Monthly Archives: April 2010

Language and the Brain

I found this news story about language and the brain and wanted to pass it on:

Sign language study shows multiple brain regions wired for language

ScienceDaily (2010-04-29) — A new study finds that there is no single advanced area of the human brain that gives it language capabilities above and beyond those of any other animal species. Instead, humans rely on several regions of the brain, each designed to accomplish different primitive tasks, in order to make sense of a sentence. … > read full article


In Defense of Chatspeak

dz wtg lk ths ps u of?
Can you even read the line above?  OK, it isn’t really part of the texting lexicon, or at least I don’t think it is.

I never thought I’d find myself saying this, but here goes:

I have two things to say in defense of what I call “Chatspeak”, or the abbreviations used by the texting public.  Actually three, because I am noticing that “texting” is being marked as a non-word by the WordPress spelling and grammar checker. But that’s OK, because “WordPress” is also marked that way.

First: Chatspeak, abbreviations like HRU for “how are you?”,  were for where, u, ur, and so forth are really nothing new.  That is to say the habit of using them is not new.  The actual abbreviations come and go, much like any form of slang… and with the same reaction, I think, to the older generations who find them lazy, uneducated, improper, scornful… well, you get the idea.  Fill in the blank.

Abbreviations have been around for centuries, and are used today for pretty much the same reason they were used back in the day.  And the reason?  Two, actually, space and time.

Originally abbreviations were used to conserve space. When “writing” on stone, metal or clay, you had to plan ahead to prevent having too many words for the available space.

These days it is space and time.  Twitter, for example, allows only 140 characters per message.  It can take real effort to get a complete message in 140 characters.  Texting quickly has become important.  After all, we live in a “sound byte” world, now.

For an interesting “dictionary” of texting abbreviations, take a look at Netlingo.

Second: …and this one you really need to pay attention to.  English is EVOLVING!

I love the language skills of the average writer in the 19th century.  I admire the writing of the well-educated, but to hold language to ransom because the new version isn’t the one you grew up with… well, as the lab scientists would say, “there ain’t no cheese down that tunnel.

Metronome: Word of the Day

Metronome, n.
A mechanical or electrical instrument that makes repeated clicking sounds at an adjustable pace, used for marking rhythm, practicing music.

Johnny Dash, the new singing sensation, was so into his music that even the sweep and clunk of the windshield wiper on a rainy day beat out the time of his songs like a metronome.

Alternate usage:

“Who’s that?”


“There, that little purple guy in the front of the bus.”

“I… uh…”

“Oh, come on.  You can see him.  He’s about a foot tall and he seems to be making a clicking sound.  What’s he doing on a Metro bus?”

“Him?  Oh, sorry.  That’s Gary, the Metro gnome.”

How will you use metronome in a sentence today?

The Internet Has Changed Writing

Some ideas hit you with a force, others creep up behind you, and the only way you know they’re there is by the steady breathing down the back of your neck.

This is one of those sneaky, creepy ideas.

Close to two years ago I stumbled upon WEbook.  Even if you’ve never visited that particular site, my guess is that you (writers) have found similar online support for writers.

found on

I was in awe of all the people I found there struggling to do exactly what I was struggling to do.  They wanted to hone their craft, become better writers.

WEbook, like many other similar sites, help you with this by encouraging the writers to read, review, and critique the writing of others.  A pretty good idea, all in all.  In fact, as I’ve intimated in earlier posts, I believe I’ve learned more about writing through the reviewing of others’ work than I ever would through classes.

So, you ask, how has this changed writing?

It is in the review and critique process that everything has changed.  These days one can write a poem, an essay, a story, or a chapter of a novel, post it, and sit back for a very short time, and get a response.

Let me say this another way.  There is often an instant gratification in the response you get to your writing online.

Now, if you don’t think that has changed the way we write—and think about writing—sorry, but you’re just not paying attention.

Here’s the bottom line:  Writing has become a Performance Art.

10 Brilliant First Sentences

It is held that the first line—the first sentence—of a novel, is the clincher, that bit that grabs the mind and heart, the soul of a reader.
Sometimes I read like a starving man, gobbling words, pages, chapters, swallowing them whole before tasting them.

Sometimes, though, the first line… the first sentence captivates.

  1. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. – Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)
  2. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. – George Orwell, 1984 (1949)
  3. It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. – Paul Auster, City of Glass (1985)
  4. The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. – William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)
  5. The moment one learns English, complications set in. – Felipe Alfau, Chromos (1990)
  6. There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. – C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
  7. “To be born again,” sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, “first you have to die.” – Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses (1988)
  8. If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog. – Saul Bellow, Herzog (1964)
  9. The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. – L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between (1953)
  10. Justice? – You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law. – William Gaddis, A Frolic of His Own (1994)

How The Story Invented Truth

I wonder if we (writers) have enough appreciation of our craft.
No, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that we don’t work at it, or appreciate the work of others, we surely do.

But, have you ever wondered how it all got started?  I came across this quote today, and was greatly moved. 

“No one in the world knew what truth was until someone had told a story. It was not there in the moment of lightning or the cry of the beast, but in the story of those things afterward, making them a part of human life. Our distant savage ancestor gloried as he told—or acted out or danced—the story of the great kill in the dark forest, and that story entered the life of the tribe and by it the tribe came to know itself. On such a day against the beast we fought and won, and here we live to tell the tale. A tale much embellished but truthful even so, for truth is not simply what happened but how we felt about it when it was happening, and how we feel about it now.”
–John Rouse (1978). The completed gesture: Myth, character, and education.

It is a wonder to me that stories, the bread and butter of our trade, are cradled in such an amazing thing: the invention of Truth.

I’ll have more to say about this in a future post.

Hidden Meanings in Your Writing

One of the most interesting—to me, at least—phenomena in writing is when readers find meaning in stories that the writer, candidly admits to not putting into the work.

Readers are pattern-seekers, and are prone to find any number of magic words, sentences, paragraphs or overall meanings in the words they read.

If you’ve been reading, writing—and reading about writers—for any length of time, you will be aware of this.

There is another side to this idea.  Jargon.

When we write about ideas or processes which are not widely understood publicly, we take the chance of confusing our readers.  While it is true a certain amount of jargon flavors our work, and perhaps drives our readers to the Internet to look things up, it can drive them away as well.

The most insidious types of jargon are those that are well-known by the writer.  Someone who is very familiar with certain words and concepts often forgets that what he or she knows is not easily understood by others.  Confusion is common, anger, too, when what you write does not respect your reader.