What to Bookmark in Moby Dick (Part 2)

alex atkins bookshelf literatureFine books are often bound with a ribbon bookmark. Bookmarks in books were introduced as early as 1 A.D., bound into some of the earliest codices found in libraries and monasteries of that period. The primary function of the bookmark, of course, is to the mark the reader’s place in the book as he or she reads it. However, once the book is read, the bookmark has a secondary and very important function: it can be placed in the location of a favorite or beautiful passage that you want to return to again and again.

Herman Melville’s magnum opus, Moby Dick,  is considered “The Great American Novel” however its themes and meaning transcend the shores of America. The novel is literally teeming with meaning and brilliant insights. One wishes the book were bound with two dozen ribbon bookmarks. If you have read and studied the novel you know what I mean. Recently I reached for one of my copies of Moby Dick, a beautiful deluxe leather-bound edition with gilded fore-edges published by Easton Press. The silk ribbon marks a passage in the book from Chapter 60, The Line. In this chapter, Ishmael, the novel’s pensive narrator, discusses the importance of the whale-line, a rope made of hemp that is attached to a large harpoon at one end and at the other end, tied to the whale boat or to the lines of other whale boats:

“Again: as the profound calm which only apparently precedes and prophesies of the storm, is perhaps more awful than the storm itself; for, indeed, the calm is but the wrapper and envelope of the storm; and contains it in itself, as the seemingly harmless rifle holds the fatal powder, and the ball, and the explosion; so the graceful repose of the line, as it silently serpentines about the oarsmen before being brought into actual play — this is a thing which carries more of true terror than any other aspect of this dangerous affair. But why say more? All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life. And if you be a philosopher, though seated in the whale-boat, you would not at heart feel one whit more of terror, than though seated before your evening fire with a poker, and not a harpoon, by your side.”

What we learn from this passage is how dangerous the whale-line is: as the rope unwinds from its coil, it can quickly wrap around a limb and sever it. Even worse the whale-line can wrap around a seaman’s torso and fling him into the ocean (where he will most likely drown) or the rope can wind around his neck and strangle him. Thus, for Ishmael, the whale-line not only represents the real dangers of whaling but also, metaphorically, the perils of life. We must navigate life’s path, carefully stepping over and avoiding these inescapable, ever-present whale-lines that threaten to trip us up or lead us to our doom. As we learn in Chapter 135, Captain Ahab meets his poetic demise at the end of a rope: “The harpoon was darted; the stricken whale flew forward; with igniting velocity the line ran through the grooves; — ran foul. Ahab stooped to clear it; he did clear it; but the flying turn caught him round the neck, and voicelessly as Turkish mutes bowstring their victim, he was shot out of the boat, ere the crew knew he was gone. Next instant, the heavy eye-splice in the rope’s final end flew out of the stark-empty tub, knocked down an oarsman, and smiting the sea, disappeared in its depths.”

A reader recommended a very relevant video titled, Down to the Sea Sea in Ships (1922) by Elmer Clifton. If you forward to the 1:00 mark, you can watch a whaler throw a harpoon and see how the whale-line unwinds as the whale pulls it forward. The film, inspired by Moby-Dick, was filmed in New Beford, Massachusetts. Go to YouTube and search “Down to the Sea in Ships.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related post: Why Read Moby
The Books That Shaped America
The Books that Influence Us
What to Read Next
30 Books Everyone Should Read
50 Books That Will Change Your Life
The Most Assigned Books in College Classrooms

For further reading: Moby-Dick or The Whale by Herman Melville
Melville: His World and Work by Andrew Delbanco


Most Misspelled Words by State

alex atkins bookshelf wordsEach year, the experts at AT&T turn from surreptitiously finding ways to hike up your mobile phone bill and turn to examining data from Google Trends to determine the top searches for how to spell specific words by state. If you have read stories over the past few years about the dumbing down of America, then a review of this list will only confirm your worst fear — the same people (from 11 states, mind you) who do not know how to spell the word “every,” “which,” or “believe” are the same ones who go to the voting booths every few years to vote for President and their congressmen. (We are so doomed!) Naturally in the year of the coronavirus pandemic, the most misspelled word in America was “quarantine” (often misspelled as “corn teen”) and “coronavirus” (often misspelled as “caronavirus”). Below is the list of the most misspelled words by state from the past year. Which word surprises you the most?

Alabama: which

Alaska: eighty

Arizona: which

Arkansas: receive

California: separate

Colorado: quarantine

Connecticut: quarantine

Delaware: government

District of Columbia: succeed

Florida: pharaoh

Georgia: favorite

Hawaii: every

Idaho: piece

Illinois: coronavirus

Indiana: quarantine

Iowa: favorite

Kansas: multiplication

Kentucky: favorite

Louisiana: which

Maine: watch

Maryland: favorite

Massachusetts: quarantine

Michigan: coronavirus

Minnesota: quarantine

Mississippi: every

Missouri: quarantine

Montana: every

Nebraska: believe

Nevada: quarantine

New Hampshire: definitely

New Jersey: coronavirus

New Mexico: favorite

New York: definitely

North Carolina: exercise

North Dakota: believe

Ohio: favorite

Oklahoma: which

Oregon: quarantine

Pennsylvania: coronavirus

Rhode Island: separate

South Carolina: which

South Dakota: believe

Tennessee: quarantine

Texas: confident

Utah: definitely

Vermont: coronavirus

Virginia: favorite

Washington: quarantine

West Virginia: coronavirus

Wisconsin: quarantine

Wyoming: quarantine

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

For further reading: http://www.attexperts.com/news/each-states-most-commonly-googled-misspelled-word


The Most Annoying Bookstore Customer in the World

alex atkins bookshelf booksBefore there was SNL, and even before there was Monty Python’s Flying Circus, there was a brilliant comedy sketch show titled “At Last the 1948 Show.” One of the funniest skits takes place in a bookstore that is appropriately titled “The Bookshop,” which was first broadcast on March 1, 1967 on ITV in the UK. The bookseller (played by John Cleese) encounters an annoying customer (played by Marty Feldman) who keeps on asking for extremely rare, rather peculiar titles that are next to impossible to find — gradually wearing out the bookseller’s patience to great comedic effect. Surely this is the type of customer that every bookstore owner dreads. Without further ado, let’s meet the most annoying bookstore customer in the world…

[Bookseller]: Good morning, sir.

[Customer]: Good morning, can you help me? Do you have a copy of “Thirty Days in the Samarkand Desert with a Spoon” by A. J. Elliot?

B: No, we haven’t got it in stock, sir.

C: How about “A Hundred-and-One Ways to Start a Monsoon”?

B: By…?

C: An Indian gentleman whose name eludes me for the moment.

B: Well, I don’t know the book, sir.

C: Not to worry, not to worry. Can you help me with “David Copperfield”?

B: Ah, yes, Dickens.

C: No.

B: I beg your pardon?

C: No, Edmund Wells..

B: I think you’ll find Charles Dickens wrote “David Copperfield.”

C: No, Charles Dickens wrote “David Copperfield” with two p’s — this is “David Coperfield” with one p by Edmund Wells.

B: Well in that case we don’t have it.

C: Um – funny, you’ve got a lot of books here.

B: Yes, we do have quite a lot of books here, but we don’t have “David Coperfield” with one p by Edmund Wells. We only have “David Copperfield” with two p’s by Charles Dickens.

C: Pity – it’s more thorough than Dickens.

B: More “thorough”?

C: Yes – I wonder if it’s worth having a look at all the “David Copperfields.”

B: No, no, I’m quite sure that all our “David Copperfields” have two p’s.

C: Probably, but the original by Edmund Wells also had two p’s — it was after that that they ran into copyright difficulties.

B: No, I’m quite sure that all our “David Copperfields” with two p’s are by Charles Dickens.

C: How about “Great Expectations”?

B: Ah yes, we have that.

C: That’s “G-r-a-t-e Expectations,” also by Edmund Wells.

B: “G-R-A-T-E” Well, in that case we don’t have it. We don’t have anything by Edmund Wells. Actually, he’s not very popular.

C: Not “Nicholas Nickleby? That’s K-n-i-c-k-e-r-b-y… Knickerless?

B: No.

C: Or “A Qristmas Qarol” with a q?

B: No, definitely not.

C: Sorry to trouble you. [Heading out the door.]

B: Not at all.

C: I wonder if you have “Rarnaby Budge”?

B: No, as I say, we’re right out of Edmund Wells.

C: No, not Edmund Wells — Charles Dickens.

B: Charles Dickens?

C: Yes.

B: You mean “Barnaby Rudge.”

C: No, “Rarnaby Budge” by Charles Dikkens. That’s Dikkens with two k’s, the well-known Dutch author.

B: No, no… we don’t have “Rarnaby Budge” by Charles Dikkens with two k’s, the well-known Dutch author, and perhaps to save time I should add right away that we don’t have “Carnaby Fudge” by Darles Tikkens, nor “Stickwick Stapers” by Miles Pikkens with four m’s and a silent q. Why don’t you try the chemist?

C: I have – they sent me here.

B: Did they?

C: I wonder if you have “The Amazing Adventures of Captain Gladys Stoat-Pamphlet and Her Intrepid Spaniel Stig Among the Giant Pygmies of Corsica, Volume Two”?

B: No, no, we don’t have that one. Funny, we’ve got quite a lot of books here.

C: Yes, haven’t you.

B: Well, I mustn’t keep you standing around all day…

C: I wonder…

B: No, no, we haven’t. I’m closing for lunch now…

C: But I thought I saw it over “there.”

B: Where?

C: Over there…

B: What?

C: Olsen’s “Standard Book of British Birds.”

B: Olsen’s “Standard Book of British Birds”?

C: Yes.

B: “O-l-s-e-n?”

C: Yes.

B: “B-i-r-d-s”?

C: Yes.

B: Yes, well we do have that one.

C: The expurgated version, of course.

B: I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.

C: The expurgated version.

B: The expurgated version of Olsen’s “Standard Book of British Birds”?

C: Yes. It’s the one without the gannet.

B: The one without the gannet? They’ve all got the gannet. It’s a standard bird, the gannet — it’s in all the books.

C: Well I don’t like them, long nasty beaks they’ve got.

B: Well you can’t expect them to produce a special edition for gannet-haters!

C: Well, I’m sorry, I specially want the one without the gannet.

B: All right! [tears out the page with the gannet] Anything else?

C: Well, I’m not too keen on robins.

B: Right! Robins – robins… [tears out pages with robins] No gannets, no robins – there’s your book!

C: I can’t buy that – it’s torn!

B: It’s torn! So it is! [throws the book away]

C: I wonder if you’ve got…

B: Go on, ask me another. We’ve got lots of books here. This is a bookshop you know!

C: How about “Biggles Combs His Hair”?

B: No, no, no, we don’t have that one, no, no… funny. Try me again.

C: Have you got “Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying”?

B: No, no, we haven’t got… which one?

C: “Ethel The Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying”

B: “Ethel The Aardvark?” I’ve seen it! We’ve got it! Here! Here! Here! “Ethel The Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying.” There! Now buy it!

C: I haven’t got enough money on me.

B: I’ll take a deposit!

C: I haven’t got any money on me.

B: I’ll take a cheque!

C: I haven’t got a cheque-book.

B: It’s all right, I’ve got a blank one!

C: I don’t have a bank account.

B: Right! I’ll buy it for you! [he rings up the book] There we are. There’s your change. That’s for the taxi on the way home.

C: Wait, wait, wait…

B: WHAT? WHAT?

C: I can’t read!

B: Right. SIT! [customer plops down on the bookseller’s lap and the bookseller begins to read]: “Ethel the Aardvark was trotting down the lane one lively Summer day, trottety-trottety-trot, when she saw a Quantity Surveyor…”

You can watch the video on Youtube. Search for “John Cleese’s Favourite Sketch: The Bookshop.”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.


What Will Be Your Last Words Before the Final Curtain Falls?

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomWhy are we so fascinated by a person’s last words? Perhaps we believe that these final words somehow recount in just a few words the meaning of his or her entire life. Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt, from Richard II, observes that these few final words are profoundly meaningful: “O! but they say the tongues of dying men / Enforce attention like deep harmony: / When words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain, / For they breathe truth that breathe their words in pain.” Yet another reason is that a person’s last words reveal something about his or her character, particularly in the shadow of death. And finally, last words can sometimes provide some insight of what it is like to die.

There is this wonderfully poignant and thought-provoking scene in The Kominsky Method in season five, episode three, titled “Near, far, wherever you are.” Having just lost his closest friend and agent of many years, and now losing his ex-wife to leukemia, the protagonist, Sandy Kominsky, a famous acting coach in Hollywood in his twilight years, addresses his students about playing death scenes. With a mixture of deep sorrow and compassion, Kominsky reflects on those precious, fleeting moments, focusing on a person’s last thoughts and words before the final curtain falls:

“Let’s talk about the subject matter of the scene — dying, on camera or on stage, to play a heartbreaking and hopefully slow death, is the dream of every actor. I would wage there’s not an actor or actress who hasn’t fantasized about how they would play those final moments… as the life force slowly slips away and as we teeter on the edge of nonexistence — how would we gasp out those last words of wit and wisdom? But is that what happens as death draws close? Do the dying exact promises from those they leave behind? Do they confess their sins? Do they make a joke?… What I’m asking you to think about is what actually happens in those final moments. I’m not talking about a shocking, violent death. I’m talking about… when you know it’s coming. When you’ve fully surrendered to the ultimate magic trick — when we really and truly disappear. I’ve sat at the bedside and I’ve held the hands of friends and loved ones as they breathed their last breath… and I can tell you this: the dramatic soliloquy at the end of life is pure and utter nonsense. If anything is being said, it’s internal. You can almost hear it. They’re having an internal conversation filled with disbelief and wonder that their life has come to an end. They hardly notice you sitting there at all. For the dying, the living are irrelevant. So, if you should ever have the opportunity to play such a scene — approach it with reverence. Consider it holy. Make sure it receives your utmost care and respect.”

When circumstances permit and that final curtain begins to fall, what will you be thinking about? Who do you want to be near you? What will be your final words? What dreams may come in that sleep of death? (Recall those memorable lines from Hamlet’s famous soliloquy: “To die, to sleep — / To sleep — perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub, / For in that sleep of death what dreams may come / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil…”)

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.


We Are the Sum of All the Moments of Our Lives

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“But we are the sum of all the moments of our lives — all that is ours is in them: we cannot escape or conceal it. If the writer has used the clay of life to make his book, he has only used what all men must, what none can keep from using. Fiction is not fact, but fiction is fact selected and understood, fiction is fact arranged and charged with purpose. Dr. Johnson remarked that a man would turn over half a library to make a single book: in the same way, a novelist may turn over half the people in a town to make a single figure in his novel. This is not the whole method but the writer believes it illustrates the whole method in a book that is written from a middle distance and is without rancour or bitter intention.” 

From the preliminary note to the reader in Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life by Thomas Wolfe. Unlike his contemporaries (e.g., William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck), Wolfe remains one of the most overlooked 20th-century novelists. Nevertheless, Look Homeward, Angel, published in 1929, is a stunning literary achievement: a deeply felt and beautifully written Bildungsroman about a restless young man (Eugene Gant, a character based on the author) from North Carolina who yearns for a meaningful intellectual life. The novel covers the period from the protagonist’s birth to his leaving home in his late teens. Wolfe originally titled the novel The Building of a Wall, and then O Lost. Famed scribner editor Maxwell Perkins suggested a different title. For the final title, Wolfe was inspired by John Milton’s poem “Lycidas” which includes the lines: “Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth: / And, O ye Dolphins, waft the hapless youth.”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.


Best Commencement Speeches: David Foster Wallace

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomDavid Foster Wallace was an American novelist, best known for Infinite Jest and The Pale King, and a professor of English at Emerson College, Illinois State University, and Pomona College. Some literary critics consider Wallace one of the most innovative and influential writers in the last two decades. Sadly, after struggling with depression for many years, Wallace committed suicide in 2008, at the age of 46. His readers and the literary and academic communities experienced a great sense of loss; Wallace was acknowledged by many glowing tributes and four public memorial services.

In 2005, an English and Philosophy student from the commencement speaker committee from Kenyon College, a small prestigious liberal arts college located in Gambier, Ohio (with an enchanting Hogwarts School vibe), invited Wallace to deliver the commencement address to the school’s graduating class. He was told he could speak on any topic. His speech, delivered on May 21, 2005, is titled “This is Water” because Wallace uses water as a metaphor for the essential things in life that are hidden in plain sight, so easy to overlook. This mirrors one of the most famous lines in St. Exupery’s The Little Prince — “What is essential is invisible to the eye” (in the original French: “L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.”), spoken by the fox.

Wallace uses the opportunity of a college commencement speech to share the most important lessons he has learned in life. He addresses several important questions, including “How do we keep from going through adult life unconsciously, comfortably entrenched in habit (“the default setting”)? How do we remove ourselves from the foreground of our thoughts and achieve compassion? How do we think about our world and separate the truth from the lies? Ultimately, Wallace believes that the goal of education is to create individuals who think freely and critically and act compassionately. It is no wonder that “This is Water” is considered to be one of the best commencement speeches of all time.

Wallace’s speech was published four years later in a small book titled This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life. Inexplicably, however, Wallace’s speech was broken up into isolated paragraphs and sentences, each centered on their own page. Reading his eloquent and passionate speech this way is incredibly disjointed — not to mention, annoying. It’s like reading a long essay by piecing together dozens of tiny bits of paper from fortune cookies. It’s a good thing the editors of this small tome did not work on Infinite Jest — otherwise that lengthy novel, running 1,079 pages containing 577,608 words, would have been published in 60 volumes. Although Wallace committed suicide by hanging, the editors deleted the last two sentences of the original speech that refer to suicide by gunshot: “It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in the head. They shoot the terrible master.”

Here are some key excerpts from “This is Water”:

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”… The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance.

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education–least in my own case–is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualise stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.

As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotised by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.”

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: “This is water… This is water.”

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

I wish you way more than luck.”

The full text of the speech can be read here.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

Read related post:
Best Commencement Speeches: Khaled Hosseini
Best Commencement Speeches: Ken Burns

Best Commencement Speeches: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Wear Sunscreen Commencement Speech
Best Books for Graduates
Best Books for Graduates 2015

Wisdom of a Grandmother
Wisdom of Tom Shadyac
Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz

For further reading:
The Legacy of David Foster Wallace by Samuel Cohen and Lee Konstantinou
Gesturing Toward Reality: David Foster Wallace and Philosophy by Robert Bolger and Scott Korb
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/03/09/the-unfinished

 


What is a Dittogram?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsBefore we get to the dittogram, let us set the stage by traveling back to the Middle East in the 6th to 10th Centuries, the crucible of the three major religions and the development of the Bible. Since FedEx Office and desktop scanners did not exist back then, European Jewish scribes made copies of the Old Testament Bible by hand — that is, writing out each word, letter by letter, sentence by sentence. It was long, tedious, and painstaking working, taking up to fifteen months to copy a Bible. At that time, the Bible was not the unified book we recognize today — quite the opposite: it was a collection of scrolls covering a wide range of genres (poetry, history, narrative, wisdom, lament, and apocalyptic literature) written by many different authors. In fact, the word bible is derived from the Greek word biblia, meaning “many books.” All of these stories were transmitted from generation to generation via the oral tradition for more than a thousand years until they were finally written down. Fortunately, archaeologists have discovered and identified some of these early sources, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Aleppo Codex, and the Leningrad Codex. The scribes worked from this collection of scrolls, written in Hebrew, to create copies of the Old Testament, or the Torah. Unlike God, the scribes were not perfect and introduced two types of errors. In the field of linguistics or textual criticism, a dittogram (or dittography) is defined as a letter, word, or phrase that is accidentally repeated by a copyist or scribe. For example, a scribe who was copying the ten commandments, could have accidentally written: “Thou shalt not not commit adultery.” Oops. Of course, the scribe could also do the opposite, and leave out a word, known as haplography; for example: “Thous shalt commit adultery.” Yikes! (However, a wonderful example of a Freudian slip!)

So now that you have been introduced to the dittogram via those mischievous scribes, we can fast forward to the present where you will now be introduced to the dittogram in the realm of word play. In this context, a dittogram is defined as a sentence with consecutive homonyms (words with similar sounds but different meanings). Although the term might be foreign to you, you are no stranger to the dittogram because you have probably uttered your fair share of them. For example, if you have ever been to a restaurant and requested, “We’d like a table for four,” then you just used one: “for” and “four.” Congrats! Below are other examples of dittograms for your enjoyment and inspiration.

My roommate said that she knew you.

His cash cache is under the mattress.

You can write right after the bell rings.

That loud noise annoys me every morning.

The student read red books only.

A grisly grizzly wandered into the cabin.

Our hour spent together was so memorable.

Shirley surely can run fast.

He could smell the odor from afar: “The nose knows,” he said.

She enjoyed reading the novel novel.

The soccer score was two to two.

The zoo opened a new gnu exhibit.

The foul fowl ran around the pond.

Tom will marry merry Mary next month.

The children were lost in the maize maze.

The whole hole was left exposed.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts:

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Franz Kafka: The Storyteller

 

alex atkins bookshelf literatureIt would be perhaps Kafkaesque to walk into a used bookstore and not find a fairly large section of books by and about one of the most influential writers of the 20th-century: Franz Kafka (1883-1924). American author John Updike regards him this way: “So singular, he spoke for millions in their new unease; a century after his birth he seems the last holy writer, and the supreme fabulist of modern man’s cosmic predicament.”

Fortunately, editions of Kafka’s novels and short stories abound. Perhaps the best collection of Kafka’s short stories was published by Schocken Books in 1983, marking the centennial of the author’s birth. The book, titled Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories, was edited by Nahum Glatzer with a forward by John Updike. This collection brings together all of Kafka’s stories, parables, and shorter pieces that were only released after his death. With the exception of his three novels (The Metamorphosis, The Trial, and The Castle), all of Kafka’s narrative work is included in this book. Updike’s foreword is excellent, however a far more insightful foreword was written by Joyce Carol Oates for the simultaneous publication of the paperback edition (Quality Paperback Book Club), which is now quite difficult to find. Kafka fans, students, and scholars alike will surely benefit from reading Oates’ exploration of the brilliant writer and his mesmerizing work. Below are some key excerpts:  

“It would be an illuminating if arduous task to tabulate how frequently, and in what surprising contexts, one encounters the adjective “Kafkan” or “Kafkaesque” in the space of a single year-words that entered our language, presumably, only since the Forties, when Kafka’s translated works began to find their public. One always knows immediately what the words mean (as one always knows what Franz Kafka himself “means”) but how to explain to another person? — how to make clear that which is frankly cloudy, mysterious, inexpicable? As Kafka wittily observed in “On Parables”: “All these parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know that already. But the cares we have to struggle with every day: that is a different matter.” 

Though the words “Kafkan” and “Kafkaesque” invariably point to paradox and human frustration, and suggest childhood memories of terrifying disproportion, it is the case nonetheless that Franz Kafka’s stories and parables are not at all difficult to read and to understand. (To explain — that is another matter: but a peripheral one.) In fact, one might claim that alone among the greatest of twentieth-century writers Kafka is immediately accessible. His unique yet powerfully familiar world can be entered by any reader and comprehended feelingly at once, regardless of background or literary training. (In fact, unsophis­ticated — which is to say unprejudiced-readers respond to Kafka most directly, as he would have wished. Perceptive teenagers love him not because he is “one of the great moderns” but be­cause he speaks their private language by speaking so boldly in his own.) Kafka is no more difficult than any riddle, or fairy tale, or Biblical parable, though of course he can be made to seem so by persons intent on claiming him for their own. 

