Tag Archives: words

God Writes His Love in One Word

I love words. Perhaps I’ve not fallen into epeolatry yet, but it’s always fun and interesting to meet a new word. (Like “epeolatry,” which is “the worship of words.”)

One of the best places I’ve found to discover new words and interesting things about words of all sorts is through the free e-mail publication “A.Word.A.Day” offered at www.wordsmith.org (since 1994). Last time I checked (which was years ago), their daily subscriber list was passing 600,000.

I like that (even though a quick look at the list of “organizations” they “support” would be a great help if I ever need to make a list of organizations I do not support). It’s good nonetheless to know that somewhere out there are still some folks, endangered species though they may be, who think that words and the thoughts and ideas they convey are important. Word-lovers tend to believe that our society not only needs the technical know-how to make things work and build great new gadgets, we need to know how to think and speak about where we’ve been and where we’re going. Even though we’re making excellent time on the trip, it might be nice to consider if we’re pointed in the right direction at a destination worth reaching. Words help us consider such things.

A recent “Word of the Day” from Wordsmith.org is a particularly interesting one, but I’m afraid you’ll have a hard time slipping it into ordinary conversation down at the coffee shop.

Univocalic. (Pronounced “yoo-niv-uh-KAL-ik.”)

“From the Latin uni- (one) plus vocalic (relating to vowels), from vox (voice).”

Univocalic is “a piece of writing that uses only one of the vowels.”

Wordsmith gives an example of univocalic that uses only the vowel “e”: Seventh September. And they note that the longest one-word univocalic is “strengthlessness.”

They also mention that according to Ed Park’s article in “Village Voice,” Canada’s best-selling poetry book ever was Christian Bok’s work, Eunoia. In the main portion of the book, each chapter used just a single vowel, producing sentences such as this: “Enfettered, these sentences repress free speech.”

If you’ve got a little extra time, you might try your hand at writing univocalic in just a sentence or two. It is difficilt, if nit ilmist imp . . . Oops. I probably shouldn’t say that.

Oh, well. Words are fascinating, and univocalic is interesting stuff. But I’m thankful to have at my disposal a deep bucketful of words that use all the very fine vowels English makes available.

Still, univocalic is intriguing. “I think I’d writ it jist in fits” and “never get these endless sentences enfleshed.”

When God speaks, he uses many vowels all pointing to one Word, “Jesus,” and one word behind every letter of His Word, “love.”

 

   

   You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


“So, Bob, Would You Hand Me That Thingamajig?”

Thingamajig. Doohickey. Dillybob. Whatsit.

Those are, of course, all words we use to refer to things for which we are unsure of the actual word, if there is one, for the thingamajig in question.

There. I’ve written “thingamajig” twice now, and my spell-checker has thus far resisted the impulse (do spell-checkers have impulses?) to squiggle a red line under the word, thereby calling my spelling into question. “Thingamajig” is evidently now a bona fide word for something we don’t know the word for. Ditto for doohickey.

Yes, but dillybob and whatsit still get red squiggles. Since I usually write these columns using software which, perhaps like its owner, tends to straddle American and British English spelling a bit—its preference for “anesthesia” or “anaesthesia” is mostly anesthetized, not to say completely anaesthetised (red squiggle just appeared; the “s” did it)—I often double-check the spell-check.

So I just did. Now the gate arm swings up and whatsit strides on past the spell-check check point. Dillybob is still being held at the border, though the Urban Dictionary (not, I admit, the highest authority) recognizes its usefulness. The Oxford English Dictionary must be dilly-dallying and hasn’t given dillybob its official papers yet.

Still, you know what I mean when I use the word. We need words for thingamabobs, whatchamacallits, doodahs, and hoobajoobs. (Sea of red squiggles now, but I’ll stake my English degree that these whatsitsname words for things unknown or as yet unnamed exist to answer, rather creatively and with a touch of heart-tickling whimsy, a real need.) The language would be much poorer without them.

We need a word for the crunchy little tidbit left on a corn dog stick when the dog is doggone. And along that line, what about a word for that little smidge of chocolate sticking to an ice cream stick until you lick it off?

What about a word for that disgusting little puff of smelly air that hits you in the face when, after delaying a bit too long, you bag the kitchen trash and then lean over and pull the plastic drawstring tight?

