Tag Archive | words

A labyrinth of meanings…

labyrinthEvery now and again, most writers come across – or have a fascination for – . a word which either has contrary meanings or some peculiar draw, don’t they? My word of the moment (and for a while now), is labyrinth. I’ve used it several times and thought I knew what it meant. Wrong! Well, it wasn’t completely incorrect, as many other writers have used it in the same way…I’ll explain… (Have your cocoa and slippers ready…)

Labyrinth is defined as meaning “A complicated, irregular network of passages or paths, in which it is difficult to find ones way.” Or “A complex structure of the inner ear.” (While, of course, interesting to anyone with ear problems, I’ll respectfully put the second definition to one side.) The Cambridge English dictionary, however, defines the meaning as being a tad different (and an aid to pen chewing scribblers, or unsure key tappers) It’s added boardwalk, esplanade, pavement and bridle path, etc., And, in Greek mythology, a labyrinthine structure was built underground to house and confine a monster with the head of a bull and the body of a man called a Minotaur, belonging to King Minos of Crete. (Although why he couldn’t have purchased a Persian Blue feline or a Cocker Spaniel, from the local pet-shop, goodness only knows…) Some people do like to muddy history, don’t they?!

I digress…The first time I used the word labyrinth. I was writing about Dylan Thomas and Laugharne, where he compòsed Under Milk Wood and a whole raft of poems. Being half Welsh, I was on yet another trip to one of my favourite places in Wales: the third. The sun had shone on all three occasions, which was noteworthy in itself…It was Spring, tra la, and the synonymous daffodils were nodding approval, lighting the edge of the estuary like a stage-set. My imagination was way ahead of me, as I walked up the steep – wait for it – “labyrinthine path, under a dense, and untidy umbrella of green foliage – darkly mysterious while beckoning…” Suddenly inspired, the story/novel was to be called The Herons of Laugharne and I even had them (the herons) “picking their delicate way across the shallow waters like corn-footed ballerinas” I had , roughly, mentally written the first chapter before I reached the top of the labyrinth…Sadly, it’s still lurking somewhere between other, forlorn, quarter/half-finished attempts…Hey ho.

Being satiated by everything Dylan – from the modest shed in which he slouched over lines of poetry for days, his trusty whisky bottle rarely far away, to the Boat House where he lived with his wife Caitlin. I moved on. I did wonder what else he could have written had he not succumbed to the ‘devil drink,’ dying at the early age of 39 after downing around ‘13’ shots of the hard stuff ’ in New York city, but he left us some memorable lines and characters. How, once read, could you forget the words

“Do not go gentle in that good night.

Old age should burn and rave at close of day.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

 

One, WONDERFUL, book which did, most deservedly, see the light of day, written by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, is called THE SHADOW OF THE WIND, and – if you haven’t read it, please do. A man in Spain, who had inherited a book-shop from his father specializing in rare, collector’s editions and secondhand books, took his young son to the: ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’ and bade him choose any one from the thousands secreted there. “Pleased with my choice, I tucked it under my arm and retraced my steps through the LABYRINTH , a smile on my lips.” That word again. Zafon’s writing is an absolute delight, his characterisation memorable. Anyone who writes: “…a waiter of such remarkable decrepitude that he looked as if he should be declared a national landmark.” And “The man’s oratory could kill flies in mid-air.” passes muster with me. As time passes and the young lad grows up, people seem to find ‘the book’ inordinately interesting, and literary curiosity becomes a race to discover the truth behind the life and death of the author: Julian Carax, and to save those he left behind.

As the Observer observed: “The language purrs along. While the plot twists and unravels with a languid grace.” And Stephen King said: “…a novel full of cheesy splendour and creaking trapdoors, a novel where even the subplots have subplots…one gorgeous read!” There’s not much I can add to that.

 

© Joy Lennick 2017

 

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The Phrontistery revisited

Phrontistery – “a thinking place, from ‘phroneein’ to think.”

