Author Archives: Alexander Atkins

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 theorem. The Overton Window, also referred to as the “window of discourse,” was developed by Joseph Overton, an American policy analyst. 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 that a politician can support without appearing too extreme in the context of the public opinion at the time. The spectrum that 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 politicians can propose policies that fall into the window of acceptability, but more importantly, can promote ideas outside that window by effectively persuading the public to expand the Overton Window. 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.” 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 warns how manipulating the Overton Window can create the illusion of free thinking. “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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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, either before (known as a proclitic) or after (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?” 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).

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 of “it was.” Other 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. Examples are: 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, “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

alex atkins bookshelf wisdom

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 (2021)
Lupin (2021)
The Great Heist (El Robo del Siglo) (2020)
Money Heist (La Casa de Papel) (2017-2019)
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
What is the Sword of Damocles?
There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
There’s a Word for That: Jouissance
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.

Read related posts:
There Should Be a Word for That: Bibleuphoria
The Sections of a Bookstore
Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores
Types of Book Readers

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
How College Can Help You to Live a Good Life
How Many College Grads Have Jobs Related to Their Major?
The College Admissions Mania
The Parable of the Carpenter’s Son
The Best Books for Graduates: 2015
What Makes a Great Mentor?
What Makes a Great Teacher?
What Should you Teach Your kids Before They Leave Home?
Education Reform
Lifelong Learning with The Great Courses
Education or Indoctrination?

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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I Read in Order to Live, More Deeply, More Fully

alex atkins bookshelf quotations

As a writer of stories, I am always reaching toward that moment when a reader will say, ‘But I though I was the only one who ever felt that, thought that, wanted that.’ As a reader of stories, I search for that same experience, the moment when I will discover, yet again, the universal in the personal, the core of shared humanity beneath by isolation… I read in order to live, more deeply, more fully, and with a more certain alliance with this human world.”

From the essay “A More Certain Alliance” by American author Marion Dana Bauer that is included in The Most Wonderful Books: Writers on Discovering the Pleasures of Reading (1997) edited by Michael Dorris and Emilie Buchwald. Bauer is an award-winning author of more than 100 books for young people. She won an American Library Association Newbery Honor Award in 1987 for On My Honor, a middle grade coming-of-age story.

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.


The Best of Puns, the Worst of Puns 3

atkins-bookshelf-wordsThe pun, of course, is a much maligned form of humor. Noah Webster, in his first edition of the American Dictionary of the English Language (1828) defines the pun as “an expression in which a word has at once different meanings; an expression in which two different applications of a word present an odd or ludicrous idea; a kind of quibble or equivocation; a low species of wit.” Sigmund Freud, in his seminal work Wit and Relation to the Unconscious (1917), added: “Puns are generally counted as the lowest form of wit, perhaps because they are cheaper and can be formed with the least effort.” Sounds like the father of psychoanalysis suffers from pun envy. In an article for the New York Times, Joseph Tartakovsky posits: “Puns are the feeblest species of humor because they are ephemeral: whatever comic force they possess never outlasts the split second it takes to resolve the semantic confusion.” Punsters will counter that if the pun is the lowest form, then it is the foundation of all wit. Known for his razor-sharp wit, comedian Oscar Levant declared: “A pun is the lowest form of humor — when you don’t think of it first.” Take that, Noah and Siggy! On the other hand, legendary British film director, Alfred Hitchcock (“Master of Suspense”) believed just the opposite: “Puns are the highest form of literature.” Proving that you don’t have to be a psycho to take a stab at a good pun!

For punsters, the internet, serves as a giant sandbox, where they can all step in, gluttons for punishment, and hurl puns at one another, howling with devilish glee (and not a single groan!) that only a true paronomasiac can appreciate. In 2014, Benjamin Branfman published a book of 250 puns titled The Little Book of Giant Puns. The following year, he published a sequel, The Rather Large Book of Puns containing 515 puns. Here are some of the best of puns or the worst of puns, depending on your perspective (pun purists will note that some of these are not technically puns, but rather clever wordplay). Some have been edited for brevity.

I just ate a liver sausage — it was literally the wurst.

Balloon prices have increased recently due to inflation.

If aromatic candles irritate you then you might become incensed.

There was once an artist who made sculptures out of electric cords because he needed a creative outlet.

My friend painted a fish that was hundreds of feet long. But since the canvas was small, the fish wasn’t to scale.

Two horses got married. Their friends gave them a bridal shower.

Never go to war with apes because they are masters of guerrilla tactics.

The other day I saw a monk’s apprentice working in a fast-food kitchen. He was a friar.

The ocean is slowly eroding many beaches. Sadly the future of the coastline is not a shore thing.

Japanese carp are very shy fish — they’re koi.

Illiterate people have a hard time playing the clarinet because they cannot reed.

What’s your favorite clever pun?

Read related posts: Top Ten Puns
Best Pi Puns
The Best of Puns, The Worst of Puns

For further reading: The Rather Large Book of Puns: Over 500 Excellent and Original Pieces of Wordplay by Benjamin Branfman,  CreateSpace, 2015.


Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Coronavirus Edition

alex atkins bookshelf wordsGerman, like English, can create long compound words from many parts of speech; however, the difference is that English words tend to be short and hyphenated (eg, “fact-check”) while German words tend to long and combined without any hyphens or spaces (eg, “Trittbrettunsterblichkeit”, which translated means “immortality achieved by riding on someone’s coattails.”) But it is German’s basic structure that encourages words to be formed by combining several words together without any connectors. A German reader simply  breaks down each part to derive its figurative or literal meaning. For example, in English you would write, “the card from the automat of the steam-powered ship traveling on the Rhine.” However, in German, you would simply write “Rheindampfschiffautomatenkarte.” Since necessity is the mother of invention, every language around the globe has has had to introduce new words to discuss the coronavirus pandemic and related topics. According to Christine Mohrs, a researcher at the Leibniz Institute for the German language, Germans have coined more than 1,200 new coronavirus-related words. Many languages grow by using loanwords, words borrowed from another language. German, for example, borrows words from English that will be evident in some of these neologisms. Here are some of the interesting words that Germans uses to discuss coronavirus related things (literal translation in parentheses), although not all will make it into the official German dictionary:

Anderthalbmetergesellschaft: social distancing (“a meter and a half society”)

Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung: certificate of disability

Ausbruchsgeschehen: outbreak events

Ausgangsbeschränkung: lockdown (“exit restriction”)

Behelfsmundnasenschutz: face mask (“makeshift mouth nose protection”)

Coronatestzentrum: corona test center

Coronasuperverbreiter: corona super spreaders

Ellenbogengesellschaft: elbow society

Frischluftquote: fresh air quota

Fussgruss:  safe hello (“foot greeting”)

Gesichtskondom: face mask (“face condom”)

Impfstoffnationalismus: vaccine nationalism

kontaktlose Zustellung: contactless delivery

Mindestabstandsregelung: social distancing (“minimum distance regulation”)

Mundschutzmode: face mask (“mouthguard fashion”)

Notfallkinderzuschlag: emergency child allowance

Onlineparteitag: online party conversation

Präsenzveranstaltung: face-to-face event

Salamilockdown: partial lockdown, a lockdown that happens in slices (“salami lockdown”)

Spuckschutzschirm: face mask (“anti spit screen”)

telefonische Krankschreibung: telephone sick leave

Wirtschaftsstabilisierungsfonds: economic stabilization fund

Zoomfatigue: burnout from overuse of zoom conferences (“zoom fatigue”)

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.

Read related posts: There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
There’s a Word for That: Jouissance
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://www.owid.de/docs/neo/listen/corona.jsp
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/germany-words-pandemic-long/2021/02/26/6f73330e-7835-11eb-9489-8f7dacd51e75_story.html


Our Personal Libraries Articulate Who We Are

alex atkins bookshelf quotations

“All the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal… But with each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not.”

From The Polysyllabic Spree (2004) by British author and screenwriter Nicholas Hornby. Hornby’s best-selling novels, Fever Pitch, High Fidelity, and About a Boy, have all been adapted to film as well as television series. Hornby is also a music critic and has collaborated on song lyrics with Ben Folds. Prior to becoming a successful novelist, Hornby was a high school English teacher.

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.


Think Before You Speak. Read Before You Think.

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomIf you happen to stop by the Strand Bookstore in New York City, you will inevitably come across signs placed among the books that provide the following timeless advice: “Think before you speak. Read before you think.” In the captivating Netflix documentary, “Pretend It’s a City,” we learn that the author of that quote is humorist Fran Lebowitz. The quote is from an essay titled “Tips for Teens” that she originally wrote for Newsweek magazine’s “My Turn” back in 1978. Lebowitz, who is a fascinating raconteur, explains that the words found on those signs is only half the quote; the full quote is “Think before you speak. Read before you think. This will give you something to think about that you didn’t make up yourself — a wise move at any age, but most especially at seventeen, when you are in the greatest danger of coming to annoying conclusions.”

In that essay, written when she was 28 years old, Lebowitz dispensed the type of life wisdom — albeit delivered in her trademarked wry, sardonic style — that are typically found in high school and college graduation commencement speeches. You may recall Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich’s faux graduation speech titled “Always Wear Sunscreen” published in May 1997 that also provided young people with sage advice. (Interestingly, due to an Internet version of the “Telephone Game,” the speech was mistakenly attributed author Kurt Vonnegut.) Lebowitz’s essay, which was reprinted in a collection of essays titled Social Studies published in 1981 (a hardback is on sale on Amazon for $899.99!), perfectly captures the awkward and distressing period of adolescence: “There is perhaps, for all concerned, no period of life so unpleasant, so unappealing, so downright unpalatable, as that of adolescence. And while pretty much everyone who comes into contact with him is disagreeably affected, certainly no one is in for a ruder shock than the actual teenager himself. Fresh from twelve straight years of uninterrupted cuteness, he is singularly unprepared to deal with the harsh consequences of inadequate personal appearance.” Most people can relate to that. But Lebowitz observes that the teenager’s problems are not only skin deep — she believes that teenagers face all types of challenges and respond by excessive oversharing (“TMI” in textese): “Philosophical, spiritual, social, legal — a veritable multitude of difficulties daily confront him. Understandably disconcerted, the teenager almost invariably finds himself in a state of unrelenting misery. This is, of course, unfortunate, even lamentable. Yet one frequently discovers a lack of sympathy for the troubled youth. This dearth of compassion is undoubtedly due to the teenager’s insistence upon dealing with his lot in an unduly boisterous fashion. He is, quite simply, at an age where he can keep nothing to himself. This sort of behavior naturally tends to have an alienating effect.”

Lebowitz, feeling some level of sympathy for disaffected teenagers since she was as adolescent once — as she will freely admit — casts some other pearls of wisdom to help them navigate their way through life:

“If in addition to being physically unattractive you find that you do not get along well with others, do not under any circumstances attempt to alleviate this situation by developing an interesting personality. An interesting personality is, in an adult, insufferable. In a teenager it is frequently punishable by law.

Wearing dark glasses at the breakfast table is socially acceptable only if you are legally blind or partaking of your morning meal out of doors during a total eclipse of the sun.

Should your political opinions be at extreme variance with those of your parents, keep in mind that while it is indeed your constitutional right to express these sentiments verbally, it is unseemly to do so with your mouth full–particularly when it is full of the oppressor’s standing rib roast.

Think before you speak. Read before you think. This will give you something to think about that you didn’t make up yourself–a wise move at any age, but most especially at seventeen, when you are in the greatest danger of coming to annoying conclusions.

Try to derive some comfort from the knowledge that if your guidance counselor were working up to his potential, he wouldn’t still be in high school.

The teen years are fraught with any number of hazards, but none so perilous as that which manifests itself as a tendency to consider movies an important art form. If you are presently, or just about to be, of this opinion, perhaps I can spare you years of unbearable pretension by posing this question: If movies (or films, as you are probably now referring to them) were of such a high and serious nature, can you possibly entertain even the slightest notion that they would show them in a place that sold Orange Crush and Jujubes?

It is at this point in your life that you will be giving the greatest amount of time and attention to matters of sex. This not only is acceptable, but should, in fact, be encouraged, for this is the last time that sex will be genuinely exciting.

The girl in your class who suggests that this year the Drama Club put on The Bald Soprano will be a thorn in people’s sides all of her life.

Should you be a teenager blessed with uncommon good looks, document this state of affairs by the taking of photographs. It is the only way anyone will ever believe you in years to come.”

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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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:
Social Studies, Fran Lebowitz, Random House, 1981.
Pretend It’s A City, Library Services (Episode 7), Netflix, premiered January 8, 2021.


