THIS ONE’S FOR WORD LOVERS

(You know who you are!)

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!

Mrs. Malaprop, from The Rivals

Of course, there is a big difference between being a logomaniac and acrylog. The former are not necessarily loquacious but prefer the mellifluous to the sesquipedalian and can use catachresis rhetorically. The latter are generally more interested in verbiage and tend to commit malapropisms without irony.

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.

Uncomfortable Words

These are perfectly good, innocent words that tend to make people squirm. And of course there is a dictionary for that!  The Dictionary of Uncomfortable Words: What to Avoid Saying in Polite (Any) Conversation by Andre Witham and Brian Snyder. Here are a few samples of such words early in the alphabet:

  • Abreast
  • Bunghole 
  • Dong
  • Emission
  • Globule
  • Horehound
  • Arrears
  • Crotch
  • Dangle
  • Feckless
  • Grotty
  • Ball cock
  • Crapulous
  • Elongate
  • Fecund
  • Hocker

Old Words That Deserve a Rerun 

Why be exhausted when you could be ramfeezled or quaked? Why be surprised when you could be blutterbunged?

One of the best dictionaries for these and other old words is The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten by Jeffrey Kacirk.

  • Biblioklep: book thief
  • Bouffage: satisfying meal
  • Bruzzle: to make a great to-do
  • Cabobble: to mystify/puzzle/confuse
  • Cark: to be fretfully anxious
  • Fabulosity: the quality of being fabulous
  • Falling weather: rain, snow, hail
  • Flamfoo: a gaudily dressed woman
  • Fleshquake: a tremor of the body
  • Flonker: anything large or outrageous
  • 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
  • Woman-tired: henpecked
Not to be confused with the Planet Word Museum, in Washington DC.

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.
  • Lethologicawhen a word is on the tip of your tongue. 
  • Sesquipedalian:

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.

  • Thingamajig
  • Thingummy
  • Thingamabob
  • Whatchamacallit
  • Whatsit
  • Thingy
  • What’s-his/her-name
  • What’s-his/her-face
  • Doohickey: object or device
  • Doodad
  • Gizmo

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:

A geographic explanation of why English is so weird
  • Old, aged, elderly, antique, boomer
  • Curvy, overweight, fat, thicc [sic]
  • Whopperjawed, off-kilter, crooked, ill-fitting, skeevy
  • Heart, ticker, vascular organ
  • Tall, high, elevated
  • Angry, upset, ticked, pissed off, aggro
  • Vessel, container, bowl, pot, urn

Writing about words could go on forever.  So I think I’ll wrap this up for now, without even touching on insults and name-calling. Maybe another time.

Bottom line: never too many words.

BETTER KNOW YOUR CHARACTER: MONEY

I have to work very hard not to spend all my money (and time) one books.

Money, money, money! It touches nearly every aspect of a person’s/character’s life—and deserves conscious decision making.

Does owning an entire city count as filthy rich?

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.

Being penniless isn’t so bad when there are open barrels of food everywhere.
  • Penniless
  • Poverty stricken
  • Poor
  • Lower middle class
  • Middle class
  • Upper middle class
  • Well off
  • Rich
  • Filthy rich

*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.

Social attitudes toward shopkeepers often depends on the quality of merchandise.

Source(s) of income: Note that respect for various sources of income varies widely. This often translates into treating people differently.

Musicians playing in a bar are often treated differently from musicians playing in a symphony hall, though their incomes are often almost identical.
  • Begging or panhandling
  • Gambling
  • Theft of various sorts, with or without another source
  • Illegal activities
  • SSI disability
  • Medicare/Medicaid 
  • Hourly wage
  • Entertainment, anything from a classical pianist to an exotic dancer
  • By the job/ piecework
  • Having multiple jobs
  • Salary
  • Salary plus bonuses
  • Stocks/bonds, dividends/interest
  • Trust funds
  • Family loans/gifts

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.

Some people value experience and travel more than money, making a living on the road, feeling the wind in their fur… er… hair.
Assassins are generally exempt from income and property taxes, though sales tax may still apply.

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.

Making everything at home is a way to save money and ensure quality.
  • 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.

