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Ye Old Word Smithy
Tuesday, 30 December 2008
A staple in my life

Ah, bread. That nourishment which so well sustains us, that satisfies the belly, that fills us up, that gives us the energy we run on. It, as a word, can stand for the actual substance of bread made from wheat, water and yeast. Or it can stand for the money we use to procure our continued existence.


We can today, as we say, know what side out bread's buttered on, but we also know that we cannot live on bread alone. And if something really captures our admiration, we can say it's the best thing since sliced bread.


The actual English word bread tracks back to Old English, coming from the German Brot, which is related to the Dutch brood. And it is, as Martha would say, a very good thing.


It is, also, as is possibly already apparent, my latest obsession. I simply revel in bread and am soon to do more so. My book's on its way: my book on bread, my book on the making of it with so little effort it nearly shames me. The book's called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Google it if you'd like.


And so, from my house to yours, happy eating and may you have a blessed New Year.


Posted by Anna Drake at 4:02 PM CST
Updated: Saturday, 3 January 2009 3:02 PM CST
Thursday, 18 September 2008
Our lovely fiscal mess

The word for today is economy. How's that, these days, for a mouthful? I'm sure, if you're like me, you're following the market news, which, to put it graciously, is grim.


So what, indeed, is an economy? Well, in terms of definition, it's the wealth and resources of a region or country, especially in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services. Its origin is from the French economie, tracing back, perhaps, to Latin, which apparently took it from the Greek oikonomia, which stands for household management. Alas, if only the wonks of the world had left it at that simple level, more of us might understand its working and be able to protect ourselves from its miss-use and abuses. 


This morning, I watched from my kitchen window a humming bird help himself to the nectar from my honeysuckle vine. I envied him his ability to pull up, stick his beak in the flower, and fill up his belly free-of-charge. He is completely oblivious to the financial problems facing people today: problems, which are the product of dumb decisions made by men and women of yesterday. And so it goes.


Be safe, be well, be frugal.

Posted by Anna Drake at 1:58 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, 18 September 2008 2:24 PM CDT
Monday, 28 April 2008
Another look at the writing craft

In my last post, I examined fact versus fiction, ending by supporting the belief that fiction writers, justifiably, can be termed liars. But if you give the human brain a little time to mull over things, it can frequently find a way to wiggle out of what it deems uncomfortable. So, our words for today are magic and (just for the fun of it) prestidigitation.


Magic originated in Middle English, drifting over from Old French, magique, which in turn borrowed it from late Latin, magica, (noun) and further from the Greek, magike (There should be a line above the e in that word, but alas, I can't get it there with this writing program). 


Interestingly, in Greek, magike "is the art of magus," with the further notation that "magi" were regarded as magicians. However, I have no thoughts to offer on that. I'm simply as flummoxed by that statement as possibly you are.


However, part of magic's meaning is to influence the course of events to achieve a desired outcome or to make things disappear or reappear for entertainment--all through mysterious or supernatural forces.


Aha, back to writing. As writers, we don't manipulate objects through air, but we do use words to draw pictures in readers' minds and to shape the course of events in our stories to a desired outcome. As to our techniques to do so, they seem fairly mysterious or possibly supernatural to me. Few writers, I believe, can tell you, with certainty, just how they accomplish their feats of, dast I say it, prestidigitation--a word which means, as everyone knows, magic tricks performed for entertainment.


Best wishes,

Anna Drake

Posted by Anna Drake at 12:09 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, 28 April 2008 12:13 PM CDT
Friday, 18 April 2008
Fiction, a tricky word

Since this is a writing site, it is probably time consider that much-worn word, fiction.


The word apparently came into being in late Middle English, borrowed from Old French, where, in turn, it had been lifted from the Latin, fictio (noun), and fingere (verb).


I have heard several writers call themselves liars, a concept I find somewhat unsettling. But the fact remains, fiction writers make stories up, To do so, they use invented people (characters) and invented events (plots & sticky situations). Thus, writers present "fiction" as opposed to "fact."


So to separate writers from liars, some say, it matters whether one "makes up" stories to deceive or to entertain. If it's the latter, you're working in fictional prose; if it's the former, well, shame on you.


However, to be able entertain readers, writers must get readers to "suspend disbelief." So writers must make their work seem as real as possible, pushing most of us, in the end, to employ techniques or tricks which qualify as outright deceptions. Ugh.


After all, we must remember that fiction's antonym is fact.


Best wishes

Anna Drake

Posted by Anna Drake at 8:13 AM CDT
Thursday, 17 April 2008
The complexities of a simple word

With a Chicago newspaper yesterday boasting of a temperature which had risen to 70 degrees for the first time within six months, our word for today, folks, is green.


It sounds such a simple word, yet when studied further, it's really quite complex. It's origin is, again, Old English, grene (noun) and grenian (verb). The English word is said to be of Germanic origin, related to the German grun and the Dutch, groen.


It's the color of summer. My grass is green, my trees green-leafed. In fact, I live in an area with wide lawns and numerous trees. So much so that one of my guests once opened my front door, looked out, and exclaimed, "Good grief. It's so green here!" (She is a dedicated city dweller).


But green applies to much more than simply color. One can be green in the ways of the world, meaning naive and gullible. Its signal at an intsection, indicates it's time to floor the gas or tells us in other areas of life that it's time to proceed with whatever plans we've laid. It's often even used to denote safe, beginner runs on ski slopes.


At times it's been used to indicate money, as in folding green, although that use is said to be dated now. Even Physics comes into play, with it identifying one of the three colors of quark. 


