Helping the Less Fortunate

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsPulitzer Prize winning author Pearl Buck once observed, “Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.” [Emphasis added.] It is not often that you read about the privileged or 1-percenters who due to their great fortune (and you can read that one of several ways), realize or experience firsthand that the majority of people work very hard or even struggle — and falter — just to get by in this world. The response to this should not be contempt or indifference (witness, for example, how many governments treat their citizens), but rather, kindness and compassion. For inspiration, we should turn to the Dalai Lama who wisely observed: “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

It is in this context, that one can appreciate the legacy of Princess Diana, known as the “Princess of Hearts” for her passionate philanthropy, who wanted to make sure her children understood that the plight of the less fortunate. In a candid interview with Newsweek magazine, Prince Harry, who is passionate about charity work and has earned a nickname that would make his mum proud (“Prince of Hearts”), shares these insights: “My mother died when I was very young [Harry was 12; Prince William was 15]. I didn’t want to be in the position I was in, but I eventually pulled my head out of the sand, started listening to people and decided to use my role for good. I am now fired up and energized and love charity stuff, meeting people and making them laugh. I sometimes still feel I am living in a goldfish bowl, but I now manage it better.” Harry explains how Princess Diana taught her sons to appreciate an ordinary life and privacy; he elaborates, “My mother took a huge part in showing me an ordinary life, including taking me and my brother to see homeless people. Thank goodness I’m not completely cut off from reality.” [Emphasis added.] Indeed, empathy, is king.

Read related posts: The Measure of Civilization
The Importance of Empathy
The Importance of Reading
The Thirteen Commandments
The Flier that Launched 150,000 Phone Calls

For further reading: Pearl Buck, My Several Worlds: A Personal Record

Amusing Musings on Language

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAs word lover Richard Lederer pointed out in one of his books, the English language is crazy. Lederer observes, “to explore the paradoxes and vagaries of English, we find that hot dogs can be cold, darkrooms can be lit, homework can be done in school, nightmares can take place in broad daylight while morning sickness and daydreaming can take place at night, tomboys are girls and midwives can be men, hours — especially happy hours and rush hours — often last longer than sixty minutes, quicksand works very slowly, boxing rings are square, silverware and glasses can be made of plastic and tablecloths of paper… and most bathrooms don’t have any baths in them.” You get the idea.

Lederer’s book inspired Josh White Jr.’s song “English is Crazy” (most people are familiar with folk singer Pete Seeger’s version, plays on banjo). Of course, Lederer’s waggish observations are not lost on comedians who mine the vast English lexicon for words and phrases that make you scratch your head and utter “WTF.” Two of the most brilliant comedians who placed the English language under the comedy microscope are George Carlin and Stephen Wright. Here are some of the most amusing musings on the English language, many from Carlin and Wright.

Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.

How can a fat chance and slim chance be the same thing?

I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, “Where is the self-help section?” She said that if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.

If a deaf kid swears, does his mother wash his hands with soap?

If a turtle loses its shell is it naked or homeless?

If con is the opposite of pro, is congress the opposite of progress?

If flying is so safe, why is the airport called ‘terminal’?

If people can have triplets and quadruplets why not singlets and doublets?

If vegetarians eat vegetables, what do humanitarians eat?

I went to a restaurant that “serves breakfast at any time” so I ordered French toast during the Renaissance.

Is Atheism a non-prophet organization?

Is it true that cannibals don’t eat clowns because they taste funny?

Isn’t it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do “practice?”

I saw a sign that said “Coming soon — a 24-hour restaurant.” Why would they open and close it so quickly?

I went to a general store. They wouldn’t let me buy anything specifically.

The reason the mainstream is thought of as a stream is because of its shallowness.

What’s another word for thesaurus?

Where do forest rangers go to “get away from it all?”

Why are there braille signs at the drive-through windows at the bank?

Why is that when stars are out, they’re visible, but when the lights are out, they’re invisible?

Why are they called apartments when they are all stuck together?

Why are boxing rings square?

Why do we drive on a parkway but park in a driveway?

Why is it that night falls but never breaks and day breaks but never falls?

Why don’t you ever see the headline, “Psychic Wins Lottery”?

Why is “abbreviated” such a long word?

Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavor and dishwashing liquid made with real lemons?

Why is the man who invests all your money called a broker?

Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?

Why isn’t phonetics spelled phonetically?

Would a fly that loses its wings be called a “walk?”

Read related posts: The English Language is Crazy
The Wisdom of Steven Wright
The Wisdom of George Carlin
Top Ten Puns

For further reading: Brain Droppings by George Carlin
Crazy English: The Ultimate Joy Ride Through Our Languageby Richard Lederer
Lederer on Language: A Celebration of English, Good Grammar, and Wordplay by Richard Lederer

The Great Secret that Old People Share

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThe great secret that all old people share is that you really haven’t changed in 70 or 80 years. Your body changes, but you don’t change at all. And that, of course, causes great confusion.

Doris Lessing (1919-2013), British novelist, short story writer, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007. She is best known for the five novels collectively titled Children of Violence published between 1952 and 1969. The quotation appears in a 2005 calendar titled “Challenging Older People in Manchester” published by the Manchester City Council, Manchester, England.

The Importance of Reading

alex atkins bookshelf literatureWhen we read we get to step into the shoes of another human being. In that journey of a mile — or perhaps hundreds of miles if you consider the great epics — comes greater understanding, empathy, and the humility that comes from the realization that you don’t know everything (and you shouldn’t have to; besides no one likes a no-it-all). In short, we read to understand ourselves and our fellow man in the hope that we can become better human beings. But don’t take my word for it, here are some of the world’s greatest thinkers and writers on the importance of reading:

Socrates: Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writing so that you shall come easily by what others have labored hard for.

