Behind the Silver Screen

from The Muppet Movie

Today’s blog entry was written by Kathleen Corcoran, a local harpist, writer, editor, ESL teacher, luthier, favorite auntie, turtle lover, canine servant, and cinephile.

If you’re like me, reading a book is like watching a film inside your head. Casting is entirely up to your imagination, there’s no need for stunt doubles, and the special effects budget is unlimited. It even comes in Smell-O-Vision, which is not always fun.

To learn more about how a writer’s mental movie is translated into a box office hit, I spoke with Sean Williams, a film producer, director, actor, and writer. Williams recently graduated George Mason University, where he directed No Endings, winner of the 2022 Mason Film Festival award for Best Horror/Thriller Film.

Sight and Sound

Alfred Hitchcock said, “A lot of writers think they’re filling the page with words, but they’re filling the screen with images.”

Every writing teacher’s favorite bit of advice seems to be “Show, Don’t Tell.” That is even more true on film than in prose. A film writer must convey everything to the audience entirely through visual or audio input. The sense of dread, nauseating smells, motion sickness, feeling hungry, nostalgia, and every other part of the story must be either seen or heard.

Star Wars: A New Hope provides exposition through the use of an opening title.

Screenwriters have lots of techniques they can use to provide background information. Voice-over narration, overheard radio or television broadcasts, shots of newspaper headlines, letters, text messages all provide exposition.

Here are some great examples of exposition written into the screen play:

Diegetic Media: Text messages are displayed on screen in BBC’s Sherlock, letting the audience know what off-screen characters are doing.
  • The audience learns about flying broomsticks and magical racing by overhearing a group of children exclaiming about “the new Nimbus 2000; it’s the fastest broom ever!” in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
  • The narrator’s voiceover in A Christmas Story explains why he hates his gift of fuzzy rabbit pajamas so much: “I knew that for at least two years, I would have to wear them every time Aunt Clara visited us. I just hoped that Flick would never spot them, as word of this humiliation could easily make life at Warren G Harding School a veritable hell.”
  • Characters in The Office and Deadpool frequently “break the fourth wall” by directly addressing the audience to explain their motivations or provide further information.

Sir Terry Pratchett included lots of footnotes in his novels, often providing extra jokes or humorous observations. In the screen adaptation of Wyrd Sisters, this footnote is shifted to a dialogue between two characters.

Writers for the screen use a variety of techniques give the audience necessary information without background essays. Writers of short stories, novels, memoirs, etc. can make use of some of these techniques to “show, not tell” the story.

Simplification

When moving from page to screen (or stage). writers must keep in mind the attention span of the viewer. A reader who forgets the details of military supply trains in War and Peace can just flip back a few pages, but it’s a bit more difficult for a film or TV audience.

Simplified Plot

Even without Tom Bombadil, the film adaptation of Fellowship of the Rings was nearly three hours long.

Remember the Mafia in Jaws? How about the romance between Idgie and Ruth in Fried Green Tomatoes? The controversy around Project 100,000 in the Vietnam War as experienced by Forrest Gump?

There are lots of reasons to cut subplots from a film adaptation. The running time might not allow for it. Corporate or government sponsors might require controversial themes to be removed. It might just be a case of special effects or budget constraints.

Simplified Characters

Many film adaptations don’t include all the characters in the source material. They might clutter the screen, they might be too difficult to film, they might simply be another name and face that the audience would have to remember.

Screen writers might shift a cut character’s dialogue to another character, or they might remove it altogether.

Often, screen writers will combine similar characters for the sake of clarity. Michael Green’s adaptation of Death on the Nile has many such changes. Apart from the murderers, the murdered, and Hercules Poirot, nearly every character from the original Agatha Christie novel is combined with another character or removed altogether.

Glinda, Ruler of the Quadling Country and Tattypoo, Good Witch of the North, merged into one character in the 1939 MGM Wizard of Oz film.

One could argue that the same principles apply when writing any sort of fiction. Short stories certainly have a finite number of characters and sub-plots they can include before they are no longer “short.” At what point does including or omitting details in a non-fiction work change it to a work of fiction? The question of whether to include or cut, develop or combine characters and themes is ultimately down to the writer.

Beyond Words

Film editors, CGI artists, composers, costume designers, set designers, directors, actors, and hosts of others contribute to the final creation of a film that an audience sees. The screenplay is only one component of the finished product.

Editing

Consider the moment in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy first arrives in Munchkinland. There is no dialogue. The editor created a transition shot showing the change from the sepia-toned farmhouse to the full-color world of Oz.

Costumes

Amy Westcott, costume designer for the 2010 film Black Swan, dressed the main character all in white and pink during choreography and classroom scenes. This illustrates the character’s naivety as well as drawing the audience’s immediate focus. Character development is reflected in the gradual darkening of the costume, demonstrating internal conflict without a single word being spoken.

Music

The score composer(s) are responsible for a huge part of an audience’s emotional involvement in a film. The ominous Jaws theme by John Williams (no relation), the Moonlight score that “splits the difference between classical and codeine” by Nicholas Britell, the iconic music establishing time periods in Forrest Gump all tell a huge part of the story beyond the visual.

Other unspoken storytelling devices Sean Williams suggests

The opening scenes of Up illustrate the main character’s relationship, career, heartbreak, and slide into depression entirely without dialogue.
  • The camera panning along a series of family photographs with fewer and fewer people, showing a character’s increasing isolation
  • Focus on a clock face, burned down candle stubs, or an overflowing ashtray to demonstrate the passage of time
  • Camera angles above or below eye level to demonstrate the relative importance, ego, or intimidation of a character
  • Distorting and muffling background sounds to reflect a character’s disorientation
  • Changing color palettes to take advantage of humans’ hard-wired responses to red (danger), blue (calm), etc.
  • Adjusting camera focus to draw audience attention to foreground, background, or in between

Ultimately, this must come from the directors, editors, actors, composers, lighting specialists, sound editors, etc., etc., etc…. The screenplay is really just the beginning.

Prose writers may not be able to include fantastic music or ambient colors, but there are other tools available. Point of view shifts, chapter divisions, physical descriptions, and sensory details (beyond sight and sound) can all be used to direct a reader’s attention.

Sean Williams gave me a lot more information about writing for the screen, but I’m afraid I’d need about four years to learn what he covered over the course of his degree. For more details, check out George Mason University or The Los Angeles Film School.

FRIENDSHIPS: HIS AND HERS

Group data reveal that, in general, women’s and men’s friendships are measurably different on all sorts of dimensions. “Like what?” you might ask. Read on.

Notable Differences in Male-Male Friendships and Female-Female Friendships

As listed on PsychCentral

  • Male-male friendships are side-to-side, fostered and maintained through shared activity
  • Female-female friendships are face-to-face, fostered and maintained through intimacy, communication, and support
  • Male-male friendships are less intimate than female-female friendships
  • Male-male friendships are less fragile than female-female friendships
    • E.g., men will consider someone a friend even if they do not maintain or stay in constant contact
  • Emotional attachment: females have and desire a strong emotional attachment with persons they perceive to be a friend
  • Men are more likely to remain friends after an argument or a fight whereas women are not
  • Women require more frequent contact with someone they consider to be a friend
  • Men are more likely to use humor to taunt a friend while viewing this as innocent fun
  • Women are more likely to refrain from taunting and humor out of fear it may hurt their friends’ feelings
  • Men tend to hang out more in a group, the more the merrier, while women typically prefer to go out with one good friend

For a slightly different but compatible take, consider the findings from “Sex differences in friendship preferences,” by Keelah E.G. Williams, Jaimie Arona Krems, Jessica D. Ayers, and Ashley M. Rankin.

