmatizes a prisoner, or invites abuse by other inmates, is likely to have been applied involuntarily.
White Supremacist Gang Tattoos
Arian Brotherhood (AB)
Family Affiliated Irish Mafia (FAIM)
General white supremacist symbols
For example 1488 (or 14 or 88) found anywhere on the body identifies white supremacists/Nazi inmates. There are a variety of tattoos associated with the Arian Brotherhood, important to identify, for they make up 1% of the prison population but commit 20% of inmate murders.
FAIM members sometimes wear a shamrock as well, signifying affiliation with the AB—but this is only allowed with permission of the AB
Russian Prison Tattoos
In the Soviet Union, particularly during Joseph Stalin’s time, non-political prisoners (thieves, murderers, arsonists, etc.) in the Gulag system were often given preferential treatment by prison guards. Tattoos told the guards as well as other prisoners how to treat a prisoner, including what labor assignments they got and whether to assign prisoners as enforcers. Eventually, non-political prisoners gained so much power within the Gulags that the Vor v Zakony (Thieves in Law) essentially ran many of the prison camps. Today, the Vory is one of the most powerful mafia organizations in the world. In many areas within the former Soviet Union, anyone with visible tattoos is assumed to be affiliated with the Vory or pretending to be.
Birds on horizon
Symbol of the cross
Crowns and rings
A cat tattoo represents a thief.
One cat = the prisoner worked alone
Multiple cats = the prisoner was part of a gang of thieves
A cat tattoo (think stealthy as a cat) is considered good luck for a thief
If worn on the chest, it also signals a dangerous criminal who hates law enforcement
Playing card suits carry specific meanings: spade represents a thief; clubs symbolize criminals in general, diamonds label stoolpigeons and informants – and was probably applied by force—and hearts imply that someone is looking for a romantic partner in the prison, which may also be forcibly applied.
The knife through the neck tattoo, in Russian prisons, means the bearer is a murderer—and proud of it. Much has been written about Russian prison tattoos. If interested, you can find information specific to Japan, Australia, France, Italy, etc.
Street/Prison Gang Tattoos
Mara Salvatrucha 13
Black Guerrilla Family
Red Blood Dragon
Almighty Latin King Nations
18th Street Gang
Texas Chicano Brotherhood
Laotian Boyz (LB)
Angel of death
A spiderweb, typically representing a lengthy incarceration, is commonly found on the elbow or neck.
Teardrops can mean a lengthy prison sentence, that the wearer has committed murder, or that one of the inmate’s friends was murdered and the tattooed one is seeking revenge.
According to corrections1.com, “One of the most widely recognized prison tattoos, the teardrop’s meaning varies geographically. In some places, the tattoo can mean a lengthy prison sentence, while in others it signifies that the wearer has committed murder. If the teardrop is just an outline, it can symbolize an attempted murder. It can also mean that one of the inmate’s friends was murdered and that they are seeking revenge. The teardrop has been popularized recently by rappers and other celebrities, but still remains a staple in prisons. Those who are newbies behind bars with a teardrop tattoo will make a lot of enemies, fast.”
Alternatively, Mental Floss says, “There are many stories about why a prisoner would have this tattoo, but the most common is that an unfilled teardrop might symbolize the death of a loved one, while an opaque one might show that the death has been avenged.
Three dots representing “my crazy life” (vida loca) refers to the gang lifestyle, but no particular gang; typically applied at the corner of the eye or between the thumb and index finger. Sometimes three dots, like three crosses, represents the holy trinity of Christianity.
Five dots between the thumb and forefinger represents time done in prison. It’s found internationally. Located elsewhere on the body, this design may mean association with the People Nation gang.
A clock with no hands represents doing time and a lot of it. Ditto watch without hands or an hourglass.
Barbed wire tattoos are fairly common and many have no specific meaning. Sometimes each barb represents a year served in prison. On the forehead, such tattoos typically mean serving a life sentence.
