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:
Money, money, money! It touches nearly every aspect of a person’s/character’s life—and deserves conscious decision making.
How much money? These are not scientific or economic terms, rather, the sorts of terms people use to describe themselves and/or others. The actual dollar amounts associated with the descriptors may vary. What would you/your character say? Point of information: people tend to make finer distinctions closest to where they peg themselves, lumping the extremes into bigger chunks.
Lower middle class
Upper middle class
*I’ve also seen income level defined by preferred fast food options. The scale ranges from Going to AA Meetings for Coffee, through Taco Bell and Chipotle, all the way up to Whatever the Private Chef Makes.
Source(s) of income: Note that respect for various sources of income varies widely. This often translates into treating people differently.
Begging or panhandling
Theft of various sorts, with or without another source
Entertainment, anything from a classical pianist to an exotic dancer
By the job/ piecework
Having multiple jobs
Salary plus bonuses
Stability/predictability/security of income: Obviously, stability has implications for mental health and life stress. Money can’t buy happiness, but it certainly makes achieving stability somewhat easier.
Thoughts on taxes: This could be the modern IRS, but the same questions could just as easily be applied to citizens providing magic spells or Zygloxans giving helium globules to the Grand Tyrant on Planet YT-3H81.
Taking fewer payroll deductions than allowed in order to assure a tax refund vs. planning to owe and have the use of the money in the meantime
Being willing to pay taxes or looking for ways to avoid paying them
Finding quasi-legal or outright illegal methods to get out of paying taxes
Carefully accounting for every expenditure or estimating
Moral objections to the use of taxes (such as Thoreau)
Attitude toward money: Not necessarily related to amount of income.
Always more where that came from
Easy come, easy go
Best to save for a rainy day/unexpected expense
Sacrifice now for a secure retirement/college tuition/whatever
Always live below your means
Clips coupons and shops sales
Shop resale/garage sales/etc.
Buy quality, not quantity
Budget every penny and then figure out which bills will have to remain unpaid
Money by comparison: Source(s), level, etc., of income, especially compared to family and friends.
Changed over your/your character’s lifetime
Income disparity causing conflict
Where the money goes:
Whatever strikes one’s fancy
Luxuries, with or without guilt
Whatever is most visible to elicit praise, admiration, or envy from others
Supporting family or friends who need a hand
Back into a business
Sponsoring people on social media as indirect advertisement
How money is handled:
Charge everything possible
Pay by debit card whenever possible
Pay bills as soon as one arrives
Have bills paid by bank debit
Pay at the last minute, sometimes incurring late fees
Tip lavishly or stingily?
Needing to take payday or title loans
If having to choose food, rent/mortgage, utilities, gas/transportation, which?
Bottom Line: What other ways is money a lynchpin in the life of you / your character?
In last week’s blog, I discussed nom de guerre, literally war name, that in current French usage has come to mean any pseudonym. Like any other in-group, soldiers develop their own jargon—which often lingers in subsequent slang, often with a morphed meaning.
This blog will showcase just a few such words/phrases.
A.W.O.L. (Absent Without Leave) Even before the Civil War, this meant a soldier who has gone off without permission. Now business executives, teenagers, spouses—virtually anyone—can be AWOL, pronounced A-wall. The unexplained or unexcused absence is often trivial.
S.N.A.F.U. (Status Normal: All F*cked Up) The Marines are usually credited with this particular acronym, which originated during World War II. There is some evidence that radio operators came up with the phrase to give humorous meaning to a commonly used set of letters from coded messages. In modern usage, this acronym has essentially the same meaning, lacking only the cynical mocking of commanding officers. (S.U.S.F.U. [Situation Unchained: Still F*cked Up] was coined as a follow-up, but it has largely fallen out of use.
F.U.B.A.R. had several variations of meaning, though “F*cked Up Beyond All Repair” pretty much covers it. Occasionally, it was defined as “F*cked Up By A**holes in the Rear” to express frustration with military command issuing orders from the comfort and safety of their offices well out of harm’s way. Like SNAFU, it originated as military slang during World War II, and it has retained its original meaning in modern slang.
Basket case is used in a fairly lighthearted way today (often describing someone who repeatedly makes stupid mistakes, or who crumbles under pressure), but it has a strange history. Shortly after World War I, rumors circulated of multitudes of soldiers who had been so badly injured that they had to be carried from the battlefield in a barrow or basket, usually having lost all four of their limbs. This belief was so strong that it persists in the public imagination today despite direct evidence to the contrary. In 1919, the Surgeon General of the Army made a public statement that this was not the case, and only one quadruple amputee from the war is known to have survived. Ethelbert Christian lost all four limbs at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917, but he learned how to walk on prosthetics and lived what appears to have been a full and happy life.
Booby-trap has been in use since the mid-19th century for a fairly harmless prank or practical joke. A “booby” was used in English slang to mean a stupid or gullible person as early as the late 17th century. But in WWI, it morphed into meaning an explosive device deliberately disguised as a harmless object. The English journalist Sir Philip Gibbs (1877-1962) said, “the enemy left … slow-working fuses and ‘booby-traps’ to blow a man to bits or blind him for life if he touched a harmless looking stick or opened the lid of a box, or stumbled over an old boot.”
As a nickname for body lice or head lice, cooties first appeared in trenches slang in 1915. It was presumably derived from the coot, a species of waterfowl known for being infested with lice and other parasites. Today it’s a children’s term for an imaginary germ or a repugnant quality transmitted by obnoxious or slovenly people.
In the 19th century, dingbat was used like thingamajig or whatchamacallit as a placeholder for something or someone whose real name the speaker couldn’t come up with at the moment. It came to be used for a clumsy or foolish person during the First World War, before morphing to mean shell-shocked, nervous, or mad. Now it’s used for a stupid or eccentric person.
In British English, “to be in a flap,” meaning “to be worried,” dates from 1916. It was originally a naval expression derived from the restless flapping of birds, but quickly spread into everyday English during the First World War. The adjective unflappable, meaning unflustered or imperturbable, calm in the face of crisis, appeared in the 1950s as a reference to the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.
Son of a Gun is generally held to originate as a euphemism for the child of a military father away on a lengthy deployment (and thus somewhat suspicious paternity). In current usage, it is an epithet similar to “son of a bitch,” with positive or negative meanings depending on the speaker.
Brainwashing is a literal translation of the Chinese phrase xi nao, to wash the brain. During the Korean War, military reports estimated that 30% of American prisoners of war collaborated with their Korean and Chinese captors. To explain how this was possible, the media created the term brainwashing: systematic, intensive interrogation techniques and indoctrination procedures used by hostile forces to change allegiances of prisoners of war. The term gradually came to be used to label any change of opinion or allegiance—though it still implies unsavory, unfair, or unethical methods!
Skedaddle, meaning to run away or desert from military service, became popular during the American Civil War. Now it means to leave quickly or hurriedly, to run away. In true American fashion, the etymological origins of this word are a mix of many possible languages or perhaps none at all.
OMG(Oh My God!) is very often used as an abbreviation in electronic communication. The first appearance of OMG was in a sarcastic letter Lord Fisher, a retired Naval Admiral, sent to Winston Churchill in 1917, complaining about the number of knighthoods being bestowed upon Naval officers. It has become so common that people sometimes use it as an acronym when speaking aloud: “ohemgee!”
Kilroy or Kilroy Was Here might be considered a bit of visual military jargon that has made its way into common use. James Kilroy wrote his name on sections of Navy ships under construction to certify that he’d personally checked the welding. Because his name seemed to be everywhere, British and American service members took to writing it on every surface imaginable in Europe and Asia, most likely as good-luck totem. (The origins of the accompanying long-nosed, bald man are unknown, but it may have started as a British cartoon.) Kilroy is still one of the most commonly graffitied images in the world today, with or without his name.
Bottom line: Word meanings are fluid, so be aware of timeline and context in order to truly understand what the speaker is trying to communicate.
In 1716 France, a war name was mandatory, and in some ways was functionally similar to a dog tag for soldiers today. Soldiers were identified by their first name, family name, and war name. The war name was typically either the hometown or a particular physical or character trait. Examples would be Jean Louis of Paris, or Pierre Renaut the Red Haired One.
Some famous noms de guerre were chosen deliberately to the warlike, violent, or intimidating characteristics of the bearer. Pirates Captain Blackbeard and Montbard the Exterminator are examples of this.
Sometimes the alias replaced the family name.
During Word War II, noms de guerre were adopted by the French Resistance for security, and to protect family members from the enemy. Today mercenaries, resistance fighters, terrorists, and guerrillas adopt war names for the same reason.
Nom de plume has retained its specific meaning of a writing name that differs from a given name. Over time, the usage of nom de guerre became much more general, such that in ordinary French today, it’s a generic descriptor, like pseudonym.
By now, soldiers and writers are a small minority of people who take different or additional names. And their reasons for doing so offer great plot points!
Taking or keeping a professional name different from the family name
Wanting a less or more ethnic name
To fit gender identification
Simple dislike of one’s current name: too common, too outlandish, too juvenile, too likely to be embarrassing if mispronounced or misspelled, etc.