Now and then, you hear of writers’ “drying up” or “burning out,” but, for one reason or another, the older I get, the more ideas arrive…Take this morning – at the early hour of 5.15, damn… there was a wide awake queue of “subjects” (animated like an excitable group of Star Trek conference devotees) suggesting a variety of, mostly, serious topics. Keen to write something in a lighter vein, with maybe a humorous slant, I patiently listened to my babbling muses, but had to refuse their, more serious, offerings. So, what to write? Sometimes, too many ideas are worse than none! They can overwhelm and leave you confused.

The very name of “Trump” (can one word/person be a cliche?) and connections left me cold; “Literary Advice” sounded like preaching – how many more tips can one suggest without boring the pants off people? Eventually, I decided to visit “The Phrontistery.” Again. For newcomers to my – lately – rare posts, The Phrontistery is a haven for words which I enjoy visiting now and then.

A Facebook friend by the name of Aurora mentioned the word CODDICOMPLE :”To travel purposefully toward an.- as yet – unknown destination,” so was quite apt for the occasion, and led me to visit the above virtual learned ‘establishment.’ (Thanks Aurora!) If you enjoy words, it’s always fun.

Quite a few intrigued…AMORETTO: “A cherub or spirit of love” (thought it came in a bottle?!), ABBOZZO: “A preliminary sketch,” Really! ABRA: “A narrow mountain pass.”” (Not to be confused with ”A Bra”: (A feminine undergarment.). The decidedly odd ACERSECOMIC: “One whose hair has never been cut!” AFTERWIL: “Locking the barn after the cows have been let out…”.(always thought it was a horse) .And, my favourite for now: ALLEMAIN: “An enormous pudding, out of which acrobats leap!” So graphic and sounds such fun! Surely, a perfect prop for the amazing Cirque du Soleil.

As expected from such a comprehensive list of words, many are archaic: more at home in a Dickensian story: Words like BANTLING: “Brat, whelp, bastard child,” BASTINADE: “To beat with stick or baton, ESPECIALLY ON THE FEET?!” Then there’s DEBLUBBERED: “Disfigured from weeping.” BICACIOUS: “Fond of drinking,” (timeless!), and last, for now, BLETHERSKATE: “Garrulous talker of nonsense.” The latter group is perfect for including in a Victorian who-dunnit! Ummm, I have an idea…

 

© Joy Lennick 2017

On characterisation / a poem

Being human, all writers have strengths and weaknesses and enjoy/dislike different aspects of their craft. Plots and sub plots are, of course, vital, as is the balance between action, dialogue, description, etc., but, for me, one of my favourite tasks – or I should say joys – is endowing a character with a personality and physical image through description.

Jean Wilson, a writing colleague, who has now retired to Torquay in the UK, was a favoured member of a small group I take as group leader for the University of the Third Age, in Torrevieja, Spain. Here is her take on a certain man who helped people a short, brilliant, story, she wrote.

‘Harold was a person one endeavoured to avoid if at all possible. He was an intense, blustery man of somewhat large stature, which of itself failed to hide his poorly controlled thinking ability, rather like a failed computer made in a third world country, which hadn’t yet got its act together. He was certainly low in gigabytes, and wanting in RAM. One couldn’t be certain that the keys struck would register as expected and a whole load of input seemed to have no relation to its later output. Harold’s idea of taking a short-cut was to fall down the stairs; and his confidence in himself took no account of the extent of his limitations. Any unfortunate encounter with him left many people feeling immense hopelessness in the integrity of the workings of Nature. Here was a man who told everyone he was a born again Xtian. It didn’t occur to him that he hadn’t been one in the first place, but he liked the reaction it had and tapped one of those pleasure seeking nerves which made him feel good for the day, enjoying the illusion of people’s undivided attention.’

Thanks Jean.