“Across three studies (N = 745) with U.S. participants—assessing ideal hypothetical friends, actual friends, and using a paradigm adapted from behavioral economics—we find that men, compared to women, more highly value same-sex friends who are physically formidable, possess high status, possess wealth, and afford access to potential mates. In contrast, women, compared to men, more highly value friends who provide emotional support, intimacy, and useful social information. Findings suggest that the specific friendship qualities men and women preferred differed by sex in ways consistent with a functional account of friendship.”

Abstract of “Sex differences in friendship preferences

And a few miscellaneous bits of info:

  • For both women and men, when disclosing intimate, private, or secret information, they are more likely to tell a woman
  • Men’s best friendships are considerably less close than women’s
  • Women are more likely than men to say they have a best friend (98% vs. 85%)
  • The trait of “outgoingness” was a leading factor that men, but not women, mentioned in choosing a friend
  • Men tend to prefer social interaction in groups, whereas women have a stronger preference for one-to-one interactions
  • Humor was an important characteristic for women’s best-friendships, but not for men’s
  • Neither attractiveness nor athleticism played much of a role in the best-friend choices of either men or women
  • A husband will often say his best friend is his wife; wives usually name another woman
  • Platonic friendships between women and men come with a lot of baggage: suspicion of sexual involvement, jealousy, skepticism, etc.
  • Women say they both like and love their husbands/heterosexual partners; men are more likely to report loving but not liking
    • N.B.: liking and loving are different dimensions, not simply different intensities.  There’s a whole body of psychological research on liking and loving, if you want to pursue that topic.

 BOTTOM LINE: In general, men’s and women’s friendships are significantly different. Whether men’s or women’s friendships are “better” depends on what you (or your character) wants friendship to provide. And, remember, these assertions are based on group data, meaning only group outcomes can be predicted confidently, because individuals differ from the norm.

THE BIRDS

I’m fascinated by birds both as fauna outside my window and as elements of tattoos. They are just interesting!  And because birds are ubiquitous, and noticeable, it’s no wonder people attach meaning to birds, in general and specifically. 

Composite photo of great horned owl flight phases
Art Siegel

Birds in General

Birds are widely regarded as symbols of freedom and eternity due to their ability to soar into the skies. Bird symbolism exists all over the world as part of different cultures, religions, and traditions. Birds symbolize aspects of our lives, nature, and the unknown world.  According to The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, the flight of birds leads them naturally to be seen as links—intermediaries—between heaven and earth. 

Gouro (Nuna) Hornbill Mask from Burkina Faso
photo by Roman Bonnefoy
  • In a generalized sense, birds symbolize spiritual states, angels and higher forms of being.
  • Sometimes the lightness of birds—their volatility, flitting hither and thither without aim or purpose—cause them to be seen as distractions and diversions.
  • The earliest Vedic texts show that birds, in general, were considered symbols of the friendship of the gods for mankind.
  • In the Celtic world, birds were considered to be assistants or the messengers of the gods or of the underworld.
  • Nocturnal birds are often thought to be the souls of the dead, come to wail in the dark around their old homes.
  • Ancient Egyptian tomb art depicted the soul of the dead as a bird with the head of either a man or a woman.
  • Blue and green birds served as messengers of the gods in several east Asian folk tales.
Early fifth-century BC statue of Aphrodite from Cyprus, showing her wearing a cylinder crown and holding a dove
  • In the Koran, the word “bird” is often synonymous with “fate.”
    • In Muslim tradition “green bird” is an epithet applied to a number of saints.
    • Islamic poets often use birds as symbols of the immortality of the soul.
  • It is commonly believed—and science has confirmed—birds have a language, complete with vocabulary and syntax.
  • In sub-Saharan African art, birds are frequent symbols, especially on masks. Birds symbolize strength and life, and often fertility.
  • The Yakut believe that after death, the souls of both good and evil fly to heaven in the shape of birds. 
  • Blue birds symbolize hope in Russian folk tales.

“The earliest evidence of the belief in the soul-bird is undoubtedly provided by the myth of the phoenix.”
(The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols)

Specific Birds 

From Ask Legit, here is a sample of common birds.

Sparrows 

In Greek mythology, the sparrow was one of the birds associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Interestingly, scientists consider sparrows to be one of the most lustful birds. 

In Kent, England, a person who caught a sparrow had to kill it to prevent their parents’ death. 

In native European folklore, if a sparrow flies into someone’s house it is a sign of impending death.

Victorian Christmas cards often depicted dead sparrows, possibly for luck, possibly as a call for empathy.
See Hyperallergic

In Indonesian folklore, a sparrow flying into someone’s home symbolized good luck. If the bird built a nest in the home, it meant that a wedding would happen in the home soon. 

Ancient Egyptians considered sparrows to be soul catchers, carrying the souls of the dead to heaven.

It was a common practice for sailors to tattoo themselves with sparrow images to ensure their safe passage to heaven in case they died at sea. 

For more details, check out Owlcation’s The Meaning of Sparrows.

Eagles

Eagles are among the most commonly used animals in ancient and modern symbolism. The eagle generally represents strength, freedom, and wisdom. 

Many Native American communities considered eagles (especially the bald eagle) to be sacred animals relating to wisdom, bravery, and a connection to the spiritual realm.  Eagles’ feathers were widely used in certain religious rituals. Today, there are numerous sculptures, statues, and carvings of eagles throughout the Americas.

Harpy eagle on the Coat of Arms of Panama

In native Celtic culture, where trees were considered sacred, any animal that lived in or on trees was equally considered sacred. Thus, eagles were closely associated with three gods. 

In Mayan culture, the eagle is one of the Zodiac signs. It represents human beings who value freedom and can never be tied to a single place or person. 

In ancient Egypt, the eagle was a symbol of wisdom because it flew higher than people and was, therefore, able to see the world from a far wider perspective than humans did. 

Blue Jays

The blue jay is native to North America. It is renowned for its tenacity and determination. It is especially relentless when dealing with its enemies. 

Blue jays are known for their patience and intelligence. It has been claimed that the bird often uses strips of materials like newspaper strips as tools to get food.

The blue jay is seen to be in pairs. When they fly, the pairs keep a great distance from each other, decreasing the probability of being targeted by the enemy. 

Blue Jay, a DC Comic character

Spiritually, the bird is thought to give knowledge and memories of long-forgotten things and provides intelligence on how to use them to seize opportunities.  The blue jay symbolizes the ability to use any situation to one’s benefit. This comes from the bird’s ability to build nests in any tree or environment that suits it.

A blue jay is very aggressive and makes different varieties of loud sounds that travel over a long distances. In some cultures, having a blue jay as your totem implies that you are aggressive and, therefore, there is nothing that can stop you from defending what you consider right. 

 In certain cultures, those who have the blue jay as their spirit totem are said to be excellent in communication-related jobs such as law, public speaking, and politics. 

Variations of the Bluebird of Happiness appear in Chinese, Russian, and European folklore, but they generally do not refer to the North America blue jay.

Robins

Robins are a common sight in North America, often seen pulling earthworms off the ground. The robin is known for its end-of-winter appearance, cheery songs, and orange-colored breast. While the birds are a common sight in cities and towns, they are also at home in forests and mountains. 

Robins are famous as the quintessential early birds. 

Ancient Europeans considered the robin to be a symbol of divine sacrifice and rebirth. The robin brought happiness, change, wisdom, and happy songs. 

