Mike Tends His Vines

Beads of sweat collected at the ends of Mike’s shaggy hair as humid breath escaped in quick gasps from his red face. Although the day was young -after all, it was only 9 in the morning -the sun was beating down with a hot 89 degrees.

The vines on the fence behind Mike’s house had grown exponentially over the past month. After an abnormally long winter, the green parasites had celebrated the final arrival of spring with an explosion of conquest -entwining themselves all throughout the chain-link fence, on the tree, and even inside the shrubs that had resided docilely for the entire past year. Finally, the strangling encroachment had begun to bother even Mike, the sole occupant of the house, who normally took little notice or interest to the outside appearance of his property.

Chop.Clack.Snip.Chop. Slowly but surely, Mike’s clippers severed one tendril after another, leaving the once vivaciously rampant vines as a mass of severed stalks poking up from the dark rich soil. Behind him, the yard displayed a massive pile of leaves, thorns, and other signs of his conquest as a suburban agronomist.

Wiping sweaty palms on a stained and over-sized shirt, Mike looked on his handiwork with relish -he felt alive, the heat of the day and manual labor exciting his ‘manly’ instincts. This was a good day – “I could do this every day”, he thought to himself. Fantasies of maintaining the best lawn on his street quickly arose like epic stories before his imagination. With his newly found energy and inspiration, Mike began collecting the carnage caused by his work – vigorously raking and bagging the large quantities of green growth so recently cut in pieces.

After all the collecting was done, he began the laborious process of hauling every one of his black 30 gallon trash bags to the street. When the last bag of clippings sagged onto the curb, Mike sank down next to it. His already shaggy hair was now a solid wet mop, and his shirt and pants were three shades darker than whenever he had started. He was hot and uncomfortable -and even his earlier optimism and romanticism of ‘manliness’ could do little to counteract the headache that was coming on. Too much time had passed since he had walked the paths of his homeland: the air conditioned room and Doritos covered sofa called his name with the sweet siren song of careless ease. With a groan he stiffly arose off the curb and began trudging back around the house.

As he passed around his house on the way to the back door, the tiny stalks poking up from the ground along the fence caught his tired eye -they were the last roots of his adversary. Plucking these up would render him the final victor -the entangling and choking vines never to grow and thrive again in his lawn. For a long pause there was only the pounding of his head, the stickiness of his dirty and wet clothes, and the aches in his hands – “Ah, well,” he thought, “there is always tomorrow”, and he almost turned to walk into the dark cold door of his house. However, a nagging in his mind caused him to draw up short, he just felt wrong for not seeing what he had set out to do to completion -or as his favorite TV show character Ron Swanson had so eloquently quipped: “Never half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing”. In spite of the complaints of his sore body, Mike resolved to refresh himself with water and attack the rooted mess after a trip to the hardware store for more effective weapons.

The End.


Frank’s Social Experiment: Chapter 4

It was a disgruntling sort of day. Weddings, Moving days, those rare family holidays – anything that happened outside of Frank’s apartment, involved social interaction, or waking up early, or was simply unexpected. Frank had an internal running list of these disgruntling days:

  • his high school prom
  • his first day at his job
  • the time his company had sent him on a business trip to meet a client
  • his cousin’s wedding
  • graduation from college
  • being in the hospital only recently, and then coming home

And now, as Frank’s alarm buzzed angrily at 6AM and he groggily fished for a light switch, he thought to himself, Today will be a new Disgruntled Day.

With the leg cast off for a couple weeks, Frank had been taking it easy. At first, he had continued to use the crutches—his leg was atrophied from its inactivity and still hurt when carrying his weight. So Frank’s orthopedist had recommended bicycling as a low-impact way to regain muscle tone. To Frank, this suggestion conceptually made sense, but there were few things he would less rather do than bicycle.

“This riding group – it’s a swell bunch of people!” the tall, lanky orthopedist said in his booming, matter-of-fact voice. Frank thought it was dumb the way the surgeon said “swell.” He imagined that when the surgeon got irritated with something he would also say, “This drives me bonkers!” But this was only speculation, no doubt brought on by Frank’s aversity to groups of people enjoying exercise together.

Frank’s father, however, upon hearing the news, thought it was an excellent idea. So, one trip to the store later, Frank was unpacking his very own Raleigh Grand Sport bicycle.

