I’m trying out watercolor painting, although my version looks more like doodling.
I wanted to do something creative that doesn’t rely on my go-to skill, which is of course writing. I downloaded a course from Craftsy, and I hope to eventually make my way to something like this.
What is Hygge? (Hoo-ga)
You may have seen this word around. It’s the Danish philosophy of comfort—being cozy, relaxed, and comfortable in your life. Read this how-to article and the get your Hygge on!
Data is Good (wonderful statistics)!
This post about the passing of Swedish statistician Dr. Hans Rosling caught my eye. I wish I’d known about him sooner. Dr. Rosling believed in stats for the people—using statistics to explain complex subjects. This article has several of his best videos. Watch the Ted Talk.
What’s in your pocket…right now?
What do you carry around with you every day? Everyday Carry (EDC) looks into the “pockets, professions, and lives or our community”. Take a look at the EDC for this MD, or this one for a downtown commuter, or this stay-at-home dad.
Flying screaming monkey
Guardian spirit for your notebook
Austin Kleon (Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work) wrote about “stationing guardian spirits inside the front cover, to watch over things”. I love this idea. I am such a notebook person. Here’s mine.
From E.B. White:
Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”
Thanks for reading!
I’ve been struggling with this essay for a bit, hence the delay (notice I’m not apologizing for being off by a week). I knew I wanted to write about language in some way, but I’ve felt so darn speechless—uh, wordless—given world events.
There’s always a way back from the dark, though. As I aimlessly clicked from one web story to another, I found these words from E. B. White:
A writer must reflect and interpret his society, his world; he must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge. Much writing today strikes me as deprecating, destructive, and angry. There are good reasons for anger, and I have nothing against anger. But I think some writers have lost their sense of proportion, their sense of humor, and their sense of appreciation. I am often mad, but I would hate to be nothing but mad: and I think I would lose what little value I may have as a writer if I were to refuse, as a matter of principle, to accept the warming rays of the sun, and to report them, whenever, and if ever, they happen to strike me.”
– E. B. White from an interview with The Paris Review, 1969, via Brain Pickings
I like Mr. White’s thoughts here, expressed over forty years ago. I hate to be mad all the time too. In times like these, don’t forget to follow your curiosity—it’s your lifejacket. Grab it and hang on. In my case, I grabbed onto the 1960 dictionary war.
If you think that’s a stretch, read on.
The last great dictionary war
I’d been pouring back over Mary Norris’s Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, (I’ll try not to reference it in every post from now on, I promise), and in Chapter 1, fittingly called “Spelling is for Weirdos”, she explains the hierarchy of dictionary use at The New Yorker, and how the dictionary war of the early 60s resulted in the magazine sticking with Merriam-Webster’s and the New York Times going with upstart Webster’s New World.
Dictionary war? Ah-ha! Maybe I could write about the secret life of lexicographers (nice people who write dictionaries). I’ve since learned writing about words is a lot less glamorous than I imagined. Kory Stamper from Merriam-Webster explains that “Lexicographers do not sit in sleek conference rooms and make your language.”
Sigh. Oh, well.
But part of me still hopes for a little drama. How did bootylicious make it into the OED? How did that same OED delete thousands words from the English language? (Think about it, thousands of words…GONE. That word on the tip of your tongue? It was deleted.) And how, in 1960, did Webster’s Third New International Dictionary cause the shit to hit the fan?
Here’s how the story goes:
First you need to know that there’s a Webster’s and then there’s a Merriam-Webster’s. Same Webster, different dictionaries.
Noah Webster (1758-1843) is the man Americans have to thank for simplifying and revolutionizing American English. His An American Dictionary of the English Language dropped the “u” in color, changed cheque to check, and replaced plough with plow (and thank goodness for that).
After Webster’s death, the Merriam brothers purchased the rights and unbound sheets of Webster’s dictionary and published An American Dictionary of the English Language (New Revised Edition) in 1847. But, by 1889, the copyright of Webster’s original dictionary expired, and the courts ruled the name Webster was public domain. Webster products began popping up all over the place. In other words, anyone could publish a dictionary and slap the name Webster on the cover.
(FYI, if you want a descendant of Noah Webster’s hard work, you need a Merriam-Webster.)