Several ancient Christian paintings depict the robin as Christ’s helper. It is said that the robin tried to pull off the thorns from Jesus’ Crown of Thorns. 

Robin, of Batman fame, wears a costume inspired by the bird.

The robin is a symbol of nurturing young ones into adulthood. Robins are widely considered to be some of the best parents among all bird species. Seeing a robin is therefore associated with new growth in some cultures. 

In Hinduism, the red color on a robin’s chest is said to symbolize a person’s kundalini (a serpent-like force at the base of a human’s spine). When one experiences inner spiritual growth, the kundalini uncoils and moves upwards as the person’s enlightenment and awareness increase. 

Cardinal

The northern cardinal, usually just called the cardinal, is a fairly large, long-tailed songbird with a short, very thick bill and a prominent crest. People usually think first of the adult male, bright red with black markings. The female is taupe and less-intensely colored.

In Ancient Rome, the cardinal was regarded as a spiritual messenger sent by those who died and went to heaven. The word cardinal comes from the Latin word cardo meaning “hinge.” The birds are therefore seen as hinges on the doorway between heaven and earth. 

Among Native Americans, the cardinal has strong ties to other realms and, as such, acts as a messenger from the ancestors. Several southeastern tribes associated cardinals with the sun as well as with good fortune. 

In China and Japan, the cardinal is closely associated with the mythical phoenix (the bird of transformation, fire, and rebirth). The cardinal was associated with honorable rulers coming to power as well as the end of wars.  

In China, the cardinal (Red Bird) is said to stand over the southern quarter of creation and defend it from evil influences. 

Magpies
One for sorrow,
Two for mirth
Three for a funeral,
Four for birth
Five for heaven
Six for hell
Seven for the devil, his own self

-Traditional English Nursery Rhyme

Other Birds

I found the anqu (or anqa) intriguing, not only because it would be an awesome Scrabble word, but also because I never heard of it. 

Research led by the American Museum of Natural History suggests that there are about 18,000 bird species in the world. I’d venture to say that there is symbolism associated with most if not all of them!

The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols includes entries for anqa, bustard, cock, crane, crow, cuckoo, dove, duck, eagle, falcon, grouse, homa, hoopoe, kingfisher, kite, lark, macaw, magpie, nightingale, nightjar, oriole, owl, partridge, peacock, pelican, pheasant, phoenix, pigeon, quail, roc, simurg, sparrowhawk, stork, swallow, swan, vulture, wagtail.

The supernatural Thunderbird flaps its wings to create thunder and flashes its eyes to create lightning. Ojibwe thunderbirds punish humans for lack of morals. Menominee thunderbirds protect the earth from being overrun by great horned snakes and act as messengers for the sun. The seal of the Menominee Nation features a thunderbird. A Ho-Chunk who sees a thunderbird while fasting will become a great leader.

A three-legged crow, according to several East Asian folk traditions, lives in the sun or is the messenger of a deity living in the sun. The Chinese sanzuwu was one of twelve ornaments used to decorate Imperial clothing in ancient China. A golden or red jinwu represents the Sun in ancient Han temple art. The Japanese yatagarasu acts as a messenger of divine will and represents rebirth. The Japan Football Association features the yatagarasu on its badge. The Korean samjok-o is alternately a symbol, messenger, and resident of the Sun, more powerful than dragons.

Bottom line: whatever bird suits you, your character, your life, or your plot, check it out!

WHO KNEW?

At birth, a panda cub is smaller than a mouse and weighs only four ounces.

Michelangelo hated painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel so much that he wrote this lovely poem about it to his friend Giovanni da Pistoia:
I’ve already grown a goiter from this torture,
hunched up here like a cat in Lombardy
(or anywhere else where the stagnant water’s poison).

I enjoy odd, surprising, or little known bits of information. I hope you do, too, because I have accumulated so much of this stuff, it’s time for a dump!

The (Non-Human) Animal World

A Great Dane named Juliana peed on an incendiary bomb during World War II, earning her a Blue Cross Medal!
  • Zoolingualism is the ability to talk with animals and understand their reactions.
  • One species of jellyfish, Turritopsis dohrnii, is “immortal.” When damaged or traumatized, they can revert to their polyp developmental stage and start over.
  • Snails can sleep up to three years if the weather isn’t moist enough to meet their needs.
  • Hummingbirds beat their wings up to 70 times per second, faster than any other bird. Fast, yeah, but honeybees flap their wings 230 times every second!
  • Giraffes only have seven bones in their necks, the same number as humans.
  • Whales’ earwax forms in layers, so researchers can estimate a whale’s age and development by counting rings in a cross-section, just like rings on a tree.
  • Nine-banded armadillos always give birth to quadruplets, all identical.
  • Dolphins sleep with one eye open.
Domestic dogs have evolved muscles around their eyes that mimic human facial expressions. Wolves do not have these muscles.
  • Frigatebirds fly for months over the ocean, using half their brains at a time so the other half can sleep during flight. They can also engage in regular sleep.
  • Faster than humans: a running grizzly bear, 35 mph; a cheetah, up to 75 mph; and a diving golden eagle, up to 200 mph.
    • Over long distances, humans still win! Huskies most closely rival humans in endurance.
  • Approximately three percent of arctic ice is frozen penguin urine.
  • Mystery writers take note: koala fingerprints are almost indistinguishable from humans’ — so much so, they can taint a crime scene.
  • Gorillas have nose prints as unique as human (or koala) fingerprints. Conservation workers photograph and catalogue the patterns of wrinkles to track individual gorillas.
Elephants, flamingoes, giraffes, horses, and cows can all sleep standing up, but they can only dream when lying down.  Some subway commuters have mastered the former, but I have no info on the latter.

Humans, Both Normal and Not So Much

Abraham Lincoln was also a licensed bartender.
(from Lincoln in Caricature by Rufus Rockwell Wilson, 1903)
  • People who suffer from boanthropy believe they are a cow and will try to live their life as a cow.
  • Before he became president, Abraham Lincoln was an elite wrestling champion. In 300 matches, he only lost one.
  • After serving as president, George Washington opened a whiskey distillery.
  • A duel among three people is called a truel or a triel.
  • Eating enough potatoes and butter, and nothing else, could keep a person alive for an indeterminate length of time—alive but not healthy.
  • One-quarter of all the bones in your body are located in your feet.
  • Human thigh bones are stronger than concrete. 
  • Hugs that last over 40 seconds release oxytocin  and make you trust someone more.
  • Queen Elizabeth always wears second-hand shoes. She employs a professional shoe-wearer to break in her shoes for her, preventing blisters on the royal feet.
Some of the most famous cowboys in history didn’t wear cowboy hats in real life.  Icons like Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid wore what we would today call bowler hats.
  • The average person will spend six months of their life waiting for red lights to turn green.
  • LeMarcus Thompson, a hosiery salesman, invented roller coasters to combat moral degeneracy.
  • Before people said “cheese” to look like they were smiling for cameras, photographers often told subjects to say “prunes” to mimic the desired facial expression—stoic, with a small and refined mouth.
  • Dr. Frederic Whitehurst, a former FBI analyst, demonstrated that more than 90% of all forensic FBI samples are flawed or inaccurate.
  • Humans blink, on average, 12 times per minute. Speed and rapidity of blinking can indicate lots of interesting mental or physical conditions, useful for writers!
    • Stress causes excessive blinking.
    • Strokes may cause erratic blinking.
    • Interest generally causes rapid blinking.
    • Some medications cause slowed blinking.
In 300 B.C., Mayans worshipped turkeys as vessels of the gods, Chalchihuihtotolin.
  • Alfred Hitchcock was an ovophobe, meaning he had a fear of eggs.
    • In a 1963 interview, he said, “I’m frightened of eggs, worse than frightened; they revolt me. …  Blood is jolly, red. But egg yolk is yellow, revolting. I’ve never tasted it.”
  • Cleopatra wasn’t actually Egyptian. Really! Historians have traced the famous ruler’s lineage to Alexander the Great’s Macedonian general Ptolemy. So while she was an Egyptian queen, she was Greek.
  • John Duns Scotus, a thirteenth century philosopher, believed that wearing a pointed hat spread knowledge to the brain and improved intelligence. “Dunsmen” who agreed with his ideas wore “dunce caps” as a sign of intelligence, but social derision eventually led to the dunce cap meaning the opposite.
President Lyndon B. Johnson owned a water-surfing car, called an amphicar.