Laughing and crying clown faces/masks often means “Laugh now, cry later” attitude of the gang lifestyle.
Gender As a Factor in Prison/Gang Tattoos
Although there is much online discussion of convict tattoos in general, most of the images shown feature men. From this, with an overlay of gender stereotypes, one might conclude that tattoos among female inmates are rare. But I found one research paper to the contrary.
“This study confirmed that there is a high frequency of tattoos among female offenders, but disproved the hypothesis that the frequency would be higher and more aggressive among violent offenders in comparison to non-violent offenders. Based on these findings, non-violent female offenders were more likely than violent female offenders to have a tattoo or tattoos, to have multiple tattoos, and to have aggressive or masculine tattoos. However, offenders convicted of violent crimes like robbery and assault or battery had the most visible tattoos, primarily located on the hands, face, fingers, and wrists.”
I found no indication that the images and/or their meanings differ by gender.
And according to Wikipedia, “Forced and enslaved prostitutes are often tattooed or branded with a mark of their owners. Women and girls being forced into prostitution against their will may have their boss’ name or gang symbol inked or branded with a hot iron on their skin. In some organizations involved with the trafficking of women and girls, like the mafias, nearly all prostitutes are marked. Some pimps and organizations use their name or well-known logo, while others use secret signs. Some years ago, the branding mark was usually small, only recognized by other pimps, and sometimes hidden between the labia minora, but today some “owners” write their names in big letters all upon the body of the victim.”
Bottom line: Tattoos can carry a lot of meaning. When deciphering that meaning, tread carefully.
Last week, a woman said to me (approximately), “People think permanent make-up is a new thing, but Cleopatra’s famous eyes were tattooed on. Soot was applied with knives.” I’d never heard such a thing, and I’ve actually been to Egypt. I always assumed her face was painted. As with anything that pricks my curiosity, I googled it. Lo and behold, it’s a much more complicated topic than I ever considered.
Basically, any time an indelible design is created by inserting pigment under the epidermis, the result is a tattoo. Tattooing has been practiced in various cultures over centuries.
How Many Centuries?
As for bodily evidence of tattoos, for a long time the oldest known examples were Egyptian mummies, dated about 2000 BCE. However, Ötzi the Iceman, found on the Italian-Australian border in 1991, pushed that back. His mummified skin has at least 60 tattoos and was carbon dated a thousand years earlier, making him 5,200 years old.
If one considers non-body evidence such as figurines and and paintings, then tattooing was practiced in Egypt in the Predynastic period, around 3100 BCE.
Tattooing Was Everywhere
The word tattoo started as the Polynesian word ta, meaning to strike. It evolved into the Tahitian word tatatau, meaning to mark something. As seen in the animated film Moana, these traditional tattoos were applied by means of rapidly striking a bamboo rod to drive an inked thorn into the skin.
In nearly every ancient culture, such as those in Greece and Rome to Native Americans, Japanese, sub-Saharan African, Australian Aboriginal, and Innuit, evidence has shown that tattooing was and most modern cultures tattoos were and are everywhere.
But Why Tattoo?
A cultic symbol dedicating the wearer to a specific god or belief
For example, Amunet was a priestess of the goddess Hathor.
As a brand signifying servitude/slavery/shame
For example adulterers marked with an A, T for thief, etc.
As a professional identification (e.g., prostitute, priestess)
As a permanent amulet seeking protection
Sailors having anchor tattoos or miners with lamps tattooed on their foreheads were trying to bring good luck.
The patterns of tattoos on Egyptian women’s abdomens and thighs seem to have been for fertility and for protection during pregnancy and childbirth.
Tattoos may have been a therapeutic tool, similar to acupuncture.
The Ice Man had tattoos on his hands, lower back, and feet in areas that showed signs of stress damage.