I could go on and on with the various ways the word is used. In fact, we're still at it, shaving its meaning and applying it to our present world with today's very popular concept of Green living, be it in housing, food production, or energy alternatives. 


So there it is. Green. A very good and useful word!


Best wishes,

Anna Drake

Posted by Anna Drake at 8:30 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, 17 April 2008 9:30 AM CDT
Wednesday, 16 April 2008
A shift in our weather

We had a nearly nice day yesterday in my part of the world. The weather inched its way into temperatures that almost had me whispering the word, spring. What a fine word, a term full of images of blooming jonquils, greening shrubs, and cavorting squirrels. All joyous signs of winter's weakening grasp on our world--at last! (It's been a long, hard winter here).


As I use the word spring above, as a noun, its origin is Old English. Yet, you can spring onto the top of something or have a surprise sprung on you. When used as a verb, the word's source is given as springen, brought into our English from German and Dutch origins. What a complexly layered language ours is.


I celebrated the pleasant weather with a cup of tea on my patio and reveled in watching a nimble squirrel jump from tree to bush and back again in my yard. 


And so I urge you, too, to enjoy good weather while you may, because as Shakespeare said:


Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer's lease hath all too short a date.


Best wishes,

Anna Drake

Posted by Anna Drake at 7:40 AM CDT
Tuesday, 15 April 2008
My tribute to the inevitable

Since today's date is April 15th, our word for the day is almost preordained. So, no surprise here, the word is tax, or, as comes more comfortably to my mind, taxes. (They do seem to mount up don't they?)


Tax, they say, is a compulsory payment from our income, be it personal, business or investment, to government. Its origin is Middle English from Old French, taxer, from Latin, taxare, and possibly from Greek, tassein.


I would have been disappointed had the word not traced back to early historical times. It's always seemed to me that from the time one group of folks (government/governors) got the better of another group of folks (we the people) tribute has been part of the blasted formula.


Oh, well, and so it goes. Happy April 15th, anyway.


Best wishes,

Anna Drake

Posted by Anna Drake at 8:41 AM CDT
Monday, 14 April 2008
Then and now

Today's word, ladies and gentlemen, is spoony. And yes, I've been back in my beloved Victorian novels again. The word is used by Rochester to describe himself in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre


It means to be sentimentally or foolishly amorous. Since it's an adjective, you may even have such concepts as spoonier and spooniest! There are also its derivatives, spoonily and spooniness. But, alas, I could find no origins for the word. Spoony is also dated, meaning those of use writing contemporary fiction had better not let it slip into our prose. The term is listed as informal and was probably Victorian slang. 


But its time has come and gone. That happens to so many words, and sometimes it saddens me, because sometimes those words and their usage are so memorable. Take, in Rex Stout's Nero Wolf books, Inspector Cramer's repeated exclamations of, "Nuts!" Then, there is the phrase, "We're in a pickle," used by both Nero and Archie at least once in separate books. 


I'm old enough to remember when the banned words, the course words, the common four-letter words were released from the the closet and let loose upon the world. You know the ones. You hear them every day now in conversations everywhere as we let it, "all hang out."


Sometimes, though, considering road rage and today's low level of common courtesy, I think we might be better off, tucking our shirttails back into our trousers and offering, instead, the heartfelt exclamation, "Nuts!"

Posted by Anna Drake at 9:50 AM CDT
Saturday, 12 April 2008
Just muddling along, folks

I have two words for your consideration, today. The first is fog, a mixture of air and water. The second is mud, a mixture of earth and water. Both words track back to Middle English in origins. Mud, they say, probably traces back to the Low German, mudde. Fog's origins are less clear (no pun intended), possibly arising from a second meaning for fog, which is long grass on wet land.


Both, beyond their physical sense, can indicate problems. We can be lost in a fog and mired in mud. We can have mud flung on us by passing wheels or tireless foes. The possible uses for these two words are worth contemplating.  


But just look at what happens when these two simple words are taken up by a master. The following quote is from Bleak House by Charles Dickens: 



Fog everywhere.  Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls deified among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city.  Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights.  Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats.  Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck.  Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.

Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman and ploughboy.  Most of the shops lighted two hours before their time—as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling look.

The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation, Temple Bar.  And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln's Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.

Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds this day in the sight of heaven and earth.

See what can be done with just two words?


Best wishes,

Anna Drake


Posted by Anna Drake at 9:26 AM CDT
Friday, 11 April 2008
Please don't confuse me with my Blog's title

I thought since my craft is fiction writing that a few discussions of words might be interesting, now and again. But, please, don't confuse me with my Blog's title. I care deeply about words, but I do not consider myself a wordsmith. And for those protesting the appellation smithy, well, I use it with whatever poetic license you'll grant me.


Actually, the word, smithy, refers to a blacksmith or his shop. Its origin is Middle English, from Old Norse, and it was originally spelled smithja. (See, can't words be fun?) And at this moment, involved as I am in a close, line-by-line edit, hammering out or at words is a bit on my mind. Therefore, the word smithy seems apt, as it has for the past multiple months since I started my current writing journey.


As to the rest of my Blog's title, I have to confess I like old things. Some of my favorite books date back to the 1800s. Recent titles I've read include: Bleak House, Jane Eyre, and Pride and Prejudice. I like their style. But, actually, I'll have more on style later.


So, if you, too, like words, leave me a post. I'd be happy to hear from you. 


Best wishes,

Anna Drake 



Posted by Anna Drake at 11:51 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, 11 April 2008 2:32 PM CDT

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