To open to virtually any of Kafka’s stories or parables, how­ever, is to discover a marvelously direct and uncluttered lan­guage. The voice is frequently meditative, ruminative, quibbling, comically obsessed with minutiae; it ponders, it broods, it at­tempts to explain that which can be explained-while in the background the Incomprehensible looms (“and we know that already”). Kafka is a master of opening sentences, frontal attacks that have left their enduring marks upon our general cultural sensibility; for many admirers of Kafka their admiration­indeed, their capitulation to his genius — began with a first read­ing of [the first sentences of his classic stories]….

It is characteristic of Kafka’s nightmare logic that everything follows swiftly and inevitably from these remarkable first prem­ises. The reader, like the Kafka protagonist, is drawn irresistibly along by a subterranean coherence. (Is there “free will” in Kafka’s universe? Must one deserve his fate? As the priest in­forms Joseph K. in the melancholy penultimate chapter of The Trial: “It is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept it as necessary.”) 

Kafka’s famous short stories, though they have proven alarm­ingly fertile for every sort of exegesis, are primarily tales­genuine tales — in which things happen. Dream-like in tone, they are not whimsically haphazard or aleatory in their development: Gregor Samsa really has metamorphosed into a dung-beetle; the officer of the Penal Colony will sacrifice his very life in the service of his “apparatus”; the doomed country doctor will have his adventure tending a wounded boy, after which he will wander forever exposed to “the frost of this most unhappy of ages.” In an early story, “The Judgment,” a willful young man is sentenced to death by his father’s simple pronouncement: “I sentence you now to death by drowning!” And in “A Hunger Artist” the dying “artist” of fasting confesses that he is not superior to other human beings after all-he fasts only because he has never found the food he liked. 

In other works of Kafka’s, the parables and certain longer pieces like “The Great Wall of China” and “Investigations of a Dog,” plot is subordinate to what one might call the dialectic or discursive voice. These tales, though less compelling on the superficial level than those cited above, exert by degrees a re­markable inner power. With no introduction one is plunged into an interior obsessive landscape, and carried along by the sheer flow of thought of an alien-but oddly sympathetic-conscious­ness. (“This is too much for the human mind to grasp,” Einstein is said to have remarked to Thomas Mann, regarding Kafka’s short prose pieces.) 

The parables or shorter stories resemble Zen koans in their teasing simplicity, but they are unmistakably Jewish-even lawyerly — in the mock-formal nature of their language. (See “The Animal in the Synagogue,” “Abraham,” “Before the Law,” etc.) These are ingenious arguments or mimicries of argument; anecdotes so undetermined by history and locality that they come to possess the beauty (and the impersonal cruelty) of folk ballads or fairy tales. Their wisdom is childlike yet as old as the race, pruned of all sentiment and illusion. In “Prometheus,” for instance, four legends are briefly considered, with equal empha­sis, whereupon “the gods grew weary, the eagles grew weary, the wound closed wearily.” But there remained, still, the “in­explicable.” Which is to say — the legend, or the riddle, simply outlives its principal figures. 

The famous parables “Before the Law” and “An Imperial Message” seem to have been written in response to an identical motive, but provide an illuminating contrast with each other. In the first (which is incorporated in The Trial), a “man from the country” is denied admittance to the Law despite the fact that he submits himself to its authority. He is faithful, he is indefat­igable, he even follows tradition of a sort in attempting to bribe his Doorkeeper — all to no avail. The radiance that streams “inextinguishably” from the gateway of the Law never includes him: he dies unredeemed. The Doorkeeper’s final words are: “No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I am now going to shut it.” A typically Kafkan irony: the gateway is the means of salvation, yet it is also inaccessible. 

Is the Law an expression of God? — any projected form of the Divine? — of order, coherence, collective or personal salvation? Is the Law merely a private obsession that has shaded into mad­ness? Can one in fact believe the Doorkeeper? — or the parable itself? It might be said that the hapless “man from the country” has been waiting for admittance to his own life, which, as a consequence of his obsession, he has failed to live. Or, conversely, it might be argued that the Law represents his own soul, the “kingdom of God” that lies within. Even in wholly secular terms, the man in his single-minded quest may have failed to realize the fullest flowering of his personality: his relationship to all humanity has been, in fact, only by way of the intrepid Doorkeeper…

While “Before the Law” seems to offer no hope whatsoever, the companion parable “An Imperial Message” offers an unex­pected revelation. The Emperor has sent a message to you but the messenger is impeded by the vast multitudes between the two of you — ”if he could reach the open fields how fast he would fly! “— he wears out his strength in his effort-it is soon clear that the entire mission is hopeless — and the Emperor him­self has long since died. A familiar Kafkan predicament, except for this puzzling final line: “But you sit at your window when evening falls and dream [the message] to yourself.” So the Emperor’s wisdom, after all, lies within…

Kafka’s mysticism assured him that such salvation was pos­sible, even inevitable, though he was to be excluded: his sense of personal guilt precedes all action. That in his father’s eyes he was contemptible, that his writing counted for very little, that his personal misfortune (his tubercular condition, for instance) was related in some mysterious way to his own will, his own secret wish — all these factors set Franz Kafka apart from what he chose to think of as the happiness of normal life: the effortless salvation of those who live without questioning the basic prem­ises of their lives. The “man from the country” is both hero and victim, saint and fool, but he is certainly isolated, and his petition has come to nothing: the bitterest irony being that, perhaps, the Law lay with him all along; he might have dreamt it to himself. 

Kafka reports having been filled with “endless astonishment” at simply seeing a group of people cheerfully assembled together: his intense self-consciousness and self-absorption made such ex­changes impossible. The way of the artist is lonely, stubborn, arrogant, pitiable — yet innocent. For one does not choose one’s condition…

Of course Kafka’s humor is deadpan, surrealist, sometimes rather sado-masochistic; a highly sophisticated kind of comedy that might be missed by even an attentive reader. There is a danger in taking Kafka too seriously — too grimly — simply be­cause he has attained the stature of a twentieth-century classic. (It might be argued that Kafka’s wicked sense of humor is ultimately more painful to absorb than his passages, or his pose, of gravity. For it is nearly always humor directed against the victim-self, the very protagonist for whom the reader wishes to feel sympathy.) Consider the emaciated, dying, self-ordained martyr, the Hunger Artist, who not only insists upon his fasting but seems to imagine that the world should honor it. It is not a religious ideal, it is in the service of no Godhead but the Hunger Artist himself. (“Why should he be cheated of the fame he would get for fasting longer… for beating his own record by a performance beyond human imagination, since he felt that there were no limits to his capacity for

It is frequently remarked that Kafka’s language is remarkably forceful and direct, stripped clean of self-conscious figures of speech. In fact there are at least two “voices” in Kafka: that of the omniscient narrator (the strategy by which most of the famous stories are told), and that of the obsessed, perhaps mad protagonist who tells his tale in the first person (“The Burrow,” for example — perhaps the most terrifying of Kafka’s fables). Metaphorical language is unnecessary in Kafka’s fiction because each story, each parable, each novel is a complete and of ten out­rageous metaphor in itself: smaller units of metaphor would be redundant. Consider the marvelous imaginative leap that gives us such images as “The Great Wall of China” (“So vast is our land that no fable could do justice to its vastness, the heavens can scarcely span it — and Peking is only a dot in it, and the imperial palace less than a dot”), the monstrous machine of “transcendent” pain of “In the Penal Colony” (“Can you follow it? The Har­row is beginning to write; when it finishes the first draft of the inscription on the man’s back, the layer of cotton wool begins to roll and slowly turns the body over, to give the Harrow fresh space for writing. Meanwhile the raw part that has been written on lies on the cotton wool, which is specially prepared to staunch the bleeding and so makes all ready for a new deepening of the script … “), the stricken humanity of the legendary Hunter Gracchus, who can neither live nor die, yet seems blameless (“I am here, more than that I do not know, further than that I can­not go. My ship has no rudder, and it is driven by the wind that blows in the undermost regions of death”). 

The great conceit of The Castle is — simply, and horribly­ — that one cannot get to the castle, no matter his ingenuity; the conceit of The Trial, that one is on trial for his life whether he consents to the authority of the court or not, and whether, in fact, he is guilty of any crime (when hapless Joseph K. protests his innocence he is informed that that is what “guilty men” always say). In the curious and altogether uncharacteristic play­let “The Warden of the Tomb,” the fabulist setting is, as the Prince says, the frontier between the Human and the Other­where naturally he wishes to post a guard; in the brief yet suspenseful story “The Refusal” it is a small anonymous town presided over by a colonel who is really a tax-collector. “The Burrow,” not one of Kafka’s more popular tales, is nonetheless a harrowing and brilliant investigation of anxiety-anxiety as it shades into madness-made unforgettable by way of its conceit of the Burrow itself: the defensive strategies that doom a man (one assumes that the narrator is a man — of sorts) to paranoia and dissolution, even as he believes himself protected from his enemies. The “I” seems to be addressing the reader but is in fact only talking to himself, rationalizing, debating, sifting through possibilities, trying to resist breakdown, trying — with what mad heroic calm!-to forestall disaster. His voice is hypnotic, seduc­tive as any siren of the night, for it is our own voice, diminished, secretive, hardly raised to a whisper…

In these artful cadences we hear the mimicry of reason, the parodied echoes of sanity. Human logic has become burrow logic. Human consciousness has become burrow consciousness. The image is a classic metaphor for one facet of the human condition, limned in prose so compelling it is an unnerving ex­perience to read. And how perfect the terse concluding statement — ”All remained unchanged” — after the long, long sentences in their obdurate paragraphs, as difficult to transverse as the bur­rower’s labyrinthine hiding-place. That it is also a grave — that his claustrophobic maneuvers assure his eventual death — is a realization he cannot make: we alone can make it for him. 

Kafka noted in a diary entry for 25 September 1917 that happiness for him consisted in raising the world “into the pure, the true, and the immutable.” His dark prophetic art — Aesopian fables, religious allegories, inverted romances — limned a future in which bureaucratic hells and “final solutions” are not improb­able: an increasingly dehumanized future of a sort Joseph K. has already endured when, after his struggle to acquit himself of guilt, he is executed and dies “like a dog.” This is a literature, admittedly, of symbolist extremes, in which the part must serve for the whole, the dream — or nightmare — image must suggest the totality of experience. In Kafka we never encounter persons, or personalities: we are always in the presence of souls — humanity peeled to its essence and denuded of the camouflage of external circumstance. We see no faces or features — we experience no bodies — we become mere figures, abbreviations, ciphers — par­ticipants in a vast, timeless, and, indeed, indecipherable drama. This is an art in which the social sphere matters not at all, and even the “human” sphere becomes by degrees irrelevant. Kafka is a realist of mystical perspective, resolutely unsentimental, even rather pitiless in his tracking of our numerous delusions. But he is primarily a superb storyteller.”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories edited by Nahum Glatzer with a forward by John Updike


There’s A Word for That: Nubivagant

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIf you are an adrenaline junkie you could be described this way. However, even if you are risk averse, you could also be described this way. Although this adjective has a rather harsh sound, nubivagant (pronounced “noo buh VAH gent”, it does have a rather lovely meaning: “wandering in the clouds”. The word is formed from the Latin word nubes (meaning “clouds”) and vagant (meaning “wandering”). The Oxford English Dictionary records its first use in writing in 1656. Although the English language is constantly expanding, it does shed words from time to time, and this is one of its victims. The word is rarely used except in books of rare, archaic words. But given the fact that so many people participating in airborne activities like flying planes and ultralights, hang gliding, parachuting, paragliding, skydiving, and wing suit flying, the word nubivagant certainly deserves a comeback.

When was the last time you were nubivagant?

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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What is the Most Important Meditation We Can Do Now?

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsEvolution biologist and futurist Elisabet Sahtouris shared a wonderful story about the time she met the Dalai Lama. Someone in the group asked the Dalai Lama what is the most important meditation we can do now? Without any hesitation he answered: “Critical thinking followed by action. Discern what your world is — know the plot, the scenario of this human drama, and then figure out where your talents might fit in to make a better world. And each of us must do something that will make our heart sing, because nobody will want to do it with us if we are not passionate and inspired.”