Relationships can get really complicated if your friends sell you off for scientific experiments.
  • Similar
  • Comparable
  • Much above
  • Much below
  • Changed over your/your character’s lifetime
  • Income disparity causing conflict

Where the money goes:

  • Religious tithes
  • Charitable contributions
  • Necessities only
  • Whatever strikes one’s fancy
  • Luxuries, with or without guilt
  • Whatever is most visible to elicit praise, admiration, or envy from others
  • Hobbies (what?)
  • Supporting family or friends who need a hand
  • Pets
  • Back into a business
  • Stocks/bonds
  • Sponsoring people on social media as indirect advertisement
Partying with demons is surprisingly expensive.

How money is handled:

If these characters offer a loan, running away is probably the best response.
  • Cash only
  • 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?
  • Bank account
  • Checking account
  • Savings account
  • 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?

No matter how carefully one budgets and saves, it can all be taken away at any time when a horde of dragons comes by.

WORDS FROM WAR

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.

US Army poster from WWI (Gordon Grant)

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.

Ambulance Dogs in WWI were sent with medical supplies to find wounded soldiers who could not be otherwise reached. They were also called Mercy Dogs because, very often, all they could do was comfort the dying.

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.

Blue-footed booby
In Spanish, “bobo” is a clown or a fool.

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.

NOM DE GUERRE AND OTHER PSEUDONYMS

Ioseb “Soso” Dzhugashvili is better known by the name he used as a Bolshevik, “Steel.” The Russian translation is Josef Stalin.
Montbars the Exterminator was the nom de guerre of Daniel Montbars, a French buccaneer.

Nom de guerre is French for “war name.”  

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.

Simone Segouin used the nom de guerre Nicole Minet when fighting Nazi occupation of France.
Ernesto Guevara was better known to his comrades as “el Che” or Che Guevara.

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!

Members of a royal family often adopt a public name when they marry or assume the throne. Queen Noor of Jordan was born Lisa Najeeb Halaby.
  • Taking or keeping a professional name different from the family name
  • Personal identity
    • 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.
  • Marriage
    • 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
  • Religious reasons
  • Criminal history or association
  • To be more or less closely associated with a famous (or infamous) relative
  • Political reasons
  • Entering witness protection program
Sith Lords took new names upon completing their training, either given by their masters or chosen by the Force. Anakin Skywalker is better known by his Sith title: Darth Vader.

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.

Emilio Estevez deliberately did not share his father’s nom de guerre because, as he said, he “didn’t want to ride into the business as ‘Martin Sheen’s son’.”
Harpo Marx had two name changes. Born Adolph, he changed his first name to to Arthur avoid anti-German in childhood; “Harpo” was bestowed as a nickname by a friend.

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.

Malcolm X also adopted a new name twice. He changed his surname from Little to X to signify the loss of his African heritage; after going on pilgrimage to Mecca, he took the Muslim name el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz.
  • 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.
Silent film star Rudolph Valentino was born Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filiberto Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguella. He changed it when he came to the US in 1913.
  • 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.

Bottom line: Names carry a ton of meaning!

ALSO KNOWN AS…

These pen names are fairly self-explanatory.

Is there anyone out there who didn’t know that Vivian Lawry is the pen name of Vivian Makosky? Well, now you do. 

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

Lawry Gulick,
in his natural habitat

My first attempt at writing fiction was the Chesapeake Bay Mystery Dark 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.

The Real Michael Field

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.

Perhaps they chose male pen names for marketing reasons as well.

To Bypass Gender Stereotypes

Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë as painted by their brother Branwell

Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë wrote as Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell because, according to Charlotte, “…we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.” 

Many other women have written under men’s names in order to get published and/or to be taken seriously.

To Jump Genres

Yet another reason to adopt a pen name is to publish in very different genres.

  • Joanne Rowling has used pennames to confront both of these issues in the publishing world.
    • Her editor suggested that a fantasy series published by a woman would only appeal to a female audience, so JK Rowling published the Harry Potter series and all the other books in the “Potterverse
    • She switched to Robert Galbraith for her 2013 crime mystery, The Cuckoo’s Calling
  • Louisa May Alcott published Little Women under her given name
    • She used the name AM Barnard to write gothic thrillers with unladylike subject matter
  • Nora Roberts a.k.a. JD Robb
    • When writing romance, she’s Nora Roberts
    • When writing futuristic suspense, she becomes JD Robb 
  • Karen Blixen (Out of Africa) also used many pen names
    • Isak Dinesen published Seven Gothic Tales 
    • Pierre AndrézelThe Angelic Avengers
    • In German-speaking countries, she is sometimes published as Tania Blixen
Fantasy and science fiction are still heavily male-dominated genres.