As a declaration of group membership (think Marines, college fraternities, or Nazis)
As a visible means of intimidating the enemy (think Maori warriors) or showing bravery or success in battle
As a personal symbol of a meaningful event (e.g., birth of a child) or belief (sayings of Jesus or Buddha), or tribute to a beloved person
And, of course, as pure body art/decoration
Tattoos used by gang members and prisoners are often extraordinarily complex and will be covered in a separate blog post of their own.
The tattoos used by the Nazis in concentration camps were a form of branding, not in the same class as voluntary markings prisoners have chosen to put on their bodies for various reasons.
Tattoos to repair or restore
Today, plastic surgeons often work with tattoo artists to cover scars, burns, the effects of alopecia or vitiligo.
Many women get tattoos on their breasts after cancer surgery.
Along with her other artistic work, Amy Black (Pink Ink Fund) is a tattoo artist well known in the Richmond, VA area, for creating realistic-looking nipples or other art for women who have had cancer surgery.
Permanent Make-Up, the Daughter of General Tattooing
The goal is to look natural, or like externally applied makeup, enhancing colors on the face, lips, eyebrows, and eyelids. This type of tattooing (also known as cosmetic tattooing, dermapigmentation, micropigmentation) is also older than one might think.
The first documented permanent makeup artist was Sutherland MacDonald, in the U.K. in 1902! His specialty was “all-year-round delicate pink complexion”—i.e., rouged cheeks. By the 1920s, it was popular in the U.S. The tattooist George Burchett wrote about beauty salons that tattooed women using vegetable dyes without their knowledge under the rise of “complexion treatment.” (Personally, I can only imagine that those women were willfully ignorant, given that tattooing is generally an uncomfortable procedure with visible aftereffects, such as temporary scabbing.)
As with all matters of fashion, popularity varies over time. During the 1960s and 1970s, the popularity of tattoos took a sharp uptick. According to one article (the guardian.com) in 2016, a US poll revealed that 29% of people had a tattoo, up from 21% four years earlier. Of people born between 1982 and 2004, 47% have at least one.
Do multiple tattoos create a different impression from a single one? And if so, in what way? What difference does the reason for the tattoo make? What about the nature/content of the tattoo?
But Back to Cleopatra
According to accepted academic evidence, in Egypt—unlike most cultures—only women were tattooed. The tattoos most often seemed related to fertility and childbirth, or identifying the woman as high ranking. However, I found nothing specific to Cleopatra’s face. Bummer.
Permanent body decoration serves psychological and/or practical purposes for the tattooed one. In addition, body decorations send out a range of social signals—intentional or not. Think about it.
Yep, I confess to being an unabashed logophile (lover of words). (This seldom-used word comes from Greek roots: logos, meaning speech, word, reason; and philos, meaning dear, friendly.)
Some people are logomaniacs—i.e., obsessed with words. I may be borderline, but I don’t think I’m quite there yet! On the one hand, I do have more than five full shelves of dictionaries, from general ones like Random House and the OED to specialized ones for everything from slang and historical periods to non-American English (e.g., Australian and South African). On the other hand, I can go whole days without even opening one!
Still, I’m gratified to know (according to the Cambridge English Dictionary) that gobby means talks too much. Closely related—but with different nuance—in American English, gabby means excessively or annoyingly talkative.
Recently, I began posting a word a day on FaceBook, just the word, no definition. The only criterion is that it strike my fancy on a given day. But maybe I should theme it.
Flurch: a multitude, a great many (things, not people)
Gutterblood: people brought up in the same immediate neighborhood
Hipshot: strained or dislocated in the hip
Leg-bail: run from the law, desertion from duty
Nicknackitarian: dealer in curiosities
Noggle: to walk awkwardly
Overmorrow: the day after tomorrow
Prinkle: tingling sensation
Rooped: hoarse, as in bronchitis
Scruze: squeeze, compress
Smoothery: medicine or salve to remove hair
Tazzled: entangled or rough, untidy head of hair
Thenadays: in those days, times past
Thinnify: to make thin
Words That Are Seldom Seen—or Heard
I just like them.
