Let’s play a game

Tonight we’re going to play a game!  (I’m tired; it’s the best I’ve got.)

Without looking at a dictionary, let’s come up with as many words as we can that start with F with at least 3 syllables.  I’ll get us started.


Okay, I did fifteen.  Now it’s your turn!  Add some more in the comments, and remember, it’s a vocabulary challenge.  No dictionaries!


Tonight I made ratatouille.  It didn’t turn out that fabulous, but it did get me thinking about words from other languages.

Every language has words that come directly (or nearly so) from other languages.  My high school language teacher (who was also something of a linguist) referred to them as “borrowed words” which I think is pretty apt.  I’m not talking about the gradual offspring words that grow naturally from a language’s ancestor, words in English that bear a similarity to those of other French or Italian because they evolved from the same original Latin root.  I’m talking about words that we got directly from another language, because we didn’t have a word for that and we needed one.  It’s the “Hey, they already have a name for this, let’s just use it” mentality, and you find it in every language.

The immediate examples I can think of are food and technology.  We’ll get to technology in a minute; let’s start with food!  Food is very regional (has anybody outside of South Dakota ever heard of chislic?) and when it gets moved to different areas, it often keeps its original name.  You can order paella or ratatouille, cook some farfalle to eat with your chardonnay, and none of these words will ping your spellcheck even though they are Spanish, French, Italian, and French again, respectively.  This doesn’t just happen in English.  You can go to Japan and order a hanbaagaa and biiru if you’re craving some American food.  (Say the a “ah” and the ii “eee” and you should get it.)  I especially like the example of hanbaagaa, because it’s a Japanese version of an English word borrowed from a German place!  (It’s a double borrow!)

Now let’s talk technology.  This is an area where things go global quickly, so the name sometimes just gets moved around the world with the item itself.  For example, in Japanese, Korean, and Polish, the word for computer sounds remarkably like the English word “computer.”  Of course, the nicknames that develop are different regionally – think “mobile” (British) versus “cell” (American) to reference the same kind of phone.  There are also places (like France) where the people in charge of the language will actually make sure to find a suitable word within the language, even for new technology.  (According to my best friend, there are not a lot of borrowed words in French.  They are very protective of their language.)

At this point I need to step up on my mini-soapbox for a brief minute.  As a former student of Japanese, it makes me crazy when borrowed words end up mispronounced.  Karaoke becomes “carry-oh-key” and I make ugly faces.  I mean, really, in what other English word is the letter A pronounced “ee”?  Kah-rah-oh-kay, people.  And sake ends in “ay,” not “ee”!

Let’s get back on track and look at what this means for writing.  Fantasy authors make up words (and sometimes whole languages) all the time, for fictional races and species.  Given how the real world works, with different cultures using the same word for something, wouldn’t it make sense that two races (humans and elves, perhaps) would experience a similar effect?  This would especially be the case if they were connected very suddenly, with sharing of food and technology and many other things all at once.  (That’s why Japanese has so many borrowed words – when they rejoined the world from years of isolation, they got a sudden influx of lots of foreign stuff.)

Just something to think about the next time you order sushi and work on your novel!

Might as well run with it…

There is a good possibility that I’ll be speaking soon to a group I’m part of here in town.  The subject of the talk is something that I know quite a bit about, but it will be a new presentation for me.  (It’s not something I’ve pulled into a structured talk before.)  Since I haven’t officially been put on the schedule, I wasn’t planning to work on the presentation yet.

Today my brain got caught on the concept.  I’d made some basic notes before, but now my mind was adding details.  I decided not to fight it; there’s nothing else that is especially pressing (unless you count finishing a library book with a looming due date), so I ran with it.

I ended up working on it, alternating between the PowerPoint and the outline, for about two hours.  (!)  I’ve got the basic outline done, and added details to the first third of the presentation.

Sometimes it’s worth it to just go with the flow!

Things that eat my sleep

Five “work” nights in a row, and the first four ended in less sleep than I need.  Night five (tonight) is moving that way as well, so I am going to take a cheat and just use these silly sleep-eaters as my post.  (That way I can get to bed sooner, and hopefully lose less sleep.)

Here are the things that have nibbled at the edges of my rest this week:

– I received a call from a friend who is very much missed, and who deserved the nearly hour-long call that started just before bedtime

– Dance class and a project that needed to be done pushed back my evening routine, leading to a late bedtime.  Then I started reading (just for a few minutes) and suddenly I was an hour behind on my sleep!  (Books are dangerous like that.)