Indeed, many publishers advise writers established in one genre to take a different name for a different genre so as not to confuse or frustrate loyal readers.

To Improve Marketing

PD James, aka
Phyllis Dorothy James White,
Baroness James of Holland Park

And not to be overlooked, some authors choose a pen name or use only initials purely for marketing purposes. Besides JK Rowling and PD James, consider these three:

For more on this topic, pick up Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Psuedonyms  by Carmela Ciuraru. That’s not a pen name – the author really is named Carmela Ciuraru.

Downside of Pen Names 

Ghostwriting is not quite the same as using a pen name.

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.

FEMALE SUPERHEROES: NOT A NEW THING (Part 1)

There are rumors of an upcoming Marvel movie focused on the A-Force, an all-female group of superheroes. This screenshot from the end of Avengers: Endgame highlights several members of the A-Force ( l-r: Okoye, Valkyrie, Gamora, Rescue, Captain Marvel, Wasp, Mantis, Shuri, and Nebula).
Tiger Baby

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!

Bat-Baby

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?

1938

  • 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.

1940

  • Fantomah
    • 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.
  • *Hawkgirl/ Hawkwoman
    • 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.
Hawkgirl’s costume from 1940 to 2015
    • 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.
  • *Catwoman
    • 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.
  • Lady Luck 
    • 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.
  • Golden Girl 
    • 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.
  • Red Tornado 
    • 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.
  • *Black Widow 
    • 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.
1940 Woman in Red
  • 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.
1943 Woman in Red
    • 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.

Bottom Line: Long as the list is, these female superheroes are just the beginning! Check back on the 23rd for more pioneering superheroes. There is much more information online. For example, the wrap.com/female-superheroes-badass-memorable-batwoman-supergirl/. Also, gamesradar.com/best-female-superheroes/. And car.com/female-superheroes-created-before-wonder-woman/

Super ArchitectorBridgerConstructing Smartiest Lady

COVID’S MYSTERIOUS SIDE EFFECTS: NOT JUST PHYSICAL

I’m not sure if this counts as photoshop or forced perspective.
Sprouting wings and antlers may be a side effect of quarantine, but doctors haven’t established a link with the coronavirus.

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

1) She found her old jewelry-making supplies and started making necklaces and earrings to sell online.

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
    • Western fern
    • Aluminium
    • Garden croton
    • Ponytail palm 
    • Stag horn fern
    • Aloe
    • Air plants
    • Jade…
  • Plant containers and accessories, such as ceramic pots, macramé holders for hanging plants and geometric air plant holders.
10) She started turning leftovers into crafts for her young nieces, such as unraveling upholstery trim to make a wig for a teddy bear.

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”

11) Every day the weather allows, she goes outside for at least ten minutes.

12) She makes a point of wearing a clean T-shirt every day.

17) She eats a regular, balanced diet, with food in each hand.

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

18) She has been deep-cleaning everything in the house: scrubbing the ceiling, re-grouting the bathroom tiles, disinfecting under furniture, etc.

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

27) Instead of following the story while playing Skyrim, she spent far too many hours burying a dragon in sweet rolls.
32) Her knitting habit spread out of the house.

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.

Harmful Coping

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.

33) She was bored. I’m pretty sure she’s going to take apart my cell phone next….

The Domino Effect

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

In honor of Women’s History Month, I’d like to tell you a story of how one woman sparked a series of interactions that led to rock stars! And none of these interactions would have been possible without women pioneers making history.

Alice Chalifoux, the “godmother to the Harp World” was the principle harpist with the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra from 1931 to 1974. For decades, she was the only woman in the Orchestra. Because she couldn’t share the dressing room with her male colleagues, she used to shut herself in her harp’s traveling case to change into concert dress.

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Way back in the 1990s, there was a little girl who took harp lessons at her local middle school. She rented a small harp over the summer and brought it home to practice.