Changing a name after divorce
Husband taking wife’s name
A couple choosing to combine parts of their names or hyphenate the two last names to make a new family name
Partners sharing a surname
Changing a child’s surname to mother’s, father’s, or adoptive parents’ name
Criminal history or association
To be more or less closely associated with a famous (or infamous) relative
Entering witness protection program
A small sample of well-known people who changed their names. If you don’t know why these people changed names, the info is available on line.
Many modern surnames have similar origins, derived from occupations, geographic origins, political or religious affiliations, or personal characteristics. Consider some of the most common family names in the world today.
Wang (the most common, registered surname in the world) is the Chinese word for “king,” and there are historical records of several families adopting this surname for various reasons.
During intra-family arguments, descendants of a disgraced former royal often changed their family name to remind people of their origins.
Local custom sometimes meant that the family of whoever was in power at the time all be addressed as “Wang.”
Conquerors, usurpers, and invaders might change their family name to “Wang” as a way to validate their claims to the throne after the fact.
Entirely unrelated to their Chinese name-sharers, Scandinavian and Germanic families with the surname Wang are more likely to have been associated with a grassy meadow (vangr in Old Norse) or their presumably distinctive cheeks (wangl in Middle German).
Singh, the Sanskrit word for “lion” or “hero,” was used by Guru Gobind Singh (born Gobind Rai) to replace family names among all male Sikhs as a way of eliminating the caste system and demonstrating community equality.
Nguyễn was a powerful Vietnamese royal dynasty, and many families adopted the name to ally with the rulers.
Ahmed means “the highly praised one” and was one of the names of the Prophet Muhammed listed in the Quran. It was adopted by many families originally as a sign of religious devotion or of descending from the Prophet.
Devi is both the Sanskrit word for goddess and the mother goddess in the Hindu faith. Many women, especially in rural areas today, adopt Devi as a surname when they marry.
Many of the most common surnames in the US are the result of emancipation, immigration, or assimilation.
Former slaves were often assigned a surname shortly after Emancipation. This was often the name of a former owner, but it might also be a trade, a defining characteristic, a local landmark, a parent’s first name, or any other surname chosen by the individual. According to the 2000 Census, 90% of Americans with the surname Washington are of African descent.
Immigrants coming through Ellis Island and Angel Island did not (as myth would have us believe) have their names changed by confused or lazy immigration officials. However, it was not uncommon for recent immigrants to the US to change their surname to one that was easier to spell with the English alphabet or to one less likely to attract anti-immigrant biases.
Changing surnames was a means of removing identity and forcing assimilation of people already living in America before Europeans. People were assigned names, often at random, as part of the effort to break up nations and outlaw traditional identification.
There are many reasons why an author might choose to use a pen name. Particularly fancy authors might even use a nom de plume.
To Share Credit
My first attempt at writing fiction was the Chesapeake Bay MysteryDark Harbor. The plot required a lot more knowledge of sailing than I possessed, and so I started working with a coauthor, Lawry Gulick. Most fiction books are not (obviously) coauthored, so we took the pen name Vivian Lawry.
When I started submitting short stories, I asked Lawry whether it was okay for me to use that pen name. He said, “Sure. This is the only fiction I’ll ever write.”
People more often than not mispronounce and/or misspell Makosky anyway. My professional (psychological) publications are by Vivian Makosky, and using a pen name for fiction allows me to separate the genres.
By the time Dark Harbor saw the light of day, I’d published numerous short stories as Vivian Lawry. Publishing the novel as Vivian Lawry would feel like plagiarism, as if I was claiming to be the sole author of the mystery. Hence, it ended up being coauthored after all, by Vivian Lawry and W. Lawrence Gulick.
Little did we know that shared pen names have been around for awhile.
Katherine Harris Bradley and her niece, Edith Emma Cooper, shared the pen name Michael Field, as well as what appeared to be a lesbian relationship for more than forty years.
Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch shared the pen name Magnus Flyte.
Yes, there is a downside. If one chooses to keep two (or more) writing names, and to keep them separate, it multiplies the workload: separate blogs, separate websites, separate social media accounts…
And one can’t handily promote the other!
For those of us who have a “private” name and a pen name, visibility is often lost: people know me as one or the other. In spite of leakage over time, personal friends and family members sometimes forget my pen name, and often haven’t “liked” Vivian Lawry’s Facebook page. Thus, they don’t keep up with publications, talks, etc., even though they might be some of the best word-of-mouth advertising.
Bottom line: Think carefully before taking a pen name.