And now, as light relief from the really terrible happenings on this precious, be-devilled planet of ours, is a poem.

Most long-term Facebook, Twitter and Skype users, now and then get odd messages…And when I started receiving several requests from ‘Generals’ to Skype them, it struck me as amusing and didn’t quite ring true. This led to the writing of a poem, which I hope will make you giggle or grin…

TO SKYPE OR NOT TO SKYPE, THAT IS THE QUESTION

The first message was explicit:
(I imagined him cock-sure and slick),
I giggled but quickly recovered,
got rid of him quick with a click.

I’m spoken for and happily married,
and let’s face it “over the hill…”
but it took me back decades of years,
provided an egotistical thrill.

‘Twas as if I’d sent out a photo,
doctored and faintly erotic:
where my boobs were “in place,”
and an unwrinkled face
suggested a jolly good frolic.

Dear reader I’m totally innocent,
except for writing on line;
don’t wear fancy drawers
(prefer metaphors)
although the thought was sublime.

These days my pleasures are simple:
coffee on patio, pastry snack,
hot chocolate at night,
a book and “to write,”
not gymnastics in bed on my back.

What triggered this poem you may wonder,
I’ll tell you the truth – it’s a fact,
in twenty-four hours
I was suddenly showered
by four Generals, a sir and a hack.

Of course most of “the others”
intentions were pure, white as snow,
but it’s safe to be wary
and quite necessary
for how is a woman to know?!

Words, words, words

In Act 2, scene 2 of Hamlet, Polonius asks Hamlet:
‘What do you read, my Lord?’ and he replies,
‘Words, words, words.’ And then Polonius asks,
‘What is the matter, my Lord?’ And Hamlet says,
‘Between who?’

For some reason, (Hamlet was part of the course-work of my ‘A’ Lit exam, which I took at the age of 66…) the above stuck in my head. It emphasized just how language can be manipulated to be ambiguous or otherwise. It is to the point, simple and concise. Studying Shakespeare, more specifically ‘Hamlet,’ opened my half-closed eyes to the full magic and surprises that await those who study language in more depth. Of course, University students would be appalled at my ‘late learning,’ but I use the ‘better late than never’ cliché unashamedly. World War II, ‘business’ and mothering three sons came first!

Although I had already had two factual books published, I had never studied the art of using words and writing as deeply before then. And, whereas at college I had been exposed to Shakespeare, it didn’t ‘grab me’ in the same way as it did years later. I then devoured it as if it was the most seductive bar of dark chocolate ever manufactured! How I blessed the chance to catch up on at least some of my neglected education. Fortunately, my thirst for knowledge has never left me, and now I’m retired, it brings me great joy. If there are any readers who believe that so-called ‘old age’ (I’m a re-cycled, re-cycled teenager…) is a deterrent to learning, I beg them to think again.

There are approximately 1,025,109.8 words in the English dictionary, (as of 2nd January), so us writers are completely spoilt for choice. The teaser, of course, is – which words to choose! And I have read that 14 new words are created each day, so there is no excuse. It’s a fact though, that some words stick in the throat. I mean, what misguided scholar thought to define beautiful as pulchritude? Contrarily, what a deliciously descriptive word is curmudgeon (a bad-tempered or mean person), and don’t you just love the word pauciloquent (an utterer of few words: brief in speech). You won’t find many in Ireland that’s for sure. Another word I have just come across is the delightful bibble. (a Mr.Bean special): to drink often; drink or eat noisily. Definitely belongs in a Dickens tale. What about logorrhea: an excessive flow of words (more polite than choosing a literary diarrhoea). Although to write: Mr. Kimble’s senses were keen, especially his macrosmatic (good sense of smell) is a bit OTT unless you’re an English professor – or even a professor of English…And, for anyone familiar with the character Baldric in Black Adder – I’ve just discovered that baldric is a shoulder strap for holding a sword. How disappointing.