What is the Imposter Syndrome?

Ialex atkins bookshelf culturen a recent interview conducted for Time magazine former First Lady Michelle Obama asked inaugural poet Amanda Gorman, who wrote the stirring poem “The Hill We Climb,” “No matter how many speaking engagements I do, big audiences always trigger a little bit of imposter syndrome in me. Can you talk about how you’ve learned to deal with that…?” Gorman responds, “Speaking in public as a Black girl is always daunting enough… that in itself is inviting a type of people that have not often been welcomed or celebrated in the public sphere. Beyond that, as someone with a speech impediment, that imposter syndrome has always been exacerbated because there’s the concern — is the content of what I’m saying good enough? And… is the way I’m saying it good enough.”

Here we have two gifted, intelligent, and accomplished women — albeit in different parts of their life journey — revealing a very deep-rooted fear that millions of people share, regardless of gender, age, and level of achievement: the imposter syndrome. So what exactly is the imposter syndrome?

The term imposter syndrome is actually know by many names: fraud syndrome, imposterism, imposter phenomenon, imposter experience. The initial term imposter phenomenon was introduced by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in their paper “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention” published in Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice (Volume 15, Fall 1978). The researchers defined imposter phenomenon as “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness which appears to be particularly prevalent among a select sample of high achieving women.” Many of these individuals are unable to internalize their success and thus dismiss their abilities and achievements, attributing them to luck, timing, help of an individual — or even error. These individuals may experience doubt, rumination, stress, anxiety, or depression. Clance notes thats imposter syndrome is not a pathological disease that is inherently self-destructive, but rather interferes with the psychological well-being of a person. Despite the doubt and stress they may feel, individuals are able to fulfill their work requirements. In contrast to the imposter syndrome, consider the Dunning-Kruger Effect which is a cognitive bias where a person who is incompetent at something is unable to recognize their own incompetence. Moreover, that individual has a false inflated sense of confidence about their supposed competence.

In their clinical experience during the 1970s, Clance and Imes found that the imposter phenomenon occurred with much less frequency and with less intensity in men. To address the prevalence of the phenomenon in women, they wrote: “Certain early family dynamics and later introjection of societal sex-role stereotyping appear to contribute significantly to the development of the imposter phenomenon. Despite outstanding academic and professional achievements, women who experience [this] persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. Numerous achievements, which one might expect to provide ample objective evidence of superior intellectual functioning, do not appear to affect the imposter belief.” The psychologists present the four factors which contribute to this phenomenon: (1) gender stereotypes, (2) early family dynamics, (3) culture, and (4) attribution style. Subsequent research over the decades by other psychologists has shown that the imposter syndrome is widely experienced by men and women. In a study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science (Volume 6, 2011), researchers Jaruwan Sakulku and James Alexander note that an estimated 70% of people will experience at least one episode of imposter syndrome in their lives. Additional research has also identified a wider range of factors including: family expectations, overprotective parents (take note helicopter and tiger parents!), racial identities, perfectionism, low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety.

In 1985, Clance developed the first scale to measure the characteristics of the imposter phenomenon: the Clance Imposter Phenomenon scale (CIP). The scale measures three levels of fears: (1) fear of evaluation, (2) fear of not continuing to be successful, and (3) fear of not being as capable as other people. Clance also identified the six dimensions of the imposter phenomenon: (1) the imposter cycle, (2) the need to be the best, (3) characteristics of superman or superwoman, (4) fear of failure, (5) denial of ability and dismissing praise, and (6) feeling guilt and fear about success.

Over two decades later, in 2011, educational leadership expert Valerie Young published The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It. After extensive research, she identifies five subgroups that experience imposter syndrome:
(1) The perfectionist: “It isn’t done yet, it could be done better.”
(2) The super person: “I should be great at everything.”
(3) The natural genius: “If I were actually good at this, it would not be so difficult.”
(4) The soloist: “I should be able to figure this out on my own.”
(5) The expert: “I can never know enough.”

In an article for Time titled “How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome” (June 20, 2018), journalist Abigail Abrams interviewed psychologist Audrey Ervin to find out how to deal with imposter syndrome. Ervin made these recommendations:
1. Acknowledge the negative thoughts and put them in perspective: do they help or hinder?
2. Reframe the thoughts and value constructive criticism.
3. Share your thoughts and feelings with trusted friends or mentors.
4. Do not let doubt control your actions.

Have you ever felt like an imposter?

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: What is the Barnum Effect?
What is the Pinocchio Effect?
What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?

For further reading:
“Unity with a Purpose” Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman in Conversation with Former First Lady Michelle Obama, Time Magazine, February 15/22, 2021.
http://mpowir.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/Download-IP-in-High-Achieving-Women.pdf
https://time.com/5312483/how-to-deal-with-impostor-syndrome/
https://so06.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/IJBS/article/view/521/pdf


Untranslatable Words: Mamihlapinatapai

alex atkins bookshelf wordsDeveloped over 1,400 years, the English language is astonishingly vast — it contains more than a million words. Moreover, it is not finite — it grows at a rate of about 1,000 words per year. And accordingly, due to its breadth, the English language is incredibly flexible: it offers many alternatives to express an idea with just the right word through synonyms, idioms, and alternate phrases. Despite this, the English language does have some gaps that are only evident when you study other languages from around the world. What is truly fascinating to a lexicographer or linguist is the existence of lexical unicorns — truly unique words that have no single English word translation. Grab your travel bag and let’s go on a trip to a remote part of the world.

For our lexical treasure hunt we must travel to Tierra del Fuego (translated from the Spanish, it means “Land of Fire” named by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan when he saw fires along the shoreline during his approach in 1520) is an archipelago off the southern tip of South America, between the Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel. Tierra del Fuego, consisting of over 20 islands, is divided between Chile and Argentina. It was first settled by the Yaghans around 8,000 BC. The Yaghan (or Yagan or Yamana) were initially a nomadic tribe who spoke Yaghan, one of nine indigenous languages spoken by the natives of that region. Over the centuries the native population dwindled dramatically (the population in 2010 was 135,000, of those about 1,700 are Yaghan) and sadly the number of native speakers is down to one, according to the 2010 Guinness Book of World Records that cites Yaghan as the least common language in the world. After the arrival of European settlers in the 16th century, most residents gradually switched to Spanish. Having covered that bit of history, we can now turn our attention to what brings us to this remote corner of the world: a single word that the 1994 The Guinness Book of World Records cited as the most “succinct word,” a single word that cannot be defined briefly in English — mamihlapinatapai, pronounced “ma MEE la pin ah TA pie,” which means “looking at each other hoping that either person will initiate something that both parties want but are unwilling or reticent to do.” For example, mamihlapinatapai describes that moment when two tribal leaders want to negotiate a treaty, but neither one wants to initiate the negotiations; or that moment of attraction between two people, but neither one wants to make the first move. Secondarily, it can also mean “an expressive and meaningful silence shared by two people.” An example of this is when an older couple witnesses something and then glance at one another knowingly, sharing the same unspoken thought. Great word isn’t it?