I’m sure there are many people out there who know a lot more about superheroes than I do. Before researching this blog, I would have been pressed to name any beyond Wonder Woman, possibly coming up with Bat Girl and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Like so many things on the internet, seek and ye shall find!
The Golden Age of creating these female superheroes seems to have been 1940-1941. Subsequently, many of them made it to both the small screen and the big one, and—like James Bond—appeared and reappeared. (See those marked with *.)
Here, in chronological order, are a few of the very first female superheroes who might interest you as a reader and/or a writer. This is Part 1 of 2, covering female comic stars who debuted through 1940. Heroic ladies who debuted in 1941 and after will be covered on Tuesday, March 23rd.
If your character has a superhero interest, who and why? What superpowers might they wish for? How about a secret superhero crush?
Sheena, Queen of the Jungle
Sheena debuted almost four years before Wonder Woman. She was the guardian of the jungle, with numerous superpowers: superhuman strength, the ability to talk to animals, and expertise with several weapons, mostly blades. Sheena was one of the most powerful superheroes.
The “Mystery Lady of the Jungles” was the protector of the entire continent of Africa. Fantomah was a supernatural being with superhuman abilities, including telekinesis and the ability to turn into a blue-skinned monster. Her origins were never revealed, nor was the reason she had fair skin and had blond hair.
Initially, Fantomah was almost identical to Sheena. As she developed, Fantomah became nearly omnipotent, creating some truly bizarre punishments for slavers, poachers, thieves, and others she decided to punish. At one point, she became the queen of a lost civilization descended from the Egyptians. The writers got tired of that storyline, and the civilization became lost again.
Depending on the comic run, Hawkgirl is either the reincarnation of an Ancient Egyptian princess or an alien police officer from planet Thanagar. Or she is both at the same time but in parallel universes. Or maybe she is the reincarnated spirit of an Ancient Egyptian priestess who is actually the avatar of a goddess who is now inhabiting the body of a winged alien police officer. The writers kept changing their minds.
However she came by her powers, Hawkgirl has superhuman strength, speed, durability, and advanced healing. Her wings are incredibly strong for their size and let her perform extreme acrobatic flight maneuvers.
In her first appearance in Batman #1, Selina Kyle was simply known as The Cat. Originally, she was either an orphan who learned thievery to survive on the streets or a former flight attendant with amnesia who turned to crime with no memory of any former skills. An enduring love interest of Batman, Catwoman was recently (partially) reformed from her more criminal activities. She’s an expert cat burglar with acrobatic prowess. She prefers to rely on her brains and a whip. She prowls the streets helping those who need her most, but she also steals from the evil rich to help those in need and fill her own coffers.
*Catwoman was reintroduced in 1989, but this time she was portrayed as either a prostitute or a dominatrix who was inspired to become a costumed cat burglar after watching Batman’s antics.
Brenda Banks was the very rich daughter of wealthy Irish mine owners who simply got bored and decided to put on a disguise and fight evil. She was aided by her chauffeur (sometimes a burly Italian man and sometimes a woman trained in martial arts). Lady Luck has no superpowers (other than being Irish), but she was a terrific fighter. The storyline revolved around her being in love with the Chief of Police.
Making her first appearance in the world of Captain America, Elizabeth “Betsy (originally Betty)” Ross became a costumed hero in her own right after impressing Allied intelligence forces. She started out as a WAAC officer and FBI agent before she became part of the SSR project to create supersoldiers. After World War II, Ross put on a bulletproof cape and joined the third Captain America as Golden Girl. Because of her various careers (soldier, spy, teacher, dancer, etc.), Golden Girl had many talents, but no superpowered abilities. Her intelligence kept her in the ranks of superheroes.
This Betty/ Betsy Ross is not related to Betty Ross, the romantic interest of Bruce Banner/ The Incredible Hulk.
Abigail Mathilda “Ma” Hunkel was initially intended to be a parody of the superhero comic genre, but the Red Tornado grew so popular that she became a regular co-star in the Scribbly Jibbet comics. A shopkeeper and housewife in Brooklyn, Ma Hunkel stood up to a gang harassing her neighborhood by taking inspiration from her son’s obsession with the Green Lantern. She became a caped vigilante by wearing a t-shirt over red long-johns, a black cape, and a cooking pot with eye holes. The Red Tornado was extremely strong and durable but not superhuman (she was sometimes mistaken for a man). She eventually had two sidekicks, her daughter and niece, Sisty and Dinky. Additionally, Ma Hunkel was a fantastic cook and honorary member of the Justice League.
