Posted by: suekenney | August 5, 2013

Susan’s Editorial Dictionary: B is for Battle of Hastings

Say what?  Battle of Hastings?  How on earth does that relate to a dictionary of editorial and literary terms?

Battle of Hastings, as portrayed by Philip Jam...

Battle of Hastings, as portrayed by Philip James de Loutherbourg: this work of art has been engraved by W. Bromley and published in Bowyer’s edition of Hume’s History of England (1804).http://www.trin.cam.ac.uk/sdk13/histpaint/ashistpaint.html (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, let me tell you.  First, a very quick background on the Battle of Hastings.  In the year 1066, Duke William II of Normandy brought his armies to England to claim the throne he said was rightfully his.  Harold II, the Anglo-Saxon king of England, wasn’t about to give up the throne without a fight.  But in that fight, in October of 1066, fought near Hastings, Harold lost, and William won.

This set up a major shift in England.  Instead of the Anglo-Saxon culture being at the top of the heap in England, William imported French language, culture, government, etc.  While Anglo-Saxon, or what we now call Old English, was a language mostly concerned with simple, agrarian concepts, Duke William’s Norman French dealt with somewhat more complex concepts and became, for some centuries, the language of the the ruling classes, the courts, and business.

Words like “apple,” “axe,” “chicken,” “house,” “husband,” and “land” are all from Old English.  Norman French gave us words such as “liberty,” “majesty,” “mutton,” “chivalry,” and “accuse.”  Some estimate that the Norman invasion brought into the English language as many as 10,000 new words, many of which we still use today.

But a vastly expanded vocabulary is not the only reason that the Battle of Hastings is included in an editorial dictionary, although I would certainly consider vocabulary very important.  The grammar changed as well.  Most Anglo-Saxon plurals were formed in the Germanic way of adding the suffix -en.  After the Normans took over, plurals eventually became more commonly formed in the French way, by adding -s.

But even beyond plurals, Old English or Anglo-Saxon was full of inflection (inflexion for you Brits in the audience):  there were five grammatical cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, and instrumental), two grammatical numbers (singular and plural), and three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter) for nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and determiners.  Some pronouns also had dual forms for groups of two people.  Verbs came in nine main conjugations, seven strong (what we would now call irregular) and two weak (what we would now call regular).  To some extent, the order of the words in a sentence was variable, since the case endings clearly indicated how a word was meant to be used regardless of its place in the sentence.

The advent of Norman French helped to simplify Old English grammar.  Cases now number only three (nominative, objective, and possessive, which mostly occur in pronouns); there is no longer specific gender for most nouns; the dual form disappeared; a far greater number of strong-conjugated verbs gave place to primarily weak-conjugated verbs; word order in sentences became much more rigid.

So if not for the Battle of Hastings and the major influence of Norman French on Old English, editors these days might very well be correcting someone’s misuse of the dative for the accusative case of foot, or making sure the dual form of you was properly placed, or decrying the usage of too many weak verbs.  But now we worry about people using it’s when they should have used its, or having a misplaced antecedent, or the like.  It’s all in your perspective.

 

Posted by: suekenney | July 8, 2013

Susan’s Editorial Dictionary: A is for Active Voice

The English language has a grammatical aspect called voice.  Every sentence is either in active voice or passive voice.  Most sentences in English are written in the active voice.  In these sentences, the subject of the sentence is either the doer of the action of the verb, or the topic, in the case of linking verbs.  For instance:

Margie sat on the elegant chaise longue.   (Margie is doing the action of sitting.)

Margie is the most endearing physicist I’ve ever met.  (Margie is the topic of the linking verb is.)

Passive voice switches the focus of the sentence to what would be the object of the sentence in active voice.  In passive voice, the subject becomes the recipient of the action.

The chaise longue was made in the new factory in Newburyport.  (Chaise longue receives the action of making.)

A rococo chaise longue

A rococo chaise longue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Passive voice can be easily recognized by looking at the verb:  it is always a form of the verb be plus the past participle of another verb.  “Am amused,” “was focused,” “will be done,” “has been formed,” “had been started,” and so on.