From the documentary “I Am” directed by Tom Shadyac. The documentary answers two important questions: (1) What’s wrong with the world? and (2) What can we do about it? The documentary features fascinating interviews with Desmond Tutu, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Lynne McTaggart, Coleman Barks, David Suzuki, Elisabet Sahtouris, and Thom Hartmann who share their brilliant insights. The title of the documentary comes from a letter written by the British author and theologian, G. K. Chesterton. In 1908 The Times of London asked notable authors to write an essay on the topic: “What’s wrong with the world?” Chesterton’s was the shortest essay received: “Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G. K. Chesterton.”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.


Best Commencement Speeches: Joseph Brodsky

alex atkins bookshelf wisdom

On December 18, 1988, Russian American poet and essayist Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) delivered the Winter Commencement Address to the 2,000 graduates of The University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, Michigan). It was delivered at a time when glasnost (“openness, being more public”), promoted by leader Mikhail Gorbachev, was sweeping over the former Soviet Union. Little did some of these graduates know the slings and arrows that the speaker, who stood before them, had endured.

Brodsky was born in Russia but was expelled in 1972 for his anti-Soviet poetry. The Soviets did not make his life easy: he was frequently interrogated, confined to a mental institution twice, and sentenced to five years of hard labor. He found solace in his study of poetry: in the evenings he would write and read anthologies of English and British poetry. Over time he became a symbol of artistic resistance in a totalitarian country. With the help of fellow poet W. H. Auden, Brodsky was able to immigrate to America where he continued to study and write poetry. He taught at many prominent American universities, including University of Michigan, Mount Holyoke, Yale, Columbia, and Cambridge. In 1987 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his poetic work and he was appointed United States Poet Laureate in 1991.

In his memorable commencement speech, titled “Speech at the Stadium,” Brodsky extols the virtues of the Ten Commandments of the Bible as well as avoiding the seven deadly sins. He doesn’t mention by name, so for the uninitiated, they are: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. (Incidentally, they are called “deadly” because committing these sins leads to the death of the soul.) There is a common misperception is that the seven deadly sins (or cardinal sins) are found in the Bible.  They are not — they were introduced by Evarius Ponticus, a Christian monk and ascetic who lived in Jerusalem and Egypt in the 4th century. Ponticus believed there were eight evil thoughts: gluttony, fornication, greed, envy, wrath, dejection, boasting, and pride. (Come to think of it, that actually sounds like the essential qualities of a modern-day politician in the post-Trumpian world.) Ponticus’ ideas were incorporated into western Christian theology by John Cassian, a Christian monk and theologian, in the 5th century and later in Roman Catholic theology by by Pope Gregory I in the sixth century. In the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas elaborated on the seven deadly sins in his seminal work, Summa Theologica. Brodsky’s contribution to the graduates of the 20th century is to build on these foundational 17 lessons by adding six tips for living a better life.

The transcript of Brodsky’s commencement speech can be found on several websites, often under the banner of “The Greatest Commencement Address of All Time.” Also, most of the versions have been heavily paraphrased, edited, and in some cases restructured in format. The actual transcript, which runs about 3,400 words, can be found in a collection of Brodsky’s essays titled, On Grief and Reason: Essays, that was published in 1995. An argument can legitimately be made that it is timeless, however, it may not necessarily be the greatest commencement of all time. To begin with, it is not particularly eloquent; moreover it is unnecessarily verbose, even rambling at times. (When will commencement speakers understand that this is the graduates’ moment of glory, not their own?) And for a poet, one would expect a more elegant and um… poetic expression of ideas. Surprisingly, Brodsky makes use of several cliches that could have been expressed more originally. Nevertheless, the beauty is in the eye, or in this case, ears, of the beholder: you be the judge. Here are excerpts from Brodsky’s commencement speech:

“Life is a game with many rules but no referee. One learns how to play it more by watching it than by consulting any book, including the Holy Book. Small wonder, then, that so many play dirty, that so few win, that so many lose…

If I remember my colleagues well, if I know what’s happening to university curricula all over the country, if I am not totally oblivious to the pressures the so-called modern world exerts upon the young, I feel nostalgic for those who sat in your chairs a dozen or so years ago, because some of them at least could cite the Ten Commandments and still others even remembered the names of the Seven Deadly Sins. As to what they’ve done with that precious knowledge of theirs afterward, as to how they fared in the game, I have no idea. All I can hope for is that in the long run one is better off being guided by rules and taboos laid down by someone totally impalpable than by the penal code alone. 

Since your run is most likely to be fairly long, and since being better off and having a decent world around you is what you presumably are after, you could do worse than to acquaint yourselves with those commandments and that list of sins. There are just seventeen items altogether, and some of them overlap. Of course, you may argue that they belong to a creed with a substantial record of violence. Still, as creeds go, this one appears to he the most tolerant; it’s worth your consideration if only because it gave birth to the society in which you have the right to question or negate its value. 

But I am not here to extol the virtues of any particular creed or philosophy, nor do I relish, as so many seem to, the opportunity to snipe at the modem system of education or at you, its alleged victims… But there is a transparent wall between the generations, an ironic curtain, if you will, a see-through veil allowing almost no passage of experience. At best, some tips.

Regard, then, what you are about to hear as just tips­ of several icebergs, if I may say so, not of Mount Sinai. I am no Moses, nor are you biblical Jews; these are a few random jottings scribbled on a yellow pad somewhere in California — not tablets. Ignore them if you wish, doubt them if you must, forget them if you can’t help it: there is nothing imperative about them. Should some of it now or in the time to be come in handy to you, I’ll be glad. If not, my wrath won’t reach you. 

1. Now, and in the time to be, I think it will pay for you to zero in on being precise with your language. Try to build and treat your vocabulary the way you are to treat your checking account. Pay every attention to it and try to increase your earnings. The purpose here is not to boost your bed­room eloquence or your professional success — although those, too, can be consequences — nor is it to turn you into parlor sophisticates. The purpose is to enable you to artic­ulate yourselves as fully and precisely as possible; in a word, the purpose is your balance. For the accumulation of things not spelled out, not properly articulated, may result in neu­rosis…

2. Now, and in the time to be, try to be kind to your parents. If this sounds too close to ‘’Honor thy mother and father”’ for your comfort, so be it. All I am trying to say is, try not to rebel against them, for, in all likelihood, they will die before you do, so you can spare yourselves at least this source of guilt if not of grief. If you must rebel, rebel against those who are not so easily hurt…

3. Try not to set too much store by politicians — not so much because they are dumb or dishonest, which is more often than not the case, but because of the size of their job, which is too big even for the best among them, by this or that political party, doctrine, system, or a blueprint thereof. All they or those can do, at best, is to diminish a social evil, not eradicate it. No matter how substantial an improvement may be, ethically speaking it will always be negligible, because there will always be those — say, just one person — who won’t profit from this improvement. The world is not perfect; the Golden Age never was or will be…

4. Try not to stand out, try to be modest. There are too many of us as it is, and there are going to be many more, very soon. Thus climbing into the limelight is bound to be done at the expense of the others who won’t be climbing. That you must step on somebody’s toes doesn’t mean you should stand on their shoulders. Besides, all you will see from that vantage point is the human sea, plus those who, like you, have assumed a similarly conspicuous — and very precarious at that — position: those who are called rich and famous…

5. At all costs try to avoid granting yourself the status of the victim. Of all the parts of your body, be most vigilant over your index finger, for it is blame-thirsty. A pointed finger is a victim’s logo — the opposite of the V sign and a synonym for surrender. No matter how abominable your condition may be, try not to blame anything or anybody: history, the state, superiors, race, parents, the phase of the moon, child­hood, toilet training, etc. The menu is vast and tedious, and this vastness and tedium alone should be offensive enough to set one’s intelligence against choosing from it. The mo­ment that you place blame somewhere, you undermine your resolve to change anything; it could be argued even that that blame-thirsty finger oscillates as wildly as it does because the resolve was never great enough in the first place. After all, victim status is not without its sweetness. It commands compassion, confers distinction, and whole nations and continents bask in the murk of mental discounts advertised as the victim’s conscience…

6. The world you are about to enter and exist in doesn’t have a good reputation. It’s been better geographically than his­torically; it’s still far more attractive visually than socially. It’s not a nice place, as you are soon to find out, and I rather doubt that it will get much nicer by the time you leave it. Still, it’s the only world available: no alternative exists, and if one did, there is no guarantee that it would be much better than this one. It is a jungle out there, as well as a desert, a slippery slope, a swamp, etc. — literally — but what’s worse, metaphorically, too. Yet, as Robert Frost has said, “The best way out is always through.” He also said, in a different poem, though, that “to be social is to be forgiving.” It’s with a few remarks about this business of getting through that I would like to close… 

Try not to pay attention to those who will try to make life miserable for you. There will be a lot of those — in the official capacity as well as the self-appointed. Suffer them if you can’t escape them, but once you have steered clear of them, give them the shortest shrift possible. Above all, try to avoid telling stories about the unjust treatment you re­ceived at their hands; avoid it no matter how receptive your audience may be. Tales of this sort extend the existence of your antagonists; most likely they are counting on your being talkative and relating your experience to others. By himself, no individual is worth an exercise in injustice (or for that matter, in justice). The ratio of one-to-one doesn’t justify the effort: it’s the echo that counts. That’s the main principle of any oppressor, whether state-sponsored or autodidact. Therefore, steal, or still, the echo, so that you don’t allow an event, however unpleasant, or momentous, to claim any more time than it took for it to occur….

I had better stop here. As I said, I’ll be glad if you find what I’ve said useful. If not, it will show that you are equipped far better for the future than one would expect from people of your age. Which, I suppose, is also a reason for rejoic­ing — not for apprehension. In either case — well equipped or not — I wish you luck, because what lies ahead is no picnic for the prepared and the unprepared alike, and you’ll need luck. Still, I believe that you’ll manage… 

Clearly this place is of extraordinary sentimental value for me; and so it will be­come, in a dozen years or so, for you. To that extent, I can divine your future; in that respect, I know you will manage, or, more precisely, succeed. For feeling a wave of warmth coming over you in a dozen or so years at the mention of this town’s name will indicate that, luck or no luck, as human beings you’ve succeeded. It’s this sort of success I wish to you above all in the years to come. The rest depends on luck and matters less.”

The complete commencement address can be found in Google Books by searching “Brodsky On Grief and Reason.”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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Wisdom of a Grandmother
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For further reading: On Grief and Reason: Essays by Joseph Brodsky (1995)
http://www.history.com/news/seven-deadly-sins-origins


Why Is It Called a Glove Box?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIf you have been in a car, you’ve probably heard someone say, “Can you see if there is [name of item here] in the glove box?” And you know exactly where that is: the storage area on the passenger side of the car. However, if you say that in front of a car aficionado, they will quickly correct you, “You mean the glove compartment, don’t you?” Indeed “glove compartment” is the proper term although the term “glove box” (or “glovebox”) is used interchangeably. In different parts of the U.S., the glove compartment is known as a “cubby” or “cubby hole” (Minnesota, Wyoming) or “jockey box” (Idaho). When scientists or medical professionals uses the term glovebox, they are referring to either a box that contains gloves (similar to a tissue box, with a slit at the top that dispenses gloves, rather than tissues) or a sealed bio-safe glass container that allows a user to slip their arms and hands into gloves to manipulate an object in a separate atmosphere to prevent contamination (you’ve seen these in the movies, for example, when scientists are working with a dangerous contagion).

To understand the origin of the term, we need to step into the time machine and travel back to the early 1900s when  the transportation industry was transitioning from horse-drawn carriages to engine-powered cars. The Packard Motor Car Company of Warren, Ohio founded by James and William Packard, introduced an early automobile, aptly called the Packard Model A. The Packard was powered by a single-cylinder engine and looked much like a horse-drawn carriage (the buggy-style body was even built by Morgan and Williams, an established carriage-maker); however, the standard splash board (used to prevent mud from splattering the occupants) was replaced by a large storage box, resembling a wide wooden locker, which was intended for parcels or any items that needed to be protected from the elements. The very first Packard built in 1899, known as “Old Number One” is on display at Packard’s alma mater, Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The Packard Model A was considered a luxury vehicle, selling for $2,600 (about $82,000 in today’s dollars) that competed against several other early automobiles priced from $375 to $1,500. Since many of the early automobiles were open carriages, lacking side windows and a hard top, and did not have a heating system, a driver’s hands would get very cold and numb as they were exposed to the rush of cold air. The antidote: driving gloves, of course!

Using Google Ngram Viewer we see that the term “glove compartment” makes its first appearance in 1901 and really takes off in the 1930s. One of the most notable persons to popularize the term glove compartment was the incomparable Dorothy Levitt (1882-1922) —  a woman way ahead of her time. Although not a well-known name like Amelia Earhart (1897-1939) Levitt was a true trailblazer: she was an accomplished race care driver, pilot, and equestrian, holding many world records throughout her career. Her employer, the Napier Car Company, promoted her many victories and supported her mission to encourage women to drive cars, which in the early 1900s was quite revolutionary (remember that white women did not have voting rights until the 19th Amendment was passed in 1919; Black women had to wait for that same right until the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965). In 1909 she published a book, titled The Woman and the Car: A Chatty Little Handbook for All Women Who Motor or Want to Motor, that promoted independence and female motoring. Levitt covered all the important aspects of driving, maintenance, attire, and manners. The first eight chapters of her book included these topics:

(1) The car: it’s cost, upkeep and accessories
(2) The all-important question of dress
(3) The mechanism of the car
(4) How to drive
(5) Troubles: how to avoid and mend them
(6) Hints on expenses
(7) Motor manners
(8) Tips: necessary and unnecessary

In chapter two, Levitt provides advice about gloves and where to store them (note, the particular model of car she drove had the glove compartment under the seat of the car):

“Regarding gloves — never wear woollen gloves, as wool slips on the smooth surface of the steering-wheel and prevents one getting a firm grip. Gloves made of good, soft kid, furlined, without a fastening, and made with just a thumb, are the ideal gloves for winter driving. 

You will find room for these gloves in the little drawer under the seat of the car. This little drawer is the secret of the dainty motoriste. What you put in it depends upon your tastes, but the following articles are what I advise you to have in its recesses. A pair of clean gloves, an extra handkerchief, clean veil, powder-puff (unless you despise them), hair-pins and ordinary pins, a hand mirror and some chocolates are very soothing, sometimes!”

So the term glove compartment or glove box is an anachronism, a lexical vestige from the the early days of the automobile industry at the turn of the 20th century. The residents of Minnesota, Wyoming, and Idaho have it right — after more than a century, it is time to consistently use a more generic term like “cubby” or something like “accessory compartment” or “dashboard compartment” or even “dashboard box.” (This is especially aimed at the new generation of writers of owner’s manuals!)

So if car owners are not storing driving gloves in the glovebox, it begs the question: what do people actually store in there? Typical items include the vehicle’s owner’s manual, car registration, proof of insurance, napkins, pen, notepad, straws, hand sanitizer, tissues, and receipts. The editors of Hotcar magazine, however, wanted to find out what were some of the weirdest things people kept in their glove compartments. Here are some weird items:

Cremated ashes of a relative
$80,000 hides inside the owner’s manual
Note to a car thief
Bottle of holy water

What’s in your glovebox?

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: The Woman and the Car: A Chatty Little Handbook for All Women Who Motor or Want to Motor by Dorothy Levitt
Car: The Definitive Visual History of the Automobile by DK Publishing
Drive: The Definitive History of Driving by Giles Chapman and Jodie Kidd
http://www.hemmings.com/stories/2015/01/12/first-ever-packard-leaves-lehigh-university-for-first-preservation-work-in-85-years
http://www.hotcars.com/things-people-kept-in-their-glove-compartments/


Colorful Slang Words from the Playground

alex atkins bookshelf wordsRemember the days back in elementary school — and long before smartphones were ubiquitous — when kids dreaded being called a “momma’s boy,”, “doofus,” “tattle tale,” or a “teacher’s pet”? Or how about the panic that swept over kids when threatened with a “noogie” or a “titty twister”? Ah, the innocence of youth… Those terms, of course with the benefit of hindsight, were tame compared to the cruel taunts that middle school and high school kids use these days — especially emboldened by the anonymity that social media imparts which takes bullying to an entirely new level.

Nevertheless, regardless of the generation, slang arises out of a need to define new things and situations that conventional or formal language does not address; moreover, it functions as a way to develop group identity, highlighting social and contextual understanding. Slang words, unlike conventional terms, are so memorable because they are so vivid and inventive. Children can be particularly clever and playful when it comes to creating new words, as Chris Lewis, who created the Online Dictionary of Playground Slang (ODPS), has found. The ODPS, which contains more than 3,000 terms from around the globe, now resides in the vast virtual repository of the Internet Archive. In 2003, Lewis published The Dictionary of Playground Slang which contains more than 1,000 “disgusting expressions.” As you thumb through the book, the reader cannot help notice that a majority of terms are related to sex, bodily secretions, and appearance — the topics that um… titillate children and adolescents. Here are some highlights from The Dictionary of Playground Slang:

arse-over-head: tripping

brainfart: when person loses their train of thought

checks: a word used when a person just farted and is proud of it

dibber-dobber: a tattle-tale

fleggy: spit that includes mucous

grundy (or undie grundy): pulling the waistband of a victim’s underpants and letting it snap to cause pain

jesus boots: sandals

lunchbag: a person without any friends; a loser

make a mud baby: to defecate (also, release the hounds, clip a steamer, drop off the kids)

nadgers: testicles

peanut smuggler: a girl that is not wearing a bra

swamp donkey: an unattractive person of the opposite sex

tagnuts: a piece of excrement that sticks stubbornly to the buttocks or anal hairs

After reading this list, one can’t help but think: “Out of the mouths of babes…”

Which slang words do you remember from your childhood?

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: web.archive.org/web/20040419005809/http://www.odps.org/glossword/index.php?a=list&d=4


Have You Ever Been Breadcrumbed?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsBefore someone can answer the question “Have you ever been breadcrumbed?”, we have to determine what is breadcrumbing is, right? One might ask, “Is that anything like the ice water bucket challenge, but in this case, a person jumps into a large container of breadcrumbs and rolls around, getting breadcrumbed in the process?” That’s not a bad guess; however, breadcrumbing has a less literal meaning. Originally, back in the 90s, breadcrumbing was a metaphor applied to navigating webpages, showing the series of web pages that a user has visited to get a particular page. The origin of this metaphor is from the classic fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel, first included in Grimm’s Fairy Tales (1812) by the Brothers Grimm. You probably know the story: a brother and sister are abandoned by their father in a forest. Hansel first uses white pebbles and later bread crumbs to find his way back home. The father, who is clearly out to win “father of the year” award, becomes very angry and drags them them back to the forest, where the children get lost. Eventually, they are captured by a witch who lives in a house made of gingerbread, cakes, and candies. The witch, Satan’s version of Willy Wonka, uses all these sweet foods to fatten up the children before she eats them. (Health warning: such a sugar-rich diet increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease.) But one day, Gretel tricks the witch and shoves her into the oven, and the brother and sister escape home.  

Today, breadcrumbing, in the context of the dating scene, means leading someone on by contacting them intermittently even though you aren’t really interested in them, and don’t want to pursue a long-term relationship. Breadcrumbing is made all the easier in the digital age when the perpetrator (the “breadcrumber”) can text the victim (the “breadcrumbed”) or use social media (posting likes or comments) to make him or her think that the breadcrumber is interested in them. “That sounds really mean,” you say repugnantly. There’s no sugarcoating this: you are absolutely right — it is really mean because breadcrumbing, done with the sense of detachment and partial anonymity that digital communication creates, toys with another individual’s self-esteem and emotions. In teen speak, “It’s a total dick move.”

Breadcrumbing is not isolated to the world of dating. It can also applied to friendships. You probably have encountered this scenario at grocery store: you see an acquaintance or old friend, that you now find completely annoying. Despite steering your cart in the opposite direction, careening around meticulously arranged end-caps, and flying down an aisle to pick up some random item and quickly pretending that you are closely reading the ingredients of, say, a package of chicken ramen. But eventually the person, who has been stalking you, catches up to you and foils your ramen inspection. Cornered, you have no alternative other than to catch up briefly — all the while the mindless banter reinforces your prejudices. Soon, the conversation wraps up and the other person tosses our that old chestnut: “We need to get together!” If you can fake an orgasm, you can certainly muster all the acting skills to produce a fake smile and respond, “Oh yes. Let’s get together for coffee or lunch soon!” Welcome to the club — you just breadcrumbed your quasi-friend.

It didn’t take long for breadcrumbing to jump from the realm of personal relationships to the corporate world. In the corporate world, an employer breadcrumbs a job applicant when a company representative strings along a job applicant, giving him or her the impression that a job offer is forthcoming, even though the company is not going to hire that applicant. A company can breadcrumb a job applicant any number of ways: not acknowledging when a job application has been received, no response to follow-up questions regarding an interview, occasional updates without any real specific timeline for a decision or hiring action, or coming up with additional interviews or tasks that the job applicant has to complete before getting the job. You are right! — it’s totally a dick move because now the employer is toying with an individual’s self confidence and financial situation. If the applicant doesn’t get that job,  guess what he or she will be eating day after day? Chicken ramen!

Several other neologisms have popped up in the English lexicon to describe variations of breadcrumbing. Here are three examples:

benching: when a person who maintains contact with a person (as in “the substitute on the bench”) while actively looking for a better partner.

cushioning: when a person in a relationship keeps in touch with other romantic partners to serve as a “cushion” if the relationship goes south.

ghosting: when a person ends a relationship by disappearing (ie., breaking all contact with his or her partner).

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading:
https://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/articles/why-is-it-taking-so-long-to-hear-back-after-your-job-interview

 


The Ironic History of Mother’s Day

alex atkins bookshelf cultureIronically, the person who conceived of the modern version of Mother’s Day — a national celebration for children to honor their mothers — never married and never had children, and became well-known as a staunch opponent of Mother’s Day.

The history of Mother’s Day begins with Julia Ward Howe (born 1819), a poet and social activist who promoted women’s suffrage and pacifism. She is remembered mostly as the author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” In 1861, the Howes met with Abraham Lincoln at the White House. During that trip, a friend suggested that she write new lyrics for a marching song about abolitionist John Brown (the song was known as “John Brown’s Body) that was very popular with the Union during the Civil War. Howe’s stirring words were published in the Atlantic Monthly a few months later in 1862 and became the rallying song for the Union soldiers. Several years later in 1870, she conceived of “Mother’s Day for Peace” to be observed on June 2 — calling women throughout the world to support disarmament and peace. Unfortunately for her, this version of Mother’s Day never took root.

Fast forward to 1907. Anna Marie Jarvis, of Philadelphia, wanted to fulfill her mother’s dream of a holiday that would honor mothers. The first “Mother’s Day” was a memorial service to her mother, held two years after her death, on May 12, 1907. The original idea for the celebration of “Mother’s Day” was a special church service, held on the second Sunday in May, where members of the congregation wore white carnations. With the help of a wealthy local merchant, she promoted the concept until Woodrow Wilson, who clearly loved his mother, declared it a national holiday in 1914.