Claire Voyant, created in August, 1940, by Timely Comics (later known as Marvel Comics), might be the first female superhero to be possessed by a mystical being. She and her family were murdered, and she made a deal with the devil in order to return to seek revenge. Her superpowers: she could use psychic powers, defy physics, curse enemies with severe bad luck, and kill people instantly with a touch. Black Widow was resistant to disease and aging, and could suppress and/or replace memories.
During World War II, she helped the Allies by spying and by killing Nazis to send their souls to Satan. In the Battle of Berlin, Black Widow was captured by Nazi scientists and put in suspended animation with several other superheroes. The Twelve were found and woken up in the 21st Century to continue working for the US government.
She is not related to the Black Widows created by the Soviet Red Room program.
The Woman in Red
She first appeared in March 1940 in Thrilling Comics. Along with Lady Luck she was one of the first vigilante female superheroes. Peggy Allen donned red after getting fed up with criminals manipulating the legal system and avoiding justice. Her real job was as a police officer specializing in undercover work, so one might label her a rogue cop. The Woman in Red had no special superpowers, but was highly skilled in hand-to-hand combatant and a brilliant tactician.
There were essentially three versions of the Woman in Red, depending on the writer.
Initially, Peggy Allen was taller and stronger than most men, knew a bit of jiu-jitsu but quite a lot about shooting her pistol, and was not trusted by the police.
In the middle of 1941, Peggy Allen became a woman of average size and strength, a very good detective, and an ally of the police.
The Peggy Allen of 1943 had near superhuman strength and agility, was a skilled martial artist and pilot, and worked with the police, who knew her secret identity. In 1943, the Woman in Red also got a costume change before disappearing.
Because this is Women’s History Month, women will be the focus of all my March blogs. Unfortunately, COVID isn’t yet history—but it will be! And history may fail to note some of the lesser-known side-effects of the pandemic.
All of the examples of non-medical pandemic side effects are from women I actually know.
Newly Discovered (or Re-Discovered) Interests and Skills
2 & 3) Sisters who have undertaken plant therapy, focusing on (obsessing about) caring for their houseplants.
Why the Christmas cactus leaves are yellow and how to fix it.
Why the leaf edges are crispy.
The best placement for each plant in terms of light, heat, and moisture.
Also buying new plants
Stag horn fern
Plant containers and accessories, such as ceramic pots, macramé holders for hanging plants and geometric air plant holders.
6) She found working from home in yoga pants to be so comfortable that she decided never to wear regular waistbands again.
7) She has started creating digital learning modules for elementary grades as a way to help students whose parents are not able to stay home and supervise their children’s online classes.
8) She’s taken up needlework and sewing.
9) She plays online games and crossword puzzles.
Certain Habits (Obsessions?) That Reassure Some Women That They Are “Still Okay”
12) She makes a point of wearing a clean T-shirt every day.
13) She set herself a strict schedule and sticks to it, eating, working, cleaning, etc. at the same time every day.
14) She gets fully dressed every day, including a complete array of jewelry.
15) She bought 23 masks so she can coordinate them with her outfits.
16) Every day, she has a video chat with at least one friend or family member, and they talk about anything except work, the pandemic, and politics.
Side Effects of Being Home All Day, Every Day
19) She spends extra time training her dog, going way beyond basic obedience. They can do dance routines together now.
20) She’s going through the house room by room and getting rid of things. In the kitchen, it’s old herbs, spices, and condiments plus everything past its “best by” date. In the bathroom, it’s old OTC products and half-used grooming supplies. She’s purging the bookshelves of 1/3 of the books. You get the idea.
23) She painted all the woodwork, refinished the stairs, replaced the drafty windows, and more home improvements are on the horizon.
24) She is having both bathrooms and the kitchen remodeled.
25) Pulling every single weed in the flowerbeds, deadheading every couple of days, pruning, etc.
26) Every time she cooks, she makes double and freezes half so the family won’t have to worry about grocery shopping or cooking in case someone in the family gets sick or has to quarantine.
Self-Soothing Behaviors (i.e., Doing Things to Reduce Anxiety) Can Get Out of Hand
28) She makes soup, sometimes having five different kinds in the refrigerator at the same time.
29) She walks 3 miles around the neighborhood every morning.
30) Compulsive shopping on-line.
31) Baking elaborate (or simply large) chocolate desserts and eating the entire result by herself.
The media have made clear that smoking, drinking, drugs, and other bad habits are up during the pandemic. Fortunately, I don’t personally know anyone relying on these bad habits.
Bottom Line: changing behaviors because of COVID often lead to changes that seem totally unrelated.