Now let’s talk about the dictionary that influenced the theory of evolution. British geologist, biologist, and naturalist Charles Darwin first visited Tierra Del Fuego in December 1832 and returned to that area in 1834. He was fascinated by the Fuegians. He initially considered them “Fuegian savages” but slowly his thinking, um… evolved. Darwin noted the similarities between the Fuegian’s and European’s mental capabilities and forms of expressions (emotions and language). In particular, during his visit to the province in the 1850s, Darwin came across a rare dictionary published by a missionary that gave him a deeper understanding of the Fuegan’s rich and nuanced language. These insights into their rich culture would directly influence his ideas about the evolution of humans.

So who wrote that influential dictionary? The writer was Reverend Thomas Bridges, Superintendent of the South America Missionary Society in Tierra del Fuego from 1870 to 1887, who learned the language from the natives and compiled the only dictionary of the Yaghan language titled Yamana – English: A Dictionary of the Speech of Tierra del Fuego. Privately published in 1933, the book contains more than 32,000 words; however, mamihlapinatapai does not appear in that dictionary, but it did appear in a later essay written by Bridges. The dictionary does include some of the morphemes that informed Bridges’ idiomatic translation: ihlapi (awkward), ihlapi-na (to feel awkward), ihlapi-na-ta (to cause to feel awkward), mam-ihlapi-na-ta-pai (to make each other feel awkward). Interestingly, in an article for BBC Travel, writer Anna Bitong interviewed a Yaghan guide in 2018 who noted that prior to Bridges’ translation in the early 1930s, the Yaghan had a different definition of mamihlapinatapai. He explained the importance of campfires in such an isolated, hostile environment: “It is the moment of meditation around the [campfire] when the grandparents transmit their stories to the young people. It’s that instant in which everyone is quiet.”

So the next time you find yourself in such a situation, break the ice by blurting out the phrase and watch the look of surprise turn into a look of amusement when you begin to translate this delightful Yaghan word. You score extra points if you dive into the fascinating history. And take some comfort in knowing that you are keeping an endangered language alive in the 21st century. Incidentally, in 2018, the local government announced the funding of the publication of an illustrated dictionary of the Yaghan language to preserve the province’s linguistic heritage.

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.

There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
There’s a Word for That: Jouissance
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: Yamana–English: A Dictionary of the Speech of Tierra del Fuego, Thomas Bridges, 1933.
https://archive.org/details/YAMANA-ENGLISHA/mode/2up
http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20180402-mamihlapinatapai-a-lost-languages-untranslatable-legacy
http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/mamihlapinatapai
http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/least-common-language-
https://books.google.com/books?id=qQhj-D1WpkcC&dq=The+Guinness+Book+of+world+Records+1993&q=succinct#search_anchor
http://www.cambridge.org/core/books/languages-of-the-andes/languages-of-tierra-del-fuego/D5A5C534DAC9DE71597FFFD27761B67D


Canons of Conduct by Thomas Jefferson

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomAlthough in today’s world it is very hard to believe, but there was a time that political leaders and statesmen actually exemplified the highest standards of their office, of civic virtue, of moral character, of conviction, of charity, and concern for their fellow man. Thomas Jefferson was one of those individuals. Mind you, as many biographies can attest, he wasn’t perfect, but he was a man of principle and believed in the importance of education, especially self-directed education, and the quest for knowledge and truth — and Truth (with a capital “T”). He also believed that it was important for elders to pass on the wisdom they acquired through experience and age to young people to help them make better choices. To that end, Jefferson took the time to write several letters containing the “Canon of Conduct” to his children, grandchildren, as well as the children of his friends to provide guidance on matters of personal conduct. In a 1817 letter to Paul Clay, the son of a friend, Jefferson included 10 canons. However, in a letter (c. 1805) to his granddaughter, Cornelia Jefferson Randolph, Jefferson listed these 12 rules of conduct. Although some of the rules are original, others are derived from well-known proverbs. Throughout the 19th century, these “Canons of Conduct” were reprinted in newspapers and magazines; moreover, young schoolchildren were required to memorize them.

A Dozen Canons of Conduct of Life

1. Never put off to tomorrow what you can do today.

2. Never trouble another with what you can do yourself.

3. Never spend your money before you have it.

4. Never buy a thing you do not want, because it is cheap, it will be dear to you.

5. Take care of your cents: Dollars will take care of themselves!

6. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.

7. We never repent of having eat[en] too little.

8. Nothing is troublesome that one does willingly.

9. How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.

10. Take things always by their smooth handle.

11. Think as you please, & so let others, & you will have no disputes.

12. When angry, count 10. before you speak; if very angry, 100.

All of these rules for living are fairly straightforward. The one that might puzzle modern readers is number nine: “How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.” A clearer paraphrase of this is: “Don’t worry so much about things that probably will not happen.”

If you were to write Canons of Conduct for your children and grandchildren, what would your list include?

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:
https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/canons-conduct
https://tjrs.monticello.org/letter/216
http://www.npr.org/sections/npr-history-dept/2015/11/05/454845747/skewering-jefferson-s-10-rules-to-live-by-19th-century-style


What is the Cupertino Effect?

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesOn any given day, we have all experienced the Cupertino Effect. It’s just one of those annoyances of everyday life in the modern world, like Spam email and robocall voicemails. Imagine a team member typing what should be a rather innocuous email, like: “I am looking for full cooperation from all the members of the team.” He hits send, and then suddenly, his eye catches a word that he didn’t intend to use. The actual message reads: ” I am looking for full copulation from all the members of the team.” His face turns red with embarrassment and anger; he shouts, “Damn you, Autocorrect!” Within seconds he frantically types out a new message, attempting to salvage the situation: “LOL. DYAC! The word is COOPERATION. I am looking for full cooperation.” You have just witnessed the Cupertino Effect — when a spellcheck program automatically “corrects” your spelling using an unintended word. This is also referred to as an “autocorrect fail.” The substituted word is known as a “Cupertino.”