Rantipole: a wild, reckless, sometimes quarrelsome person; characterized by a wild, unruly manner or attitude.
Solivagant: rambling alone, marked by solitary wandering.
Agathokakological: composed of both good and evil. True of many (most?) people, and of all good villainous characters!
Noctiphany: something that happens only at night.
Skice: to frisk about like squirrels in spring.
Lethologica: when a word is on the tip of your tongue.
And when it just won’t come in time, you can substitute. Here are some words for an object, event, type of media, abstract concept, or person whose name is forgotten, unknown, or unmentionable. There are regional variations, but some of these seem to be universal.
Doohickey: object or device
And then there are the nuances of words to consider. By this, I mean words that can objectively mean the same thing but create different impressions of age, social class, education, gender, etc. Some words are essentially unintelligible to people outside a particular social group. This is where a good thesaurus comes in handy (or Urban Dictionary). A few examples:
Whether you’re “a car person” or not, your ride sends messages. Here are just a few examples of choices that have a distinctive vibe. The impressions and stereotypes listed below were gathered from various websites and, like most stereotypes, do not necessarily reflect the truth.
I’m starting with Prius because I own one—two, in fact. Non-Prius owners tend to stereotype Prius owners as 1) tree-huggers and 2) bad drivers.
According to urbandictionary.com, the top definition of Prius includes: “Hippies hipsters, and less-intelligent liberals buy them under the impression they’re saving the environment.” If you remember (or have heard of) the 1970’s hippies, VW buses, etc., then you know tree-hugger stereotypes have been around long before the Prius. True, it is an environmentally friendly car, very economical. But fYI: as a group, Prius owners are not environmental activists.
Also according to urbandictionary.com, top definition of Prius: “Prius is most often seen doing 40 in the carpool lane with an obese neckbeard at the wheel, a 24-pack of PSR in the truck [sic], and an anti-Bush sticker on the trunk lid.” In fact, bad drivers are everywhere and drive anything. No doubt you’ve seen accidents with luxury cars, pickup trucks, mini vans, compact cars, and anything else that’s on the road. Enough said.
Famous Prius Owners
America’s #1 selling vehicle since 1977
Can handle massive cargo
Luxury and modern tech
Great outdoors, rugged strength, old-school Americans
Other Ford Models
More unathletic and ugly than any other driver
Far from the executive suite
Ten stereotypes as identified by Nigel Presnyakov in October of 2019 (city-data.com), are humorous. He categorizes by model and year. Who knows how closely they reflect reality? But worth a read.
Escalade drivers: a rap star or a housewife. Stereotypers agree this car attracts either hip-hoppers or soccer moms.
Outdoorsy, granola types who go camping biweekly and cover their car with social justice stickers.
And here are the views summarized by Joe Djoremy on quara.com
Attractive and audacious
A car for “climbers”
More playful than Mercedes or BMW drivers
Younger and less wealthy than Mercedes drivers
Wild and male (only the Porsche is more so)
Likely to be speeders
Athletic and arrogant
Not (yet) as professionally successful as Porsche
Only moderately ten with efficient dynamics and ecology
Slim and restrained
A “women’s car”
Low salary, no university degree
Serious and bourgeois
Likely self-employed, arrogant, conservative, unathletic, and overweight
Like other accouterments of our lives—housing, clothing, pets—how we get from Point A to Point B communicates to those around us—and not everyone draws the same conclusions! The following observations are some of the most common (or loudest) I’ve come across; different countries and time periods have had varied observations about modes of transportation. Like most stereotypes and public perceptions, the following are of varying degrees of truth.
As general background: when users have to decide which mode of transport to use (private car, public transport, cycling, walking, etc.) gender is often a more robust determinant than age or income!
Shank’s Mare (A.K.A. walking): the Oldest Mode
Seldom chosen as the primary or only way to get around
People on long pilgrimages (Hajj to Mecca, walking cross country to raise awareness for a cause, Gandhi’s march to the Sea)
Depending on other info, may indicate poverty or health awareness
Bicycle: Impressions Depend on Model, Condition, Etc.
