Thursday, May 28, 2015


One of the wonderful things about language is that it is constantly changing. The world changes; we invent new things that need names, so we make something up. We smash two existing words together, replace the first letter of a word with a different letter, or just completely pull something out of the air. Sometimes these brand new words don’t survive very long. They’re like little plants; some shrivel up, and some take root in the middle of the yard and just grow, no matter how much you try to stop them.
When the latter happens, there’s nothing we can do. We have to resign ourselves to our fate, dig in our heels, and add them to the dictionary. The following words have been added to Merriam Webster this year, and I thought a few of them required a little explanation, since not everyone sits around in the backyard (or on the internet) watching wordweeds grow.
:)  To anyone who grew up without a computer, this combination of a end parenthesis and a colon is just punctuation. But if you’re wondering why it’s used by people all over the world every day, tilt your head toward your left shoulder. It’s a smiley face! Someone sending an email to a friend might use it to convey their tone. Since they’re not talking on the phone, their friend can’t hear whether they’re sad, angry, or amused, and a phrase such as “Like that’s going to happen!” can leave them wondering how they should feel. Tossing a little smiley face on the end of a sentence lets the reader know that the writer was smiling while sharing their thought, and that they should smile, too. The term emoji is “borrowed from Japanese, literally, ‘pictograph.’”

This chart of emoji was included in an interesting article about art and psychology on

I shadowed a copy writer at my local newspaper once for a high school class and learned that coming up with the right headline for an article is an art form. Some news articles speak for themselves; no one is going to turn away from a piece headed with the words “MAN WALKS ON MOON.” Others require a little... help: “Single Mom’s Simple Weight Loss Trick Shocks Scientists!!!” A headline like that makes the reader mildly interested; if they were holding a newspaper, they might turn to page A5, but on the internet, they click on it. Newspapers don’t make you sign up for their service before you can read an article, but some websites do, and most likely a headline like that would take you to one of these. You’d have to give up your email address, make up a password, and click a link in a verification email before you were able to read the article you clicked on, and at the end of the rigmarole, you might forget why you started down this rabbit hole in the first place. Headlines that make you so curious you don’t mind jumping through the loops of a website that’s going to constantly bombard you with advertisements are called clickbait. Beware.

This photo (which accompanied an article on clickbait) was found at

Have you ever been looking through old vacation photos from 1993 and spotted someone you didn’t know milling around in the back of the photo? You and your family are standing there in front of a pretty rock at Garden of the Gods and there, in the edge of the picture, is some guy in a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt. He may have innocently wandered into the shot, but… what if he didn’t? There was no word for jumping into a picture for the purpose of mischevious amusement in 1993, because back then every single person did not have a camera/computer/telephone in their pocket. Today, there are a lot more pictures being taken, and a lot more opportunity to leap in front of your cousin while she is taking a picture of herself. We call it a photobomb.

There are so many more words growing in the world (and on the internet) today! Maybe they’ll eventually make their way into the “official” books, joining other gems such as jeggings, meme, and eggcorn, or they may die an early death. Either way, this is definitely an interesting time in the history of language.

Some wordweeds, sadly, die an early death. This Mean Girls gif is from a cool blog called Lord of the Nerds, at the end of a piece about why that movie is so awesome.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mix & Match

From the Writer's Relief facebook page

There wasn’t much else Shoes 4 U owner Clint Peterson could do but put up a rummage sale sign on Saturday, after a disgruntled employee went above and beyond to make a statement while offering his resignation. “It’s really been quite successful,” Peterson said, in an amazed tone. “If he still worked for me, I think I’d have to give him a raise.”
Startled passersby stopped to dig through the pile of Shoes 4 U merchandise that had been dumped in the middle of the Hamilton Street Mall this weekend, so Peterson started selling. “I would have had to move them all back to the store,” he said with a shrug, “And I guess I’m going to sell them either way.”
Peterson got a panicked call early Saturday morning, letting him know that the store looked like it had been burgled. “She didn’t know how they got everything out, since none of the windows were broken and the doors were locked.” But while on the phone with her boss, Peterson’s assistant manager, Michelle Reid, found a message on the floor: “I QUIT” spelled with shoeboxes. “I knew that one of our employees wasn’t entirely happy with the job, but I never thought he would go this far,” she said with a laugh.
The determined prankster removed Shoes 4 U’s entire inventory and relocated it to the Hamilton Street Mall sometime between 3 and 6 AM on Saturday morning. “It’s amazing,” Reid remarked, “he never worked this hard when he was being paid.” Reid then called the police, who located the missing shoes an hour later. When Reid and Peterson arrived to recover it, there were already a few customers browsing. Reid said, “We got there and right away a lady came up to me and asked, ‘how much are these?’”
“This [selling on the street] isn’t anything I ever thought I’d be doing,” Peterson said. “I had one girl buy a pair of heels that she found that matched. One was a size seven and the other was an eight and a half, but she said they fit her just right. Said she’d her feet were different sizes, and she’d always had to buy two pairs if she wanted them to fit, and had been looking for a mismatched pair of shoes like this her whole life.” He laughed, and added, “She even gave me a hug!”
Will Shoes 4 U have more mix and match sales like the one on Hamilton Street Mall? “Maybe!” Reid said, “Although next time I hope we’ll know about it ahead of time!”