Deborah Hansen-Conant, “the Jimi Hendrix of the harp,” is an amazingly unorthodox harpist, the only person I’ve ever seen able to sing, dance, and play her harp all at the same time. She worked with the CAMAC Harp Company to design and create her signature 11lb, carbon-fiber, electric harp.

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That little girl was my neighbor and a few years older than me. She was the absolute coolest person I knew (as all the Big Girls were). Not only did she let me listen to her practice, she let me play a few notes!

Mary Jane D’Arville, in addition to teaching harp in public schools, founded the Virginia Harp Center. With locations up and down the East Coast now, the Harp Centers provide rental harps for students who could not otherwise afford them. Not content with being a superhero to every harpist with a bent stand or broken string from Boston to Miami, she also composes and arranges music for harp and harp ensembles, teaches privately, performs, and organizes music festivals.

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Obviously, the best way to be as cool as The Big Girls is to copy what they do. As soon as I was able, I joined the same harp program through our school system.

The Harp in Our Public Schools Project recently released a DVD of their performance of “Dona Nobis Pace.”

Talented, determined women (and a few men) have created harp programs in public school systems all over the country. Velma Froude in Detroit, Anne Williams and Jackie Pates in Richmond VA, Robbin Gordon-Cartier in East Orange NJ, and Lou Anne Neill in Los Angeles CA are just a few of the ladies who have made the harp available to kids who never would have seen one otherwise.

Playing the harp was so much fun that I decided to keep it up in college. The only problem with the college I’d chosen was that there was no harp program and no harp teacher.

In addition to chairing the School of Music and conducting the orchestra where I studied, Dr. Oeida Hatcher is a leading researcher in methods of joining computer science and music education. She is a guest conductor and lecturer, presenting her findings all over the world.

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Fortunately, the Chair of School of Music where I studied liked the idea of a harp program at school. She found a qualified harp teacher in the area, convinced her to drive an hour to the college to teach me, and then informed me that I would be declaring my major as Music Performance.

Edna Philips was the first female principal musician in a major American Symphony, specifically the Philadelphia Philharmonic. You may recognize her silhouette from Disney’s Fantasia.

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I was the best student in the harp program! I was also the worst student in the harp program. As far as I know, I am still the only student to have been in the harp program! My new teacher was from Los Angeles, and her style was unlike anything I’d ever played. She taught me to play whole new genres of music as well as the business of being a musician. (For example, if you’re driving down the LA Freeway with your harp in the passenger seat of your convertible, make sure to buckle it in securely.)

Dorothy Ashby was one of the first musicians to see the potential of the harp as more than a background, classical instrument. She was possibly the most influential jazz harpists of all time, establishing the possibilities of the harp in bebop, jazz, jazz improv, and blues.

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My glamorous Hollywood harp teacher had lots of glamorous Hollywood friends, one of whom worked for a sound engineering firm. Her job was to connect filmmakers with people who create music for films. Without music, movies are surprisingly boring. Without that 2 note foreboding theme in the background, “Jaws” is just a big fish with extra pointy bits.

Ruth Brown earned the titles “Miss Rhythm” and “Queen of R&B” as one of the best-selling singers and songwriters of the century. She leveraged her fame to force the recording industry to acknowledge the rights of musicians in negotiating royalties. She created the Rhythm and Blues Foundation to assist other musicians who were in need of assistance in negotiations.

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This woman who knew everyone involved in making music in Hollywood came to visit my harp teacher one day. The woman in charge of all music at my college invited her to present a lecture on the business of music in film.

Germaine Tailleferre, a French musician, is believed to be the first woman to compose a score for film. In 1931, she wrote “Chiens” a piano piece to accompany the silent documentary film Pastorale Inca. Ninety years later, 94 percent of composers for major films are men.

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It was a fascinating lecture. The presenter talked about how directors and producers choose the composer for a film, how music is played and recorded for films, how editors match musical timing to visual timing, and how sound engineers adjust the soundtrack, dialogue, sound effects, and background noise so that each scene creates the desired aural effect.

Rachel Portman was the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Film Score (Emma, 1996). In 2014, the Alliance for Women Film Composers was created to provide opportunities and visibility for female musicians who are still woefully underrepresented in cinema.

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After the lecture, a student hung around to talk to the presenter. She was a computer science student, and she was interested in the possibilities of sound engineering, particularly for live shows. They exchanged business cards and contact information.