Often you discover that a word really does exist for the whatsit you wondered about. It was a fine moment when author Madeleine L’Engle taught me that dragon droppings are called “fewmets.” It’s a shame to accidentally step into something and not know its official name. Now I’m fewmetically safe. (Definite red squiggle.)

And is there a one-word description for a dweeb with a weird sense of humor? I guess so. (See dweeb. Or dork. Or nerd. Maybe doofus.)

I stepped right into that one, but I’m still smiling. Words can sting a little or a lot. But they can also morph wonderfully into delightful whimsy. And they can fly to heights of breathtaking beauty and awe-inspiring mystery.

And, yes, sometimes you just need a word and don’t have one. But our heavenly Father knew exactly what this world needed when, out of infinite love, he sent us his Son, the Word.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


Comma Placement, Panda Character, and Bible Translation

A  useful and delightful aid for anyone who, attempting cogent communication, might like a rule or two about punctuation marks such as apostrophes or commas, Lynne Truss’s best-selling Eats, Shoots & Leaves really is balm for the souls of English language “sticklers”—English majors, copy editors, writers, etc.—the sorts of folks who, lest the world fall into chaos, hold serious opinions as to whether or not the possessive of a proper noun ending in “s” requires simply an apostrophe or also another “s.” Is it Curtis’ or Curtis’s? (I’m not sure I’m happy about it, but modern usage and rules tend strongly toward the latter; Truss does say, though, that the possessive of “Jesus” is always formed by adding the apostrophe only. Good.)

Even the title of Truss’s (note the possessive) book makes me smile. Two pandas adorn the dust jacket. One is on a ladder inserting a comma after “Eats,” and the other is walking away, two-leggedly upright, holding a pistol in one paw. You see, the installation, or not, of that comma matters. (And you can count me firmly in the camp of the “Oxford comma”—comma in a series—folks who’d argue that, if a comma after “Eats” is included, an additional comma after “Shoots” is also in order.) If you opt for a comma or commas, the panda in question is a full-bellied criminal on the run after assault with a deadly weapon. If you opt for no commas, he’s simply being described as a typical panda.

This sort of thing doesn’t just matter to pandas and fussy English majors. Time magazine has reported that a court in Maine recently awarded five million dollars to a dairy company’s drivers because of “the lack of one Oxford comma” in a list of their tasks “legally exempt from overtime pay.”

Word folks have long found in commas potential for combat. Truss notes the good-natured but real battles between humorist James Thurber and New Yorker editor Harold Ross in the 1930s and 40s. Ross loved commas; Thurber eschewed them, opting for a star-spangled “red white and blue.” Ross, the boss, would undoubtedly go for “red, white, and blue.” Thurber opined that “all those commas make the flag seem rained on. They give it a furled look.”

Oh, and here’s a note to give one pause. (Why does that make me think of pandas’ paws?) The earliest manuscripts of the Bible were written with basically no punctuation at all. The early manuscripts of the New Testament contained no punctuation AND were written in all capital letters. I survived two years of biblical Greek, which I’ve mostly forgotten, but we rarely messed much with capitals and, since I was never a fraternity member, I’m quite fuzzy on them. Throw me overboard into an ancient Greek manuscript, and I’d be completely at sea.

Everyone’s job is more difficult than anyone else thinks, but Bible translators, a much-maligned and misunderstood lot, deserve combat pay and our undying gratitude. As Truss mentions, punctuation placement in English in Isaiah 40:3 determines whether “a voice” is “crying in [the midst of] the wilderness” or pointing toward the wilderness. Highly-educated translators are incredibly proficient at making good, wise, and defensible choices for such options, or letting us know in a footnote that “options exist, and here they are.” (See the NIV note on Isaiah 40:3.)

We really needn’t worry much about such. I think we can be very sure, and immensely thankful, that we have God’s revealed Scripture and that folks whose job it is to worry about translation and thus punctuation do, on the whole, an amazing job.

But don’t try to tell those Maine dairy drivers, or pandas whose character is in question, that comma placement doesn’t matter.

 

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“And So This Panda Walks Into a Café and . . .”

One of the most delightful (“filled with delight”) books that I’ve ever been given (thank you, Betty Little!) is the “Runaway #1 British Bestseller” Eats, Shoots and Leaves, by author and journalist Lynne Truss.