Up to this point in the story, we have not given a detailed description of Claughton (pronounced Clafton), the city where Frank lived. It was a southern town, complete with its own quaint buildings—trappings of faux Americana crossed with some genuine historicity; Claughton also had a nocturnal downtown area, several steepled churches, booming bells to mark the time, and otherwise all the ordinary marks of a medium riverside city.

Normally, Frank drove everywhere he needed to go, but this particular morning he had decided to ride his bike to meet the cycling group. Charting the route out on his phone, he figured out and mentally rehearsed the directions, then set off. The world was duskily alight at this time in the morning, and as he rode, the street lamps began flickering as the sunlight began to glow around the horizon.

Frank pedaled onto Front Street, and the street beneath him changed to cobblestone—the nature of the downtown area mandated brick instead of concrete to maintain Cloughton’s historic authenticity. All along the riverfront, the shops were opening up, neon “Open”s lighting up. Frank headed down a small berm that led to a paved trail along the riverbank.

Several people from the bicycling group had already assembled. Stifling the nervous fluttering that always accompanied meeting new faces, Frank pedaled up to the rear of the group and then stopped to catch his breath—a whole 30 minutes of this was going to be a challenge!

“Hey,” said a lean, gristled man with a boxy crew cut. “New guy: what’s your name?”

“Uh, Frank,”

“You got a last name too?” said the man.

Gosh, was this guy an interrogator in the military? Thought Frank to himself.

“Frank Cockburn,” he replied. Then, in a fit of inspiration. “Would you like my mother’s maiden name or my social security number as well?”

This sarcastic comment was designed to elicit a laugh, but instead the man just gave Frank an appraising, then slightly pitying look.

“My name is Darius,” said the man, but Frank had already decided to call him Mr. Military Buzzkill Man, or Mr. BK, for short.

He was also, apparently, the leader of the small group. “Are we waiting on anyone?” he said. “Keith, Emily, Larry, Kierra…anyone seen Wylla?”

“Here!” yelled a voice, as a slender woman zoomed down the trail on a green bicycle. “Sorry I’m late, Mr. Darius.” she said, “I have a test this morning and pulled an all-nighter and just got through studying!”

Mr. Buzzkill Man shook his head, “Well, at least you’re here. All right, gang, we’re doing 7 miles today, so let’s get going!”

The ride was sweaty, breathy, and painful for Frank. By mile 3, he was heaving big gulps of air and trailing towards the back of the group, and his lower back had begun aching from holding an unnatural position for such a long time.

Finally, Frank motioned to the rest of the group, and between giant breaths, said, “I’ve. Got to Stop. For today. See y’all on. Wednesday.”

Mr. BK gave Frank a nod, “Good work. See you then.”

Back home, Frank got himself a leftover slice of pizza out of the fridge, sat down on his couch, and opened up his laptop to begin work. Logging into his email, Frank had 6 emails, but one in particular caught his eye. The subject was “An Important Message from Human Resources.”

Dear Frank,

We regret to inform you that you are being laid off. Due to a recent lack of funding for this project and the slowness of the industry to adopt our product, we have to make adjustments…

Little Corner

When I was a young lass, as someone might say, I would, occasionally, in a fit of hopeless yet determined creativity, forsake all other preoccupations my old home had to offer and retreat to what was known as “The Sewing Room.” As the haunt of my earliest days (it used to be my bedroom, back when I was a toddler) the walls of tiny pink rosettes amidst delicate sprigs of green grass were, and still are, really, a bit idyllic-looking. It was a very small room, befitting a very small girl. After I moved into a larger bedroom, the place became stuffed with arts ‘n’ crafts. It was the perfect nook for a preteen with more vision than talent, but who still loved scribbling shieldmaidens swirling in magical cloaks, clutching bent swords in their spidery hands.

Upon opening the door to this lair of “stuff,” I would have to take some care not to be first discouraged by the odor of musty fabric and bottles of disintegrating paint, some of which dated back to 1988. Mom’s domain was on the left side of the room, one long, white desk, over which hung more shelves with boxes of lace, pins, things-to-be-fixed, things-to-be-created, and acres of yarn, complemented by (at one point) sixteen books on knitting. Underneath said desk were plastic drawers full of feathers and bows and fake flowers. An everlasting smell of crunched ribbon pervaded the area. On top of the desk sat various trailing scraps of fabric, a few miscellaneous piles of unspecified crafting materials, Mom’s sewing scissors, her very special paint pens, and It: Mom’s new-a-few-years-before, high-tech, ultra-sleek sewing machine. It had a screen, like a computer. Mom neither liked me getting too near her prize, nor fiddling with her side of the room in general. She (rightly, in retrospect) thought I would just add to the mess, so I stayed to my side of the room as I, my tape player, and whatever book-on-tape (or, later, book-on-CD) I was listening to at the moment, navigated the barely eight-foot length of floor.