To stay ahead in the dictionary game meant the Merriam brothers had to release bigger, better dictionaries, which led to Webster’s International Dictionary of the English Language (1890), Webster’s New International Dictionary (1909), and finally Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition (1934). But, then came Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, or Webster’s Third, in 1960.
Let’s just say things did not go well. The dictionary featured no capitalization (united states), defined hundreds of so-called lowbrow words (ain’t), and removed almost all the labels that signaled a word’s substandard origins (“colloquial,” “slang,” “cant,” “erroneous,” and “vulgar.”)
The point the editors of Webster’s Third were trying to make was that a dictionary should not only catalogue language as it should be used (prescriptive) but language as it is actually used (descriptive). That may not seem like a big deal today, but at the time it was radical and editors from coast to coast called for torches and pitchforks. By the way, the word ain’t had been included in many dictionaries already, so picking on Webster’s Third for that was unfair.
Unfortunately, the Webster’s Third debacle had torpedoed Merriam-Webster’s lexicographic hold on the nation. By the 1970s, a rival product, Webster’s New World Dictionary became the choice of New York Times, Associated Press, and others.
So what does that have to do with me?
Any-hoo, thanks to Mary Norris, I rushed downstairs to check on which dictionary I had. I’d never paid much attention to them, really. I thought I had a Webster’s, but I wasn’t sure.
Success! I have Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition, (not the most recent 11th Edition, but still very respectable). It’s called the Little Red Web by the staff at The New Yorker. I also have a Webster Universal Dictionary (1963), which seems to be some sort of British product from Collins. It mysteriously appeared on my shelf at university and once belonged to someone named R.A.V. Lovegrove.
But hold on a second. No Canadian dictionary? After some fast digging through boxes in my basement, I came up with no less than four junior student Canadian dictionaries bought for my kids in elementary school. High school didn’t require one, I guess. Who needs a dictionary when you can Google a word on your phone?
(I asked one such high school person who lives in my house if he’d ever done such a thing—look up a word on his phone to confirm the spelling—and he claims he hasn’t. Great.)
I will come clean and confess that, while I own a dozen books on writing, grammar and style, I don’t own a desk reference Canadian dictionary. I’ve vowed to get one.
A Google search for which dictionary Canadians use brings up the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, which has roots in the venerable Oxford English Dictionary (OED). There’s also the Gage Canadian Dictionary, which I used in school. I must be a word nerd if I remember that.
My best find by far was this thing called the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (DHCP). Never heard of it? Stand by…
The DCHP was first published in 1967 by Gage Ltd. as a companion to Gage Canadian Dictionary. It documents the historical development of Canadian English words by showing “changes in the meanings of words over time, using a series of dated quotations“.
How cool is that!
The first edition of the DCHP (aptly named DCHP-1), is online and free to use. A second edition (DCHP-2), is reportedly under construction at the University of British Columbia. DCHP-1 is unbearably clunky to use and looks terrible, but I beg you to persevere.
Just select Browse Archive and you’ll find:
- Democrat n. a light, two-horse wagon, having springs and two, sometimes three, seats.
- Laker n. a North American char, Cristivomer namaycush, having important commercial value.
- Nipper n. the person responsible for getting equipment and material from the station to the workplace, that is, the spot where the mining operation is being carried out.
Every word in the DCHP is a gem, a complete story in its own right. Every Canadian, and writer who writes Canadian, should know about it. Pass the word.
Sidebar: What’s Canadian English?
So what’s Canadian English? A little of this, a little of that…
In my experience, the one word that places you as either Commonwealth or Republic is colour (color).
- centre, center,
- traveller, traveler
- cheque, check
Plus British words that Canadians don’t tend to use:
- program, programme
- realize, realise
- acknowledgment, acknowledgement
There’s quite a list if you want to go deep. This Wikipedia chart compares spelling of a few English words across the globe so you can see where Canada fits compared with other English speaking nations.
And finally, there are uniquely Canadian words, like:
- toque (you know one when you see one)
- two-four, mickey and twenty-sixer (no comment)
- freezie (orange is best)
- riding (as in electoral district)
- Canuck (of course)
Thanks to a career working for Canadian companies selling products to U.S. markets, I confess I’ve grown accustomed to dropping the “u” in color, and I don’t like to double the “l”.