Weird Miscellaneous Facts

If you start in Argentina, you could theoretically “dig a hole to China.” Reddit user Lokimonoxide demonstrated this idea by making a “sandwich” with bread in Uruguay and South Korea.
  • When the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts opened in 1936, admission was 25 cent.
    • General Admission is now free!
  • The Olympic Games used to hand out medals for arts and humanities. At the time, 151 medals were awarded for architecture, literature, painting, music, and sculpture.
  • What the fork? This pronged utensil was once considered sacrilegious because they were seen as “artificial hands.”
  • The organ music at baseball games originated at Chicago’s Wrigley Field in 1941.
  • Baked” beans are actually stewed.
  • The stage before frostbite is known as “frostnip.”
  • LEGO has made more minifigs than the entire population of China, more than 4 billion.
  • Eating bananas can help relieve negative emotions such as irritability, anger, and/or depression. 
  • Italian police stopped a shipment of Columbian coffee beans because the recipient shared a name with a famous Mafia boss in the film John Wick. In a “stranger than fiction” real life twist, police found that someone had hollowed out each coffee bean and filled it with cocaine.
Big Ben (which is actually the bell inside the Elizabeth Tower) sounds unique because it cracked shortly after being installed in 1859.
  • Spider webs were used as bandages in ancient times.
    • Chemists at the University of Nottingham have synthesized antibiotic spider silk for this very purpose!
  • A cloud can weigh more than a million pounds.
  • A company called Eternal Reefs turns dead bodies into ocean reefs.
  • The largest padlock in the world weighs 916 pounds.
  • In the Philippines, McDonald’s serves spaghetti with McDo, friend chicken.
  • Ethiopia uses a unique calendar, similar to the Egyptian Coptic calendar. It is currently 2014 in Ethiopia.
  • Three Musketeers candy bars got their name because they originally came in packs of three, one each of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla.
  • The Brazilian team travelled to the 1932 Olympic Games in a coffee ship. They sold the coffee along the way to fund their trip.
    • Two UK speed skaters funded their 2022 Olympic trip by creating and selling their own coffee brand.
Sunsets on Mars are blue.
(photo taken by the Mars Curiosity Rover)

BOTTOM LINE: Sometimes random bits of information are useful, sometimes just passing entertainment.

The internet abounds with interesting “facts” that aren’t actually true. For example, that giraffes have no vocal chords or that the average person swallows eight spiders in their sleep every year. One of my favorite websites is Snopes.com, where I can double check the truth of other websites and learn plenty more fascinating facts that are all sourced and cited.

KILLING ON MY MIND

“Axes, chisels, whetstones and a black stone bracelet from a Neolithic Macedonian settlement at Olynthus, excavated by Mylonas in 1928. Archeological Museum, Thessaloniki, Greece”
Michael Greenhalgh

I can’t help it.  The evening news is full of local drive-by shootings and the massacre happening in Ukraine. I’ve been thinking about killing (not planning it, just considering the varieties of ways and means).

I’ve mentally pursued two paths: the category of killing and the method of killing.

Categories of Killing

Execution: the carrying out of a sentence of death on a condemned person within the confines of a legal system. Over time, many methods have been embraced. For more information, look here, here, or here.

  • Firing squad
  • Hanging
  • Electrocution
  • Lethal injection
  • Drawing and quartering
  • Drowning
  • Burning at the stake
  • Beheading (whether by axe or guillotine)
  • Exposure (on the ice, in the desert sun, adrift at sea)
  • Disembowelment
  • Crucifixion
  • Gibbeting
  • Keelhauling
  • Suffocation

Murder: the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another. The methods are infinitely variable. 

  • Felony murder (in some jurisdictions):
    • Killing someone during the commission of a dangerous or enumerated crime.
    • The killer and also all accomplices or co-conspirators may be found guilty.
    • It doesn’t matter whether the killing was intentional or accidental.

Homicide: the deliberate and unlawful killing of one person by another. The point here is lack of premeditation or planning. Killing in the heat of the moment by whatever means would count. 

  • Justifiable homicide: the killing of a person in circumstances which allow the act to be regarded in law as without criminal guilt.
    • Examples include self-defense, capital punishment, and police shooting.
  • (Note: police shootings are not automatically judged  justifiable.)

Manslaughter: the crime of killing a human being without malice aforethought, or otherwise in circumstances not amounting to murder.  

  • Involuntary manslaughter: the person who commits the crime had no intention of causing or even expecting the possibility of death.

NOTE NOTE NOTE NOTE NOTE NOTE NOTE

Different jurisdictions define these categories of killing differently, and some times interchangeably. If you want to be precise, know your local laws.

Euthanasia (a.k.a. mercy killing): the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or an irreversible coma.  Note: the practice is illegal in most countries.

Ritual sacrifice: offering something to a deity in propitiation or homage, especially the ritual slaughter of an animal or person.

Suicide: death caused by injuring oneself with the intent to die. 

Assassination: 

  • In law: any murder committed by an assassin, understood to be committed for money, without any provocation resentment given by the person against whom the crime is directed.
  • In dictionary.com: to kill suddenly or secretively, especially a prominent person; premeditated.

Wartime Killing

War: a state of arms conflict between different nations, states, or different groups within a nation or state.

Soldiers killing soldiers during a war between nations or states are generally considered justified and legal; incidental killing of civilians are generally considered collateral damage, regrettable but not subject to punishment.

Not all wartime killing is internationally acceptable.

The Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907) and Geneva Conventions (1864, 1949 [pt 1, 2, 3, and 4], and 1977 [protocol 1 and 2] and 2005) focus on the protection of people not or no longer taking part in hostilities.  There is no single document in international law that codifies all war crimes. However, lists of war crime can be found in both international humanitarian law and international criminal law treaties, as well as international customary law.

  • War crimes (for a more complete list, see the United Nations, and the International Red Cross, and Wikipedia):
    • Intentionally killing civilians
    • Intentionally killing prisoners of war
    • Torture
    • Taking hostages
    • Unnecessary destruction of civilian property, often with the aim of causing starvation or death by exposure
    • Deception by perfidy
    • Wartime sexual violence
    • Pillaging
    • Use of chemical or biological weapons
    • Conscription of children into the military
    • Granting no quarter despite surrender
    • Flouting the legal distinctions of proportionality and military necessity  
  • Crimes against humanity:
    • Specific cries committed in the context of a large-scale attack targeting civilians, regardless of their nationality.
    • E.g., murder, torture, sexual violence, enslavement, persecution, enforced disappearance, etc.
    • Chemical, biological, and radioactive weapons are often considered specifically crimes against humanity in addition to being war crimes.
  • Genocide/ethnic cleansing:
    • The deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group.
    • Forced sterilization and sexual violence may be included here the aim is to disrupt or preemptively remove future generations.