I have an admission to make here. I have been studying ‘The Phrontistery’ a ‘thinking place.’ Ignoramus that I am, I had never heard of it, but it is a fascinating place to be and to look up weird/unusual and prosaic words and their meanings. Take the unusual tittynope. Surely it can’t mean No more breast milk for you, sunshine! It doesn’t. It means a small quantity of something left over. Fun, eh!

‘Dig and ye shall find’ is my quest for 2016, and I didn’t even know until then that I had a new year resolution.…

 
Copyright Joy Lennick 2016 All rights reserved.
 

Etymology – the origin and meaning of words

BC: ‘Before soul-less computers,’ had – metaphorically speaking – usurped Jesus, I spent a fascinating afternoon in the public library, studying the derivative of names. As you do. Well, this one did….

Such surnames as Green, Fleur, and Farmer were easy peasy to interpret and trace, but more modern ones like Jelley, Gotobed, and Brokenbra (genuine, discovered in the local – Romford – telephone directory) were a tad more difficult to search out or comprehend, despite the blatant message their names implied. ‘Jelley’ was a wobbly one, ‘Gotobed’ pretty obvious, as was ‘Brokenbra,’ but mildly weird. However the coincidences of kinship between names and occupations was mind boggling. A Mr Heaven was a preacher, the Misses Rook and Crow worked for a Bird Protection Society and the surname Phibbs featured in a group of lawyers; the latter fact unbelievable. I spent so many hours riveted there, I was late to cook dinner and the family would have revolted (an old joke there about agricultural workers) had it not been for the cooking trilogy of garlic, onions and ginger, noodles and a wok. But, I digress. Nothing unusual.

My interest in words and their meanings grew and led to many lengthy library sessions – no Google then – which brings me neatly, if rather confusingly – to my present, unquenchable, quest for word derivative explanations. Take ‘GEEK’ for example. Oh that’s modern slang…you may well mutter. Wrong! I recently read it was another name for ‘A Court jester in the 13th (15th?) century.’ Or was it? Nowadays, it means ‘A socially inept person, unfashionable, eccentric and maybe devoted to a particular interest’ (like train spotters, being hooked on computer games, playing marbles after dark, or collecting used straws). Way back when, it meant ‘A circus side-show freak:’ a bearded woman or a person with three arms – a genius on the piano and adept picking pockets. Another oddball had the appalling habit of biting off live chickens’ heads. How foul was that! It was suggested by another source that Geeks were ‘intelligent,’ while a final departure of the meaning stated: ‘From an old German word geck – basically a stupid person.’ Confusion reigns.

The word ‘SWASTIKA’ now sits in the limelight, and if ever a word embodied all that is evil – after 1932, when Hitler decreed it represented ‘The struggle for the victory of the Aryan race,‘ – Swastika was it! And so, the very antithesis of its original meaning, it became the symbol of the Nazi party. Much preferred is the other derivative of Swastika. From Svastika in the Sanskrit language, it translates to ‘being fortunate, well being and good luck.’ It originated in the Indo-Aryan region, particularly around India and appears in Buddhism and Hinduism, encompassing eternity. To Hindus it represents the God Ganesha.

My third attempt at ferreting out word histories, falls on ‘BLATANT.’ Its modern meaning states: ‘Lacking in subtlety, very obvious.’ The old one: ‘A thousand-tongued beast from hell.’ (Hardly welcome as a dinner guest.) It was penned in the 1600’s, invented by Edmund Spencer in his fantasy story ‘The Faerie Queen’ (try as I might, while a devotee of ballet, thoughts of which the story evoked, I too often have visions of the Monty Python team hamming it up in tutus). The story was an allegory for 16th century English religion. Characters symbolized a person or ideal in the real world, such as Queen Liz the First. The ‘Blatant’ beast represented slander and wickedness, and became an insult to loud persons. Personally, I’d rather watch Coronation Street and I’m not a fan.