Rozenn Nicol is a sound research engineer specializing in spatial audio. She has been instrumental in developing the technology used in binaural recordings, WFS, and ambisonics. And she plays the harp!

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My glamorous Hollywood harp teacher later told me that the computer science student who came to that lecture had gone to Los Angeles. She was interning with a sound design company, learning how to create the perfect sound in huge concert venues for rock stars.

Virginia Schweninger has been instrumental in the field of music therapy, researching the physical effects of harp string and soundboard vibration on the human body. She is also the creator of Harp Camp Virginia, a sleep-away summer camp for harpists that I can’t wait to attend!

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Bottom Line: An amazing chain of events can be set in motion by the simplest things, such as a little girl practicing on a rented harp.

110 Women Composers
How many do you recognize?

REVISITING MY PATERNAL GRANDMOTHER

In March of 2018 I posted “Unwritten History of a Thriver,” a Women’s History Month homage to my paternal grandmother, one of the strongest and most influential people in my life. Much of what follows was included then, but with a couple of factual corrections. I always think of her on March 1, because that was the day she was born in 1903.

Margaret Louisa Butcher, the ninth of twelve children, was born on Yost Branch in Johnson County, Kentucky. Some of her siblings couldn’t pronounce that name and thus she was known as “Lucy” from her infancy on.

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She married Allie Howard Parker and from then on was officially Lucy Butcher Parker. For many decades they lived at the head of old House Creek in Rowan County, Kentucky.

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This picture of Granny, my father, Granny Butcher, and me was taken in the yard there. The Old Home Place (as everyone in the family called it) was four rooms and two porches. The front porch was for rocking, swinging, and whatever work could be done outside.

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Diagram of the Old Home Place

The back porch was for churning butter and washing clothes. Eventually there was a wringer washer, but before that it was a washboard and two tubs. Washing on the washboard was so laborious that Granny would note in her diary how many items of clothes she washed in a day.

The house had electricity by the time I knew it but no running water or indoor plumbing of any sort. The well was in the backyard and the outhouse sat over a little tributary to Old House Creek.

Rowan County, Kentucky circa 1890

Granny cooked on a cast iron, wood-burning stove, and two of the other rooms were heated with potbellied wood/coal burning stoves, similar to those pictured below. Cornbread and biscuits were staples.

Of course the cook stove had no temperature indicators. Granny stuck her hand into the oven to determine the degree of heat by how long she could hold it there.

I used to play on the stacked wood behind the kitchen stove, where it was warm and close to where Granny worked. On the wall above me were strings of dried apple rings and leather britches beans (dried green beans).

One time I sneaked a snack of dried apples and it tasted so good that I ate the whole string. Then, being really thirsty, I drank dipper after dipper of well water. Granny didn’t punish me for the apples. She said the apples would punish me for her. As the apples rehydrated in my stomach, I thought I was going to burst and hurt something awful. Once the stomach ache passed, I had diarrhea so bad I had to run to the outhouse again and again.

From my adult perspective, I marvel at how Granny could be so cheerful given her arduous daily labor. She had a vegetable garden, the harvest followed by canning, drying, and root-cellaring for the off-season. She kept chickens and milk cows, requiring tending every day, regardless of weather.

Churn, butter, churn.
Churn, butter, churn.
Johnny’s at the garden gate
Waiting for a butter cake.
Churn, butter, churn.

Granny churned her own butter and sold some of it to the general store out on the highway. I sometimes helped churn, though I didn’t have the stamina to do the whole job. The churning rhyme helped keep the rhythm smooth, moving the dasher up and down word by word.

According to my Aunt Mary, Dad’s younger sister, the VA Hospital sent Grandpa home in 1933 to die because they couldn’t cure his illness. He was a coal miner in his earlier years, before being gassed in France during WWI. He didn’t die, but while he struggled to regain his health, Granny and the children struggled to get by.

Corn Cobs and Husks

In the late 30s and early 40s, Aunt Nora and Dad set traps for fur-bearing animals, and sold the pelts. They also raised, dried, shelled, and shipped popcorn to add to their income, as well as picking blackberries for five cents a gallon. They shelled corn for a neighbor to take to the gristmill. The inner husks from dried corn was used for filling, like feathers for a feather bead.

Granny and Grandpa

Granny had a hard life—perhaps not by Appalachian standards of the time, but certainly by anyone’s standards today.