I find it interesting, surprising, and incredibly encouraging that, at least back in 2003 when this book was published, folks had the good sense to buy it and propel it to bestseller status.

You see, this is an incredibly humorous book about a subject crucial to the survival of the human race: punctuation. I’m not surprised to find me spending some time searching the Web to find pros and cons for whether “bestseller” is at its best when hyphenated, not hyphenated, or broken into two words. Working with words is a significant part of my work, but evidently a good many other folks care about such things, too. Wow!

The title of this book (I just said “this book” so as not to have to decide between “Truss’ book” and “Truss’s book) comes from the great word-nerd joke about the panda who goes into a café and orders a sandwich. After the meal, he proceeds to pull out a gun and shoot twice into the air. When the astonished waiter asks why, the panda, on his way out, tosses a “badly punctuated wildlife manual” toward him and says, “I’m a panda; look it up.” The waiter does: “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

The joke, you see, is humorously pointing out the importance of the “serial comma.” It’s also known as the “Oxford comma” (since Oxford University Press style required it). A good article in Wikipedia defines the serial comma as “a comma placed immediately before a coordinating conjunction (usually and or or) in a series of three or more terms.”

Style manuals—even the major ones—vary in their rule on this. It’s the difference between “eats, shoots and leaves” and “eats, shoots, and leaves.” Word people have serious opinions about this. As Truss says, it would be a serious mistake to sit in a bar between two copy editors who hold different opinions on this issue and might at the moment short of inhibitions. I myself am fairly passionate about the serial comma. Use it! Why risk plunging headlong into chaos?

Speaking of chaos, I’m working with a friend right now to decide the style rule for the ellipses (that’s two or more of the little three-dot doohickeys) that show up in his novel. Style guides vary widely (… or . . .). Truss is right: “The ellipsis is the black hole of the punctuation universe, surely, into which no right-minded person would willingly be sucked.” I wish the major style manuals would get their act together on this one. Alas, no. Not even close.

Sometimes a copy editor just needs to take a hike and breathe some fresh air unpolluted by misplaced apostrophes and confused uses of en and em dashes.  It’s good for me to remember that when the Author of life published our salvation, he needed no punctuation at all. Only one Word (John 1:1-14).

 

 

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Short Words Are Best” and Three Are Best of All

“Short words are best,” asserted Winston Churchill, “and the old words when short are best of all.”

So may I suggest three—very short and very old which when lined up and strung together are the best three that could possibly be.

GOD IS LOVE.

These words are chiseled into the rock, woven into the fabric, of the universe. More than that, if anything could be more, they are living and implanted by the Author of life into its every cell, resonating in every breath and heartbeat. How could we not feel the life of those three short words pulsing all around us? Ah, perhaps in part because they are so much around us that we live in them and swim in them like fish enlivened by but largely oblivious to the very thing that gives them life.

God is love.

Note that in this short, old, and every morning new, equational sentence, the verb, the multiplier, and the fulcrum is IS, to BE. Yes, eternally. And, yes, of course, the “great I AM” will always be and will always be exactly what He always is, love.

Those three words mean that as long as our Father wills the universe to be, the stars to twinkle, the worlds to spin—if packed in every grain of sand on every sea-washed beach was a million years and all of those mini-mega-grains were stretched across creation at attention in single sand-soldier file—the dance of the cosmos, the symphony of space, and the music of the spheres, will still play on because God is GOD, and God always IS, and God will always be LOVE.

The order of the short word-cars on this magnificent train matters immensely. “God is love” is a breathtaking stream flowing with the life of the Creator and wash-singing, joy-splashing, over every rock and crevasse of the universe. “Love is god” is an idolatrous sludge defiling its worshipers and leaving a black trail of death, desolation, and the tears of despairing children in its sad and slimy wake. The first sings with the life of the Creator; the latter stagnates and festers in the stench of death-ridden darkness.

And, yes, in a fallen, sin-sick, and sadly twisted world, darkness is real and too often seems utterly pervasive. But no eclipse is forever. The sun’s corona glows around the blackness, impatient to blaze again unfettered, and we have the promise of Eden’s Creator that one day unending joy will again be the watchword of the universe. The first Adam fell, and we see the wreckage and the pain, but Adam’s word is not the last.

Because of the three short words that find their fruition, culmination, and crowning glory in the one Word who “became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”

Does it sometimes, even often, seem unbearably dark? One Word “shines in the darkness” and will banish it forever, all because of the three short words: God is love.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


A Decidedly Delusional Discourse in the Key of D

 

Deeeeee

I wonder why “D” words are so often downers?

Death, disease, depression, despair, desperation, divorce, doom, despondency, doldrums, detritus.

Decompose, destruct, deconstruct, demoralize, demonize.

Decrepit, dim-witted, dumb, disheartened, disemboweled (sorry), dead, discombobulated, dilapidated, dingy, delusional, desperate.

That last one’s a cheat. We’ve already listed its brother Darrell and its other brother Darrell: “despair” and “desperation.” Darn!

On, though, we go. Don’t forget dark, drear, and dreary. Cheating again. I admit it.

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

I don’t doubt it. I’m betting it was dreary, too. But I’ll betcha dollars to donuts that it wouldn’t have been half that dismal if it had been a night described with “J” words. It’s the “D” words that tend to be joyless and short on [exception noted] delight.

Just admit it. For general dreariness, the “Ds” double down. To get to the heart of “gloom, despair, and agony on me,” you go to the “Ds.”

In the, uh, duh, “D” section, the “Dis-” section (not to be confused with actual dissection) could easily fill up their own dreary chapter. Some of these we’ve already mentioned.

Disgraced, dishonored, disheartened, disenfranchised, discombobulated (my favorite).

Yeah, and a dodgy, downright whiny cut-rate word degraded as a verb, a word that was much more respectable as a noun: disrespect. Ironically, it’s used most by folks who are misbehaving and haven’t figured out that respect, unlike love, can’t be bestowed on demand. By its very nature, the real thing has to be earned.

But “demand” brings us back around to the “Ds” and a dismal start to a downer of a story.

“It really was a dark and dreary night. Demas Diddledeedump, quite frankly a bit of a dim-witted, disheartening, sometimes almost delusional doofus, dwelt in a dingy, dilapidated dive of a domicile, almost as dark and dreary as the night. He lodged with an attack dog, a defanged dachshund, amidst the decomposing detritus of what might be despondently described as a discombobulated and decidedly depressing life.” Hmm.

I admit it. This story, which I’ll not complete, and inDDDeed, this entire essay, isn’t worth a drat and has no particular direction. Since I write columns with points all the time, I figured it was high time for a pointless one.

But here’s a little bit of a blunt point, and if you have any wordsmithing in your blood, poetry in your soul, or any alliterative inclination, you’ll be cursing me in the key of D (which is easy) after you’ve read this. You see, if you breathe “D” air too long, all you can see is da Ds. A little like an ear-worm of a song, it’s more of a tongue-tying twist.

I’d suggest, as God’s people, we skip on over to H for hope, J for joy. Or just center on a different D. Just a little of God’s real Delight trumps a boatload of Ds of the depressing sort. That’s something delicious worth dwelling on.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


The Tongue Is a Powerful and Often Fiery Instrument

 

tonue 03

Ah, the tongue. ’Tis a powerful instrument indeed, as St. James sternly warns us in the New Testament book which bears his name (James 3:1-12).

James points to the incongruity of the fact that with this same instrument we can both praise the Lord and curse our neighbors. Strange, he comments, that out of the same spring can flow both fresh and salt water. Odd, he observes, and unnatural, that a fig tree could “bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs.” Something is wrong with that picture, and James is saying that something is wrong with our using an instrument given by God to bless us as a weapon with which to curse those created by God and in His image.

The tongue. It’s such a powerful thing that James says that a person completely able to control it, “never at fault in what he says,” would be a “perfect” person.

The tongue. It may be small, but in our lives it’s like the rudder that steers a huge sea-going vessel. Or, more often, it’s like a spark that sets a forest ablaze. Which leads me to this: We need to be very careful that what flows from our tongues are words that are refreshing, redeeming, and winsome, and not words that spark fires. Most of us would, we like to think, never shove a knife into an enemy, but we need to remember that, in God’s economy, neither are we to bow to the very real temptation to skewer folks with our own forked tongues, to use that instrument to spread poison, or to drop tongue-kindled sparks that fan fires which we secretly hope burn the folks who’ve rubbed us wrong.