Bicycles, mopeds, scooters, and motorcycles are almost always two-wheeled vehicles driven and steered by one rider. The distinctions are, like almost everything else, varied around the world and prone to blurring. A bicycle is powered entirely by the rider pedaling; a moped has a small motor attached to assist with pedaling in especially difficult environments. Bicycles are relatively easily modified for people with physical limitations, compared to cars and motorcycles.
People are in the best mood when riding bicycles
Can be inexpensive or very expensive, depending on type of bicycle and riding gear
Difficult to park securely in many places
Primarily for physical fitness
In fact, the vast majority of regular bicyclists in the US ride for transportation as they cannot afford a car and do not have access to public transit
Limited passenger capacity
Not as limited as most in the U.S. assume.
In Copenhagen, “’Cargo-bike moms’ are gentrifying the Netherlands.”
Scooters are powered entirely by an engine, with a foot well for the seated rider’s legs. Unlike a car, all engine controls are in the handles.
Easy to drive
Cheaper and slower than a motorcycle
No safer than motorcycles
Popular on very rural country rides for teenagers
More popular abroad than in the U.S.
Easier to maneuver and store in crowded areas
Driving permit requirements are often different from those of a car or motorcycle
Many areas don’t require permits at all
Iran and Saudi Arabia (among others) are questioning whether scooters fall under the same laws forbidding women to drive
Motorcycle Rider Stereotypes
Motorcycles and scooters are very similar, but a motorcyclist sits astride the seat. The engine of a motorcycle is generally more powerful than that of a scooter.
Harley riders are elitist and only care about brand; Other riders are effeminate
Stunt hooligans on the road
Prone to road-rage
Have a death wish
Emergency Response personnel sometimes refer to motorcycle riders as “Organ Donors,” but that is more because of the lack of safety gear than specific behavior patterns
All young riders prefer sports bikes
Physically tough appearance
Men have long, unkempt beards
Tattoos are common
Women dress provocatively
Lots of black leather, chains, spikes, gang markings, etc.
Gear is chosen to look tough rather than for practicality
Many of these perceptions are based on Hell’s Angels and other “outlaw motorcycle clubs”
Multi-Passenger Public Transportation
Public transport is much safer than automobiles (the above photo is an exception). For example, bus and rail travelers are 20 times less likely to die en route than drivers. Even if self-driving and safety technology could reduce car by 90%, fatalities per passenger mile would still be twice as high in private automobiles.
World-wide, the largest share of public transportation users are women
Bus and train riders experience the most negative emotions
Bus: poor people who cannot afford a vehicle/gas;
homeless/mentally ill people seeking temporary shelter from the elements.
Train: long-distance commuters;
More common in Europe and Asia, where train systems are much more comprehensive
Plane: long-distance (business or pleasure) travelers of means
The second happiest people are car passengers, followed by car drivers
Carpoolers: cut down air pollution
Lessen expenses of gas/parking
Renting a limousine or similar
Driver alone: not sociality responsible
Selfish or ego-centric
Taxi/Lyft/Uber: short distance trips for those valuing convenience
People who cannot drive for whatever reason (inebriation, tourist, moving larger than normal cargo, etc.)
Consider the possible conflicts between traditional taxi services and Lyft or Uber style companies, or even the conflict between drivers and management within those companies
Car drivers are so common that to dig into assumptions, it’s necessary to get into make and model
Other methods of transportation are more common outside the US. Extreme climates, different resources, and distance have made what we might see as extraordinary into the everyday.
Dog sled, snow mobile, cross-country skiing
Tuktuk, marsrhutka, or any other kind of informal minibus system run by individual drivers
Horseback or horse-drawn vehicle (or donkey, mule, camel, etc.)
Canoe or kayak
BOTTOM LINE for writers: consider your choice and the reason for it!