On my side, we’d dodge stacks of Play-Doh, pipe cleaners, and an ancient, cutting-edge (literally), metallic Garfield-themed trash can, heading for the furthest corner of the room where my desk was. As a precaution, I usually wore slippers when venturing upon the in-need-of-varnish floors of the Sewing Room, not wanting to encounter a splinter nor a stray pin. The place was on the edge of the house as well, with an old wooden window that needed replacing, so it was quite cold in there.

After depositing my tape-player and straining for the plug, I needed to attend to my desk. Having suffered the ravages of time, the honey-brown desk – which was cheap to begin with – usually needed its joints shoved back together before I drew on its surface. And while the edges of its once sharp skeleton were eventually dulled by age, back in the beginning, I’d usually emerge from my seclusion with a few scrapes from the horribly pointy corners. It was a small price to pay for the hours I spent there.

I look back at my old drawings now, and some, well, I can see what I was going for, but time and taste has not done them any favors. More are merely mediocre. A very special few I actually think are decently good. And some, of course, are quite horrible. It is the experience, of having the time and space to sit in my own little corner, in my own creaking chair, drawing whatever and wherever I wanted to be, that is something I miss a bit more than I realize sometimes. So, today, I like to take the time, now and again, to root out a box of colored pencil ends and spend a spell in thoughtful drawing. It’s not quite the same as it once was, just as my drawings are never exactly as I picture them. But, well, it’s close enough.

Etymology Enigmas Explained

Without words, humans could never tell or write stories.  But in a strange reversal of this relationship, some words would not exist without stories.  Instead of deriving their form and meaning from similar words in other languages, some terms are named after and earn their meaning from myths or history.  In fact, many unusual terms in English are named after people and places and the stories related to them.  After a little digging, I solved the etymology enigmas of the following ten words, and I have included their origin stories below.

Bluetooth: This strange technological term has always intrigued me, and I recently discovered that it is named after Harald Bluetooth, a Danish king in the 900s A.D. who united and Christianized Denmark (Baltzan 197).  The logo for the modern technology Bluetooth combines two runes which stand for the Danish king’s initials: Runic letter ior.svg and Runic letter berkanan.svg.

Pyrrhus bust

Cadmean/Pyrrhic: Adjectives used to describe a type of victory in which losses are so great that they offset the actual victory.  In Greek mythology, Cadmus was a Theban prince who sowed dragon’s teeth which grew into men who ended up slaying each other (“Cadmean”).  Pyrrhus was a Greek general who defeated the Romans at Asculum in 279 B.C., but with such heavy losses that he “declared…that another similar victory would ruin him” (“Pyrrhic Victory”).

Laconic: An adjective for terseness, this word is named after the inhabitants of Laconia who were famous for their verbal brevity.  We know them as the Spartans, but in the Greek, an inhabitant of this land was called Lakōn (“Laconic”).

Limerick: The poetry form limerick derives its name from a city in Ireland of the same name.  (Header image is of a castle in Limerick, Ireland).

OK: This word signals agreement or acknowledgement and first appeared in 1839 when it was “a humoristic fashion in Boston newspapers to reduce a phrase to initials and supply an explanation in parentheses” (“OK”).  In this particular case, OK was used as an abbreviation  that meant “all correct”—obviously as a joke because neither letter in the abbreviation was correct.  U.S. President Martin Van Buren popularized the term when he used it in his 1840 reelection campaign because his nickname was “Old Kinderhook,” named after his birthplace.

Robot: According to author Paige Baltzan, Karl Capek coined the term robot in a play in 1921, and robota is a Czech word that means “forced labor” (222).  Since then, robot has become a common word, especially popular during the heyday of science fiction.

Sandwich: A popular form of food, the sandwich’s name comes from the Earl of Sandwich, who is credited for making the first sandwiches.

Ambrose Burnside
General Burnside

Sideburns: The term sideburns is a variant of the word burnsides, both of which have the same meaning and originated from the last name of Ambrose Everett Burnside, a general in the American Civil War who had very impressive side-whiskers (“Burnsides”).