It didn’t take long for American business to see the potential gold in mining this new national holiday. Within a few years, whether out of genuine love or guilt, sales of candy, flowers, greeting cards, and long-distance phone calls raked in billions for American companies. Anna Jarvis was horrified at the excessive commercialization of the pure celebration and tribute she originally envisioned, and in the early 1920s became a very vocal opponent of the holiday. Almost as if following Julia Howe’s footsteps she became an activist against Mother’s Day, staging protests — even to the point of being arrested in 1948 for disturbing the peace. She had deep regrets: “[I wish I ] would never have started the day because it became so out of control.” Jarvis was no fan of Hallmark — she considered that children who would send a card (letting Hallmark’s wordsmiths do all the heavy lifting) were simply too lazy and uncaring to write a personal letter to their dear mothers. You can only imagine what Jarvis would say about texting and email.

And just how much do Americans love their mothers? According to the National Retail Federation, consumers will spend as much as $28.1 billion saying “I love you Mom.” The average consumer will spend an average $220 this year, primarily on greeting cards, flowers, and meals. This average is $16 more than last year — call it a Covid-19 pandemic tax. Many consider motherhood one of the toughest jobs in the world, but let’s face it — that job got much tougher during the pandemic. So this year in particular, mothers have really earned effusive praise for their Herculean work. As mothers around the globe know well, it came with a price —  mothers’ mental and physical wellbeing were pushed to the breaking point as they cared for their families for over a year with many simultaneous challenges, including long periods of sustained lockdowns and shortages of certain food and household items. This was even more dramatic for mothers who were juggling remote work, raising young children who were home-schooling, and increased housework. As the World Economic Forum recognized in its story “Covid-19 is Damaging the Mental Health of Mothers,” extensive research has indicated that the well-being of mothers is absolutely critical for children to flourish. Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic had a deleterious effect on the health of mothers. Medical health experts reported that mothers experienced higher levels of stress, depression, anxiety, insomnia, hypertension, and obesity — not to mention that there were many times over the past year that many mothers felt like throttling their spouse or kids — or both (but, of course, didn’t).

In the context of holiday expenditures in the U.S., Mother’s Day ranks fourth in the list below Christmas (1st place, with over $729 billion in spending), Thanksgiving (2) and Valentines (3).

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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Favorite TV Moms of All Time
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For further reading: The Folklore of World Holidays by Robert Griffin, Gale (1998). www.wikipedia.com.
nrf.com/insights/holiday-and-seasonal-trends/mothers-day
nbcnewyork.com/lx/mothers-day-spending-expected-to-skyrocket-following-a-year-of-pandemic-hell/3040818/
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/03/17/the-pandemic-has-highlighted-many-challenges-for-mothers-but-they-arent-necessarily-new/
http://www.npr.org/2020/09/29/918127776/this-is-too-much-working-moms-are-reaching-the-breaking-point-during-the-pandemi
http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/05/06/992401123/if-your-brain-feels-foggy-and-youre-tired-all-the-time-youre-not-alone?
http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/05/06/992401123/if-your-brain-feels-foggy-and-youre-tired-all-the-time-youre-not-alone
http://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/03/mental-health-4-ways-that-mothers-can-be-supported-throughout-covid-19/
mint.intuit.com/blog/money-etiquette/holiday-spending-statistics/


What is the Overton Window?

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesIf you guessed, “A really heavy window, weighing over a ton,” you get points for discerning the obvious. However, the Overton Window is not a physical object — it is a political science theorem. The Overton Window, also referred to as the “window of discourse,” was developed by Joseph Overton (1960-2003), an American policy analyst and senior vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a think tank that is focused on policy research and educational programs, located in Midland, Michigan. The theorem states: an idea’s political viability depends on whether it falls in the range of being sensible or acceptable as opposed to a politician’s preferences or being radical or unthinkable. Thus, the Overton Window frames a range of policies or ideas that are politically acceptable to the public at any given time. A successful politician, then, is able to assess what is politically acceptable and promote those policies, falling inside the Overton Window, that make him or her appear sensible — as opposed to appearing radical or extreme. The Overton Window lies over a vertical axis that ranges from “More Freedom” at the top to “Less Freedom” at the bottom with respect to government intervention. As the window slides over the axis, a policy or idea moves through six levels of public acceptance (from the center to outward): “Policy” to “Popular” to “Sensible” to “Acceptable” to “Radical” and finally to “Unthinkable.”

Overton believed that think tanks and politicians should propose policies that fall inside the window of acceptability. Overton wrote: “The most common misconception is that lawmakers themselves are in the business of shifting the Overton window. That is absolutely false. Lawmakers are actually in the business of detecting where the window is, and then moving to be in accordance with it.” However, since the late 90s, the concept of the Overton Window has been modified by the media and politicians: politicians now control the Overton Window. That is to say, a fringe idea or theory that falls outside the Overton Window, can become mainstream or conventional wisdom by constant and consistent promotion that shifts public opinion, thus shifting or expanding the Overton Window. A perfect example of this is in the promotion of the QAnon conspiracy theory, which is based on unfounded claims that the deep state, composed of satan-worshipping cannibals and pedophiles, are actively working against President Trump and his administration. By promoting the QAnon theory ad nauseam through television and social media, the Republican party finally shifted the Overton Window (or perhaps smashed it wide open) so that QAnon became mainstream in the party. In 2020, Trump retweeted QAnon-linked accounts about 216 times; there were 19 Republican candidates linked to QAnon who ran for congressional office (and a few actually won!), and QAnon (with its catchy slogan, “Where we go one we go all”) was one of the key inspirations for the assault on the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that in September 2020, about 50% of Americans had heard about this conspiracy theory. More disturbing was this find: of those who had heard about QAnon, about 20% had a positive view of the movement.

Indeed, by shifting the Overton Window, a politician can make fringe policies or ideas more acceptable. In his book, The Common Good (1998), social critic and political activist Noam Chomsky warned us how manipulating the Overton Window could not only twist fringe ideas into conventional wisdom, but also create the illusion of free thinking. Chomsky wrote, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum — even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

A related term is “walking through the Overton door,” which is defined as discussing or suggesting policies that are becoming popular but have not become official policies.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: http://www.bbc.com/news/53498434
http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/02/25/overton-window-explained-definition-meaning-217010


Adventures in Linguistics: Clitic

alex atkins bookshelf words

Every day in your writing and speech you use clitics. “Hold on there,” you respond indignantly, “that’s a word that sounds really lewd. I’m not sure what clitics are, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never used them.” I hate to sound accusatory, but you just used four of them. You see, a clitic is a morpheme that functions like a word but is not spelled or pronounced completely. The morpheme is always phonetically attached to a word, known as its host. If the morpheme is attached before its host, it is known as a proclitic; if it is attached after its host, it is known as a enclitic. The word clitic is derived from the Ancient Greek word klitikos meaning “inflectional” from enklitikos meaning “lean on.” For the purient-minded or linguistically curious, you might be asking: “Hmmn, is klitikos also the origin of the word clitoris?” That’s a very good question. The word clitoris is actually derived from another similar-sounding Ancient Greek word kleitoris, from klieo (“shut, to encase”) or from kleis (“a latch or hook” used to close a door). Those Ancient Greeks were so clever.

One of the most famous proclitics appears at the beginning of Clement C. Moore’s poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” published in 1823. The first line of the poem is considered the best known verse ever composed by an American poet: “‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house.” ‘Twas, of course, is a contraction —albeit archaic and rare — of “it was.” More common examples of proclitics are: c’mon (come on); d’you (do you); ’tis (it is); and y’all (you all). Enclitics are far more common because they occur in contractions that are used quite frequently; examples include: can’t (cannot); haven’t (have not); he’ll (he will);  I’m (I am); I’ve (I have); they’re (they are); and we’ve (we have).

So there you have it — this fascinating, arcane linguistic gremlin that is lurking in everyday speech and writing. Unlike you — now that you have been enlightened — people who use them are blissfully oblivious to its name, nuances, and etymology. So the next time you encounter a person using clitics, casually ask him or her “Are you aware you use a lot of clitics?” You will be pleasantly amused by the bewildered expression on their face. And if you are feeling devilish, you can add with a smirk, “Speaking of clitics, have I ever told you about the etymology of clitoris?”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Adventures in Rhetoric: Adianoeta
What is a Pleonasm?
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The Wisdom of Audre Lorde

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Audre Lorde (born Audrey Geraldine Lorde; 1934-1992), was an American writer, poet, feminist, and civil rights activist. She began her career as a librarian at Hunter College and earned a master’s degree in library science at Columbia University, but she flourished as a writer. Lorde’s writing focused on racial and social injustice, black identity, and feminism. She was a passionate and eloquent advocate of civil rights, shining the light on the deep harm of racism, sexism, classism, and ageism. At an early age, she began reading and memorizing poetry. By the age of 12 she discovered that it was easier for her to express herself through poetry. She published her first volume of poetry, The First Cities, in 1968, followed by Cables to Rage in 1970. Lorde became an influential voice in the Black Arts Movement after the publication of her popular collection of poems titled Coal in 1976. Over the course of her career, she published 18 books, including poems, essays, and a biography. Shortly before she died of breast cancer, Lorde adopted the African name Gamba Adisa, meaning “Warrior: she who makes her meaning known.” Below are some of her insights and perspectives from this inspiring poetic warrior.

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” 

“When we define ourselves, when I define myself, the place in which I am like you and the place in which I am not like you, I’m not excluding you from the joining — I’m broadening the joining.”

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”

“Without community, there is no liberation… but community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.”

“Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.”

“Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.”

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” 

“If I do not bring all of who I am to whatever I do, then I bring nothing, or nothing of lasting worth, for I have withheld my essence.”

“When I dare to be powerful — to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” 

“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”

“The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives.”

“I learned so much from listening to people. And all I knew was, the only thing I had was honesty and openness.”

“You cannot, you cannot use someone else’s fire. You can only use your own. And in order to do that, you must first be willing to believe that you have it.”

“It does not pay to cherish symbols when the substance lies so close at hand.”

“There is an important difference between openness and naiveté. Not everyone has good intentions nor means me well. I remind myself I do not need to change these people, only recognize who they are.”

“Sometimes we are blessed with being able to choose the time, and the arena, and the manner of our revolution, but more usually we must do battle where we are standing.”

“Each time you love, love as deeply as if it were forever.” 

“We are all more blind to what we have than to what we have not.”

“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.” 

“For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.”

“The speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.” 

“Once we recognize what it is we are feeling, once we recognize we can feel deeply, love deeply, can feel joy, then we will demand that all parts of our lives produce that kind of joy.” 

“I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.” 

“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.” 

“I do not want to be tolerated, or misnamed. I want to be recognized.” 

“The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.” 

“I want to live the rest of my life, however long or short, with as much sweetness as I can decently manage, loving all the people I love, and doing as much as I can of the work I still have to do.” 

“I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.” 

“If you do not learn to hate you will never be lonely enough to love easily nor will you always be brave, although it does not grow any easier. Do not pretend to convenient beliefs, even when they are righteous; you will never be able to defend your city while shouting.” 

“Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge.” 

“I am my best work — a series of road maps, reports, recipes, doodles, and prayers from the front lines.”

“Institutionalized rejection of difference is an absolute necessity in a profit economy which needs outsiders as surplus people.” 

