4 Blog Updates, 1 Household Hint and A Song

(Originally I planned to include three updates to previous blogs. But then something really surprising happened, so it’s four blogs to update.)

Blog Update #1. Last week I blogged about the book on writing, Spunk & Bite by Arthur Plotinik and Mr. Plotnik himself commented on it! In that post, I had noted twelve words, the meanings of which I wasn’t sure, from The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. This week I am re-reading Freedom, Mr. Franzen’s most recent novel. Naturally, I’m finding more words that are I’m not familiar with, and since I am reading on my Kindle, I note it (handy Kindle feature) so I can look up those words later, and re-examine the sentences in which they appear.

As Mr. Plotnik says: “What if a word is likely to be outside the reader’s active or half-known vocabulary? Then even undefined it should lend some special aura, some majesty or exoticism, to the context.” So even if the reader couldn’t give the exact meaning of a word, the sentence in which it appears is crafted such that he still gets it.

This was a really big deal to me, that Mr. Plotnik commented on my post.

Blog update #2. I reviewed the excerpts from the finalists in the ABNA 2012 Contest in both the General and Young Adult Fiction categories. I did not predict correctly in the General category but in the Young Adult, I did.

A Beautiful Land by Alan Averill wins for General Fiction. It started out with a good hook but ended with a bad simile, the one about the Poe boarder.

But my pick for best Young Adult did win, On Little Wings by Regina Sirois. And the really exciting thing (to me) was that this author actually found the review and commented on my post. Think my post had anything to do with her winning? I doubt it, but I’m glad for her. It’s a good story.

Last year, I was 0-for-2. This year at least I got one right. Congratulations to both winners. What an accomplishment!

Blog update #3. Last October, I published The 24 Most Annoying Phrases for 2011 but I need to bump that up to 25. This phrase has been in use for a while, so it still applies to the year 2011.

Reach out!

This is how you make initial contact with someone in business-speak. You can reach out to someone in many ways: phone call, e-mail, instant message, or just bumping into the person who needs to be reached out to in the salad bar line at the cafeteria. Probably want to skip the rest room for any serious reaching out, but anywhere else is fine.

This phrase is so annoying that I made a solemn vow never to let these two words fall from my lips, consecutively, in the same sentence. Other assemblies of the two words in the same sentence are not considered offensive as long as there is at least one word between “reach” and “out”.

Alas. I was once upon a time on some sort of conference call and after much reaching out was being attempted by others, and before I had the proper amount of time to correctly formulate my thoughts, I heard the phrase “reach out” come out of my mouth. I had said it. Gagh! I have yet to forgive myself for it. I will go to my grave knowing that I once said “reach out” and meant it. (It’s perfectly okay to say it if you are being sarcastic or joking around, but if you say it and mean it, this is a vile happening indeed.)

One commenter on the post mentioned this phrase should probably be included in the list and I realized he was absolutely right, that this is one of the worst offenders and yet I had mistakenly omitted it. My apologies, Reach Out, for not including you, and kudos to you for being one of the most ridiculous, silly, meaningless buzzphrases of all!

Blog update #4. I once wrote a blog about marketing strategies that I didn’t think worked and one of them was the Jos A Banks “Buy 1 get 4 Free!” advertising methodology. They recently sent four coupons to my husband “in honor of his birthday”. How they got that information, I don’t know.  

Yippee! Each coupon was for $25 off on a $125 purchase. Okay, that’s nice. And there are four coupons remember. Or instead, says Jos, take $100 off a $500 purchase! But wait, that’s, uh, yeah, that’s 4 times $25 and 4 times $125… Got it! Obviously they think people can’t multiply. Come on, Jos, your customer base is buying cashmere coats and merino wool suits and silk ties. Which is a real good indicator that they aren’t Joe The Plumber and probably are educated and affluent and they can multiply a couple of numbers by 4. Geesh. It isn’t even insulting, it’s just stupid on their part.   

Household Hint. The e-cloth! Found in Real Simple magazine, this is a great way to clean up. These cloths contain millions of tiny fibers which supposedly grab on to all kinds of household gunk and remove it. You can clean anything with just water. Tile, showers, porcelain, glass and there’s even an eCloth for polishing your wine glasses. There are packs for the kitchen, for the bath, for the car, or “all purpose” eCloths. Dust cloths are used dry, all the others use plain water. No more chemicals. It’s fast and it works.

I have been trying to find a way to clean black granite for years – Voila! The eCloth was the solution. Highly recommended.

A great song. Coast by Eliza Gilkyson. It plays regularly on my Emmy Lou Harris Pandora station. Listen to how beautiful it is, how melancholy. Very moving.