The term was coined in 2013 by Tom Chatfield, a British tech philosopher and author of Netymology: From Apps to Zombies. Chatfield chose that name because an early spellchecker he used had the tendency to substitute “Cupertino” when he mistyped “cooperation.” As you may know, Cupertino [California] is the location of Apple’s headquarters. These spellcheckers errors are the result of programming idiosyncrasies. That is to say that for every spellchecker, a Cupertino occurs only when a particular typo is made or the spellchecker makes an incorrect assumption based on contextual words. Chatfield cited two other examples of his spellchecker’s autocorrect tendencies: “Freud” was changed into “fraud” and “soonish” was changed into “Zionism.”

Mark Liberman and Geoffrey Pullum, founders of The Language Log and the spin-off book, Far From the Madding Gerund and Other Dispatches from the Language Log (2006), featured some notable Cupertinos under the heading “Artifacts of the Spellchecker Age.” Here are a few eyebrow-raising examples:

An article from The New York Times (October 26, 2005) misstated the name of University of Alabama’s linebacker DeMeco Ryans as Demerol Ryans.

Also in The New York Times, a review of The Colbert Report (Oct 25, 2005) states that Colbert’s word of the day was “Trustiness.” The actual word was “Truthiness.” Colbert coined this word which means “the quality of seeming to be true, even though it is not necessarily true.”

A menu from an upscale San Francisco restaurant listed a menu item as “warmed spring salad greens with prostitutes” as opposed to “… greens with prosciutto.”

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: What is a Mondegreen?
There’s A Word for That: Mumpsimus
What is a Malaphor?

For further reading: Netymology: From Apps to Zombies, Tom Chatfield, 2013
Far From the Madding Gerund and Other Dispatches from the Language Log, Mark Liberman and Geoffrey Pullum, 2006 
itre.cis.upenn.edu/%7Emyl/languagelog/archives/002586.html


What’s the Difference: Information vs. Knowledge

alex atkins bookshelf wordsConsider these two sentences: “The Internet is a great source of information” and “The Internet is a great source of knowledge.” Although some people use the terms information and knowledge interchangeably, there is a definite distinction. Information (from the Latin informatio meaning “concept, outline, idea” and informare meaning “to instruct, educate; give form to”) refers to facts or data (in the form or words, numbers, or symbols) that is obtained through written works (books, magazines, newspapers, Internet, etc.) listening (conversations, interviews, lectures, etc.) or direct observation (experiment, documentary, etc.). Facts can be presented in a specific way (organization, structure, context, etc.) to be useful for a specific purpose (e.g., census data). The salient characteristics of facts are availability, relevance, completeness, accuracy, and validity. Note the last two, while something can be considered information, it may not necessarily be true (e.g. consider the following information: “The Earth is flat” or “Men did not land on the moon in 1969” or “The recent election was stolen via fraudulent mail and absentee ballots and manipulation of voting machines” or “A cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles plotted against former President Trump.”)

On the other hand, knowledge (from the Middle English knowlechen meaning “admit or show one’s understanding” and Latin gnoscere meaning “get to know” and Greek gnosis meaning “understanding, inquiry”) refers to the conclusions, insights, or skills discovered, deduced, or distilled from experience, education, intuition, or the study of information — or all four. These insights, in turn, can assist in making appropriate decisions and taking specific actions.

Expressed in simpler terms, while information is the presentation of facts and figures, it is the processing of those facts and figures that leads to knowledge, specifically the understanding of a subject. Although it is easy and inexpensive to transfer information (through any printed or digital presentation of facts), it is more difficult and more costly to transfer knowledge (it is difficult to replicate insights gained from intuition, experience, and study). And finally, all information is not necessarily knowledge; however all knowledge is information.

Let us explore some related terms:

erudition: Profound learning beyond the understanding of most people.

genius: A person possessing extraordinary intelligence or skill.

intellectual: endowed with the ability to reason and understand objectively, particularly abstract or academic matters.

learning: Knowledge that is acquired by study.

pansophy: Universal knowledge.

sage: A wise person.

sapient: The possession or ability to possess wisdom.

savant: A person of learning, especially someone versed in literature or science.

wisdom: Superior understanding and judgment based on broad knowledge.

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: Plato on Idiots and Ignorance
Plato’s Warning: Ignorance Will be the Source of Great and Monstrous Crimes
Plato’s Warning: If You Don’t Vote, You Will be Governed by Idiots
Isaac Asimov: There is a Cult of Ignorance in the United States

For further reading: When is a Pig a Hog? by Bernie Randall
http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/01/19/which-republicans-think-election-was-stolen-those-who-hate-democrats-dont-mind-white-nationalists/
http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2020/12/why-do-so-many-republicans-believe-the-election-was-rigged-the-answer-isnt-hard/
http://www.bbc.com/news/53498434


The Written Word Makes You See the Truth

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm — all you demand; and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.”

From the preface of The Children of the Sea, a novella by Joseph Conrad, published in 1897. The preface to the novel is an eloquent and enduring manifesto of literary impressionism, wherein the novelist focuses on associations (symbols, allusions, and allegory) as well as the mental life of the characters (thoughts, emotions, and impressions). In the United Kingdom, the book was published under what is now a very objectionable title, The [N-word] of the Narcissus: A Tale of the Forecastle. The American publisher, Dodd, Mead and Company, refused to publish the book with that title not because the n-word was offensive back then, but because they believed that a book about a West Indian black sailor would not sell. Although the book is considered one of his finest earlier works, some believe the book is not assigned in English classes because of the use of the offensive word in the title and text. In 2009, an American publisher published a version titled The N-Word of Narcissus.

Conrad is considered one of the greatest writers in the English language. However, what makes his achievement so impressive is that English was not his native language — it was his third language while Polish was his native language and French was his second language. Conrad was not fluent in English until his early twenties. Conrad’s influence on English literature was profound and far-reaching — his work influenced some of the greatest writers of the 20th century, including T. S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Graham Green, William Golding, William Burroughs, Saul Bellow, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, to name a few.

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. Cheers.

Read related posts: Is Charles Dickens Relevant Today?
Do Authors Plant Symbolism in Their Work?