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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The Best Heist Movies: 2021

atkins-bookshelf-moviesOne of the staples of Hollywood is the heist film, a subgenre of the larger crime movie genre, filled with colorful, tough-as-nails characters; thrilling, fast-paced, white-knuckle action sequences, and of course — the amazingly clever plans to pull off the seemingly impossible heists  (generally the theft of money, rare paintings, diamonds, gold, or valuable drug caches). A review of several list from respected film websites that list the “Top Ten Heist Movies” or “The Best Heist Movies of All Time” finds little consensus due the variety of movies that exists in this subgenre. The inclusion of movies in any particular list revolve around several key issues: 1. Does the film mainly focus on a challenging heist or burglary? 2. Does the actual theft take place within the film? 3. Does the heist involve money (or something very valuable, like gold or jewelry) from a bank, treasury, or drug/crime lord? 4. Does the film take place in the real world (as opposed to an alternate reality or in someone’s mind)? 5. Is the film serious (as opposed to silly, as in a comedy with far-fetched comical characters and situations)? Needless to say, every list, no matter how authoritative the source, has spirited debate by film aficionados — their criticisms invariably begin with the phrase “How could a list of best heist films exlude…” In short, no list of movies is perfect; at best, it is a starting point to explore any particular genre or subgenre. One thing that all film lovers will agree on — all of these movies will have you cheering for the bad guys and taking you along for an exhilarating ride. Here is a list of some of the best heist movies, listed chronologically:

The Vault (Also titled Way Down in Europe and Asia) (2021)
Lupin (2021)
Force of Nature (2020)
The Great Heist (El Robo del Siglo) (2020)
Money Heist (La Casa de Papel) (2017-2019)
King of Thieves (2018)
Marauders (2016)
Widows (2018)
Den of Thieves (2018)
Ocean’s Eight (2018)
Logan Lucky (2017)
To Steal From a Thief (Cien años de perdón) (2016)
Hell or High Water (2016)
Heist (2015)
American Heist (2015)
Plastic (2014)
Empire State (2013)
Parker (2013)
The Great Train Robbery (2013)
Now You See Me (2013)

Man on a Ledge (2012)
The Thieves (2012)
Tower Heist (2011)
Takers (2011)
Fast Five (2011)

Inception (2010)
The Town (2010)
Armored (2009)
Ultimate Heist (2009)
The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)
The Bank Job (2008)
Mad Money (2008)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Lookout (2007)

Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)
Firewall (2006)
Inside Man (2006)
Ocean’s Twelve (2004)
The Italian Job (2003)
Stander (2003)

Heist (2002)
Riders (aka Steal) (2002)

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
The Score (2001)
Swordfish (2001)
Sexy Beast (2000)
Snatch (2000)
Entrapment (1999)
The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
Three Kings (1999)
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
Out of Sight (1998)
Ronin (1998)
Set It Off (1996)
Heat (1995)
The Usual Suspects (1995)
The Dead Presidents (1995)
Killing Zoe (1993)
Sneakers (1992)
Trespass (1992)
Point Break (1991)
Hold-Up (1985)
The Silent Partner (1978)

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
The Trainrobbers (1973)
The Getaway (1972)
Le Cercle Rouge (1970)
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
The Caper of the Golden Bulls (1967)
The Killing (1956)
Rififi (1955)

For an exhaustive list of heist movies, turn to the beloved VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever. The 2020 edition lists 620 heist movies broken down into the following heist subcategories:general, armored car, art, cars/trucks, casinos, gold/precious metals, jewels, stagecoach, and trains.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Most Expensive Movies
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For further reading: entertainment.time.com/2013/02/27/the-art-of-the-steal-10-great-heist-films/
VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever 2020


Daily Rituals of Writers: Nathaniel Hawthorne

atkins-bookshelf-literatureJust about every U.S. high school student is introduced to American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) when they are assigned to read The Scarlet Letter, published in 1850. But what most students don’t know is that Hawthorne adopted a very isolated, structured, and monotonous daily ritual which was ideal for him to deeply ponder the essence of humanity and explore the thought-provoking issues of evil and sin. And they probably are not aware of this fun fact about this reclusive author: Hawthorne was a chocoholic! We get a glimpse of Hawthorne’s daily ritual from legendary literary critic Malcolm Cowley’s introduction in The Portable Hawthorne (1969):

“As the years passed he fell into a daily routine that seldom varied during autumn or winter. Each morning he wrote or read until it was time for the midday dinner; each afternoon he read or wrote or dreamed or merely stared at a sunbeam boring in through a hole in the blind and very slowly moving across the opposite wall. At sunset he went for a long walk, from which he returned late in the evening to eat a bowl of chocolate crumbed thick with bread and then talk about books with his two adoring sisters, Elizabeth and Louisa, both of whom were already marked for spinsterhood; these were almost the only household meetings…

In summer Hawthorne’s routine was more varied; he went for an early-morning swim among the rocks and often spent the day wandering alone by the shore, so idly that he amused himself by standing on a cliff and throwing stones at his shadow. Once, apparently, he stationed himself on the long toll-bridge north of Salem and watched the procession of travelers from morning to night. He never went to church, but on Sunday mornings he liked to stand behind the curtain of his open window and watch the congregation assemble.”

In 1842, Hawthorne (then 38 years old) married Sophia Peabody. She was just as reclusive as Hawthorne which allowed him to keep to his daily routine relatively unchanged. Just as he did during his single days, Hawthorne would stay in his study until dinner time — which for him was 2:00 pm (and you thought elderly people who eat dinner at 5:00 pm was strange!) — and Sophia would join him for dinner. An hour later, he would walk alone to the village to visit the post office and the library. Before the sun set, he would return home and then take a short walk with Sophia to a river located near their home in Concord. Then they would return home, have tea together, and read aloud to one another for a few hours each evening. Now close your eyes for a moment and picture that scene: a middle-aged married couple, sitting by the fireplace reading stories and poems to one another. Could anything be sweeter or more romantic than that?

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Daily Rituals of Writers: Truman Capote
Daily Rituals of Writers: William Faulkner
Daily Rituals of Writers: Isaac Asimov

What Would Famous Authors Order at Starbucks
The Daily Word Quotas of Famous Authors
Random Fascinating Facts About Authors
Words Invented by Famous Authors
Word Related to Drinking

Hair of the Dog
There’s A Word for That: Potvaliant
Three Sheets to the Wind

For further reading: Daily Rituals by Mason Currey (2013)


There’s A Word for That: Hypocorism

alex atkins bookshelf wordsYou probably aren’t aware of this, but you have engaged in hypocorism — not just once, put hundreds or thousands of times in your life. “No way!” you respond indignantly, “I confess I don’t know that means, but it sure sounds like something really terrible — and I am not guilty.” Chill. The definition of a hypocorism, pronounced “hi POK uh riz uhm,” is a pet name (formally known as a hypocorisma). The secondary definition is the practice of using a pet name. So if you have a loved one, like a spouse, partner, child, or a pet, you have indeed engaged in hypocorism — using terms like “Honey,” “Sweetie,” “Babe,” “Darling” “Mom,” “Dad,” and so forth. Another form of hypocorism is a diminutive; for example taking a name like Robert and turning it into Bobby or William into Billy. The third definition of a hypocorism is speaking in baby talk. So if you have a baby or a pet, chances are high (as in 100%!) that you have engaged in hypocorism. And just like you can use baby talk to name things (e.g. “woof woof” for dog or “yum yum” for food), you can also use baby talk to create pet names like “Nana” for Grandma, or “Papa” for Grandfather.

Hypocorism is one of those fascinating words in the English language that sounds really bad (it sounds very similar to “hypocrisy”), but actually represents something very sweet. You can blame the harsh sound of the word on the Greek word forming elements. The Late Latin word hypocorisma is based on the Greek word hypokorisma from hypokorizesthai meaning “to call by a pet name or endearing name” that, in turn, is derived from hypo- meaning “under, less than, or beneath” and korizesthai meaning “to caress.” Related words are hypocorisma (a pet name), hypocoristic (descriptive of someone who uses pet names; endearing), and hypocoristically (descriptive of the use of pet names).

So what are some of the most common pet names that people use? Excellent question. In 2012, a UK poll asked 1000 Brits to share the pet names of their spouse or partner. Over 60% respondents admitted to using pet names. Here is their top ten list of pet names:

1. Darling
2. Babe/Baby
3. Love
4. Sweetheart
5. Gorgeous
6. Honey/Hun/Honeybunch
7. Sweetie/Sweetie pie/Sweets
8. Angel
9. Sugar/Sugarplum
10. Boo

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Words Invented by Dickens
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There’s a Word for That: Abibliophobia
There’s a Word for That: Petrichor
There’s a Word for That: Deipnosophist
There’s a Word for That: Pareidolia

There’s a Word for That: Macroverbumsciolist
There’s a Word for That: Ultracrepidarian
There’s a Word for That: Cacology

For further reading: https://11points.com/11-popular-pet-names-couples-not-actual-pets/


What is Man’s Deepest Need?

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“The deepest need of man is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness. The full answer to the problem of existence lies in true and mature love. What is mature love? It is the union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality. Love is an active power in man, a power which breaks through the walls which separate man from his fellow men, which unites him with others. Love makes him overcome the sense of isolation and separateness, yet it permits him to be himself. In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two.”

From the Art of Loving (1956) by Eric Fromm (1900-1980), German psychologist, psychoanalyst, and humanistic philosopher. His seminal work, Escape From Freedom (1941), which articulated his theory of human nature and character, is considered one of the founding works of political psychology. Fromm believed that freedom was a critical aspect of human nature — individuals choose to embrace freedom or escape from it. In this earlier book, Fromm elaborates on the escape from freedom: “There is only one possible, productive solution for the relationship of individualized man with the world: his active solidarity with all men and his spontaneous activity, love and work, which unite him again with the world, not by primary ties but as a free and independent individual…. However, if the economic, social and political conditions… do not offer a basis for the realization of individuality in the sense just mentioned, while at the same time people have lost those ties which gave them security, this lag makes freedom an unbearable burden. It then becomes identical with doubt, with a kind of life which lacks meaning and direction. Powerful tendencies arise to escape from this kind of freedom into submission or some kind of relationship to man and the world which promises relief from uncertainty, even if it deprives the individual of his freedom.” Fromm believed that man has eight basic needs: transcendence, rootedness, sense of identity, frame of orientation, excitation and stimulation, unity, and effectiveness.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.


Shopping for Books Virtually, Shelf by Shelf

alex atkins bookshelf booksThe coronavirus pandemic had a tremendous impact on small businesses, particularly small, independent bookstores who were forced to close their doors to customers as the shelter-in-place orders were rolled out across the country, eliminating much-needed foot traffic. As of October 2020, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) noted that 35 member bookstores had closed their doors — a rate of about one store closure each week. Not only are independent books struggling during the pandemic, even after the CARES act financial relief packages and an infusion of $2.7 million of relief funds from the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, they face a very difficult and uncertain future. According to the ABA, 20% of indie bookstores are dangling by a thread. Some stores were able to shift sales from in-store to online with a certain level of success. From time to time, some book stores issued cries of help and were quickly inundated with online orders which overwhelmed scaled-down staff but brought in critical revenue.

As a long-time bibliophile and book collector, I have been visiting indie bookstores over the years (online and brick-and-mortar) as well as friends of library book sales for decades. I pondered, how can I assist some of these stores, and at the same time, enjoy the best part of book collecting: the thrill of the hunt, searching for the unknown unknown (the book you didn’t know existed). In my recent book, Serendipitous Encounters from the Bookshelf, I coined a word for that: bibleuphoria, defined as: “the euphoric feeling experienced when you finally find a book that has been on your wish list for years or a special book that you didn’t even know existed.” The word bibleuphoria, pronounced “bi blyoo FAW ree uh,” formed from the Greek word-forming elements biblio- (meaning “related to books”) and euphoria (meaning “power of enduring easily,” but more generally, “a sense of elation”).

Any true bibliophile will tell you that pure, unadulterated bibleuphoria can only occur in a bookstore. Finding the book and then holding a precious book in your hands, smelling it, feeling it beats typing in a keyword or title and finding a book on an online database. Sure, there is a slight eureka moment that you found it — but you don’t own it, you do not have it in your hands. You click here, you type some information there, and you hit the “purchase” button, but the only thing that has been exchanged is keystrokes and data. It’s not very fulfilling — it’s like drinking a chocolate milkshake and you have consumed all the ice cream and you just suck up air. So after placing your book order, it takes days — sometimes weeks — for the package to arrive before you can actually hold it in your hands. Only then do you experience true bibleuphoria. It’s true.