12 Words I Had to Look Up While Reading The Corrections

This is not a book review, but I recently read (yet another) “How To Write Real Good” book by Arthur Plotnik. This one is called Spunk & Bite, a play on the title of another How To book called Elements of Style by Strunk and White, published in 1918’s, which makes it, well, to be kind, geriatric.

Elements of Style was a rather rigid set of rules about what not to do.  Do not affect a breezy manner. Do not inject opinion. Do not use foreign phrases. Do not prefer the offbeat rather than the standard. Do not, do not, do not.

One Do Not is to use words which will be unfamiliar to the vast majority of readers, those “big words” with more than two or three syllables and with which we may not have knowledge of their meanings. There is a lot of truth in this, that an author might not want to offput his audience by using a lot of verbiage which only demonstrates how well that author has mastered the English language. In other words, he’s a show off.

Jonathan Franzen contends that counter to the idea that “difficulty tends to signal excellence”, the writer must connect with readers in exchange for their commitment of time and attention to his work.

Yet Franzen himself does this very thing. Take his novel The Corrections, which I just finished reading for the second time. I found these examples (and more) of words that I either was not sure of or had no idea as to their meaning. (Italics indicates examples in The Corrections.)

 

Noblesse oblige – as if noblesse oblige. (I had a vague idea of what this meant, but wanted to bolster my confidence a little in order to use it without incurring smirks of condescension from others.)

A French phrase meaning “nobility obliges”. To imply that with wealth, power and prestige come responsibility. Sometimes used derisively, in condescension or hypocritical social responsibility. The term is sometimes applied, in American English especially, to suggest an obligation for the more fortunate to help the less fortunate.

“Certain persons in politics need not fear being cast into a perception of noblesse oblige.”

 

Misanthropy – misanthropy and sourness. (I am a little reluctant to admit I had to look up the work “misanthropy” which I felt I should already know, but wanted a better explanation.)

A hatred, dislike or distrust of humankind.

“Dude, whenever I go to a Wal-mart, I get this totally weird feeling of, like, misanthropy.”

 

Intransigently – folded her arms intransigently.

In a manner that is stern and indicates refusal to agree or compromise, inflexible.

“Certain members of the House of Representatives are motivated to behave intransigently.”

 

Invidious – he could already hear her invidious descants on the topic of

Intension to create ill will or give offense; hateful. Offensively or unfairly discriminating or injurious. Tending to cause animosity, resentment or envy.

“Chill, woman.  Everyone has to go through the body scan so no need to be overly invidious here.”

 

Pullulating  – he considered waiting for a less populated [elevator] car, a ride less pullulating with mediocrity and body smells.

To breed, produce, increase rapidly, swarm or teem.

“Facebook is no longer a social network considered desirable by the Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers since it is pullulating with old people.”

 

Reverb – absolutely no reverb on a full elevator.

Rebound. If there is no reverb, there is nowhere to go, no escape, trapped, doomed, claustrophobized.

“Wow, I thought I was toast. Came down with a really bad case of The Plague, but I did a complete reverb.”

 

Riparian – with their damp hair they looked riparian.

Situated or dwelling on the bank of a river or other body of water.

“That shit we used to put on our hair in the sixties? That looked riparian and now they’re doing it again.”

 

Deliquescence – slushy ferric salts succumbing to their own deliquescence. (This refers to a man’s hobby, an ill-maintained basement laboratory.)

To become liquid by absorbing moisture from the air, to melt away.

I tried but I cannot think of a sentence which takes advantage of this word.

 

Diurnality – diurnality yielded to a raw continuum of hours.

Behavior, plant or animal, characterized by activity during the day and sleeping at night.

“Man, my diurnality is seriously messed up since I’ve become a narcoleptic.”

 

Hectoring – her e-mails had been hectoring.

To act in a blustering, domineering or bullying manner.

“So, I’m like, whatever, and she sighs about a million times and I’m like, you are so totally hectoring me here!”

 

Plangent – her voice was plangent.

A loud, deep sound, resonant, mournful.

“Dude, what’s with the plangent tone? You sound like such a loser.”

 

Semaphoring – inmates semaphoring, waving their arms like traffic cops.

A system of signaling, usually with special flags held in each hand and various positions of the arms indicate specific letters or numbers.

“The Kardashian Mom is on Oprah and your semaphoring is blocking my view.”

 

I recommend Spunk & Bite. It is fun to read, the writing fresh and the ideas very usable. It is one of the best I’ve read. You can find it here.