What is a Lipogram?

alex atkins bookshelf literatureA lipogram is a literary work that does not use certain letters. For example an author could write a novel using words that do not contain a particular vowel. A lipogram is one of many types of a broader category of constrained writing, a literary technique in which the author adheres to a specific pattern (e.g., using words that are only one syllable, or words that begin with the same letter), excludes certain writing elements (e.g., certain letters or punctuation), a mandated vocabulary (e.g,, using only words found a specific literary work), or a restricted length (e.g., six-word memoirs: 6 words; twiction: a short story that is 140 characters long).

The most famous example of a lipogram is Gadsby by Ernest Vincent Wright (1872-1939) published in 1939. Wright was a graduate of MIT and a veteran of WWI, living in Los Angeles. Prior to Gadsby, he had published three books. Wright was 67 when he published the book and, sadly, died the year his book was finally published. Gadsby, consisting of 43 chapters, 260 pages and over 50,000 words, does not contain the letter “e.” The book was published as a hardcover book with a dust jacket by a vanity press (Wetzel Publishing Co.). The dust jacket of the first edition contains the subtitle: “A Story of Over 50,000 Without Using the Letter ‘E.’” Since the book was self-published the first edition print run was short; moreover, a warehouse fire destroyed most of the copies that had not been distributed.  Thus, a first edition in fine condition is extremely rare and highly sought after by bibliophiles, word lovers, lexicographers, and lipogrammatists. As of this writing, there are two copies for sale, one for $6,500 and another for $9,375. If you don’t have deep pockets, you can order a digital reprint for about $10 for a paperback and $20 for a hardcover. Since the novel is in the public domain, it can also be viewed online for free.

In the introduction to Gadsby, Wright makes an exception and uses words that contain the letter “e.” He explains that he conceived of the book over many years, but it took “five and a half months of concentrated endeavor, with so many erasures and retrenchments that I tremble as I think of them.” His main motivation was to prove to many naysayers that a lipogrammatic novel could be written; Wright explains “This story was written, not through any attempt to attain literary merit, but due to a somewhat balky nature, caused by hearing it so constantly claimed that ‘it can’t be done.’” (One is reminded of John Locke’s famous phrase used frequently in the ABC hit show Lost: “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!”) Wright also discusses his process in typing the manuscript: “The entire manuscript of this story was written with the E type-bar of the typewriter tied down; thus making it impossible for that letter to be printed. This was done so that none of that vowel might slip in accidentally; and many did try to do so!” Astute readers, of course, caught some of the words that actually slipped in: “the” (pages 51, 103, 124) and “officers” (page 213). Writing a novel without a commonly-used vowel had its challenges. Wright elaborates, “The greatest [difficulty is] the past tense of verbs, almost all of which end with ‘-ed.’ Therefore substitutes must be found; and they are very few. This will cause, at times, a somewhat monotonous use of such words as ‘said;’ for neither ‘replied,’ ‘answered,’ nor ‘asked’ can be used… Pronouns also caused trouble; for such words as he, she, they, them, theirs, her, herself, myself, himself, yourself, etc., could not be utilized. But a particularly annoying obstacle comes when, almost through a long paragraph you can find no words with which to continue that line of though.”

I know what you are wondering: is Wright’s Gadsby related in any way to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel, The Great Gatsby and its protagonist? No, not at all — they are completely different stories. Wright’s 43-chapter novel begins in 1906. A unnamed narrator shares the history of the fictional town of Branton Hills up to the early 1920s and introduces the protagonist, John Gadsby. In the second half of the novel, Gadsby, now 51, is disconcerted by the town’s decline. He inspires young people to take pride in their town and invest in its rehabilitation. Over time, the town’s quality of life improves, businesses begin to thrive once again, and the population grows dramatically from 2,000 to 60,000 residents. At the novel’s conclusion, all the young people who contributed to the town’s success are rewarded with diplomas and Gadsby becomes mayor. Since he is alive at the end of the novel and has risen in stature, I suppose that does make him the Great Gadsby (or the Grait Gadsby, since we can’t use the letter ‘e’). Also note that Wright’s Gadsby is unrelated to The Story of the Gadsbys published by Rudyard Kipling in 1888. The book, written as a play with eight scenes, follows the life of Captain Gadsby, a career military man, who falls in love and marries. Through dialogue, the reader witnesses the peaks and valleys of the captain’s bittersweet married life. 

The novel opens up with these two paragraphs:
If Youth, throughout all history, had had a champion to stand up for it; to show a doubting world that a child can think; and, possibly, do it practically; you wouldn’t constantly run across folks today who claim that “a child don’t know anything.” A child’s brain starts functioning at birth; and has, amongst its many infant convolutions, thousands of dormant atoms, into which God has put a mystic possibility for noticing an adult’s act, and figuring out its purport.

Up to about its primary school days a child thinks, naturally, only of play. But many a form of play contains disciplinary factors. “You can’t do this,” or “that puts you out,” shows a child that it must think, practically, or fail. Now, if, throughout childhood, a brain has no opposition, it is plain that it will attain a position of “status quo,” as with our ordinary animals. Man knows not why a cow, dog or lion was not born with a brain on a par with ours; why such animals cannot add, subtract, or obtain from books and schooling, that paramount position which Man holds today.

The novel ends with the following sentences:
A glorious full moon sails across a sky without a cloud. A crisp night air has folks turning up coat collars and kids hopping up and down for warmth. And that giant star, Sirius, winking slyly, knows that soon, now, that light up in His Honor’s room window will go out. Fttt! It is out! So, as Sirius and Luna hold an all-night vigil, I’ll say a soft “Good-night” to all our happy bunch, and to John Gadsby—Youth’s Champion. Finis.

Besides Gadsby, there have been several notable lipogrammatic novels published. Here are a few:

Green Eggs and Ham (1960) by Dr. Seuss (pen name of Theodor Seuss Geisel). Bennett Cerf, Seuss’ editor at Random House, bet Seuss $50 that he couldn’t write a book using only 50 words. Seuss not only won the bet, he made publishing history by becoming the bestselling children’s book of all time — selling more than 200 million copies!

La Disparition (The Disappearance) (1969) by Georges Perec. Inspired by Wright, Perec also used words that did not contain the letter “e.” The novel, written in French, has been translated into many languages, adhering to the vowel omission of the original novel.