– I belatedly remembered that I had to make food for a potluck at work, which I combined with a late-night call to my sister.  The food and call started at bedtime and finished at “sleep time” and somehow I still needed to shower and blog!

– I finally got to bed early, put my book away ahead of schedule, and it looked like a promising night of catching up on sleep.  Then something unknown (a sound outside?  the dog licking my fingers?) woke me up at 3am, and the dog and my brain worked together to keep me awake for 45 minutes.  I think interrupted sleep is worse than shortened sleep.

And tonight?  I’m blogging at 10:45pm, 45 minutes past when I am usually in bed and reading.  Never trust a friend when he says “just a quick bite, it’ll only be an hour” – not going to happen!

There is a tiny writing lesson here.  If you need to prime a character to be in a bad mood because they haven’t got a lot of sleep, there are endless ways in which you can keep them from resting!


I have been watching too much television lately, apparently, because I have commercials on the brain.  Due to that, I am going to share a few with you.  After the day I’ve had, it’s about all I’ve got. 🙂

I just saw a Guinness commercial that utilizes the build up of a concept and the element of surprise to tug at the heartstrings a bit.

This Dominos commercial makes me a little bit crazy, because of the end.  The vocal says “we didn’t stop at pizza” but the writing on the counter says “Oh yes we did!”

When we were in Custer State Park, my dad and I kept flashing to the State Farm bison commercial.  This was mostly because we were afraid it would happen to us!  (My mom took the following picture at the park, from our car.  We had good reason to worry!)

My mom snapped this photo from our car in Custer State Park!  See why I was worried about it smashing into us?

My mom snapped this photo from our car in Custer State Park! See why I was worried about it smashing into us?

Any commercials that have jumped out at you lately?

A Language Barrier

Yesterday I mentioned what is probably the most impressive part of the show War Horse: the amazingly life-like horse puppets.  While I am still undecided on my overall opinion of the show, there was another aspect of it that I thought was handled beautifully and which I think is worth a post here.  That aspect is how they handled the question of language.

There are three different languages spoken by the characters of the show: English, German, and French.  While I can’t speak for the rest of the audience, this particular show-goer speaks only one of those.  In order to include the audience, all of the actors spoke English, albeit with the accents of their supposed country.  Most of the time this doesn’t matter; during the entire first act, we only see the British side of the story, and even when we switch to the other side of the fighting, they are usually only interacting with others who speak their language.

The brilliant part of the language question is how the actors portray the barrier when they interact across languages.  The beginning of the second act starts with a German officer shouting a tirade (in accented English) at a captured British officer.  The response from the British officer?  “I don’t speak German!”  The scene continues in such a way that it is clear the two captured British soldiers and several German soldiers can’t understand each other.

There isn’t an actual language barrier, but the script is written to convey one, and the acting is done accordingly.  The first time, it took me by surprise, but it worked well.  Much like with the horses and their puppeteers, I quickly forgot they were acting and believed they truly couldn’t understand each other.


I  thought about spelling a couple of times on my recent trip. 

On our way out west we stopped at an overlook of the Missouri River that had a very cool Lewis and Clark display.  My dad pointed out a spelling error on a sign, which I then realized was part of a quote from Lewis’s journal.  If you’ve ever read any of the writings of Meriwether Lewis, you know that there are lots of words spelled oddly.  At the time of the Corps of Discovery voyage, spelling wasn’t standardized.  You can’t really criticize someone for misspelling a word that didn’t have a correct spelling, even if it does now.  And to be accurate, a quote has to include the original spelling.

Later in the trip I found out that Theodore Roosevelt was a poor speller.  Now, I like TR.  He is my favorite president, and the trip made me more interested (perhaps obsessed?) in learning more about him.  He did a lot of good things for our country, but I’m not sure how I feel regarding his effort to simplify the spelling of words using an executive order.  Most people at the time weren’t fans of it either, and it didn’t last very long.  The way we put letters together into words has become even more entrenched since then.

Spelling can be a challenge, especially when our language has so many weird exceptions and odd ways of lettering.  Have you ever been asked how to pronounce GHOTI?  My foreign language teacher in high school wrote it on the board as an example of the oddities of English.  His pronunciation was “fish” – GH as in laugh, O as in women, and TI as in education.  Obviously it’s a linguists trick and not a real word, but it does illustrate how inconsistently we use letters.

Isn’t English fun?

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