Aldous Huxley: Every man who knows who to read has it in his power to magnify himself, to multiply the ways in which he exists, to make his life full, significant, and interesting.

T.S. Eliot: Someone once said, “The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.” Precisely, and they are that which we know.

Henry David Thoreau: A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint… What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.

William Ellery Channing: It is chiefly through books that we enjoy the intercourse with superior minds… In the best books, great men talk to us, give us their most precious thoughts, and pour their soul into ours. God be thanked for books.

William Faulkner: [Man] is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Emily Dickinson:
He ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was dust.
He danced along the dingy days,
And this bequest of wings
Was but a book. What liberty
A loosened spirit brings!

Read related posts:
The Poem I Turn To
Great Literature Speaks

William Faulkner on the Writer’s Duty
What is Your Legacy?

The Power of Literature
Universal Human Values
The Poem I Turn To
Why Read Dickens?
The Benefits of Reading
50 Books That Will Change Your Life
The Books that Shaped America
Why Reading is Critical to the Writer
Is Reading Essential for Success?
The Books that Most People Begin Reading but Don’t Finish

For further reading: The Delights of Reading by Otto Bettmann

What Do You Call the @ Symbol?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsThe ubiquitous @ symbol is commonly referred to as the “at sign.” Although many consider it to be a punctuation mark, it is not. Technically, it is a grammalogue or logogram that represents the phrase “at the rate of” introduced by merchants in Europe in the 1700s to indicate costs succinctly (eg, a pound of butter @ 4 pence). Incidentally, how the symbol originated is simply speculation, since there is no proof behind three theories. Perhaps the most likely is that @ is derived from the French “à” with an accent grave that eventually morphed in the symbol we recognize today. Over many centuries, the @ symbol made the jump from handwritten chalkboards to the typewriter in 1889; and it took until 1971 to make the leap to the digital world, when Raymond Tomlinson decided upon the @ symbol for email addresses.

One of the most interesting aspects of the @ symbol is that it functions as a sort of typographic Rorschach test. That is to say, it is perceived differently by different cultures. Where Americans see a lowercase “a” inside a circle, the Danish see a monkey’s tail, while the Swedish see a cinnamon bun, and so forth. Consequently, the @ symbol is known by various names across different countries:

Armenia: ishnik (puppy)

China: flowery A

Czechoslovakia: zavinac (rollmops)

Denmark: apestaart (monkey’s tail)

Germany: kammeraffe (spider monkey)

Hungary: kukac (little worm)

Israel: strudel

Italy: chiocciola (snail)

Netherlands: grisehale (pig’s tail) or snabel (elephant’s trunk)

Serbia: crazy A

Sweden: kanelbulle (cinnamon bun)

Taiwan: little mouse

United States: at sign

Vietnam: bent A or hooked A

Read related posts: The First Typewritten Book
Novels with the Most Exclamation Points

What is the Qwerty Keyboard?
Who is the Fastest Texter in the World?

For further reading: Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks by Keith Houston

What if Shakespeare Wrote the Hits: Don’t Stop Believin

alex atkins bookshelf literatureWilliam Shakespeare is considered the world’s greatest writer — he was a brilliant playwright, but his genius really shines through in his glorious sonnets and poems. Although Shakespeare wrote plays to make a living, he wrote poetry to nourish his soul. Four centuries after they were published, the sonnets remain the most widely-read and recited poems in all of English literature. Stop and ponder for a moment: if Shakespeare were alive today, would he also be writing pop songs? According to Erik Didriksen, author of the very cheeky Pop Sonnets, the answer would be a resounding yes! Here is Shakespeare’s version of Journey’s famous rock hit Don’t Stop Believin:

A lonely maiden from a hamlet small;
a boy within a woeful city rear’d —
they both at midnight left their ports of call
t’ward any destination volunteer’d.
A public-house is where their journeys end,
where patrons’ pipes burn long and minstrels play.
The darken’d hours have made them more than friends,
the other’s smile inviting each to stay.
Look ye on those who wander through the streets
beneath the lamplight, searching for a soul —
they comb the darken’d night in hope to meet
the sweet companion that shall make them whole.
— Ensure thy heart won’t let their spirit leave;
’tis most important thou dost e’er believe.

Read related posts: Were Shakespeare’s Sonnets Written to a Young Man?
When Was Shakespeare Born?
The Legacy of Shakespeare
Shakespeare the Pop Song Writer

The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folio
Who Are the Greatest Characters in Shakespeare?
The Most Common Myths About Shakespeare
Shakespeare and Uranus
Best Editions of Shakespeare’s Sonnets

For further reading: Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins on Your Favorite Songs by Erik Didriksen (2005)

Doublets: Conscience

atkins-bookshelf-quotations“Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

Atticus Finch explaining to Scout why he has chosen to represent Tom Robinson in a murder case, in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1926-2016)

“The function of wisdom is to discriminate between good and evil.”

Cicero (106-43 BC)


Read related posts: Doublets: Genius
Doublets: Youth and Maturity
Doublets: You Cannot Run Away From Yourself
Doublets: The Lessons of History
Doublets: Reading a Great Book
Doublets: Tolerance
Doublets: The Role of Religion
Doublets: Things Left Unsaid

%d bloggers like this: