Tuesday, November 30, 2010

English, in Plain English -- or at Least in Oxford English

Lexicographers professional and amateur as well as lexicophiles might find this of interest. The folks at the Oxford English Dictionary have opened up their online dictionary to the public. I doubt that this will be the permanent state of things; the OED is surely trying to attract more subscribers with such a tease.

At any rate, here is the entry for the word English, which I wager is a bit longer than you expect. Check it out while you still can.

Logophilius Gets Videolicious

Here's a fun way to waste time: Come up with a kooky monologue or dialogue and then go to XtraNormal.com and turn it into a kookier animated movie. Here's one I threw together that I call "Grammatical Surgery":

(You laughed, right? I didn't think so.)

This was interesting to create because the characters didn't always pronounce the words the way I wanted them to be pronounced, so I had to tweak the "script" a bit to make it more phonetic. For example, the last word of the script was originally "semicolon," which the animation program wanted to rhyme with the Ashton Kutcher reference Demi-ballin'. I changed it to "semi coal in," and the results still aren't optimal.

The program has no frame of reference for syllable accents, either. But it's still loads of fun.

Next, I'm going to see what music I can make with the program...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Today's Word: casus belli

casus belli: Literally translated from the Latin as "an occurrence (or case) of war," casus belli is an event that starts a war or that is used as an excuse to start a war. Some famous examples: the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, WMDs in Iraq, and Simon Cowell's gruffness.

Casus belli appears to be both singular and plural, but only as it applies to a single war with multiple causes.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

On Thanksgiving Day

I don't always know what's going to come out when I start writing. I sat down thinking that I would write a sonnet about Thanksgiving. After several starts and stops, the following poem flowed out.

The odd thing about it is that I had a pretty good Thanksgiving this year. I spent time with family, played games, watched movies, got some work done, and rested.

Thanksgiving, though, is just the start of "the holiday season," which brings with it its own morass of complications, expectations, and disappointments. Surviving the frying pan of Thanksgiving just puts you into the fire of Christmastime. I hope that, sometime in the near future, I'll be able to look forward to this time of year with hope and excitement and happiness and love, and poems like this won't bubble to the surface.

But not this year.

 On Thanksgiving Day

He used to have a family, and on
Thanksgiving Day they would have such a feast.
But now his family is grown and gone:
His daughters married off and moved out east;
His brother, lost to diabetic ills;
His wife long gone — a cancer took her 'way.
He looks up from a pile of doctor bills;
The sun is setting on Thanksgiving Day.

She sits and watches TV by the hour,
Pretending that the actors know her name.
She used to be the lovely, blooming flower
Who all the young boys tried to woo and tame,
But past is passed, and now she is alone.
And though she says she likes it just this way,
A single tear reflects on her cheekbone
The sun that sets on this Thanksgiving Day.

He did so well in school that he just knew
Success was in his future — it was fate.
But as the economic turmoil grew
He worried that he graduated late.
The jobs, they said, would come with the degree,
But now collectors come, and he can't pay.
Defeated, he's decided he won't see
The sun that sets on this Thanksgiving Day.

If you got to spend Thanksgiving with just one person you love, be thankful.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Today's word: hadal

hadal: Referring to the part of the ocean below 6000 meters, or approximately 3.73 miles.

Hadal (rhymes with cradle) is an adjectival form of the word Hades, which makes a certain amount of sense, though I never would have thought of using the word in such an oceanographic way.

That 6000-meter line marks the beginning of the hadalpelagic zone, the deepest parts of the ocean. Pelagic means about or occurring in the open sea, so hadalpelagic isn't much more descriptive than just hadal.

For reference and for fun, here are the "layers" of Earth's oceans:
Epipelagic: 0–200 meters
Mesopelagic: 200–1000 meters
Bathypelagic: 1000–2000 meters
Abyssapelagic: 2000–6000 meters
Hadalpelagic: deeper than 6000 meters

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Three Word Wednesay: Marie Goes to the Carnival

It's three-word Wednesday. This week's words: clutch, delight, happy.

Marie's Carnival Prize

She clutch'd her prize like it was trying to flee,
Delight upon her young and rosy cheeks.
She never thought the carnival would be
So wonderful. The giants, dwarves, and freaks
Were so inviting when they let her in
To find some warmth inside their canvas tent.
They smiled their crookéd smiles, let her win
Their silly games, and wouldn't take a cent.
"You are our guest, Marie!" the giant said.
"We do not want your money, just your heart."
So happy then she felt, so cherishéd.
At sunrise, though, she knew she must depart —
Took her prize and left to find her fam'ly and the rest,
Trying not to rub the itchy scar upon her chest.

I've been reading about Ray Bradbury's short stories. Does it show?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Craigslist Missed Connections, a Sonnet

It's three-word Wednesday time. This week's words: gesture, immediate, treasure

Craigslist Missed Connections, a Sonnet

Your beauty — like the subtle minute hand
That, stared upon, ne'er seems to move a dime
Yet still ticks down the natural demands
Of change, the passage of eternal time —
Defies corruption's hand. I scrutinized
Your face for some defect that showed your age:
Your eyes that sparkled; lips that mesmerized;
A perfect jawline from da Vinci's page;
Your hair, in satin gestures, found its way
Past cheekbones high, as only satin can.
You simply must have been born yesterday
As God's immediate reward to man.

I treasure that I've seen you. All the same,
I'm sorry that I never asked your name.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Joy (and Pain) of Writing

I've wanted to be a writer ever since I picked up my first Kurt Vonnegut novel sometime in the late eighties. (It was probably Cat's Cradle.) Since then, I've put together a few things, been published in a couple magazines, populated this blog, and published some original essays professionally online. But I've never really put in the writing time necessary to really call myself a "writer."

I enjoy writing, and I have enjoyed writing: the sense of accomplishment, the pride of creating something that didn't before exist. But it has always been a small, passing joy, like winning a soccer game or getting a bingo in Scrabble. And I think it's because that joy of writing was so fleeting that it hasn't really instilled in me that drive to really be a writer.

This year (thanks to Twitter), I discovered NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. I've really started putting in the time writing down one of the stories that has been floating around in my mind for probably a decade. And tonight, something unexpected and wonderful happened.

I felt like a writer.

In the past, my writings have dwelled mainly in the realm of essays and poems. This stab at NaNoWriMo is my first real attempt at character development. Tonight, one character (Maria) asked another character (Billy) a simple question: "Who is your favorite artist?" While crafting Billy's answer, I felt what I can only imagine is the emotion that other writers feel that compels them to write, to keep at it, pushing out chapter after chapter and story after story, even if they never get published.

Billy hadn't really considered who his favorite artist was until Maria had asked. He realized that he had always enjoyed leafing through the sketchbooks of Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Durer. Maria brought up the Mona Lisa, and Billy said that he never really got much out of the Mona Lisa. That he much more preferred to examine the artists' sketches that led up to the finished work.

(In first-draft form:)

"What I really like about the sketches is that they're both art and works-in-progress. Like, when you look at the Mona Lisa, you know that it's done. It'll never be anything but the Mona Lisa. But those sketches -- the pen and pencil drawings -- show the artist working partway through both the artistic and technical aspects of a composition, but they aren't finished yet. They're on the page, but they aren't fully formed. What starts as a sketch of a woman could be a gypsy dancing, or a queen, or a witch. They could be --"
   "They could be anything," Maria finished.
   "Right! Exactly! They could be --" he stopped then. His eyes lit up and he smiled, saying -- more to himself than to Maria -- "They could be anything."

And that was when I felt it. It was like fatherhood: I was guiding this boy whom I had created through a simple path of self-discovery. I was proud. Not only had I watched this surrogate "son" grow as a person, I had made it happen. And beyond that, I had created the perfect symbol for what this character would be like: more interested in the process and challenge of creation than the finished product.

And it was also sad, because I had also foreshadowed Billy's fate. I had identified him with -- and as -- a sketch instead of a finished piece. I had made him, and would make him, an unfinished painting.

It was like fatherhood. It was like love.

And now I have to get back to it. because I'm terribly behind on my NaNoWriMo word count.

Monday, November 1, 2010

NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month

November is national novel-writing month, and I am starting to get caught up in NaNoWriMo.org. Part contest, part cheering section, NaNoWriMo challenges you to write an entire 50,000-word novel by the end of November. Sign up on the site and get pep talks, link up with other writers, and post your own novel-writing progress. To those who finish, fame and prizes -- and most importantly, a completed novel -- await.

NaNoWriMo began in San Francisco in 1999 with only 21 writers. It has grown every year since. Last year, NaNoWrimo had 119,301 adult participants from around the world, 21,683 of whom made it to the finish line. And this year will likely break those records.

So if you don't see quite as many posts from me this month, it's because I'm busy writing the marathon novel. If you've always wanted to write a novel but never had, I suggest you click on over to NaNoWriMo and sign up now. It might be just the kick in the pants you need to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

And if you want to see how I'm doing over there, my username is 4ndyman, and you can find me here: http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/user/720868. Day one is done: 1,268 words down, 48,732 to go!