War between groups within a nation or state = gang war: a “small” war between two (or more) groups feuding over territory or vendetta, not generally related to international legal standing.

  • Characterized by sanctioned and unsanctioned killing
  • Gun violence
  • Street violence
  • Joining a gang may be involuntary
  • Leaving a gang—and surviving—may be next to impossible
  • All gang activity is illegal in the US, although being a gang member per se isn’t

Methods of Killing 

There are far too many to list, but here are a few methods to think about.

  • No weapon (strangulation, broken neck or back, beaten to death with fists, thrown off a cliff, etc.)
  • Weapon of convenience (for example, branch, bookend, poker, scissors, axe—anything found at the scene)
  • Physical weapon brought to the scene (for example, cutting implement, gun, garrote, automobile, whatever)
  • Animal weapon (for example, dog, venomous snakes or insects, predatory animals such as bears, big cats, trampling by elephants or horses)
  • “Soft” weapon such as poison, gas, or medication overdose


Bottom Line: Killing is everywhere and always has been. Think about it! When—if ever—and under what—if any—circumstances would a character think/feel that killing could be acceptable. 

WHAT? THERE ISN’T A WORD FOR THAT?

Also known as “Main Character Syndrome”
from EliteDaily

Last week I waxed enthusiastic about dictionaries, in all their forms and focus. Well, now I’ve made a truly unique addition to my collection, a Dictionary of  things there aren’t any words for yet—*But there ought to be.


As you can surmise from the cover, The Meaning of Liff is basically a humorous read. In 157 pages, British writers Adams and Lloyd have made a herculean effort to fill the word void with wondrous creations, some with historical notes and illustrations. Rather than inventing new words, the authors have paired each definition with the names of places in England and Scotland (Liff is a village in Scotland near Dundee).

Adams and Lloyd followed up with The Deeper Meaning of Liff. Thirty years later, Joe Morwood and John Lloyd decided to expand their geography with The Yorkshire Meaning of Liff.

(In case you don’t recognize the names, Douglas Adams is a best-selling novelist, the creator of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Dirk Gentlys Holistic Detective Agency; John Lloyd is an award-winning comedy television producer in England.)

Dalmilling (dal-MILL-ing) ptcpl. vb. Continually making small talk to someone who is trying to read a book.


In the examples I’ve excerpted below, bracketed comments [ ] are my additions.

  • Aalst (ay-AY-lst) n.
    • One who changes his name to be nearer the front.
    • [Something to consider when choosing a pen name?]
  • Bathel (BATH-ul) vb.
    • To pretend to have read the book under discussion when in fact you’ve only seen the tv series.
    • [One might assume that this applies to having only seen the movie as well.]
Glenwhilly (glen-WILL-i)  n. Scots. A small tartan pouch worn under a kilt during the thistle harvest.
[AKA under-armor.]
  • Craboon (kra-BOON) vb.
    • To shout boisterously from a cliff.
    • [And who hasn’t?] 
  • Duddo (DUD-oh) n.
    • The most deformed potato in any given collection of potatoes.
  • [Not to be confused with] Dubbo(DUB-oh) n.
    • The bruise or callous on the shoulder of someone who has been knighted unnecessarily often.
  • Ely (EE-le) n. T
    • he first, tiniest inkling you get that something, somewhere, has gone terribly wrong.
  • Falster (FAWL-ster) [FALL-ster in American] n.
    • A long-winded, dishonest and completely incredible excuse when the truth would have been completely acceptable.
Ipplepen (IP-pul-pen) n. A useless writing implement made by taping six ballpoint pens together which is supposed to make it easier to write one hundred lines.
  • Hadzor (HAD-zer) n.
    • A sharp instrument placed in the basin which makes it easier to cut yourself.
  • Juwain (ju-WAYNE) adj.
    • Only slightly relevant to the matter at hand.
    • [Such a frequently useful adjective!]
  • Kanturk (kan-TERK) n.
    • An extremely intricate knot originally used for belaying the topgallant foresheets of a gaff-rigged China clipper, now more commonly observed when trying to get an old kite out of the cupboard [closet in American] under the stairs.
Ossett (OS-et) n. A frilly spare-toilet-roll cosy
  • Lemvig (LEM-vig) n.
    • A person who can be relied upon to be doing worse than you.
    • [Need I point out how incredibly valuable such a friend/acquaintance/coworker is?]
  • Mogumber (mug-UM-ber) n.
    • One who goes around complaining that he was cleverer ten years ago.
  • Nubbock (NUB-uk) n.
    • The kind of person who must leave before a party can relax and enjoy itself.
  • Papcastle (PAP-kah-sul) [PAP-castle in American] n.
    • Something drawn or modeled by a small child which you are supposed to know what it is.
Sconser (SKON-ser) n. A person who looks around while talking to you to see if there’s anyone more interesting about.
  • Querrin (KWER-rin) n.
    • A person no one has ever heard of who unaccountably manages to make a living writing prefaces.
  • Randers (RAN-ders) pl.n.
    • People who, for their own obscure reasons, try to sleep with people who have slept with members of the royal family.  
  • Tanvats (TAN-vats) pl.n.
    • Disturbing things that previous owners of your house have left in the cellar.
  • Udine (YEW-dine) adj.
    • Not susceptible to charm.
Vidlin (VID-lin) n. The moistly frayed end of a piece of cotton thread.  “It is easier for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than it is for a violin to pass through the eye of a needle.”
  • Wartnaby (WAWT-nay-bee) n.
    • Something you only discover about somebody the first time they take their clothes off in front of you.
  • Yetman (YET-man) n.
    • A yes-man who is waiting to see whom it would be most advantageous to agree with
    • [X. Apparently their imaginations failed them.]

I highly recommend this dictionary, if for no other reason than it’s a fast, humorous read.  Can you think of a definition we need in English that might fit your hometown?

But what about you?

Do you have your own non-words worthy of such a dictionary? I have a handful I’m willing to share, and will follow the format above. Some are in my speaking vocabulary; more are in my mental vocabulary!

  • Alcologic (al-co-LOG-ic) n.
    • Thinking or ideas that seem perfectly reasonable and logical when drunk, almost always a bad—or worse than bad—idea.
Bednertia (bed-NER-sha) n. The reluctance to get out of bed, even when drowsily awake, thinking about getting out of bed. No sex is involved.
  • Hangry (hANE-gry) adj.
    • Irritability or a bad mood caused by low blood sugar.
  • Ignoragas (ig-NOR-a-gas) v.
    • The act of not apparently noticing a fart. This is a social nicety in some situations, aimed at avoiding embarrassment. In the home setting, it may reflect habituation.
  • Netbrain (NET-brain) n.
    • A condition in which something that is usually known or remembered drops through the net and is temporarily unavailable. I first heard this word from my Associate Director of Educational Affairs at the American Psychological Association and it’s been a staple in my vocabulary ever since. I have no idea how widely used it might be.
Obvispeak (OB-vi-speak) v. Saying the obvious in any situation.  Often it is announcing something that everyone present can see. Alternatively, voicing a conclusion when there is no alternative.
  • Pickaddict (pick-AD-dict) n.
    • A person addicted to nose-picking, often in the bathroom or car when the picker thinks no one will notice. Usually controlled in public.
  • Readarhea (read-ah-REE-ah) n.
    • A condition exhibited by someone who reads aloud from whatever s/he is reading, regardless of what the other person(s) might be doing, including reading, writing, or working.
  • Rubbleit (RUB-bul-it) v.
    • To reduce to rubble, either literally or figuratively.
  • Sleepnet (SLEEP-net) n.
    • A system or habit of thought a person uses to promote sleep. Does not usually involve counting sheep.