Another thing to note in passive voice sentences:  the doer of the action is not always mentioned.  For instance, in the sample sentence for passive voice, we don’t know who in particular made the chaise longue; just that it was made in Newburyport, in a new factory.

Generally, you can switch active voice to passive, as long as there is an object to the sentence, and passive to active.  Here are some examples:

Margie lifted the heavy suitcase into the trunk of her car.  (Active – the subject is doing the action)

The heavy suitcase was lifted by Margie into the trunk of her car.  (Passive – the subject is receiving the action)

Margie filled the suitcase with sturdy, warm clothes.  (Active – the subject is doing the action)

The suitcase was filled with sturdy, warm clothes.  (Passive – the subject is the receiver of the action – the doer of the action is not mentioned)

As I said at the beginning, most sentences in English are in the active voice.  Active voice helps the sentences move along more smoothly and quickly; it adds a little bit of pep to your writing.  Active voice is more vivid, more direct.

However, this doesn’t mean that you should always avoid the passive voice.  If you want to focus on the recipient of the action, or for some reason don’t care to mention who specifically is doing the action, then use passive voice.  Just don’t do it very often.

Just for fun, I wrote four sentences or clauses in my main text in passive voice:  can you find all four?  (Don’t count the sample sentences.  If you find more than four, you get an extra gold star!)

Posted by: suekenney | April 2, 2013

World Autism Awareness Day 2013

Autism Awareness

Autism Awareness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What do you know about autism?  Do you know that it’s not just one condition, but a whole broad spectrum of conditions?  Do you know that the CDC estimates 1 out of every 88 children is on the autism spectrum (ASD)?  Do you know that when they divide it along gender lines, they estimate ASD affects 1 in every 54 boys, but only 1 in every 252 girls?   Do you know that this affects more children than are affected by diabetes, AIDS, cancer, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, or Down syndrome – combined?

Do you know that every person with autism is unique?  Do you know that many have exceptional visual, musical, and academic skills, while about 40% have intellectual disability (IQ less than 70)?  Do you know that about 25% of persons on the spectrum are nonverbal but can learn to communicate via other means?  Do you know that some individuals with autism justly take pride in their abilities and different perspective on the world, while others are significantly disabled and cannot live independently?

Do you know that there is no link between childhood vaccines and the increased prevalence of autism?  Do you know that an autistic child has as much right as any other child, thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1990, to have access to a “free and appropriate” education funded by the government, whether in mainstream or special education classrooms?

Do you know that it is very important to receive as early a diagnosis as possible, so that steps can begin immediately to deal with potential problems?  Do you know that every child needs to be screened for developmental milestones from birth to at least 36 months?  Do you know that screening for autism should include hearing and lead exposure tests and an autism-specific screening tool such as the M-CHAT, and be administered by a multi-disciplinary team of doctors, and that genetic testing and screening for related medical issues may also be recommended?

 And there is so much more to know!  Probably all of us know at least one person who has autism.  I personally know three, that I am aware of.  All three show different symptoms.  One is a toddler and beginning to make great strides in his development.  One is a teenager, functioning as well as any other teenager.  One is in his early twenties, of exceptional intelligence and musical skill, and working on his masters degree.

English: Temple Grandin’s talk at TED 2010.

English: Temple Grandin’s talk at TED 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the main things to remember about people with autism is that most of them are able to function just fine, thank you – they just see the world very differently than the rest of us.  This can often be an advantage:  look at Temple Grandin, who holds a PhD and is a professor of animal science.  Because of her autistic perspective, she was able to conceive a number of revolutionary ways to improve the cattle industry in the US.

Look at Dawn Prince-Hughes, another holder of a PhD, hers in primate anthropology.  Her autistic perspective led her to work closely with gorillas, and has given her new insights into gorilla behavior.

Look at Satoshi Tajiri.  His Asperger’s Syndrome (one of the higher-functioning conditions on the spectrum) led him to an early childhood obsession with insects, and then to arcade games.  This led to his creation of the Pokemon universe.

Look at the names of some other people throughout history, who have attracted speculation that they might have had ASD:  Albert Einstein, Amedeus Mozart, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Thomas Jefferson, Michelangelo.