Canadian dictionary scandals
I haven’t uncovered secret plans to eliminate hundreds of Canadianisms. More digging required. However, I did find out that before World War II, Canadian newspapers used American spellings (what?)–they were just easier for the typesetters. Now, most publications follow Canadian Press (CP) style, which favors Canadian Oxford English.
There was also this dust up about Canada’s national bird, the Gray Jay (American spelling of gray).
So what’s next?
Obviously, you’re now in a position to impress people at parties with dictionary slang:
- OED, the Oxford English Dictionary, you know the one
- Little Red Web (per the The New Yorker), also known as Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary
- Webster’s Third and Webster’s Second, the picked-on third edition and the exalted second edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary
- COD, Canadian Oxford Dictionary, go on, impress your friends!
- DCHP, Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles, for real Canadian word nerds
- Webster’s New World, or WNW5, used by the New York Times
And you can check out these extra articles and resources about the making and caring of dictionaries:
- Nice summary of the brouhaha over Webster’s Third
- An article about sensationalist dictionary reporting
- Information about Noah Webster
- On why a Canadian dictionary is important, from the Oxford University Press
If you care about language, and, as Mr. White would say, want to “accept the warming rays of the sun”, don’t forget to hold your dictionary close. There’s more good stuff in there than you think. And, hug a lexicographer if you have the chance.
If you’ve heard of any more dictionary wars, word scandals or let me know.
January 20, 2017
What I’m reading
Ever wondered how to climb a rope? Well, I haven’t—at least, not until this week. I’m kind of hooked on these Visual Guides from The Art of Manliness. Check out How to Climb a Rope. If you write fiction, your characters may desperately need these instructions. On second thought, you may need these instructions to make a desperate escape from the zombie horde. To climb a rope, there are three basic techniques: Gym Class, Marines, and Navy Seals. Now you know.
Amid the many start-of-year reflective essays this month, this one caught my eye. It’s a thoughtful account by Leslie Harris of how she’s growing into the person she wants to be. The themes are learning mindfulness, letting go of worry, and practicing self-honesty.
Not long ago, I wrote about why we should stop apologizing for our work. In this article, reprinted by Fast Company, Kat Boogaard writes about what happened when she stopped saying ‘sorry’ at work for a week. The best takeaways: change your ‘sorry’ into a ‘thank you’.
Some happy dancing please
This is a video about Yolanda ‘Yo Yo’ Baker, a 70-something woman from Louisville Kentucky who has been making mirror balls for almost 50 years. Yes, 50! What’s more, she loves her job at Omega National Products and doesn’t see any reason to stop now. Even though the disco ball market is flooded with cheap imitations from Asia, Yo Yo shimmies on. This is a great little story about doing what you love and doing it well.
I got a new book on punctuation for my birthday: Between You & Me, Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris, senior query proofreader at the New Yorker. I’m so happy! I first wrote about the Comma Queen in Dear Ellipsis, I love you… and I’ve been hooked ever since.
On the serial comma:
I feel my hackles rise, however, when I hear people refer to the serial comma as the Oxford comma. Why does Oxford get all the credit?”
The Oxford comma refers to the Oxford University Press, whose house style is to use the serial comma. (The public-relations department at Oxford doesn’t use it, however. Presumably, PR people see it as a waste of time and space. The business end of these operations is always in a hurry and does not approve of clutter. The serial comma is a pawn in the war between town and gown.)”
That is all.
Comments? Yes please! Let me know below.
Say the word “Oprah” and no doubt every person you talk to has something different come to mind:
- A-list celebrity interviews
- Book club
- Favorite things
- Live Your Best Life
All are true and there are dozens more. It’s hard to imagine Oprah Winfrey as anyone other than the most influential women of our time. Her net worth, an astounding $3 billion, makes her one of the richest self-made women in the world. And according to Forbes, the only African-American billionaire in the US.
But it wasn’t always that way nor was it a given that she would win big. In Making Oprah, a new podcast from WBEZ Chicago, what fascinated me was that in the beginning, Oprah was flying by the seat of her pants.
Let me say upfront that I’m not an Oprah devotee. I didn’t grow up watching Oprah every afternoon like many women did. It’s not that I didn’t care for her, I just wasn’t her demographic: 30 to 40-something suburban women looking to make their lives better. In the late 80s when The Oprah Winfrey show went national in the U.S., I was in university, and definitely not rushing back to the dorm after class to watch Oprah at four o’clock. By then she was a force in popular culture, but my worldview wasn’t shaped by her.