So, what is the use of non-words? 

Besides entertainment, consider working them into your speech and/or writing. The context is usually sufficient for understanding. Such words are fresh and eye/ear-catching. Many authors have created words that are now part of everyone’s vocabulary. Just think of chortle (Lewis Carroll), freelance (Thomas Brown), litterbug (Alice Rush McKeon), mondegreen (Sylvia Wright), nerd (Dr. Seuss), robot (Karel Capek), scaredy-cat (Dorothy Parker), and scientist (William Whewell).

If you’re interested, here are some other dictionaries that only sort of exist:

Bottom Line: Sometimes, dozens of dictionaries still aren’t enough. Consider creating words. Every word in current usage started as someone’s creation!

WHY ONE ISN’T ENOUGH!

I’ve long loved dictionaries, and mine currently crowd seven bookshelves. I can just imagine the gasps, chuckles, and maybe eye-rolls out there about now. 

But think about it. Depending on who and when you ask, the number of English words varies widely, but all agree the number is humongous.

As of June, 2018, according to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) there were 171,146 words currently in use in the English language, plus 47,156 obsolete ones.  The main page of the OED official website said they covered over 600,000 terms.

In June, 2021, the official edition of the Merriam-Webster online dictionary included approximately 470,000 words.

And new words are added daily. In the 20th century, 800 to 1000 new words were added to the English language each year. In 2022 so far, new words include hellacious, fast fashion, supposablyhiggle, long hauler, vaxvaxxer, megadrought, mesovortex, and charging station, and new acronyms, such as EV, HEV, PHEV, etc., etc., etc. And as you no doubt realize, words are included in the vernacular before they make it into any official dictionary.

Clearly, one comprehensive, agreed-upon dictionary isn’t possible. And the sheer scope of the language would make it cumbersome and daunting to navigate.

The Cavalry to the Rescue!

Fortunately, there are (by actual count) a gazillion dictionary makers out there to sort and organize words for us.  Whatever your need or interest, there’s a dictionary for that!

I’m a writer, so my word needs are many and varied. An inspection of my dictionary shelves shows a touching popularity of slang dictionaries. Slang is a true love because it’s the language of much realistic dialogue, and can set time, class, and subculture.

In this regard, Eric Partridge’s A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (8th edition) is a classic. I recently acquired Partridge’s Concise Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English edited by Paul Beale as well. Why? Because it’s slimmed down the original and added new material.  

But slang isn’t a unitary thing! Therefore, I have dictionaries of war slang, hippie slang, and many volumes of “American” slang. Some years ago, I was extremely please to find the first two volumes of the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang.  I am devastated—well, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration—that there will never be a third volume. The project was too time-consuming and expensive to complete.

Speaking of price: dictionaries tend to be big, and specialized ones, expensive. If you want a standard Merriam-Webster for general use, one can be had for very little money, especially used, because they are printed in huge runs and sell widely. 

But if you want something like the Dictionary of American Regional English, in six volumes, the price tag is currently $635 used. I picked up my six volumes one by one, from library discards and secondhand stores, and that can still be done if you are tightfisted and determined. FYI, I find these volumes cumbersome to use, so take that into consideration.

Recently I came across the Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English, on Amazon for $128.35 hardcover and $74.99 on Kindle, the only two formats out there. And these are the lowest prices I found!

These are just two dictionaries recognizing the differences in language across the country. Such differences have long been acknowledged. One of my dictionaries is Yankee Talk Another is Butter my Butt and Call Me a Biscuit. (You can imagine the regional connections of that one.)

Words—Like People—Age 

The OED recognizes “archaic” words. I have a dictionary called The Word Museum, one example of a dictionary of such outdated words. Dictionaries of colonial English or slang by decades inherently acknowledge aging. As a writer, I need to be aware that word choices can easily seem too modern—or too old.

Then there’s the question of which English. During my first trip to Europe, I discovered that I actually speak “American.” Now, more aware, I have on my shelves dictionaries of American, British, Australian, and South African English.

Apart from—or in addition to—the above, I love having dictionaries that give me age-graded vocabulary for children, the meaning of symbols, and abbreviations, and sailing terms. 

Abbreviations are part of virtually every “in-group.” For example, not even all psychologists would recognize that VTE means vicarious trial and error. 

When writing about a subculture not one’s own, Talk the Talk: The Slang of 65 American Subcultures is invaluable. Just to tempt you, check out the Table of Contents!

Not dictionaries in the traditional sense… 

Many of these “dictionaries” are books word lovers enjoy anyway. For me, these include dictionaries of dreams, body language, superstitions, proverbs, phrase and fable, and word origins.

Reading dictionaries is not only entertaining, it’s also educational.

For example, people may not know that the following words, among others, not only have Yiddish roots but also came into common usage in the 1930s.

  • Mensch
  • Yenta
  • Bagel
  • Futz around
  • Schlep
  • Schmaltz
  • Schmooze

Not in my wheelhouse… 

Although I do have a rhyming dictionary, I don’t have scrabble or crossword puzzle dictionaries. Nor do I have dictionaries geared toward medicine, architecture, engineering, music, farming, the law…

Should I decide to delve deeply into such professions/topics, the dictionaries are out there.

No doubt there are people out there who believe that one good standard dictionary, and maybe one good thesaurus, suffice. Clearly, I beg to differ! 

Bottom line: Whatever your interests and/or needs, there’s a dictionary for that! Explore!

CONSIDER THE ONION

They say inspiration comes from everywhere. Interesting details to add to your writing also come from everywhere. To flavor your work, consider the onion.

(For a laugh, consider the satirical new website The Onion, but I’m actually talking about the plant in this instance.)

Onion Lore

There is a vast array of folklore surrounding onions. Onions are part of nearly every cuisine around the world, so nearly every culture has found uses for onions beyond cooking.