Tantalize: Did you know that this word was named after a king in a Greek myth?  Tantalus was a son of Zeus and the predecessor of Menelaus and Agamemnon.  After betraying the gods’ trust and committing some pretty abominable deeds, Tantalus was eternally punished in Hades for his crimes.  According to legend, Tantalus had to stand “up to his neck in water, which flowed from him when he tried to drink it, and over his head hung fruits that the wind wafted away whenever he tried to grasp them” (“Tantalus”).

Tarantism: This is a disorder characterized by an irresistible impulse to dance.  Apparently there was a tarantism epidemic during the 15th through 17th centuries, predominately in southern Italy.  Tarantism was popularly attributed to being bitten by a tarantula, and the tarantella was an energetic 6/8 meter dance thought to be a remedy for tarantism.  Turns out, the tarantula was innocent of all accusations, but now it has at least two terms named for it.  And in case you were wondering, all of these words derive their names from the Italian city Taranto.

Works Cited

Baltzan, Paige.  Information Systems.  4th ed., McGraw-Hill Education, 2018.

“Burnsides.”  American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 5th ed., 2016.

“Cadmean.”  Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1913.

“Laconic.”  American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 5th ed., 2016.

“Limerick: Poetic Form.”  Encyclopædia Britannica Online, http://www.britannica.com/art/limerick-poetic-form.

“OK.”  American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 5th ed., 2016.

“Pyrrhic Victory.”  Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary, 2010.

“Tantalus.”  Encyclopædia Britannica Online, http://www.britannica.com/topic/Tantalus.

“Tarantism.”  American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 5th ed., 2016.

In Flight Entertainment

My roommates and I recently watched the movie Airplane!—me for the first time. However, more significant than the film, about which I have mixed feelings, is the fact that it jogged my memory about a very humorous radio show.

Spending decent amounts of time on the road over the past several months, my brother and I have continued building up our repertoire of podcasts that vary wildly in content and style. Out of the plethora of different shows we have listened to, “Cabin Pressure,” is the sitcom of the bunch—great for light listening when you just need a good laugh. The cast of the show is made up of Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephanie Cole, Roger Allam, John Finnemore, and Ewen MacIntosh.  The show follows Carolyn as the owner of a private jet who rents it out to individuals and groups; however, she is regularly running short of funds which puts the business’s long term viability into constant question and creates some interesting scenarios. Staffing the plane itself are First officer Douglas, Captain Martin (Benedict), and Carolyn’s dimwitted son Arthur. The show follows the various escapades of this quartet, and each episode revolves around a specific flight that the aircrew makes -made up of unique passengers, events, and destinations—and drawing humor out of the situations and character interactions.

If you like sitcoms, or British TV in general, then this radio show should hit the spot on days in the car when a good laugh is in order. Enjoy!

Note: while you can no longer subscribe to the podcast directly, it is easy to find the various series on YouTube and other websites. For example, series one.

Frank’s Social Experiment: Chapter 3

“I’ll start working on dinner, Frank. You get settled – find something to watch on TV,” said Frank’s father.

Hobbling inside on crutches, Frank made straight for the couch. The crutches still felt foreign and uncomfortable. One of the nurses had coached him on how to use the crutches – position them against the side of the chest as much as possible. This way, the bulk of the torso rests directly on the crutches, not on the shoulder joints. Uncomfortable, but it was working; and Frank was starting to feel normal again.

That is, except for his leg. Wrapped in a grey fiberglass boot, Frank’s left left leg was shrouded from just below the knee to the end of his foot, with just his two biggest toes sticking out the end. The pain since the surgery had lessened as well, but Frank was still popping Tylenols every few hours.

“Okay.” said Frank. Sitting down on the couch, he could hear whistling from the kitchen area, the clatter of a pot, and the beep of the oven. The living room lights were on, and Olaf stalked across the room, leaping onto the couch beside Frank.

Except for Olaf, nothing about this situation felt normal. The leg, the crutches, most of all perhaps – his dad being in his apartment, fixing dinner. He hadn’t seen his father in over 4 years; since the day Frank graduated from school: a happy-sad day fill with rushed greetings, saying hello to his mother and her new boyfriend and then bidding them goodbye in time to say hello to his father. The divorce had only been final for a few months, but both parents would sooner die than miss their son’s graduation.