A diagnosis of autism is not a death sentence.  It doesn’t mean that the child or adult with autism is an imbecile, or a vegetable, or a second-class citizen.  I said earlier that early intervention is extremely important:  not because I think that autism is a disease that needs to be “cured,” but because communication is so key to all we do, and autistic folks have to learn how to communicate with us so-called “neurotypicals.”  (Seriously, have you ever found anyone who really was “typical”?  That’s like defining “normal.”)  They must learn to communicate with us; we must learn to communicate with them.  It must come from both sides to be full, honest communication.

(Note:  Most of the information contained in this post was taken from autismspeaks.org; autismmythbusters.com; and toptenz.net.  Wikipedia was also helpful.)

Posted by: suekenney | March 29, 2013

With a Triumphal Grin?

Really, this is about words and grammar.

This past Sunday, March 24, I was doing my morning devotions and belatedly picked up on the fact that it was Palm Sunday (at least in the Western tradition).  This is the day that Christians celebrate Jesus Christ riding into Jerusalem at the beginning of that last week before the Crucifixion.  Many of us call that the Triumphal Entry.

 

English: Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey

English: Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My mind – as it is wont to do – started wandering around this concept of a triumphal entry:  what was it exactly?  why triumphal and not triumphant?  was there a difference between triumphal and triumphant?

Checking my concordance, I found that the phrase “triumphal entry” is not in the Bible.  According to the Wikipedia article I read, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem  probably wasn’t referred to as a triumphal entry until the 13th century or so.  The term “triumphal entry” actually refers to the ancient Roman practice of celebrating their generals’ successes with a triumph: a parade through the streets of Rome, a special sacrifice, and various other honors and benefits.

Now, I don’t intend to get into all the whys and wherefores of Jesus being given a triumph when He entered Jerusalem.    This is about words, not theology.  The adjective “triumphal,” then, refers to celebrating or commemorating a victory or triumph, or having the nature of a triumph in the Roman sense.  The word, according to dictionary.com, based on the Random House Dictionary, was recorded as first being used around 1400-1450.

Triumphant is very similar, but there is a shade of difference.  It’s a slightly younger word, having been first recorded as being used around 1485-1495.  In fact, it was early used as a replacement or equivalent of triumphal.  But over the centuries it has come to refer more to the actual victory than to the celebration thereof.  So triumphant means successful or victorious, or exulting in that success or victory.  As I said, “same but different.”

Not an earthshaking issue, for sure.  But of interest to grammar nerds such as I (yeah, I figured I’d better say that one correctly).  And enough to let me know that my title is not topnotch in terms of diction – I should grin triumphantly, not triumphally.

Posted by: suekenney | March 29, 2013

What’s So Special About That?

The Parr family. From left to right: Elastigir...

The Parr family. From left to right: Elastigirl, Mr. Incredible, Violet and Dash. Bottom: Jack-Jack. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I’ve been meditating a lot lately on a couple of lines from one of my favorite intellectual films:  The Incredibles.  Most of you probably know the basic plotline:  the superheroes of the world are forced to go undercover, forswear their superpowers, and forever pretend to be just ordinary non-superpowered citizens.  The Parr family – dad Bob (Mr. Incredible), mom Helen (Elastigirl), and children Violet, Dash, and baby JackJack – are the central focus of the movie, as Bob is increasingly unhappy concealing his true powers, and son Dash is chomping at the bit to show off his super-speed.

Early on in the movie, as Helen is once again patiently explaining to Dash why he must conceal his speed in school, she comments, “Everyone’s special, Dash.”  In response, Dash mutters, “Which is another way of saying no one is.”

Later, the villain of the piece, Syndrome, is explaining his nefarious plot to the captive Mr. Incredible.  Syndrome is a genius, with apparently a LOT of money to throw around, and has invented all kinds of gadgets that give him, a non-superpowered individual, a variety of super abilities:  flying, force shields, tractor beams, etc.  As he tells Mr. Incredible, when he gets too old to enjoy them himself, he’ll make these inventions available to everyone so that everyone can enjoy super powers

Syndrome, the antagonist of the movie, was wel...

Syndrome, the antagonist of the movie, was well received. He was No.64 in Wizard’s top 100 villains. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Everyone can be super,” he says; “and when everyone’s super – no one will be.”

To paraphrase:  “When everyone has the same awesome abilities, no one will be considered special anymore.”

That line – that concept – has been bothering me.  Do you have to have super powers or incredible natural talents  to be special?  Does that mean that anyone who isn’t a super hero – or a phenomenal athlete – or a Pulitzer Prize-winning author – or a world class musician – or a scientist who has discovered the foundational secrets of physics or chemistry – or an entrepreneur who amasses enormous wealth – or a military leader who defeats every enemy with spectacular ease – or a medical researcher who has discovered the cure for cancer – does that mean that anyone who isn’t regarded by the world as outstanding in his or her field, isn’t special?

If you look at “special” as meaning “outstanding; distinguished by some unusual quality; being in some way superior” – then the answer is yes.  The ordinary citizen on the street is not special at all.

This is how our American culture tends to view “special.”  We idolize sports heroes; popular singers and musicians; the super-wealthy; the super-glamorous; actors and actresses who have made major box office hits; politicians who wield great power – anyone who stands out from the crowd.  We want to be special ourselves: rich, famous, powerful, incredibly talented; and we are encouraged in our fantasizing by the advertising media, by the TV shows and movies we watch, even by our politicians who insist that we as a nation (or state, or county, or city, or township) must be Number One.

But there is another definition of “special.”  Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary also defines “special” as “held in particular esteem.”  Again to paraphrase, “regarded with respect or admiration or affection unique to that one.” So what does that mean?  Do you have to stand out from the crowd to be “held in particular esteem”?

Hardly.  I’ll use my grandsons (my favorite examples).  One is three years old; the other is six months old.  Obviously both of them are far too young to have exhibited great athletic prowess, or literary genius, or financial acumen, or musical talent, or political savvy.  Neither one has won any Pulitzers, Nobels, Grammys, Emmys, Purple Hearts, Medals of Honor, or any other award.  Their names are known only to a few people, mostly relatives.

And yet, I find them very special; I hold them both “in particular esteem.”  I take great delight in being with them, in playing with them, in laughing with them, in just holding them.  I cherish every moment I am able to spend with them.

Here’s another example: Mother Teresa.  No, not she herself, although I agree that she was an incredible woman.  No, I am talking about those whom she served for all those years:  the incredibly poor, the incredibly sick, the downcast and downtrodden, the abject rejects of the society.  Why did Mother Teresa daily expend her life to serve these people, so insignificant in the eyes of everyone else?  Because each one was special to her.  Each one, no matter how poor, or sick, or ugly, or old, or young, or downtrodden, was precious in her eyes.  Any why would that be?  Because she saw each one as a life created by God, cherished by God – but horribly abused by this sinful world we live in.

To be regarded as special, or “held in particular esteem,” these things don’t really matter:  age, sex, sexual orientation, race, nationality, political party, economic status, individual talents, personal preferences, health, accomplishments.  Every life has been lovingly crafted by God; as His agents here on earth, we are to cherish each one and do whatever is in our power to imporve their lives here on earth.

So I reject the elitism inherent in both Dash’s and Syndrome’s remarks.  I choose to view every person as special, despite age, sex, etc. (see above).  And there is a great easing of the pressure to feel that we have to perform or accomplish something awesome to be regarded as special.  My “specialness” lies in the facts that God made me, He loves me, and other people love me as well.  Nothing greater is required.

Posted by: suekenney | February 14, 2013

Long Overdue Update – In Praise of NOOKs

Well, well, my last blog post was at the end of October.  And here it is, the middle of February.  Over three months in between.  I never did get that novel written – I think I gave up after about a week or so, because I couldn’t possibly keep up.  Haven’t gone back to it since; maybe later this winter or this spring.

My “brand new” grandson is now over four months old and growing by leaps and bounds: already over the 95th percentile for height, but only around the 60th for weight.  He’s going to be a tall lad!  Very likely taller than his older brother, who is no miniature himself.

Little brother Simeon staring up in wonder at older brother Owen - December 2012

Little brother Simeon staring up in wonder at older brother Owen – December 2012

And Owen, age 3, is progressing very well.  Such a smiler!

(Can’t tell Grandma’s proud of her little munchkins, can you?)

On another note, I got a NOOK Simple Touch for Christmas.  Hadn’t expected it – hadn’t asked for it – but boy! am I having fun with it now! 

English: A Nook Touch Deutsch: Ein Foto eines ...

English: A Nook Touch Deutsch: Ein Foto eines Nook Touch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve learned a lot about NOOKs since I got mine.  There are different kinds, which was news to me.  Mine is just a reader; others are of the tablet variety, so you can surf the Web, do apps, and more, besides read.

All you young folks must excuse me here – I’m of an older generation, and all this is new to me.  The technology amazes me.  I hadn’t realized how much you can pack onto these things.  I currently have well over 100 items in my “library,” and yet still have 80% of its capacity unused. 

Granted, a number of those items are fairly short, like short stories or poems, or essays; but there are also some whoppers in there at several hundred pages.  My New King James Bible is probably the longest; or maybe the topical Bible I downloaded. 

And my collection is so eclectic.  So much better than a magazine.  I have a couple different Bibles, some Bible resources, and several Christian works of both fiction and nonfiction.  Then there’s a smattering of history – science fiction – philosophy – farming and gardening – murder mystery – genealogy –  economics – grammars and dictionaries – papermaking – bookbinding – Jane Austen and Shakespeare, of course – and even a cookbook.  Something for just about every reading mood I will ever be in.

Sources have been various:  Barnes & Noble, of course, the makers of the NOOK.  Project Gutenberg, which has digitized thousands of books whose copyrights have expired, putting them in the public domain.  My public library (Flower Memorial Library in Watertown, NY, surely one of the best libraries around), which has ebooks for loan, and also gives access to several books like those from Project Gutenberg.  And now even articles online or various items on my computer, now that I’ve learned how to make a PDF file from a Word document.

Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library

Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library (Photo credit: J. Stephen Conn)

It has certainly been fun, and I find it’s actually changing my reading habits.  For several years now, I have mostly read fiction, aside from my Bible.  Now I have several nonfiction books at my fingertips – literally! – and I have begun to delve into books about history, science, education, politics, and other fun subjects.

So thanks for my NOOK!

Posted by: suekenney | October 29, 2012

A New Challenge

I think I’m probably crazy.  I’ve been gone from home for almost a month and a half (helping tend brand new grandson!), and I have SOOO much to do to catch up.  But I think I’m going to give a shot at the National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo, as some fondly know it.  It means trying to write a 50,000 novel in 30 days, at an average of approximately 1670 words per day.

Yep, crazy.  I really do have SOOOO much else to do.  But I think I’ll give it a go, see what comes of it.  No, I certainly don’t expect to come up with a clean, polished, ready-to-be-published novel in only 30 days.  I’m old enough, and have corrected enough high school English papers, to know that’s not going to happen.  Good writing, worthy to be published, takes time and effort, more than is possible in just 30 days.

I’ve always wanted to write something worth reading.  I’ve got mounds of unfinished stories stashed in various drawers and cupboards; most of them, quite frankly, are awful.  Blogging has become my new creative writing outlet.  There is, however, a world of difference between writing a few hundred words of condensed thought, and writing several thousand words of novel with characters, plot, theme, all the rest of it.  I think I’ll take the challenge to write something longer than I’ve done in a long time.

I already have some ideas about what I’m going to write about.  I may share more about it as the month of November progresses – if, of course, I can find the time to both blog and write a novel.  Should prove to be interesting.  I’ll let you know in December if I actually succeeded.  Stay tuned!

3 Days Until National Novel Writing Month (NaN...

3 Days Until National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) (Photo credit: smittenkittenorig)

Posted by: suekenney | September 14, 2012

My Grandmother’s Scrapbooks: An Introduction

 

Esther Corinne Lambert, July 1936 – or “CTL” as she called herself, Corinne Tyson Lambert

My maternal grandmother, Corinne Tyson Lambert (1894-1993), was a great one for looking into family history.  My mother has often told me of how Grandma used to take entire days going to the various venues in Worcester, MA, for genealogical research:  the historical society, the library, the museums, etc.  She took copious notes, many of which I still have in my possession (having inherited the family historical materials when we had to divvy up the contents of Mom’s house), and painstakingly copied those notes into ledgers and journals, which I also have. 

She inherited much of this interest from her own father, Edwin Comly Tyson (1864-1946 or 48), who had done much of his own research in what time he could spare from his business.  I have seen, amongst the masses of papers and such, letters written by my great-grandfather to various folks asking about bits and pieces of family history, and their replies.  At least one of the hand-drawn family trees in my possession was begun by him, in his elegant 19th century handwriting.

My great-grandfather, Edwin Comly Tyson, not sure of the date

In turn, Grandma passed this interest on to my mother, who eventually was able to consolidate some of the most basic information into a self-made book, copies of which she gave to each of us kids, to her mother and sisters, and possibly to a few other folks I don’t know about.  The book only covers what Mom always called the “Four Quarters,” the four families of my grandparents – Watson, Plummer, Lambert, and Tyson.  Mom had always hoped to get to the other family lines, some of which had been traced back several generations to the very beginnings of the American colonies, but never finished that monumental work.

And now the torch has passed to me.  I would like to carry on the tradition, but am somewhat daunted by the sheer volume of material now in my possession.  I have written a few blogs before about various little bits of family history – William Bartlet (a many-times-great-grandfather), Richard Lambert (my grandfather), Kitty Niles (my mother’s sister), John Watson (my father).  But nothing very connected.

Well, my grandmother had taken some of the material on her husband’s family, the Lamberts, and put it into a couple of scrapbooks.  I thought I would give a try to go through the scrapbooks, page by page, picture by picture, and see what was there.  Organizationally my grandmother was definitely a bit challenged – skimming through these books, there is plenty of jumping from one century to another, from one ancestor to another with no warning.  But perhaps I can make some sense of it as I go through it in detail; and when I redo these scrapbooks (as I must, because they’re not in the greatest of shape) I would hope to get things more in some sort of order, chronological or otherwise.

So, to begin – much of Grandma’s research focused on Henry Calvert Lambert (1812-1899), her husband’s grandfather, and the first Lambert of the line to come to America, in the 1830’s.  The very first picture in the first scrapbook is of “the Little Store” in Rye, England.  According to Grandma’s caption, it is “where Henry Lambert went as a boy, for sweets.  The very same house.”

The Little Store, Rye, England, where Henry went as a boy for sweets

Note that the picture was taped into the scrapbook – not what would be recommended today.  I am not as hyper-conscientious about using only the most archival-friendly materials as some people I know, but even I cringed as I went through the books and saw how Grandma had put them in.  Maybe this can be corrected; maybe not.  I’ll see what I can do.

As far as Henry and Rye go – according to the records I’ve got, Henry was born in Winchelsea, England, the fifth of ten children.  Since the father, Luke, was a military man, those ten children were born in a number of different places, including England, Ireland, Scotland, Malta, at sea, and Italy.  Rye was obviously one of the places the family stayed for a while, in between travels.  More on Rye and Winchelsea to come.  Next time, though, I want to look at the introduction my grandmother wrote for this scrapbook.

Posted by: suekenney | August 31, 2012

Once in a Blue Moon…Is Now

Full Moon

Full Moon (Photo credit: kennytyy)

I’ve heard the phrase “once in a blue moon” all my life.  It was always used to refer to something not very likely to happen.  For instance, “Does that bum down the street ever pay his rent on time?”  “Oh, once in a blue moon!”  Or, “Does my brother ever clean his room?”  “Once in a blue moon!”

 For whatever reason, we never delved into the origin of the phrase, so it wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that I learned that it was used to refer to an actual astronomical phenomenon.  I don’t recall where and when I first heard this, but I learned then that a “blue moon” referred to the second full moon within a month.  Such as today – August 31, 2012, hosts the second full moon of this month, the first one having occurred around August 1 or 2.

I normally don’t keep close track on what the moon is doing, but the nearly full moon I saw last night was hard to ignore, and I had also heard a few mentions of the upcoming phenomena on the radio.  So I thought I’d whip up a quick article on what a blue moon was, and proceeded to do some digging.