  • If you stick pins into a small onion and keep it on your windowsill, it dispels bad spirits from your home—or so says folklore. (Garlic has been used for the same purpose.)
  • Onions are also thought to ward off snakes and witches.
  • American colonists hung onions outside their doors to deflect evil spirits and keep them from coming inside.
  • If you throw onion peels on the floor, you’ll throw away your luck.
  • In many prehistoric societies, onions were the symbol of eternity, fit only for the gods. Additional symbolism includes protection, memories, jealousy, envy, divine healing, and mood swings.
  • Onions in dreams may represent the layers the dreamer needs to get through to find the source of a problem or issue. Alternatively, the dreamer may need to cleanse something in order to start afresh.
  • Put an onion under your pillow if you wish to dream the identity of your future lover.
  • In Egypt, an onion held in the right hand was a sign of fealty, used to swear allegiance to Cleopatra, and were a farewell offering carved into Tutankhamen’s tomb. They have been found in the pelvic region of mummies, in the thorax, and flattened against the ears. In 1160 BCE, King Ramses IV was entombed with onions in his eye sockets.
  • In other cultures, onions were associated with the devil. In Persia, it was said that when Satan was banished from paradise, onions sprang from the print of his right foot. 
  • Romans believed that eating onions increased the quantity and vitality of sperm. Some Middle Eastern cultures considered onions an aphrodisiac.
  • In England, onions predicted the weather: a thick skin meant a bad winder ahead, a thin skin, a mild one.
  • Schoolboys used to believe that rubbing their bottoms with onion juice would numb them to the sting of disciplinary caning.
  • If you want to make a wish on Friday morning, sprinkle salt and pepper on an onion skin and toss it into the fire while thinking the wish.  Other days or times? Who knows?
  • When undecided about something important, scratch each option on a different onion and store them in the dark. The first one to sprout reveals your best choice. This applies to choosing one’s lover/husband as well!
  • In English-speaking countries, some people believe that putting onions under the bed of a sick person aids recovery. 
  • Stringing onions up around the house, especially at the entrance will guard against illness, accidents, and curses.
  • Put a slice of onion under the doormat to keep away unwanted visitors.
  • If onions sprout in your kitchen, plant them. If they grow, you will come into unexpected money.
  • The cut side of an onion has been used to relieve the effects of insect stings, and to draw poison from the bites of venomous snakes and rabid dogs.
  • Snakes hate the smell of onions, so carry one when you walk in snake territory to ward them off.
  • Get rid of warts by rubbing the edge of an onion on the warts and then throw the onion over your right shoulder without looking back.
  • Onion juice provides extra sulfur which can support strong, thick hair, thus preventing hair loss and promoting hair growth. The sulfur from onions may help collagen production which, in turn, promotes healthy skin.

Onion Medicine

Folk medicine often contains a kernel of truth, and onion medicine is no different. Modern medical researchers study onions’ palliative properties for everything from high blood pressure to cholesterol levels. 

  • Because eating onions causes one to perspire, they’ve been used in folk medicine to cure colds. 
  • Onions are low in calories yet high in nutrients, including vitamin C, B vitamins, and potassium. 
  • Research shows that eating onions help reduce heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, elevated triglyceride levels, and inflammation. 
  • Red onions are rich in anthocyanins, which are powerful plant pigments that may protect against heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. 
  • Onion consumption is associated with improved bone mineral density. 
  • Onions are a rich source of prebiotics, which help boost digestive health, improve bacterial balance in your gut, and benefit your immune system. 
  • Onions have been shown to inhibit the growth of potentially harmful bacteria like E. coli and S. aureus
  • Onion juice can cure colds, cough, high fever, and sore throat. (One might want to eat parsley to combat onion-breath!)

Onion Facts

Even without their miraculous fortune-telling powers or magical healing properties, onions are pretty nifty vegetables!

  • Most people cut onions before eating them, often tearfully. Chilling peeled, halved onions in the fridge or in a bowl of ice water for 30 minutes can lessen the onion tear production.
  • FYI: onion tears are chemically different from tears caused by pain or sadness. 
  • No one knows for sure where onions first appeared. Some believe they originated in Central Asia; other say onions were first grown in Iran and West Pakistan. But onions were surely eaten long before they were cultivated, and now they are grown in 135 countries.
  • When Europeans came to the New World, they brought onions with them, only to find that Native Americans were using wild onions for food, in syrups, as poultices,  as an incident in dyes, and as toys!
  • Worldwide, people consume and average of 11 pounds of onions per year, but onion  eating varies widely by geography. Turkey has the highest consumption, with 80.7 pounds per capita per year. In the US, the figure is 18.6 pounds per person per year. 
  • WARNING: all parts of onions (and related plants, like garlic) are toxic to dogs and cats! Raw or cooked, as little as 1/4 cup can make a 20-pound dog sick. 

If that’s not enough onion-y brain fodder, check out the National Onion Association, the Encyclopedia Britannica, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, and the story of The Oldest Onion in Denmark.

I like learning when I read, and I try to include bits of lesser-known information in my stories. For example, gasoline cost ten cents a gallon during the Great Depression, and around the time of the Civil War, the census’s listed the occupation of prostitutes as seamstresses. 

Bottom line: Consider adding a little onion to your writing!

SAY WHAT?

Carat and Carrot and Caret and Karat
Pi Pie!

Today I feel like playing with words! Considering the history of the English language, it’s no wonder there are so many strange juxtapositions in our syllables. An easy illustration is lay and lei: one from Proto-Germanic and one from Hawaiian.

English is not the only language with homophones and homographs, of course. German, Korean, Vietnamese, and Mandarin are notorious for wordplay based on homophones and homonyms. The language with the most homonyms might be Rotokas, spoken by the people of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. There are only 150 possible syllables, so each syllable gets a lot of use!

Homophones

I’ll start with homophones, words that sound the same but are different in meaning or spelling. I’ve chosen words that are both! Here, in no particular order are some examples. (This is by no means an exhaustive list. Check here or here for many more examples!)

Colonel and Kernel

Can you use all the variations in a single sentence that makes sense?

AllAwl
BeBee
ForwardForeword
DiscreetDiscrete
SeedCede
OurHour
AloudAllowed
PolePoll
SoleSoul
RollRole
Ewe and Yew
PiecePeace
CueQueue
PeaPee
DieDye
LowLo
ToeTow
AilAle
SheerShear
HereHear
WearWare
StepSteppe
Fairy/ Faerie and Ferry
MightMite
BearBare
LimbLimn
KnightNight
BoardBored
LiarLyre
SweetSuite
DeerDear
StareStair
RingWring
Key and Quay

There are many pairs of homophones (some estimate as many as 6,000!), but some syllables work extra hard and mean three or more different things. Again, this is nowhere near an exhaustive list.

SightSiteCite
NeedKneedKnead
RheumyRoomyRoomie
UseEwesYews
SenseScentsCents
TheirThey’reThere
AyeEyeI
LeanLienLeen
PoorPourPore
Bawled and Balled and Bald
DoDueDew
NewKnewGnu
ByeBuyBy
IdolIdleIdyll
AisleI’llIsle
MeatMeetMete
WeighWayWhey
NaughtKnotNot
PairParePear
Furze and Furs and Firs

Some homophones are dependent on the speaker’s accent. Words that sound the same in Johannesburg may be entirely different in Toronto.

All/AwlOil
OralAural
FartherFather
AntAunt
BizarreBazaar
BroochBroach
CollanderCalendar
TotTaught
BurrowBurrough
ChillyChile
Floor and Flower and Flour

If you really want to go crazy, consider raise, rays, rase, rehs, res, réis, and raze.

  • Rase is a verb meaning “to erase”
  • Rehs is the plural of reh, a mixture of sodium salts found as an efflorescence in India
  • Réis is the plural of real, a currency unit of Portugal and Brazil
  • Res is the plural of re, a name for one step of the musical scale
Hair and Hare

Homographs

Then there are homographs, words that are spelled the same but differ in meaning or pronunciation. I’ve focused on the former here.

  • Bar as in drinking place, bar as in fasten the door, bar as in fastener or weapon
  • Part as in separate, part as in a piece of something
  • Snuff as in tobacco product, snuff as in smothering a candle flame
  • Yen as in Japanese currency, yen as in a desire
  • Clear as in weather, clear as in clean up
  • Foot as in body part, foot as in length
  • Wind as in moving air, wind as in turning something
  • Chair as in furniture, chair as in run a meeting
  • Stand as in get up, stand as in take a stand, stand as in piece of furniture
  • Case as in luggage or box, case as in court case
  • Bit as in took a bite of, bit as in horse harness, bit as in small amount
  • Swallow as in ingest, swallow as in bird
  • Pot as in vessel, pot as in plant, pot as in marijuana
  • Ring as in jewelry, ring as in bell
  • Wire as in piece of metal, wire as in electrical work, wire as in telegraph
  • Dig as in make a hole, dig as in “like it”
  • Bow as in bend from the waist, bow as in front of a boat
  • Stern as in firm, stern as in back of a boat
  • Park as in outdoor space, park as in leave a vehicle
  • Ear as in body part, ear as in corn
  • Second as in time, second as in between first and third 
Bark and Bark

Many of these homographs are variations from a single word origin, and their various meaning can be traced back. If you want to wander down an internet rabbit hole, try looking up the etymology of homophones.