Frank’s Dad (his name was Bruce) had given him one of the big, chest-squeezing, back-thumping hugs he was known for.

“I’m so proud of you, sport. That’s what all these parents are here telling their kids. But you’re special, kid—not everyone can graduate magna cum laude with a degree in computer science. You’re gonna do great.”

Frank loved his dad. He loved the unequivocal support his father had always provided – a man who himself had never been college material and had struggled all the way through high school until finding a path in the Air Force.

But deep down, Frank felt embarrassed – because he knew that what he’d done wasn’t that impressive. Sure, he had made good grades, but it hadn’t been a struggle for him. Most weekends he played video games or watched movies. It was easy to keep up with his classes since he didn’t have anything else to do.

Still suffocating inside his father’s hug, Frank appreciated the moment for what it was – a father who loved his child and was immensely proud. “Thanks, dad,” said Frank, quietly.

That was four years ago.

Walking in from the kitchen, his shirtsleeves rolled up, Bruce was drying his hands on with a towel.

“Hey sport, remind me, how do you like your steak?”

“Oh, um, medium well,” said Frank, who never ate steak and had no idea how he actually liked it.

His dad gave him a long look, “Medium-well? You sure son?”

“Well,” said Frank. “Medium would be fine too.”

Bruce nodded and retreated to the kitchen, from which soon emanated the sound of sizzling meat. Frank’s show – Persons of Interest, droned on in the background, but it was an episode Frank had seen, and Frank found himself thinking about how different his father seemed.

Time had changed Bruce, but it had not ruined him: the salt and pepper of 40 had given way to the silver of 50, and the twinkling eyes and quick wit had given way to a more reserved, thoughtful presence. He had always been a trim person, and this had not changed. The distance of 4 years allowed Frank to look at his father through new eyes, to not see him just as “Dad” but as Bruce Ockburn, American Airlines pilot.

A knock sounded on the apartment door, followed by a chime. “I’ll get it,” yelled Bruce from the kitchen. Walking out, drying his hands, and grumbling amicably under his breath, “You never interrupt a man when he’s making steaks.”

Frank couldn’t see the door from where he sat, but he could hear everything.

The click of the lock and the “schuuuk” sound as the door opened.

“Hi there,” said Bruce. “May I help you?”

“Hey! This is where Frank lives, right?” said a woman’s voice – Janet perhaps? Frank’s heart rate went up.

“Yes, it is. I’m his dad, Bruce. May I assist you, young lady?”

“Oh, it’s nothing. I’m Janet from next door. I just wanted to check and see how he’s doing.”

“He’s doing great. Thanks for asking,” said Bruce. “We just got back from the hospital, in fact. It’ll be a while before he’s 100%, you understand, but all in all, he’s great. I think he mentioned you actually – you’re the Janet that got him to the hospital?”

Frank envisioned a head-nod. “Mm-hmm! Yeah, and I just wanted to let him—and you—know, my boyfriend and I wanted to have you over and make dinner one night – or bring it over here, if that’s better.”

“That’s very nice of you,” said Bruce. The conversation continued, but Frank’s thoughts had detailed onto another track: she had a boyfriend. Ah well. It was his fate, it seemed, to die alone.

Returning through the living area, Bruce pointed a thumb back towards the front door. “Nice young lady. Gonna have you over for dinner sometime.” He disappeared back into the kitchen, before quickly re-emerging with two plates. “I haven’t had a TV dinner in ages,” he said.

Frank had not done a TV dinner in 5 days, but that was because he had broken his leg and had been sleeping in the hospital. The steak was good, and the mashed potatoes, and the corn on the cob. They ended up watching The Big Lebowski, one of Bruce’s favorites.

When they finished, Bruce took the plates to the kitchen while Frank played a game on his phone. His leg was started to hurt again, so he deposited a couple Tylenol in his mouth and took a swig of cola.

“Okay, son,” said Bruce, returning to the kitchen. “You gonna be okay?”

It was a general question that Frank was unsure how to answer. After a pause, he decided to answer a general question with a vague answer: “Yeah, I should be fine.” After all, he could work from home, as he had always done.

Bruce eyed Frank closely. “Great,” he said, before pausing. “Great. Well, I’m gonna get going, but here’s what we’ll do – I’ll come by on Friday and take you grocery shopping until you can drive again. Sound good?”

Frank nodded. “Thanks, Dad.”

After gathering his backpack and other effects, putting on his pilot’s jacket, and placing a hand on Frank’s shoulder, Bruce said goodnight.

George & The Werewolf, Pt. 4

This is the final installment in a four-part short story which we have been writing on Thousand Mile Walk.  For those of you just joining us, here are Part 1Part 2, and Part 3 of “George & The Werewolf.”

George barely breathed, expecting any moment for the phantom panting to swell into a threatening, predatory growl, and the click-clicking to materialize as sharp, slashing claws. He clutched the knife tightly in his hand. It was his one childhood memento; Mr. Acton said George’s father had given it as a parting bequeathal. George prayed that the weapon would not fail him now. He adjusted its position in his hand slightly, and as he did so, the blade half-glinted in the faint starlight. Almost at once, the animal noises retreated, though whether they receded up the path or back down the mountain, George was still too disoriented to tell.

The seconds trickled by, and at last, George dared to sit up and try to get his bearings. Suddenly, the gruff, loud voice of a man rang out from somewhere among the rocks.

“Hello, Stranger. I am glad to see you are awake.” George reflexively started round. To his frantic eyes, every boulder seemed to be a crouching figure ready to spring, and even the trees, which he had so recently thought stunted bushes, appeared to be looming figures.

“Do not worry, Stranger. I am up on a rock above a little ways from you. You cannot get to me with that knife of yours, but neither can I easily get to you.”

“You could still shoot me,” George replied, “while I cannot see you.” Though, as he spoke, his eyes lighted on one boulder, a slight distance away, on top of which stood what he thought might be a human silhouette.

“That I could,” agreed the voice. “I do have excellent night vision. But had I wanted you dead, I would have shot you when first I smelled you.”

“Then why didn’t you?” George asked.

“You do not even say thank you!” the man exclaimed. “But, in answer to your question, I am not an animal. After I had gotten you out of the way, and now that I have obtained that which you sought for myself, I have no objection to you making your way out of this desert alive, if you are able. And, in fact, it is better that way. I have a message for your Mr. Acton.”

George did not ask how the man knew of his mission. Instead, he merely responded: “Or, I can catch up to you, recover what you have taken, and have no need to remember any such message.”

A surprisingly high laugh, almost a yip, cut through the night. “Despair of that now. I am much faster than you, and you are lost in the dark. So, instead, you are to tell Mr. Acton…well, tell him to give up. What the Spaniards had hidden in these dry mountains, I have taken. The thing greater than this, which he also seeks, I will likewise find. He is an old man, and after what has transpired here, I do not think much of you as a lackey, though there is silver laced into your quaint blade.”

“I have made it this far, with little direction save a map and a long dead guide,” George maintained.

This time, there was a snort. “A few experimentory wolf howls and a surprise crack on the back of the head, and you have been done for,” retorted the man. “Go back to the forests of your homeland, or better yet, keep to the cities, where the wolves do not sing. That is my advice. Goodbye.”

George had been correct about the source of the voice, for the shape he had guessed to be humanoid seemed to dissolve against the star-studded sky. He heard a faint pitter-patter, and then the night was silent once again.

After setting his back against a solid rock wall, he did not move until morning. He had feared a fall down the steep cliffs in the daytime; to attempt navigation in the near darkness with a pounding head would be suicidal, even if the mysterious man appeared to be attempting it.

In the hours that George rested, he had time to consider a few things about the man. By the time light crept over the mesa, George had come to two realizations. One, he had not asked about the wolf, nor had the man mentioned it. Two, the man, and George, in his replies, had been speaking in German.

To be continued by…the reader.

A Wealth of Words

The English language lacks the lovely vowels of many languages, such as Hawaiian, Asian, and Romantic ones.  With all its harsh consonants and unpleasant vowels, English may never rank high as the “most beautiful-sounding language in the world.”  However, English does have a rich vocabulary full of words that may not be beautiful per se but have so much character or are so strange that they are fun to use.  Take this sentence for example:  “The squirrels scarfed the scrumptious scones.”  Isn’t that ridiculous but also just fun to say aloud?  Next time you find something in your fridge that is out-of-date or smells suspicious, instead of asking if it’s safe to eat, you could ask, “Is it esculent (aka edible)?”  Some other fun words include quiddity, effulgent, elenchus, vitiate, tergiversate, and numinous.