Even loose lips which mean no harm can cause injury. Have you ever played the classroom game where the teacher whispers a simple sentence to a person at one end of the room, and then that person whispers it to the next, and so on, until the last person in the room shares it with the whole class? It’s often hilarious to see how the message has changed as it’s been repeated. It’s not so funny in real life.

Combine a willing tongue and a little anger, and you have a fiery combination that very few of us handle well. In this respect, as in so many others, I wish I was more like my father.

Sometime in the 70’s, Dad took a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Holy Land. Several good friends of our family also went on that trip, and one of them recently recalled a long day in which the weary but excited travelers had been sightseeing among the pyramids. The tourists were riding camels led by some pesky camel-drivers who were driving their American visitors crazy with trinket-selling and incessant pleas for handouts. That night my father explained to John Comer, a dear friend, that he’d finally had to get ugly with one of those fellows.

“What did you say?” John asked.

“I said, ‘Sir, I do wish you would leave me alone.’”

That was my Dad at his ugliest. Even when he was angry, he seemed always to have his tongue under control.

I wish I was more like my father.

I wish I was more like my Father.

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Ah, the tongue. ’Tis a powerful instrument indeed, as the Apostle James sternly warns us in the New Testament book which bears his name (James 3:1-12).

James points to the incongruity of the fact that with this same instrument we can both praise the Lord and curse our neighbors. Strange, he comments, that out of the same spring can flow both fresh and salt water. Odd, he observes, and unnatural, that a fig tree could “bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs.” Something is wrong with that picture, and James is saying that something is wrong with our using an instrument given by God to bless us as a weapon with which to curse those created by God and in His image.

The tongue. It’s such a powerful thing that James says that a person completely able to control it, “never at fault in what he says,” would be a “perfect” person.

The tongue. It may be small, but in our lives it’s like the rudder that steers a huge sea-going vessel. Or, more often, it’s like a spark that sets a forest ablaze. Which leads me to this: We need to be very careful that what flows from our tongues are words that are refreshing, redeeming, and winsome, and not words that spark fires. Most of us would, we like to think, never shove a knife into an enemy, but we need to remember that, in God’s economy, neither are we to bow to the very real temptation to skewer folks with our own forked tongues, to use that instrument to spread poison, or to drop tongue-kindled sparks that fan fires which we secretly hope burn the folks who’ve rubbed us wrong.

Even loose lips which mean no harm can cause injury. Have you ever played the classroom game where the teacher whispers a simple sentence to a person at one end of the room, and then that person whispers it to the next, and so on, until the last person in the room shares it with the whole class? It’s often hilarious to see how the message has changed as it’s been repeated. It’s not so funny in real life.

Combine a willing tongue and a little anger, and you have a fiery combination that very few of us handle well. In this respect, as in so many others, I wish I was more like my father.

Sometime in the 70’s, Dad took a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Holy Land. Several good friends of our family also went on that trip, and one of them recently recalled a long day in which the weary but excited travelers had been sightseeing among the pyramids. The tourists were riding camels led by some pesky camel-drivers who were driving their American visitors crazy with trinket-selling and incessant pleas for handouts. That night my father explained to John Comer, a dear friend, that he’d finally had to get ugly with one of those fellows.

“What did you say?” John asked.

“I said, ‘Sir, I do wish you would leave me alone.’”

That was my Dad at his ugliest. Even when he was angry, he seemed always to have his tongue under control.

I wish I was more like my father.

I wish I was more like my Father.

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

        

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


These Days Everybody Is “Reaching Out to You”

reach out

Maybe it’s just me, and perhaps a few of the other old fossils, the English majors, the “arts and humanities” types that our society keeps around as pitiful and withered relics of a bygone time when folks cared as much about the “why’s” of life as the “how’s,” when asking questions about the direction of our journey in life seemed as important as knowing how to travel aimlessly but really quickly and with cool gadgets, when having warm hearts seemed as important as having swelled heads crammed full of information but with little room for wisdom . . .

Okay, enough of that. But I feel better. As members of an oppressed minority, most English majors these days need to vent occasionally.

As I was saying, maybe it’s just me and a few other old fossils who think that language matters and is a window on whatever shriveled soul our society may have left, but have you noticed how many folks are “reaching out” these days?