  • Walk from the Proto-Indo-European root “wel-” meaning “to turn or revolve
    • Travel on foot
    • A pathway along which one might travel on foot
  • Pregnant from Latin “praegnantem” meaning “before birth
    • Person who is with child
    • Tense pause (full of meaning)
  • Plate from Proto-Indo-European root “plat-” meaning “to spread
    • Flat sheet of metal that holds food
    • Flat sheet of very thin metal coating an object so it looks like gold or silver
    • Layer of the planet’s mantle holding continents, floating on magma
  • Secretary from Medieval French “secretarie” meaning “confidant, someone entrusted with secrets
    • Administrative assistant
    • Officer
    • Type of desk used by a secretary
  • Port from Proto-Indo-European root “prtu-” meaning “passage
    • Wine variety originating from the Portuguese city Oportus
    • Place where boats anchor
    • Left side of a ship when facing forward from the stern
    • Medical appliance installed under the skin
  • Book from Proto-Germanic “bōk(ō)-” meaning “the part of a beech tree used to make tablets for written documents
    • Reading material
    • Make a reservation (originally marked in a book, now more likely kept on a tablet)
  • Table from Latin “tabula” meaning “small flat slab, usually for inscriptions or games
    • Furniture for holding meals or other objects
    • List of numbers and figures
    • To enter into return to a list
  • Lift from Proto-Germanic “luftijan” meaning “to elevate”
    • Pick up
    • Elevator
    • Giving a ride
Port and Port and Port and Port

Homographs (non-homophonic)

And then there are homographs that are spelled the same but differ in pronunciation as well as meaning. How many of these do you recognize?

  • Wind
  • Buffet
  • Minute
  • Bow
  • Bass
  • Evening
  • Coordinates
  • Proceeds
  • Does
  • Axes
  • Agape
  • Putting
  • Moped
  • Tear
  • Wound
Double Bass

In many cases, only a shift in stress from one syllable to another indicates whether the word functions as a noun or a verb. As with many elements of the English language, this “rule” has many exceptions.

  • Attribute
  • Produce
  • Refuse
  • Frequent
  • Discharge
  • Second
  • Entrance
  • Digest
  • Interchange
  • Content
  • Advocate
  • Discount
  • Contract

And just to increase your vocabulary one more time: homonyms can be either or both!

Bottom Line: It’s no wonder people have difficulty learning English as a second language!

Mince and Mints
(Do not confuse these two in recipes!)

TWO POWERFUL HUMAN MOTIVES

Of course, humans are driven by a lot more than two motivations. Various levels of deprivation (of all sorts of needs, such as food, shelter, sleep, sexual release, and much more) can motivate behavior in specific situations. Those are not the focus of this blog. Instead, I’m focusing on two powerful motives that tend to shape behavior across numerous situations and often whole lifetimes. 

I’m talking about the need for achievement and the fear of failure.

In the simplest terms (according to me) the difference is striving to be the best versus trying to be good enough.

Need for Achievement

Nadia Nadim, possibly the human embodiment of n-Ach

Need for achievement is the desire to obtain excellent results by setting high standards and striving to accomplish them. It is a consistent concern with doing things better.

According to the American Psychological Association,  the definition of need for achievement (n-Ach) is a strong desire to accomplish goals and attain a high standard of performance and personal fulfillment.  The need for achievement was proposed by Henry Alexander Murray and investigated extensively by David McClelland.

People with high need for achievement often undertake tasks in which there is a high probability of success and avoid tasks that are either too easy (because of lack of challenge) or too difficult (because of fear of failure). 

An example of the latter would be a 5-ft-tall basketball player with poor leaping ability, ball handling abilities, and passing skills. Such a person high in n-Ach is unlikely to try out for the team!

Recognizing Accomplishment

Even “minor” accomplishments deserve to be recognized and celebrated.

Studies have shown that feeling a sense of accomplishment is an important element in students developing positive wellbeing over time.

Research also shows that people with a strong sense of purpose, persistence, and accomplishment perform better at work.

Because one tennis ball is simply not enough

People high in need for achievement present as ambitious, driven, successful … and insecure. The need for achievement drives behavior in school, work settings, even recreational activities. In case it isn’t obvious, this trait can cause problems:

  • Driven to achieve the task—any and every task
  • Fails to differentiate “urgent” from merely “important”
  • Has difficulty delegating
  • Struggles with producer-to-supervisor transition when promoted
  • Obsesses about getting the job done at all costs
  • Craves feedback

No doubt about it, people high in n-Ach put themselves under a lot of pressure. At first glance, it might seem that such people should relax, take it easy, and be happy doing well enough. 

Fearing failure in a particular endeavor is experienced by most people,  including high n-Ach people, sometimes. Think a new situation or task, or one that’s just being learned. Think public performances. There are times when just not humiliating oneself is success.

Fear of Failure

This is why restaurants deliver.

But the fear of failure, more generally, is an irrational and persistent fear of failing

(FYI, irrational and extreme fear of failing or facing uncertainty is a phobia known as atychiphobia.) 

Sometimes fearing failure might be triggered in only one specific situation/task. Sometimes it’s more generalized. And sometimes it’s related to another mental health condition such as anxiety or depression.

In any case, the fear of failure varies in level of severity from mild to extreme. Here are a few ways it’s commonly exhibited:

  • A sense of hopelessness about the future
  • Chronic (versus occasional or limited) worry
  • Worry about what other people will  think about you if you fail or don’t do well
  • Frequent procrastination
  • High distractibility, being pulled off task by irrelevant or unimportant things
  • Avoiding tasks or people associated with a project or general goal
  • Physical symptoms (fatigue, headaches, digestive troubles, joint or muscle pain) that prevent working toward a goal
  • Believing that you don’t have the skills or knowledge to achieve something
  • Feeling like you won’t be able to achieve your goals
  • Procrastinating to the point that it affects your performance or ability to finish on time
  • Telling people that you will probably fail so that expectations remain low
  • Underestimating your own abilities to avoid feeling let down
  • Worrying that imperfections or shortcomings will make other people think less of you
  • Failing makes you worry about your ability to pursue the future you desire
  • Failing makes you worry that people will lose interest in you
  • Failing makes you worry about how smart or capable you are
  • Failing makes you worry about disappointing people whose opinions you value (especially family/friends)
  • You tend to tell people beforehand that you don’t expect to succeed in order to lower their expectations
  • Once you fail at something, you have trouble imagining what you could have done differently to succeed
  • You often get last-minute headaches, stomach aches, or other physical symptoms that prevent you from completing your preparation
  • You often get distracted by tasks that prevent you from completing your preparation which, in hindsight, were not as urgent as they seemed at the time
  • You tend to procrastinate and “run out of time” to complete your preparation adequately, as a way of protecting your belief in your ability to have done it
Social Media can illuminate and exacerbate both the need for achievement and the fear of failure.
Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and Bored Panda (just to name a few)

Bottom line: Two people may exhibit the same behavior, even turn in the same objective performance, but their reasons for doing so can vary dramatically.