Wealth of Words imageAcquiring and implementing new English words can be not merely fun but also have practical applications.  Precise words enhance all types of writing, improving clarity and making sentences more compelling.  A good exercise to increase your vocabulary is to write down unusual words that you encounter.  Sometimes I list them in a little notebook as I’m reading.  Later, look up the definitions of the words and practice using them until you fully understand their meanings and can incorporate them into your own conversations and writing.  Another good way to discover new words is to find synonyms for words you commonly use.  When a word has too broad a definition or is overused, it can become weak.  Using a variety of terms makes each one more meaningful.

English has a wealth of words that are fun and free to use—whether they are “million dollar” words or not.  My only caveat is to be careful so that you don’t overload your conversations or writings with presumptuous-sounding words.  Either use an outlandish word here and there just for personal pleasure or work hard to master new words so that you can incorporate them smoothly and naturally into your vocabulary.  One way in which you can integrate new words into your speech is by reading books that have broad vocabularies.  Books from previous centuries are often a good starting place for this as they can have rich vocabularies of terms that may have fallen out of use but are not yet archaic.  These books can introduce you to new words, familiarize you with unique words you’ve seen before but never used, and give you examples of how to use them properly.

In an era in which we idolize that which is “free” in cost, I think we often undervalue and ignore the wonderful gift we have in the form of the English language.  Improving our vocabulary and discovering new words can have so many benefits, from personal enjoyment to improved communication and even better reading comprehension skills.  With such a wealth of words at our fingertips, I think it’s sad that we don’t appreciate and use the English language more.

P.S. Only once we become brave enough to make recondite words quotidian will our conversations truly coruscate.  (And yes, that is an example of what not to do with new words, but sometimes it’s too entertaining to resist!)

Frank’s Social Experiment – Chapter 2

(For the complete series click here)

Frank was freaking out. Maybe it’s fine. I just need to sit for a minute, he thought. Tenderly rotating his torso, Frank raised one elbow onto the sofa and levered himself onto the couch, careful to keep his left leg elevated and away from the floor as he raised it. Once in a sitting position, Frank rested for a moment. Okay, maybe it’s not so bad – like a sprain perhaps. Slowly Frank lowered his hurting leg to rest his foot on the carpet. Shooting pain went up his leg once again, and Frank raised the leg with a groan.

He knew he couldn’t hold his leg in that position forever, though. Lying beside Frank on the couch, Olaf, the cat, looked quizzically at Frank, then went back to cleaning his fur.

“Hospital,” said Frank, aloud this time. Looking at Olaf, Frank said again, “Hospital, Olaf. I’ve got to go.”

Looking around for something to use as a makeshift crutch, Frank saw the floor lamp next to the couch. Sliding carefully to the right edge of the couch, Frank grasped the lamp and pulled himself shakily onto one foot.

He needed his keys and wallet.

Using the lamp as a staff, Frank took a step with his good leg, then yanked the lamp out in front of him. The force of the movement pulled the cord out of the wall, and it trailed behind him. Limping now towards his room, Frank stopped for a break at the hall, leaning his body to catch his breath—holding one leg aloft and clutching for dear life onto the lamppost was winding him. Resuming his trek, Frank limped into his room and sat down on his bed. Gathering his keys and wallet, Frank also decided to go ahead and put a shoe on his good foot. His socks were in his chest of drawers across the room, but his shoes were directly underneath his bed, so Frank decided to slip the shoe on and not worry about the sock.

With the shoe laced, Frank stood up once again and began his kangaroo-hop-slide towards the door. Reaching the door to leave his apartment, Frank turned to say goodbye to Olaf. “Be good Olaf; I’ll be back…when I can—you have enough food and water for tonight.”

Olaf paused his grooming and looking over at Frank for a moment with the same curious apathy he might have towards a dying bird.

Frank turned to go. “Bye,” he said quietly, flipping off the light – the pain couldn’t stop his energy-conscious habits.

Opening the door, Frank struggled out of his room into the apartment building’s breezeway. It was empty. Frank struggled to get the door locked but finally succeeded.

His leg was throbbing noticeably more now. With the initial shock of the injury and bustle of getting out the door wearing off, a sharp throbbing pain had set in. Frank fought back tears until a random thought distracted him, a memory from his high school history class, a quotation from Abraham Lincoln after Lincoln lost an election, “It hurts too much to laugh, but I’m too old to cry.” Frank decided he was not going to cry.