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Dream or the Story

“I had a dream that I was Batgirl!” my five year old told my three year old. As the younger one marveled, I opened my mouth to inform my eldest child that she did not need to claim that she dreamed something in order to entertain her sister. I was going to say something like, “You may tell her a nice story if you want to; you don’t have to dream about it first (or say you dreamed it).”
But then my own voice echoed down to me from the past: “And then you jumped on the motorcycles, and zoomed away!” I could see the bemused look on my mother’s face, and hear my brothers’ excited cheers.
I was probably ten years old when I had the dream. I did actually have one, it wasn’t just something I pulled out of thin air. It was an action/adventure dream, starring myself and my brothers, but, like most dreams, there were strange parts and parts that didn’t make sense, and parts that wouldn’t have fit easily into the feature film pitch my brothers heard. I started telling them my real dream when we woke up, but by the time we were dressed and downstairs for breakfast, I’d begun to fill in the slow parts and invent new interesting scenes, purely for their amusement.
“I think your sister may just be telling you a story,” said my mother. I rushed to make sure my brothers knew that the tale really did have sleep-induced inspiration, but they were already off, pretending a scene from my “dream.”
I smiled while I watched my children play together. The story, whether it was dreamed or invented, was entertaining them, and they were having a great time.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Anything But Fire

“It’s time to fight fire… with fire,” the protagonist declares dramatically. It’s how we know that the situation has become so dangerous and volatile that the heroes have no choice but to respond to their adversaries in a similarly dangerous and volatile manner.
“Now I’m ready to fight fire with fire,” I thought to myself as I prepared to douse a painful sore throat with an array of differently temperatured liquids. “Except that fire isn’t at all like a sore throat, and this glass of orange juice and sprite is like the complete opposite of fire.”
Fighting fire with fire would pretty much be the worst idea ever. All you would get when adding fire to something that’s already on fire is… more fire. It would be like getting into an argument with the ocean and then tossing a glass of water in its face. “Take that, ocean! Now you’re… more moist!” (I guess it would depend on which ocean. Maybe the sassy Atlantic. I’m sure it would be difficult to get into an argument with the Indian Ocean, which I’ve heard is very polite.)
Some situations call for action, to give as good as you get. Having a sore throat is one of them, just make sure you use cold medicine or lots of water and hot tea. Don’t use fire.
Anything but fire.

Friday, May 8, 2015


"Oh Steve, you know you can't beat
the Nazis without me!" (
My daughters have recently become interested in super heroes. It started with watching a couple of old 70s Wonder Woman episodes on Saturday nights with my dad. Then I picked up a pair of cape shirts for them at Target. We went to the library and borrowed a copy of The Princess in Black. The other day I heard my daughter singing her own lyrics to the Batman theme song: “Batgirl, Batgirl, she chases bad guys and runs away from them, and catches them sometimes, she’s a super hero, not a princess; Batgirl!”
I’m not a super hero, but that doesn’t stop my three year old from warming my heart when she says, “You’re the best, Mommy!” So I started to think about what super powers I do have. I can’t fly or do fancy martial arts, but I do have amazing ears.
People always say that moms have eyes in the back of their heads, but it’s not true. Vision has nothing to do with it. Moms have super hearing. I can tell if my kid is sick in the middle of the night or just having a bad dream, determine whether there are shenanigans during a suspicious silence, or know if the baby is crying because he is hungry or tired.
It may not be the most interesting power, but it really helps me out a lot. And just because I don’t run around at night chasing bad guys (or running away from them), doesn’t mean I can’t tie a blanket around my shoulders and chase my kids (and tickle them sometimes)!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


The audience clapped, the director glowed, the cast bowed. Then one man stood up.
“I notice you didn’t get a standing ovation,” he pointed out. The theater, which had been working up that low after-show buzz, quieted immediately.
“Excuse me?!” exclaimed the director.
“You may have done better if you hadn’t cut the chase after the jewelry heist,” the man continued. The rest of the audience shifted uncomfortably in their seats. The director looked out at them helplessly. Could that be true? “Or maybe,” he swept an arm at his fellow theater enthusiasts, “they would have liked it more if the hero had sent the villain to jail instead of letting him fall to his death, like in the original script.” People all across the theater began to murmur, and it sounded to the director as though they were agreeing with the rude criticism of the objector. And there was nothing the director hated more than criticism.
“It was such a clunky play, it had to be cut in places!” he shouted from the stage. The murmurs got louder, and the director felt his face flush with embarrassment; what if people thought he was just making excuses? He knew he was making a fool of himself, but he was too angry to stop. So before the man could make his way to the end of the row, he yelled, “What do you know, anyway?”
The man stopped in the middle of the aisle and looked back up at the stage. “Oh, not much,” he replied, “I’m the playwright.”