One night, after an evening of fighting off the withdrawals that bibliophiles occasionally experience when they haven’t visited a bookstore in a while (that glorious smell of books and ink, the joy of getting lost in stacks of books — you know the feeling) I had an epiphany: why not shop for books virtually, shelf by shelf? Thanks to modern technology and the ubiquity of the smartphone it didn’t require too much effort: it would require for a bookseller to take a photo in landscape mode of each shelf of a certain section of book inventory at about eye level, to mimic the view you would have if you were standing in front of the bookshelf. Then the bookseller would take those image files (typically JPEG files) and send them to me via email or through a messaging app to my mobile phone. The next step was to contact indie booksellers and see if they were game. 

The next day I wrote the email and sent it to an indie bookstore. Since I am currently writing a book on rare words I focused on word reference books. The owner was happy to receive the email and said she would send photos by the end of the day. In the early afternoon, the email came in with 10 photos of attached. I eagerly opened the photos and examined all the spines. I had many of the books already, but I found three unknown unknowns. Eureka! While it wasn’t the same as being in the store, and holding the book and reviewing it, the experience did capture on some level the thrill of the hunt — seeking out that book that seems to be peeking out from surrounding books, or that book that is laying on top, as if in basking in the limelight. I inquired about the prices (which were very reasonable) and placed my order. About a week later the books arrived with a lovely thank you note — the bookseller was so appreciative of the innovative process and the order of several books. I continued this process in the months ahead and enjoyed exploring the bookshelves of so many small indie bookstores across the nation and eventually around the world.

Although it seems the end of the pandemic is drawing near, bookstores will be struggling for months, and perhaps years, until the economy stabilizes and customers return to the normal, pre-pandemic way of shopping. So if you are a book lover, or know someone who is one, try this wonderful way of shopping virtually, shelf by shelf. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how fun it is, provides a fix for your bibliomania, and helps indie bookstores at the same time. Let me know how it works for you.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: http://www.vox.com/the-goods/2020/10/25/21517545/bookstores-pandemic-booksellers-closing


The Dirty Little Secrets Colleges Do Not Want You to Know

alex atkins bookshelf educationThere is a lot to unpack in Netflix’s fascinating documentary Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal, directed by Chris Smith. After you watch you will feel shocked, infuriated, or demoralized — or perhaps all three. The documentary focuses on William “Rick” Singer, the founder of The Key, a for-profit college counseling and preparation business, and its related charity, Key Worldwide Foundation, used to funnel “donations” that were actually bribes. Between 2011 and 2018, extremely wealthy parents paid Signer approximately $25 million to bribe coaches and university administrators at some of the most highly-ranked colleges in America to get over 700 students into their first-choice college. After the FBI’s investigation, 50 people were indicted for crimes related to Singer’s elaborate bribery scam. Only one, was pardoned by former President Trump.

Early in the film, we learn that there are three way to get in the college: the front door, the back door, and the little-known side door. The existence of this side door is one of American colleges’ dirty little secrets. Based on wire-taps, we listen in as Singer makes his pitch, elaborating on the three door system: “We help the wealthiest families in the US get their kids into school… Now these families, they want guarantees. They don’t want to be messing around. They want this thing done. So they want in at certain schools. So I’ve done 761 — what I would call, ‘side doors.’  The ‘front door’ means getting in on your own. The ‘back door’ is making a donation, which is ten times as much money. I’ve created this kind of ‘side door’ in because with the back door, there’s no guarantee. They’re just gonna give you a second look. My families want a guarantee.” Some very wealthy individuals, believing that rules and morality do not apply to them and their children, were eager to avail themselves to this side door. Akil Bello questions mirrors what most people thought when they learned of the scandal: “Why did these [rich] parents choose to cheat this when their children had so much already? Part of it seems to be when you reach a certain level of wealth, there’s a relentless pursuit of the trappings of power. You want to have the fancy car, the fancy house, whether you need it or not, and it seems to me that the atmosphere created in high-wealth societies is part of the problem.” So you see, the rich are really different than the middle  and lower class [picture the eyeroll emoji here].

The documentary shifts its focus from the bribery scheme to the broken hyped-up system that allowed this corruption to take root in the first place. The documentary introduces a variety of experts that shed light on some other dirty secrets that colleges don’t want you to know. Some of these issues are not new, of course, since several books published over the last decade have exposed them; however, the documentary’s value is that it places them back center stage, for another generation to witness. Specifically, we learn how universities develop their brands, game the rankings, and perpetuate the illusion of prestige and the myth that only an exorbitantly expensive college can deliver a great education. Consider the cost of that education: according to the College Board, the average cost for an undergraduate private or public education has more than doubled in the last three decades. As of 2019, college graduates are crippled by more than $1.7 trillion in student loans — an increase of 100% over the last decade. Let’s listen in on the discussion:

John Reider, former Stanford University admissions officer: “Over the last three or four decades, higher education has become increasingly a commodity. Something that you purchase — a product. It’s a goal in and of itself, rather than the goal being to get an education. [This is a wonderful insight through the lens of etymology As Reider states, prestige translated from the French means “illusion” or “glamour.” The French word is, in turn, derived from the Latin word praestigium meaning “illusion” and the Latin word  praestigiae meaning “conjuring tricks.” So the next time you hear a tiger parent going on and on about how important it is for their children to attend a “prestigious” college, feel free to school them on the etymology of the word and the myth they bought into.] 

Akil Bello, test prep expert: It’s typically accepted that Ivy League institutions are the quote unquote ‘best’ in the country. But all of those differences have almost nothing to do with the academics of the institution. U.S. News [& World Report] started ranking colleges in the 80s, based on one criteria: prestige. That’s it. 

John Reider: “Prestige is actually a French word. In the original French, it means something people don’t realize — it means ‘deceit.’ That’s what prestige is in the college. It’s imaginery. It’s an illusion. Yet people believe in it. 

Daniel Golden, author of The Price of Admission. “It’s not just population growth that makes it harder to get into college today. The colleges themselves have brought it about. Because the more selective they look on paper, the higher ranked they are going to be.”

Perry Kalmus, independent education consultant: “Everything these schools are doing is massaging to try and up the rankings and it’s a really dangerous game.”

Daniel Golden: “Most people see college admissions [and say] ‘oh it’s based on merit except for affirmative action for minorities.’ My view of the admissions process is all sorts of different preferences, with — yes — some student getting in on pure merit, but many others getting in due to preferences that skew rich and white. One is by preferences for students who play niche sports, like sailing, or fencing, or horseback riding, which most kids never get a chance to try. Then there’s making a huge donation to a university that gets them noticed by the fundraising office, which will recommend the candidate to admissions.”

Barbara Kalmus, independent education consultant: “No good will have come out of these sentences or out of this scandal. The fines they’ve been given — meaningless. In terms of hitting them in their pocketbook — what a difference it could have been made if we hit them hard and put that money to work for underprivileged kids. That would have been amazing. Then you can say at least some good came out of it.”

Daniel Golden: “I try not to blame the families or parents. I tend to focus the criticism on the colleges and universities that created this system. If they didn’t have these loopholes and these preferences for families of privilege, then I don’t think there would be these kinds of temptations. This scandal is not necessarily a reason for colleges to change their ways. Because it makes the colleges seem more exclusive and desirable than ever. If all these rich people are willing to go to these incredible lengths and risk jail time just to get their kids into these colleges, then they must be incredibly valuable.”

Barbara Kalmus: “What we are doing to these kids by pounding them into the ground with Top 25, Top 10, Top 5 [Schools]? Because ultimately, where you do go to school has little or no effect on what will happen to you in the future.”

Akil Bello: “The United States has over 3,000 colleges. You have infinite choices.”

John Reider: “Forget about USC. Go someplace else. You can get a great education almost any place if you want it. The parents in this case didn’t believe that. Because the bigger school had the prestige, had the glitter, had the glamour, had the bragging rights.”

In the end, Singer’s house of cards — held up so long by an extensive web of secrecy among college officials, coaches, exam proctors, parents, and students (see, the rich can be very tight-lipped! membership has its privileges) — came tumbling down due to a completely unrelated case: the FBI was investigating a financial executive who, in order to obtain leniency, ratted out a Yale coach that was accepting bribes for admitting students. Busted! Of course, after he was caught, Singer was very eager to rat out all his co-conspirators and clients in order to reduce his sentence. For pleading guilty to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the U.S., and obstruction of justice, Singer faces the maximum sentence of 65 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine.

The documentary concludes with an observation by Naomi Fry, a staff writer for The New Yorker who recognizes Americans’ ambivalence toward the wealthy, combined with sense of satisfaction of justice being served, with a hint of schadenfreude, as the penalties and sentences of the guilty are displayed on the screen: “In America, we love the wealthy and we hate the wealthy. They disgust us and they fascinate us. This story was a perfect opportunity to see how rich people live and the realities of the system being exposed. And so there’s something incredibly refreshing to have just a little bit of justice being served in a sea of injustice.”

 So how did this documentary make you feel? What are your thoughts on the scandal and the families that were indicted?

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Getting the Most Out of College
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For further reading:
http://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/22/us-student-debt-has-increased-by-more-than-100percent-over-past-10-years.html
https://www.justice.gov/usao-ma/investigations-college-admissions-and-testing-bribery-scheme


Who Are the Seven Sages of Greece?

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomIn the dialogue Protagoras, Athenian philosopher Plato (428-424 BC), considered one of the most influential figures in Western philosophy, provided one of the earliest lists of the Seven Sages of Greece (also referred to as the Seven Wise Men). These seven men, who lived in the 6th century, were considered to be the wisest philosophers and statesmen of Ancient Greece. What is impressive and astonishing is that an entire nation could easily identify seven really wise individuals. Fast forward two centuries and we find ourselves living in a culture devoid of these types of preeminent wise philosophers. Could you imagine identifying the Seven Sages of America, or even the Seven Sages of the Modern World? Sadly, in their place we have “influencers” who promote consumerism and mindless thinking. But we digress… The Seven Sages of Greece dispensed their timeless, practical wisdom through short and memorable aphorisms which were inscribed on the walls of the Temple of Apollo, located in Delphi. In Protagoras (342-343), Plato writes:

Hence this very truth has been observed by certain persons both in our day and in former times — that the Spartan cult is much more the pursuit of wisdom than of athletics; for they know that a man’s ability to utter such remarks is to be ascribed to his perfect education. Such men were Thales of Miletus, Pittacus of Mytilene, Bias of Priene, Solon of our city, Cleobulus of Lindus, Myson of [Chenae], and, last of the traditional seven, Chilon of Sparta. All these were enthusiasts, lovers and disciples of the Spartan culture; and you can recognize that character in their wisdom by the short, memorable sayings that fell from each of them they assembled together and dedicated these as the first-fruits of their lore to Apollo in his Delphic temple, inscribing there those maxims which are on every tongue — “Know thyself” and “Nothing overmuch.” To what intent do I say this? To show how the ancient philosophy had this style of laconic brevity; and so it was that the saying of Pittacus was privately handed about with high approbation among the sages—that it is hard to be good.

While other Ancient Greek writers included in their lists of Seven Sages Cleobulus of Lindos or Periander of Corinthos, both of who were tyrants, Plato included Myson of Chanae, a farmer.

The walls of the Temple of Apollo were inscribed with a total of 147 maxims (known as the Delphic maxims), which were originally attributed to Apollo, but later writers, like historian Diogenes Laertius (3rd century) and Greek scholar Joannes Stobaeus (5th century) attributed to the Seven Sages of Greece. Stobaeus compiled the instructive sayings from early Greek authors into a compilation titled Eclogues (Extracts). Modern classical scholars now believe that the authorship of these maxims is uncertain and that these were popular maxims, some of which where attributed to certain sages. Below are the some notable aphorisms attributed to the Seven Sages of Greece: 

Bias of Priene: “Too many workers spoil the work”

Chilon of Sparta: “Know thyself”

Cleobulus of Lindos: “Moderation is the chief good”

Periander of Corinth – “Forethought in all things”

Pittacus of Mitylene: “Know thine opportunity”

Solon of Athens: “Nothing in excess”

Thales of Miletus: “To bring surety brings ruin”

The 147 Delphic maxims can be read here. Which is the maxim which resonates the most with you?

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Will you help me reach 10,000 followers? Cheers.

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