Alphabetical Africa (1974) by Walter Abish. Abish’s novel is a tautogram, a form of alliteration in which all words in a sentence began with the same letter. Abish’s 52-chapter novel begins chapter one using only words that begin with A. In chapter two, he uses words that begin with A and B. In chapter three, he uses words that begin with A, B, and C, and continues in that manner until chapter 26, then reverses the process to chapter 52 that contains only words that begin with A.

Never Again (2004) by Doug Nufer. Never Again is an example of a writing using a mandated vocabulary. In this case, Nufer never used a single word more than once.

Le Train de Nulle Part (The Train From Nowhere) (2004) by Michel Thaler (the pen name of Michel Dansel). Thaler’s novel also uses a mandated vocabulary. In his 233-page book, Thaler does not use a single verb.

let me tell you (2008) by Paul Griffiths. Griffiths uses a mandated vocabulary, specifically the 480 words spoken by Ophelia who appears in William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

BUY 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 is 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. Cheers.

Read related posts: Why Study Literature?
Why Read Dickens?
The Power of Literature
The Benefits of Reading
50 Books That Will Change Your Life
The Books that Shaped America

What is a Classic Book?

For further reading:
Gadsby, Ernest Vincent Wright, Wetzel Publishing Co., 1939.
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925.
The Story of the Gadsbys, Rudyard Kipling, Standard Book Company, 1930.
http://www.mentalfloss.com/article/88172/8-extraordinary-examples-constrained-writing
abcnews.go.com/WN/dr-seuss-green-eggs-ham-50th-anniversary-beloved/story?id=11384227
https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Gadsby
https://archive.org/stream/Gadsby/Gadsby_djvu.txt


The Letters that Presidents Leave to Each Other

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomIt is considered the toughest job on the planet: being President of the United States. Often, they come into office with decades of experience in politics, business, or both; however, after one or two terms, they leave far wiser than they arrived. In 1989, President Ronald Reagan began the tradition of leaving a handwritten letter to his successor. The letter was placed in a drawer of the Resolute Desk located in the Oval Office. The first letter was lighthearted and informal but over time, the letters grew more serious, offering encouragement and specific advice. So what sort of advice or insight does an outgoing President give to an incoming President? Fortunately, you don’t have to run for office, raise more than $2 billion, and attend hundreds of politic rallies to win a Presidential election to find out. Over the years, all of these private letters have been made public. Below are the personal letters that outgoing Presidents have left for their successors.

On January 20, 1989 President Ronald Reagan left the first personal letter for incoming President George H.W. Bush. Since President Reagan was known for his sense of humor and folksy style, he wanted his letter to be lighthearted. Accordingly, he chose stationery that featured the idiom “Don’t let the turkeys get you down” with an illustration of an elephant surrounded by turkeys. Reagan wrote:

“Dear George,
You’ll have moments when you want to use this particular stationery. Well go to it.
George I treasure the memorys [sic] we share and wish you all the very best. You’ll be in my prayers. God Bless You & Barbara. I’ll miss our Thursday lunches.
Ron”

President Bush served only one term. So on January 20, 1993, President Bush wrote the following letter to incoming President Bill Clinton:

“Dear Bill,
When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.
I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.
There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.
You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.
Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.
Good luck —
George”

Eight years later, on January 20, 2001, President Clinton wrote a letter to incoming President George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush’s son. Clinton wrote:

“Dear George,
Today you embark on the greatest venture, with the greatest honor, that can come to an American citizen.
Like me, you are especially fortunate to lead our country in a time of profound and largely positive change, when old questions, not just about the role of government, but about the very nature of our nation, must be answered anew.
You lead a proud, decent, good people. And from this day you are President of all of us. I salute you and wish you success and much happiness.
The burdens you now shoulder are great but often exaggerated. The sheer joy of doing what you believe is right is inexpressible.
My prayers are with you and your family. Godspeed.
Sincerely,
Bill”

Another eight years passed. President Bush wrote the following letter to incoming President Barack Obama on January 20, 2009: 

Dear Barack,
Congratulations on becoming our President. You have just begun a fantastic chapter in your life.
Very few have had the honor of knowing the responsibility you now feel. Very few know the excitement of the moment and the challenges you will face.
There will be trying moments. The critics will rage. Your ‘friends’ will disappoint you. But, you will have an Almighty God to comfort you, a family who loves you, and a country that is pulling for you, including me. No matter what comes, you will be inspired by the character and compassion of the people you now lead.
God bless you.
Sincerely,
GW

On January 17, 2009, after a tumultuous and divisive election with a result that even surprised the winning candidate, President Obama left a handwritten letter for incoming President Donald Trump. Unlike the previous letters, the salutation was more formal and the length of the letter was substantially longer. In hindsight, one of the most notable lines is this one: “[It’s] up to us to leave those instruments of our democracy at least as strong as we found them.” Here is the complete letter that President Obama wrote:

“Dear Mr. President,
Congratulations on a remarkable run. Millions have placed their hopes in you, and all of us, regardless of party, should hope for expanded prosperity and security during your tenure.
This is a unique office, without a clear blueprint for success, so I don’t know that any advice from me will be particularly helpful. Still, let me offer a few reflections from the past 8 years.
First, we’ve both been blessed, in different ways, with great good fortune. Not everyone is so lucky. It’s up to us to do everything we can (to) build more ladders of success for every child and family that’s willing to work hard.
Second, American leadership in this world really is indispensable. It’s up to us, through action and example, to sustain the international order that’s expanded steadily since the end of the Cold War, and upon which our own wealth and safety depend.
Third, we are just temporary occupants of this office. That makes us guardians of those democratic institutions and traditions – like rule of law, separation of powers, equal protection and civil liberties – that our forebears fought and bled for. Regardless of the push and pull of daily politics, it’s up to us to leave those instruments of our democracy at least as strong as we found them.
And finally, take time, in the rush of events and responsibilities, for friends and family. They’ll get you through the inevitable rough patches.
Michelle and I wish you and Melania the very best as you embark on this great adventure, and know that we stand ready to help in any ways which we can.
Good luck and Godspeed,
BO”

On January 20, 2020, outgoing President Trump broke tradition by not attending President Joe Biden’s inauguration, but he decided to continue the tradition of the personal letter, probably because he truly treasured the letter that President Obama wrote to him four year ago. As of this writing, we don’t know what he wrote. When reporters asked President Biden about the contents of the letter, Biden graciously replied, “The president wrote a very generous letter. Because it was private, I will not talk about it until I talk to him, but it was generous.”