What I love about this podcast though, wonderfully narrated by host Jenn White and Oprah herself, is that it sheds light on the early days of the show. The podcasts asks: How did she do it? then chronicles her journey from Chicago morning talk show host to national syndication, morphing her brand from tabloid-style TV to the Live Your Best Life TV of today.
There are lessons in that journey that are worth pulling out because even Oprah had bumps in the road. In the 80s, her future wasn’t clear (hard to believe, but true). Her success was never preordained.
The course of her life, like yours and mine, was a zig zag.
These five lessons from the podcast I hope you take to heart in your goal setting and planning for the year ahead. I also hope you can make some time to listen to the podcast in its entirety.
Listen to the big idea whispering in your ear (you know the one)
Your big idea doesn’t have to make sense, be fully formed, rational, or even realistic. Think of it as a seed that may not look like much on the outside, but has the potential to be something amazing one day.
From the beginning of her career, Oprah had a feeling of destiny. She says she had no idea how big of a deal she was to become, but she did believe she was in the right place at the right time, and doing work that was important.
Don’t go it alone
This could mean any number of things depending on your situation, whether it’s support from family, a business partner, ad hoc collaborators, or paid contract freelancers. One thing for certain, pulling it all together by yourself in isolation is not the way of the ‘O’.
Oprah was never “just Oprah”. From the earliest days, she created her shows with handful of producers and technical crew. On the podcast, Oprah talks about how she and her four founding producers didn’t have a clue what they were doing at first. They were really making it up as they went along. Remember, they had to produce and tape five shows a week. Coming up with ideas for the show, finding guests, deciding how to tell the story–that wasn’t all Oprah commanding from the war room. Oprah ultimately shaped how the show unfolded, but there was a supporting cast who helped her make it happen.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, even big ones, and then change course accordingly
No one likes to fail in front of family, colleagues or on a public stage but consider that failures are necessary to get you where you want to go.
Oprah acknowledges that she made some big mistakes on the Oprah show, but that those moments changed the trajectory of what she wanted to do in the world. When she had a group of skinheads on to have a conversation about racism, she realized mid-episode that they had used her platform and hijacked her voice to serve their goals. She vowed that would never happen again.
Run your own race
This means be less concerned with what critics, opposition, and competitors are saying about you. Instead, relentlessly focus on what you are doing. Keep to the vision of your work. Too much wasted energy goes into constant comparisons with the other guy.
One of the mantras Oprah drummed into her staff was this idea that everyone who worked on the show had to stay in their lane and run their own race. When daytime TV took an ugly turn with confrontational-style shows like Jerry Springer, Oprah said, “Nope, not doing that. We’re going this way.”
Operate with intention
For every tactic or strategy you employ, understand your desired outcome. By projecting or knowing your intention, the more likely you are to realize your goal.
Living and acting with intention really became the foundational message that transformed the Oprah show in the last ten years of its run. No show was produced unless the intention for it was clear. Take the free car giveaway, for example. Oprah only got on board once they defined their intention to only give a free car to audience members who actually needed one.
It’s been five years since the Oprah show ended, but Oprah’s life and career continue to fascinate. The lessons she learned along the way are applicable to everyone. In the midst of my new obsession with podcasts, I stumbled onto this one and I’m so glad. Many thanks to Jenn White and producer Colin McNulty for telling this story so adeptly, and to Oprah for letting us hear it in her own words.
Oprah Show facts
1984 Oprah moves to Chicago and hosts daytime talk show Chicago Today. In 1985 Show renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show due to it’s instant success
1986 to 2011 The Oprah Winfrey Show, later shortened to simply Oprah, becomes syndicated nationally and aires for 25 seasons
1996 Oprah’s Book club launches
2003 – Oprah becomes the first African-American woman on Forbes magazine’s “World’s Richest People” list, with a net worth of about $1 billion.
2004 – Oprah begins a new season of her talk show by giving each member of the audience a brand-new car.
2011 Oprah launches her television network OWN
What are your takeaways from these five lessons? How will you apply them in the year to come? Let me know in the comments.