Wooden Birthing Chair

All their children were born at home, Granny sitting on Grandpa’s lap, his knees spread to make a birthing chair. Only five of her children grew to adulthood.

Her widowed mother, Granny Butcher, spent nearly all of her last seventeen years living with Grandpa and Granny. I’m told Granny Butcher was a kind, gentle woman. By the time I knew her, she was old and nearly blind.

Granny Butcher

Still, she did what she could to help—snapping beans, shelling peas, churning, and the like. Granny Parker nursed her through her last decline and did the same for Grandpa.

What I most remember about Granny—besides her never-ending work—was her laugh. She loved a good joke or humorous stories. I don’t remember her ever complaining. She read the Bible every day and Reader’s Digest as often as it came. She encouraged me to do all that I could, as well as I could.

I grew up wanting to be like her: strong, capable, and self-sufficient. I see a straight line between Granny’s influence and me earning a Ph.D. by age 25. I was the only one in my parents’ generation or mine to go to college.


Granny made all the quilts for her family. I have several of her quilts, and have passed some along to my children. In her later years she sold quilts to people from most if not all of the United States.

As a widow, she continued to make and sell quilts. I thought her life was pretty much as it always had been until she sent me this newspaper clipping about being the oldest person in Kentucky to earn her GED.


By then Granny had a phone and I called her. 
“You never had a high school diploma? How can that be? Didn’t you teach school before you got married?”
She said, “No I never had a diploma. I studied at Morehead Normal School to be a teacher and then took the state examination. Don’t you remember me telling you that I was licensed to teach by examination? I was in the first group that had to go to Frankfort to be tested.”

Granny’s Quilts in the Newspaper

And the next thing I knew, she had enrolled in college! If I remember correctly, Morehead State University created a senior citizens scholarship to cover her tuition and fees. Granny never learned to drive, so she had to plan her classes around the bus schedule and when she could get a ride.

I saw Granny shortly before she died at age 81. I asked whether, if she had it to do over again, she would change anything about her life. I expected her to say something about how her life could have been made easier.

Granny Making a Quilt

What she did say was, “The only thing I regret is that I’m a junior and won’t live long enough to get my college diploma.”

During Women’s History Month, consider the important women in your history. And let me know about them!

Goldenrod, State Flower of Kentucky
by T. Parrish of T. Parrish

BETTER KNOW YOUR CHARACTER: DOG OR CAT?

Cats and dogs have notoriously different needs and characteristics, but either can be good models for characters. 

The first large dogs appeared in Russia about 15,000 years ago. There were smaller dogs in Western Europe at about the same time, and other wolves were domesticated in China a little later. Modern dogs are mostly a mixture of all three types.  Worldwide, there are 360 recognized breeds, not counting those being created but not yet recognized.

There are 40 recognized cat breeds.  Domesticated cats have been around since 3600 B.C., 2000 years before Egypt’s pharaohs.

Question: Is your character from an old/first family? A pillar of society? A mix of different cultures and upbringings? 

Athleticism

Speed: On average, cats run 50 kph and dogs run 32 kph.  In other words, house cats can run at a speed of 30 miles per hour.

Flexibility: Cats have free-floating bones (clavicles) which allows them to move more freely, making them more flexible.  Cats are able to get through any openings they can get their heads through.

Appetite: Dogs win hands-down in eating contests, sometime gorging a whole meal in just a couple of bites; cats tend to eat more gracefully, and slowly.  (FYI, this is because cats cannot move their jaws horizontally; they can only  open and close.)

Agility: Unlike dogs, cats are able to jump (up to six times its length) and climb, which aids them in hunting and makes it easier to flee from danger. Their sharp, retractable claws provide a distinct advantage when it comes to catching prey and defending themselves from bigger predators. Because of this, cats have no need to work together to care for themselves. It also makes them territorial. 

Balance: Most female cats prefer using their right paw, while males are more likely to be “left-pawed”.

Lifespan: Cats live 25% longer than dogs (15 vs. 12 years).

Question: Are your characters’ strengths and/or weaknesses more cat-like or more dog-like?

Brain Power

Memory: Research under controlled laboratory conditions have demonstrated that both dogs and cats exhibit what’s called episodic memory—i.e., their brains make possible the conscious recollection of events as they were previously experienced. It’s a rare trait in animals.