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.

Read related posts:
What was the Letter Read at the Trump Inauguration?
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For further reading: http://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2021/01/20/presidential-notes-inauguration-trump-biden/


If There Are Any Angels in Heaven, They Are All Nurses

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsPresident-Elect Biden stood somberly at the end of the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool to present a beautiful and moving evening vigil to remember the 400,000 lives lost to the Covid-19 pandemic. Prior to his formal remarks he acknowledged that it was appropriate that a nurse, Lori Marie Key, sing the soaring hymn, “Amazing Grace,” to draw attention to the heroic work of nurses. Back in 2015, Biden’s son, Beau (age 46), lost his struggle against brain cancer. Although Biden has always carried the pain of that loss in his heart, he has never forgotten how his son’s nurses delivered such exceptional and compassionate care. On this solemn occasion, the night before his inauguration, Biden expressed his gratitude for the role of nurses, which he has done during many hospital tours: “If there are any angels in heaven, they are nurses.” And standing next to him was such an angel. In an interview with the New York Post, Key explained that she was singing for every nurse: “When I’m up there singing, I’m really singing on behalf of how every health care worker is feeling everywhere… this song is basically for everyone who went through something this year and still going through something now…. [The song] helps give you encouragement.”

Biden went on to deliver his formal remarks: “To heal, we must remember. It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation. That’s why we’re here today. Between sundown and dusk, let us shine the lights in the darkness along the sacred pool of reflection and remember all who we have lost.” And slowly the 400 lanterns flanking the reflecting pool lit up in succession, while all across the country, iconic buildings were lit up to remember the victims of the pandemic. What makes their loss more poignant is that many died alone, away from family and loved ones. However, some of these patients were fortunate to be surrounded by the last human beings they would ever see before they “slipped the surly bonds of earth” — exhausted but compassionate earthly angels dressed in blue scrubs, their tears obscured by partially fogged protective face shields.

The founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), believed that nursing was the highest form of art. “Nursing is an art,” she wrote, “and if it is to be made an art, it requires an exclusive devotion, as hard a preparation, as any painter’s or sculptor’s work. For what is having to do with dead canvas or cold marble compared with having to do with the living body, the temple of God’s spirit? It is one of the Fine Arts: I had almost said the finest of Fine Arts.” But according to a study, 70% of nurses believe that nursing is not just a profession but a calling — defined as a deep desire to devote oneself to serving people according to the high values established by the medical profession. The researchers found that “[Nurses] who were committed to their profession and experienced their job as a calling, had a good knowledge about the ill feeling and maladjustment of their patients and were also good sources of support for their patients. They understood the importance of family ties and offered support to their patients’ families. They were aware of the needs of dying patients and their concern with spiritual questions, and satisfied these needs well.” A tall order, unless you are an angel.

Let us close with one of the most eloquent tributes to nurses. We travel back to March 3, 2018, to the Paul VI Audience Hall in Vatican City where Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, delivered an address to the members of the Italian Federation of the Boards of Nursing Professions: “This professionalism, however, manifests itself not only in the technical sphere, but also and perhaps even more so in the sphere of human relationships. Being in contact with physicians and family members, in addition to the sick, you become, in hospitals, in healthcare facilities and in homes, the crossroads of a thousand relationships, which require attention, competence and compassion. And it is precisely in this synthesis of technical abilities and human sensitivity that the value of your work is fully revealed. Taking care of women and men, of children and elderly, in every phase of their life, from birth to death, you are tasked with continuous listening, aimed at understanding what the needs of that patient are, in the phase that he or she is experiencing. Before the uniqueness of each situation, indeed, it is never enough to follow a protocol, but a constant — and tiresome! — effort of discernment and attention to the individual person is required. All this makes your profession a veritable mission, and makes you ‘experts in humanity,’ called to carry out an irreplaceable undertaking of humanization in a distracted society which too often leaves the weakest people at the margins, taking interest only in those who ‘count,’ or responding to criteria of efficiency or gain.”

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.

For further reading: Famous Misquotations: Blood, Sweat, and Tears
Famous Misquotations: A Civilization is Measured by How It Treats Its Weakest Members
Famous Misquotations: The Two Most Important Days in Your Life
Famous Misquotations: The Triumph of Evil is That Good Men Do Nothing
Famous Phrases You Have Been Misquoting

For further reading: As Miss Nightingale said: Florence Nightingale Through Her Sayings: A Victorian Perspective, Florence Nightingale, edited by M. E. Baly, Scutari, 1991
http://www.fredhutch.org/en/news/center-news/2016/03/Moonshot-QA-with-nurse-who-met-VP-Joe-Biden.html
nypost.com/2021/01/19/viral-amazing-grace-nurse-to-sing-at-covid-19-memorial/
https://exhibits.lib.byu.edu/nightingale/reading-list.html
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9181405/
http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2018/march/documents/papa-francesco_20180303_ipasvi.html


There’s A Word for That: Lychnobite

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIf you know someone who works in the medical profession or public safety (like a nurse, doctor, EMT, police officer, fireman, etc.) then you probably know a lychnobite. A what? Although it sounds like a pejorative term, a lychnobite is simply a person who works at night and sleeps during the day. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 15 million Americans work the dreaded night shift.

The word is pronounced “LICK no bite” It is derived from the Ancient Greek word lukhnos (meaning “lamp”) and bios (meaning “life”). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word is considered obsolete; the first recorded use of the word was in 1727.

So if lychnobite is obsolete, what is the modern term for a person who works during the evening and sleeps during the day? Excellent question. The most common term is “night owl,” based on the fact that owls that are nocturnal creatures, sleeping by day and hunting for food at night. Although the night owl is perfectly adapted by evolution for nocturnal living, the human being is not. Numerous studies indicate that the night shift interferes with the human body’s circadian clock. This leads to fatigue, decreased attention (ADHD), decreased cognitive abilities, sleepiness on the job, crankiness, disruption with the body’s metabolic process, and increased vulnerability to disease (like heart disease and cancer). And if that isn’t enough, people who work night shifts are more likely than day-shift workers to get into car crashes and become victims of caffeine, alcohol, and smoke abuse.

Other options for lychnobite are: night worker, night-shift worker, night person. Urban Dictionary lists a related term, vampire hours: when a person is awake all night and sleeps all day.

What other synonyms can be added to this list?

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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: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/01/night-work
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=vampire%20hours


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