Limping slowly over to the stairs to descend to the parking lot, Frank stopped to analyze the first major problem—how was he going to get down the stairs? He could leave the lamp and simply use the handrail to steady himself down. But he didn’t want to leave the lamp out—it was a good lamp; he didn’t want to lose it. And plus, once he descended he would still need it to hop to his car.

Below Frank, the tap of feet on the metal-and-concrete steps drew closer. Around the landing of the steps stepped one of the most beautiful women Frank had ever seen. She had her dark hair tied up in a loose bun and was wearing a t-shirt with a stylized grizzly bear on it and purple sweatpants. In both hands, she held bulging bags of groceries.

Frank hopped back from the stairs to unblock the stairwell. “Sorry,” he said. “You can come on up.” The woman clipped lightly up the stairs and passed Frank with a smile.

“Thanks,” she said. Noticing the lamp and the raised leg, she stopped after passing. “What’s going on? Are you all right?”

Frank, unused to social interaction, didn’t say anything at first. The most beautiful woman I have ever seen in real life is standing right in front of me saying words. Surely not to me. Searching within his mind for the right response to this social situation, Frank remembered what to say: “I’m doing fine.” But he wanted to be authentic too. “Just…going to the emergency room.”

“Oh my!” said the woman. “Do you need someone to drive you there? Let me go set these bags inside, and then we can go.”

Frank had forgotten what it was like to talk to other human beings. “No,” he said. “It’s fine. I can do it.” To prove the point, Frank turned to descend the stairs. Bringing the lamp down with his left arm, Frank missed the step landing, and the lamp slid uselessly down the stairs. Losing his balance, Frank flailed and grabbed desperately onto the handrail with both hands, averting a fall and further injury.

“Do not move! I’m going to be right out,” said the woman. “You’ll be fine, but wait, and I’ll help you down.”

A few moments passed. Frank held onto the handrail. He wasn’t about to try and move again.

A moment later, the woman reappeared. “Hey,” she said. “Grab onto the handrail, and I’ll support you on the other side, and we’ll just take it one step at a time. Okay?”

Frank, as socially uncomfortable as he was, was not about to object. The pain was getting worse, and his foot felt heavier by the second as he attempted to keep it elevated. The woman took Frank’s left arm and shouldered his weight. “All right,” she said. “On two, let’s step. One—two!” Frank, supported by the handrail and the woman, stepped his good leg down.

“Great. See, this won’t be too bad,” said the woman. “I’m Janet, by the way. What’s your name?”

“Frank,” said Frank, as they took another step. He was trying very hard now to keep from setting down his left leg – the fear of further pain outweighed the growing leadenness.

“Yeah, try to keep the leg elevated – don’t want to put any weight on it. So what happened?” said Janet.

Frank hadn’t been required to tell a story in quite some time. He tried to think of the particulars, of how to make the story interesting. “I sat down on it,” he said.

“Ah,” said Janet, unsure of what to make of this. She looked at Frank, and Frank felt the body image issues he had been plagued with since a young age—the larger-than-average rear end, the belly that had developed during college.

“Yeah, I thought I was about to sit on my cat.”

“Aah,” said Janet, “I’m more of a dog person, but cats are cool too! What’s your cat’s name?”

“Olaf,” said Frank. She’s more of a dog person. Frank sighed internally. He had been slowly forming a romantic story in his mind about himself and Janet—the woman of his dreams helping him to get to the hospital, kick-starting a passionate romance as she helped nurse him back to health.

Ah well. Cats and dogs.

“Olaf…,” repeated Janet, “That’s a good name for a cat.”

Maybe there’s hope, thought Frank.

“I’m gonna have to set my leg down soon,” said Frank, breathing hard now. “Like, really soon.”

“Hold on for just a minute more,” said Janet. “We’re almost there.” Stepping down the last step, Janet pointed to the red Honda Civic just a few feet away.

“Okay, I’m going to open the back door for you, and you can just slide yourself right in.”

Frank, heaving big gulps of air, summoned the last of his strength and leaned gingerly back into the seat, holding his leg aloft, then slowly lowering it and crossing it over his good leg, allowed it to hang freely down while letting his muscles rest.

Janet shut the back door carefully, then slid into the driver’s seat, fastened her seat belt, and hastened to the hospital. It was at this moment that Frank started feeling dizzy and lightheaded. The world grew black as he passed out.