Cats have a longer-term memory than dogs, especially when they learn by actually doing rather than simply seeing.

Training: Dogs are generally the easier of the two to train. A dog’s pack mentality makes him ready to follow a leader and makes him generally more obedient by nature.  You can teach an old dog new tricks. Although eager puppies soak up information (just like human children), dogs can learn at any age (also like humans).

Cats can be trained, but not as thoroughly as dogs. It requires a lot of patience and consistent practice to get past their willful nature. With cats, it’s best to focus training on establishing boundaries.

A cat’s cerebral cortex (the part of the brain in charge of cognitive information processing) has 300 million neurons. That’s almost double a dog’s.

Emotion: A cat’s brain is 90% more similar to a human’s than to a dog’s. Cats and humans have nearly identical sections of the brain that control emotion.

Dogs don’t feel guilty. They might look guilty at having done something wrong, it’s just their reaction to being reprimanded. Over the millennia, dogs have evolved to mimic human facial expressions to ingratiate themselves and get more treats. However, dogs do feel intense affection for their favorite people. Researchers demonstrated that dogs’ heart rates increase when their owners speak to them or call their name.

Dreaming: Both cats and dogs dream, as evidenced by brainwave patterns similar to humans.

Questions: Is your character more a pack animal or a loner? What are his/her strongest brain functions?

Character/ Personality

Pack or Solitary: Dogs are hardwired with pack instinct that generally makes them social, friendly, and all too happy to belong to a group. Dogs instinctively go wherever their pack goes, which makes them more readily accepting of new experiences, such as travel or moving. Dogs are good followers.

By contrast, with the exception of lions, most cats in the wild are solitary nocturnal hunters. Cats have no need to work together to thrive.  As solitary animals, they are okay alone all day.  Their independence may make them seem aloof.  Cats can be content as long as they have the essentials.  They do enjoy social interaction, though.

Stimulation: Cats would do much better in COVID lockdown or other confinement than dogs!

Dogs need lots of stimulation, fresh air and regular exercise.  Dogs enjoy days out and traveling.  Dogs often tend to be more expensive to care for than a cat (food, toys, accessories, grooming, etc.).

Schedule: Dogs are diurnal; cats are nocturnal and like to roam the house at night. Cats sleep 70% of the times.

Question: what is hard-wired in your character?

Communication

Body Language: A cat’s whiskers pointed forward is a sign of inquiry or curiosity; pointed back is a sign of fright/not wanting whatever is coming its way.

The way a dog wags its tail can tell you its mood. It’s suggested a wag to the right means happy and to the left means frightened. Low wags indicate they’re insecure.

Within a pack, dogs communicate almost entirely through body language. Much of this body language can be copied by humans to communicate with dogs, including eye contact, head position, torso angle, and invading or conceding personal space.

Vocalization: Dogs are able to understand 200 words, the same number as a two-year-old human.

Cats make more than 100 different sounds whereas dogs make around 10. The basenji is the only breed of dog that can’t bark. However, they can yodel!

One study indicated that hungry cats ‘meow’ in the same frequency as a crying baby, hitting the human brain right in the obnoxious evolutionary hindbrain (especially in the middle of the night).

Question: Does your character communicate (send and/or receive) better with verbal, non-verbal, or paraverbal skills?

Sensitivity

Smell: A dog’s sense of smell is up to 100,000 times more than humans.  Bloodhounds are able to trace scents that are over 300 hours old.

Vision: Cats see more colors than dogs do.  Dogs see primarily on a blue and yellow scale; they can’t tell the difference between green and red.  Visual acuity is better for dogs, but cats see better in the dark.

Cats’ whiskers help them detect motion changes.

Hearing: Cats can hear almost a full octave higher than dogs (sounds as high as 64 kHz), and both can hear in the ultrasonic level.  Hearing is the strongest of a cat’s senses. 

The ability of a cat to find its way home is called “psi-travelling.” Experts think cats either use the angle of the sunlight to find their way or that cats have magnetized cells in their brains that act as compasses.

Question: Which of your characters’ senses are most highly developed? Did that come naturally? Was it/them honed on purpose?

Bottom line: Considering your characters’ physical and psychological traits will contribute to a richer, more compelling character.