The press doesn’t just “call” for an interview with someone these days; no, they “reach out.” The “60 Minutes” investigative reporter seeking his quarry may plan to throttle him and nail him to the wall with sharp questions, justly asked or not, but that will, of course, be after the reporter “reaches out.”

You can’t watch a newscast these days without hearing some local TV reporters parroting the same lingo as they “reach out” for interviews, mostly with regard to people who’d be happy as clams NOT to be reached.

Maybe “reaching out” is better, but it seems strange to me. Why don’t they just call?

Maybe it’s because our politically correct society is sensitive and kind. Once the Mafia might put out a “hit” on someone; maybe now they just “reach out.” I don’t really want to know, but I wonder if the IRS audits folks these days, or if now as part of a much kinder and gentler mindless bureaucracy, its agents just “reach out,” too?

Am I mistaken or did “reaching out” once pretty much imply a religious sort of reaching?

“Reach out to Jesus,” the song intones, because “He’s reaching out to you.”

Well, I believe that, and it’s a very positive thing, yea, verily, part and parcel of the Good News.

I “googled” this subject and my heart was warmed as I was reminded that parents “reach out” to children and vice versa in familial affection, and that neighbors at times  “reach out” to neighbors in need. Knowing that our state’s legislature is in session, I felt a cold chill when I found a quotation about the government “reaching out” to its citizens.

But a bunch of the presently pervasive “reaching out” is not frightening, it just seems trite and a bit sanctimonious, and I don’t know what to make of it.

In fairness, I should mention that I know a good many math and science folks who bless us all and who haven’t cashed in their warm hearts for cold calculators.

Before closing this column, I just felt a need to reach out.

 

 

          You’re invited to reach out to my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

  

Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


This Fallen World Is Out of Kilter, But One Day . . .

 

“The Online Etymology Dictionary.”

That’s the name of a website I discovered recently. No, it’s not a site devoted to knowledge about bugs. That’s “entomology.” Etymology is indeed a “-logy” so it’s “the science of” something. But not creepy-crawlies. Etymology is the science of word derivations. The site’s owners describe it as “a map of the wheel-ruts of modern English.” Nicely put.

I’m glad somebody created such a site. I’m imagining them as a group of under-appreciated, underpaid, societally under-valued, mildly depressive but devoted English majors who are also afflicted with the kind of itch history helps scratch.

Even for a society on technological steroids, it’s probably good to keep around a few of the old fossils just described. Math and science folks help us know how to go really fast and do cool stuff. Humanities folks help answer pesky questions about which direction we’re going and what cool stuff is worth doing (and where there’ve been wrecks we maybe should avoid).

I feel better just knowing that the Online Etymology Dictionary is available and doing good work for humanity. It’d be a shame for some fine old English words and phrases to be lost or orphaned and nobody know from whence they came. Sometimes a phrase comes along and just begs you to try to meet its parents by following the wheel ruts back up the road a bit. I was grabbed by just such a phrase recently, and that’s when I discovered this site.

If something is “out of working order or alignment,” “out of order,” “not in good condition,” we might say, “It’s out of whack.” But we’re just as likely to say, “It’s out of kilter.” We know what that means. But why does it mean what it means? What, pray tell, is the “kilter” something might be “out of”?

My money was on “kilter” being an old nautical term. I like old nautical terms. But no. Or maybe a surveyor’s or navigator’s term. Nope.

I learned that the phrase first shows up in the 1620’s. “Kilter” is a variant of the English “kelter” which pops up around 1600 and means “good condition, order.”

But why does it mean that? The word was sired somewhere! You never met a word without some verbal ancestors. Alas, this one is short on birth records. That’s too bad, because it’s a cool word and part of a great phrase. It’s a shame Al Gore wasn’t around to invent the Internet a few hundred years earlier. Maybe if the Online Etymology Dictionary had been around a good bit longer, a good phrase wouldn’t be so sadly orphaned and, just maybe, the world would be a little less “out of kilter.”

I hope you’re not feeling “out of kilter.” Yes, we live in an “out of kilter” world. But we can thank our Father for the gift he gave to be sure that one day, pure joy and complete goodness and order will reign, and nothing and nobody will ever again be out of . . .

Well, you know.

 

 

 

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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