Well, well, well.  Look what I found!  “Blue moon” referring to the second full moon within the same month is NOT the original meaning of the term.  Traditionally, according to the Maine Farmer’s Almanac from the 19th century, “blue moon” was the term used for an extra moon within a season.  Usually, each season of the year has three full moons, and many cultures have assigned names to each of those moons – such as the “Egg Moon” of early spring/April or the “Wolf Moon” of midwinter/February or the “Harvest Moon” of early fall/October.  About every two or three years there is an extra full moon within a season; so as not to disrupt the naming sequence already assigned, the third full moon in a season with four is called a “blue moon.”

The switchover in meaning was actually a mistake made in a 1946 Sky & Telescope article, where an amateur astronomer misinterpreted what had been said in the Farmer’s Almanac as referring to the second full moon in one month, rather than an extra moon in a quarter.  Sky & Telescope has since published a correction, but the misinterpretation has stuck in modern folklore.

Another Interpretation:  According to the Wikipedia article I read, the earliest reference in the English language to “blue moon” is from the early 1500’s, when some folks were complaining about their tyrannical clergymen:  “If they say the moon is belewe / We must believe that it is true.”  As we might say it today, “They’re trying to make us believe that black is white, and white is black.”

Yet Another Meaning:   One last meaning of “blue moon” is that you can, on extremely rare occasions, have a moon that actually appears blue!  It can happen after volcanic eruptions or large forest fires:  large particles just slightly wider than the wavelength of red light are put into the air, with no particles of other sizes, so that red and yellow lightwaves are scattered.  After the 1883 eruption of Mount Krakatoa, there were literal blue moons for upwards of two years.

So there’s my take on blue moons.  And this is my 50th post for this blog.  Let’s hope the next 50 come a bit quicker!

 

Posted by: suekenney | August 24, 2012

Brief Interlude

I ran away from home yesterday.  Oh, not very far, and only for the day.  I motored down to Clayton, on the mighty St. Lawrence River, parked the car, and spent a few hours wandering on foot through part of the the town, but mostly just sitting by the river, in the breeze and the sun.

The St. Lawrence River…Clayton is just a bit east of the easternmost Great Lake, Ontario.

I found a handy bench overlooking the river.  I could see dark blue water with little tiny whitecaps formed by the breeze; I could hear the waves lapping against the rocky shore, and also hear the wind in the nearby trees.  I could see and hear a few motorboats out on the river.  I could see a short line of Canada geese moving from one small bay to another; I could hear their plaintive honking.  I could see puffy white clouds all around, except for clear blue sky directly overhead.  I could see a black and orange butterfly go by, struggling to maintain some semblance of control in the breeze, which must have seemed like a hurricane to its delicate little frame. 

There was a lone sea gull sitting on the water, riding gently up and down in the swell.  And there was a little tour boat, built on a catamaran hull, just leaving the dock.  It was very peaceful there, more peaceful than I had anticipated, with far fewer people, at least here outside of the downtown shopping area.

I had to move out of the direct sun – tough on a pale Anglo-Saxon like me – into the pavilion just erected by the village of Clayton.  The pavilion is meant to be reminiscent of the old train depot that was once nearby; it has plenty of chairs and benches, and even a platform for small outdoor concerts.  Very nicely done, I must say.

The Clayton pavilion under construction, seen from the river side. Photo from the Clayton Local Development Corporation.

Another bird flew over the water’s edge.  Large, dark, a fairly longish neck, about the size of a goose – but NOT  a goose, nor a heron, by the way it flew.  I wondered if it might be a cormorant.  I checked later, and am reasonably certain it was indeed a cormorant, a double-crested cormorant, common in these parts, though this was my first sighting on one.

It was just a bit noisier there in the pavilion, since it was that much closer to downtown.  There were some folks fishing from the docks off to my right; some people swimming directly in front of me; and some sunbathers off to the right, beside a lovely double-masted sailboat.  A little later, one of the huge lakers chugged slowly downriver.  The breeze began to get a bit stiffer as I sat there.

A lake-going freighter on the St. Lawrence River

I stayed there for just a little while longer.  It was nice to be out of the house, away from the phone, the housework, and all the million and one things that needed to be done.  I was extremely reluctant to leave.  But all such little interludes must end, sooner or later.  Life’s demands beckoned.

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