Contemporary essays, fiction, and opinion offered regularly by author Anne Brandt.






Question for the week
What part of speech is objections?


This page offers Anne's observations on what's happening in the world of words. Her only 'rule' is that she will explain why she thinks it's notable and accepts if the reader disagrees.

The Miracle of Language

You don't see the word 'gallimaufry' used very often, which is probably why it caught my eye. I was leafing through The Miracle of Language by Richard Lederer and there it was, waiting patiently in the book's final chapter titled "A Gallimaufry for Word Lovers."

And that is exactly what the entire book, as well as the last chapter, is. For anyone who loves good writing and/or clever writing, The Miracle of Language is a must own, not just a must read.

Another chapter is called "Words We Need." To my knowledge, none of Lederer's suggestions, which were published in 1991, have reached dictionary status yet; but I certainly hope some do. For instance, 'choconivorous' is Lederer's description of "the tendency when eating a chocolate Easter bunny, to bite off the head first." And 'hozone'? Well, that's "the place where one sock in every laundry load disappears to."

As for gallimaufry, it's already reached dictionary fame; and, if you don't know what it means, look it up.


The Nonsexist Word Finder

The book fairly pleaded, "Pick me, pick me. I'm worthy of note." And I had to agree. Although The Nonsexist Word Finder: A Dictionary of Gender-Free Usage is a long title for such a slim volume, this book by Rosalie Maggio goes a long way in encouraging everyday people - as well as writers and speakers - to avoid sexist words and phrases in their speaking and writing.

I grew up when teachers explained that such words as 'mankind' certainly included women and 'chairman' and 'workman' were used, regardless of the gender of the person holding that position. Author Maggio provides approximately forty more acceptable alternatives for 'mankind,' including humanity, human beings, human society, individuals, mortals, general public and - for the theologically oriented - souls.

The Nonsexist Word Finder is filled with interesting information, not the least of which is a note about the word 'history,' long argued by feminists as having a masculine bias. Maggio claims the word itself is nonsexist, since it comes from Greek roots meaning inquiring, knowing, or learning. It's something to ponder.


An Exaltation of Larks

James Lipton is currently recognized as the host on the television program "Inside the Actors Studio." But before he began interviewing the Tom Cruises and Barbra Streisands of the film world, Lipton wrote a wonderful book called An Exaltation of Larks. It provides the history of words that describe groups of things.

For instance, a group of lions hanging out together in the African veldt is called a pride. But a group of elephants on the same turf is called a herd. You get the idea.

Lipton includes those collective nouns (which is what I was taught to call them) or terms of venery (which is his preferred term) that have made their way into our everyday language. But that is just the jumping off point. He then invents hundreds of other terms that are often more appropriate than those in our dictionaries.

Consider the upcoming election. Would either candidate score points if he referred to various constituents as "an upyours of New Yorkers, a spread of Texans, or a speck of Rhode Islanders"?



Where the Sidewalk Ends

I was gazing at the books on my bookshelves, as I'm prone to do while waiting for inspiration to arrive, and my eyes came across Where the Sidewalk Ends, a collection of poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein.

Inside was the inscription "Valentine's Day, 1982 - To Anne, for you. Love, Mother." A couple pages further in was Silverstein's dedication "For Ursula." And a couple more pages after that came the first poem, "Invitation."

It goes like this:

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer . . .
If you.re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!
Silverstein found inspiration everywhere, as evidenced not only by the treasures in Where the Sidewalk Ends but also by the many other books he wrote and illustrated. He died in 1999, but dreamers and magic bean buyers everywhere still enjoy his work.



Eats, Shoots & Leaves

Perhaps you check various best seller lists in the Chicago Tribune or the New York Times and already know about an upstart book titled Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Britain's Lynne Truss. Subtitled "The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation," this little tome has shot to the top of many summer lists.

What is of particular interest to writers is that Ms. Truss spends almost all her efforts on behalf of the comma, the apostrophe, the dash, and brackets, or parentheses as we call them this side of the Big Pond. What is of even greater interest is that Truss writes about these punctuation marks with love and admiration.

And, because both the publisher and readers are scarfing up copies with equal love and admiration, this is a good sign for wannabe writers who have a book about other forms of punctuation or grammar hidden in their computers or file cabinets. Even if you don't have such a manuscript in lurking mode, you'd enjoy reading Eats, Shoots & Leaves.



A Feminist Dictionary

A Feminist Dictionary, compiled by Cheris Kramarae and Paula A. Treichler, will soon celebrate twenty years of offering a distinctly different type of lexicography. To describe all of the authors, reasons for writing this book would be to include its entire preface, but the title itself should indicate the authors' point of view.

My son, the university professor, gave me a copy years ago after reading something he perceived as sexist in my own writing. More than once I have returned to A Feminist Dictionary to clarify the meaning -- and discover attached baggage -- of such words as doll or intercourse.

This is a dictionary in the social sense. It presumes one knows the correct spelling and pronunciation; so there are no diacritical markings or language derivatives to study, which also makes A Feminist Dictionary a great read.

Originally published by Pandora Press of Boston and London, the book is most easily obtained from a used bookstore. Amazon.com has copies from time to time.


Southern Poetry Review

I read that the Southern Poetry Review is currently sponsoring the 2004 Guy Owen Prize Contest for the best unpublished poem it receives before the contest deadline. While I am not an aspiring poet, I was very interested in the Review's interpretation of what constitutes having been published.

The contest announcement states that 'We consider poems published online or posted there to be previously published work.." While nothing more is mentioned, it leaves me wondering if the unspoken corollary is, 'Consequently such poems are ineligible for this contest.'

Even though I see a distinction between having been published online and posting there, I can understand the Review's position. The important thing is that poets and possibly writers of other forms who feel a piece of their work is publishable in the printed paper world must be careful not to give those rights away by posting new work on their own