Thursday, February 28, 2013

Language of Confusion: People

I already discussed the origins of human, man, and woman (in fact, it was a year ago last Saturday), so I might as well learn about “people”.

People showed up in English in the late thirteenth centurywith basically the same definition, although the secondary definition of people (as in, an ethnic group) didn’t for more than a century. It had already showed up in Anglo Frenchas people (yes, it’s so hard to imagine) and in Old Frenchas peupel, in all cases meaning humans in a general sense.

It’s worth noting that English already had a word for people—folk—that was so cruelly displaced by a younger, cooler word. But if you’ve spent any amount of time reading these etymology posts, you’d realize that pretty much everything has Latin progenitors and the descendants of Proto-Germanicare no exception. Old French’s peupel was taken from the classical Latin populus.

That’s the origin for quite a few English words. Popular, population, and public are all cousins of people. The Latin publicus comes from the above mentioned populus, and popular comes from popularis, which means “belonging to the people”. Population comes from the Late Latin  populationem, “a multitude”.

TL;DR: People is popular.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013


This has nothing to do with blog schedules. Let’s just get that out of the way right now.

I actually mean my writing schedule. Over the years, it’s changed markedly. There was college, when I wrote maybe a half hour a day (maybe an hour or two on the weekends). It was whenever I could fit it in back then, meaning it was when I gave up on my homework or was about ready to jab a knitting needle through my eye and into my brain to just get the taste of f’ing math out of my head. Um. Okay, that got a little away from me there. Anyway, there was no set rules to it back then and while that wasn’t the biggest influence on the quality of what I produced (I’d say my inexperience was), it probably didn’t help.

It’s much better now that I have a fixed writing time, usually from evening to night, but sometimes I can start earlier. I write, I edit, I blog, and when I feel tired or just met my goal for the day, I pack it in. And it works! Since I started doing this, I’ve been very productive (see last month’s completed goals for proof).

Being on a fixed schedule works for me. Would it work for you? I have no idea. Writers’ blogs are full of advice such as this, but the truth of the matter is what works is different for everyone. Having a schedule certainly won’t help if you have kids running around. Even if you don’t you might find it just doesn’t work for you.

Okay, that’s my writing opinion of the week. Schedules, yay! For me, at least.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Quick Reviews

Here’s some more quick reviews. I included movies this time because I’ve been watching a lot of them lately, and why not? A good movie is just as valuable as a good book. And just as hard to come by ; ).

The Maze Runner
Story: 8 Characterization: 6 Writing: 7
Very good book. The premise is interesting. A bunch of 12-18 year olds trapped in the center of a maze full of monsters, no memory of how they got there, desperate to find a way out. I have to admit, though, I didn’t feel much connection to the main character. I actually thought others were better defined and they weren’t even POV characters. Thomas was a bit too good at everything for my taste. No, he wasn’t always right but he was always close enough that it was a little annoying.

Kill Alex Cross
Story: 2 Characterization: 1 Writing: 1
You know what? Don’t tease people like this, James Patterson. I started reading this book in hopes that my greatest fantasy was at long last coming true, but for some reason Alex Cross is still in the damn book. SPOILER ALERT: he’s not even dead. Frigging waste of time.

A Good Day to Die Hard
Story/Writing: 2 Characterization: 2
Is there a word for something that’s both terrible and awesome at the same time? Because this is it (seriously, we should start calling it a Die Hard). The dialogue and story were atrocious, like the writer hammered it out in two hours after a weekend of binge drinking. But the action scenes were frigging amazing. There was a car chase that lasted twenty minutes—no hyperbole there. Twenty minutes of smashing cars, explosions, and a freaking missile being fired. I hope they release a version where all the talky bits are edited out and we can just watch a solid hour of explosions.

Story/Writing: 10 Characterization: 10
Very good. It’s not often you see a scary movie that, when things aren’t being scary, they’re dealing with real problems. Unlike the above mentioned Die Hard, Mama is well-crafted, with actual characters, yet it manages to be its core genre at the same time. If you like scary movies or well-written movies (and don’t mind jump scenes), try it out.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Language of Confusing: Still Punctual

Nope, I didn’t forget! Today we’ll look at some common (though not every-sentence) forms of punctuation and try to determine why they are what they are.

The name for this one is easy. It’s just a combination of per and centum (hundred). The symbol first showed up in the fifteenth century (although the idea had been around for ages) when an unknown writer decided to use per c° or p c° to symbolize out of 100. The raised circle used to denote the primary and secondary parts of the equation, and it being used with the per c is thought to have been a mistake made in ignorance that just took root. Two centuries later, it turned into per % and then just %.

The degree symbol, which looks a lot like the symbol in the percent sign. In a nutshell, the symbol means a zero exponent and it first came into use in the sixteenth century. Parts of an angle include degrees (zero), minutes (one) and seconds (two) and in calculations, the degrees were given the zero exponent. It then stuck for any use of degrees.

For those unaware, this little guy is commonly known as the pound, number and hash sign, and is formally called the octothorpe. Besides making your computer want to autocorrect to October, it means eight (octo) and…thorpe. Seriously, no one really knows where the “thorpe”came from, just that the word started being used in 1961. Both word and symbol were invented by Bell Labsto be used with telephones. By the way, this is also where the asterisk came from, although that word actually has a historical origin too.

+ and –
Both were first used for addition/subtraction in Germany around 1480, as before then everyone just used words for their problems(ugh, no wonder it took forever to solve things). The + symbol appeared long before, but it had a wide variety of meanings, like unity and perfection, which may be why it was appropriated for use in addition and positivity. As for –, I have no idea. It was just used along with +.

The word dollar comes from the Low German daler and German taler, which is an abbreviation for Joachimstaler, a specific silver coin from 1519. There are a lot of conflicting theories about the symbol, including that it’s derived from the symbol 8 for the Spanish “piece of eight” or perhaps is a mix of the letters p and s, for peso. And those are the more reasonable ones.

Mathboy’s Page
MooT, The Etymology Game (YES!)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Hunt

The Word Hunt, to be specific.

Like all writers, I tend to over use certain words. Often when I’m reading over my WIPs, a certain word pulls me out of the story, and I bet if it happens to me it would happen to a reader. I make a list of these words (currently at a hundred) and I use Word’s Find function to track them down for a second look. They’re either too vague (thing, stuff), easy to overuse (just, that) or I just keep seeing them and they bug me (flush, face). Plus there’s also general words (have, be) that I have to make sure work.

1. Strong words are great!

2. But don’t overuse them. Not every word needs necessitates needs to be strong. If it crystalizes a sentence, yay! Keep it. But if it’s clunky, out of voice, or just there because you don’t want a weaker word, don’t bother.

3. Don’t eliminate a word if you’re replacing it with a syllable that’s another common word. For example, don’t replace “might” with “could” or “large” with “huge”. It defeats the whole purpose of the word hunt.

4. You might find you’ve over used a very general verb like give, have, or is. There’s really not much you can do about that except look at the sentences as a whole and decide whether the entire thing is weak. If so, rewrite it.

5. Find the words you love using and get rid of as many as you can. As I’ve said many times before (and as you’ve probably read elsewhere), that and just are some of the worst offenders. But by no means are they the only ones. Every writer (from a poll of me) has a few words s/he uses more than necessary.

Now if I could only get myself to follow these rules…