Author Archives: Alexander Atkins

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.

Read related posts:
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Best Commencement Speeches: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Wear Sunscreen Commencement Speech
Best Books for Graduates
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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
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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?
Einstein’s Touching Letter to a Grieving Father
John Steinbeck’s Letter to His Son About Love
Nixon’s Eloquent Apollo 11 Speech that America Never Heard
The Speech that JFK Never Gave

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?

NOW AVAILABLE: If you love the blog, you will love the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. More than 100 essays in 400+ pages, including inspiring quotes about literature, reading, and books; eloquent passages from famous novels; valuable life lessons; and filled with witty and insightful observations.

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


New Book: Serendipitous Discoveries From the Bookshelf

alex atkins book coverMy first book, Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf, is now available in paperback and on Kindle. It is the perfect gift for a booklover, literature aficionado, word lover, student, teacher, or writer. Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf was written and designed by a bibliophile for bibliophiles. It is a beautifully designed and eloquent homage to books, reading, and lifelong learning. The book presents over 100 thoughtful and witty essays filled with fascinating insights, inspiring passages and parables, eloquent quotes about books and reading, valuable life lessons, fascinating rare English words, and arcane literary facts. I take the reader on a captivating and inspiring guided tour — through the world of books, literature, words, phrases, wisdom, education, quotations, movies, music, and trivia — to share fascinating serendipitous discoveries from years of book collecting, reading, and research to inspire critical thinking and lifelong learningB. I hope you take a moment to browse the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon and consider purchasing it for yourself or as a gift for a book lover in your life. If you purchase it, please accept my deepest gratitude for choosing my book and supporting my labor of love. And please drop me a note and share your thoughts about the book. The book can be ordered here.


look inside serendipitous discoveries


Famous Misquotations: Education is Not the Filling of a Pail, but the Lighting of a Fire

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThis is one of the most overused quotations in the world of education: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire” by William Butler Yeats. You find it on websites for schools and colleges as well as many books about education and teaching. And of course, it is found on all kinds of merchandise: posters, coffee mugs, t-shirts, and so forth. But like many quotes found on the internet, there is no evidence that the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats ever said or wrote this. Some websites attribute the quote to Socrates, Plato, or Plutarch. So which is correct? Let me welcome you into the classroom of Famous Misquotations 101, where we will seek enlightenment.

Garson O’Toole, commonly known as the Quote Investigator, does a deep dive into the origins of this quotation in his fascinating book, Hemingway Didn’t Say That (2017). He begins his investigation with the Greek philosopher and historian Plutarch’s essay “On Listening” found in Moralia (“Morals” c. 100): “For the mind does not require filling like a bottle, but rather, like wood, it only requires kindling to create in it an impulse to think independently and an ardent desire for the truth [Loeb Classical Library, 1927].” Almost 70 years later, Robin Waterfield translates the passage a little bit differently for the Penguin Classics edition (1992): “For the correct analogy for the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting — no more — and then it motivates one towards originality and instills the desire for truth.”

As is common with misquotations, an author’s paraphrase of the ideas of a notable writer mistakenly becomes attributed to that writer. O’Toole presents Exhibit A in The Dialogues of Plato (1892) translated by Benjamin Jowett. In the introduction to “The Republic,” Jowett describes Plato’s concept of enlightenment: “Education is represented by [Plato], not as the filling of a vessel, but as the turning the eye of the soul towards the light.” Note that these are Jowett’s words and not Plato’s. Nevertheless, this quote is often mistakenly attributed to Plato or his famous teacher, Socrates.

By now you may be asking: “So how in the world does a quote attributed to Plutarch, Plato, or Socrates, jump a few centuries and get attributed to a 19th-century poet?” Excellent question, Padawan. O’Toole presents Exhibit B: the attribution of a quote transferred to another writer by proximity. Say what? O’Toole was able to find a book, Visions and Image: A Way of Seeing (1968) by James Sweeney. In the book, Sweeney places the Plutarch quote adjacent to a quote by William Butler Yeats. Here is the sentence: “William Butler Yeats has expressed the heart of this viewpoint in his statement, ‘Culture does not consist in acquiring opinions but in getting rid of them’ and Plutarch in ‘Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.'” You can see what happens here if you do not read this sentence carefully. It only took one reader to read it this way and erroneously conflate the two quotes: “William Butler Yeats has expressed the heart of this viewpoint in his statement, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Alas, this careless reading is what ignited the wildfire of this ubiquitous misquotation. It doesn’t help matters when the future editor of a collection of quotations does not research it thoroughly and perpetuates the misquotation by putting it in print. Specifically, Robert Fitzhenry the editor (or perhaps his team) of the Barnes and Noble Book of Quotations (1987) mistakenly attributes the Plutarch quote to William Butler Yeats. Oops!

Interestingly, while researching another topic, I serendipitously came across a beautiful passage by the Italian scholar, Marsilio Ficino, who was a student of Plato and one of the most influential humanist philosophers of the Italian Renaissance. In his letters, written between 1474 to 1494, Facino employs the same metaphor as Plutarch [Volume 4, Letter 7]: “As the sky is to the light of the sun, so is the mind to the light of truth and wisdom. Neither the sky nor the intellect every receive rays of light when they are clouded, but once they are pure and clear they both receive them immediately… the divine cannot be spoke or learned as other things are. However, from continued application and a matching of one’s life to the divine, suddenly, as if from a leaping spark, a light is kindled in the mind and thereafter nourishes itself.”

NOW AVAILABLE: If you love the blog, you will love the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. More than 100 essays in 400+ pages, including inspiring quotes about literature, reading, and books; eloquent passages from famous novels; valuable life lessons; and filled with witty and insightful observations.

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:
Hemingway Didn’t Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations, Garson O’Toole, Little A, 2017.

Barnes and Noble Book of Quotations, Robert Fitzhenry, Barnes and Noble, 1987
https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/03/28/mind-fire/


The Great Gatsby Steps into the Public Domain

alex atkins bookshelf booksAnd as Nick Carraway sat there brooding on the old, unknown world of publishing, he thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night. Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning — F. Scott Fitzgerald’s copyright for The Great Gatsby would expire… Say what? Applesauce, Old Sport!

On New Year’s Eve 2020, as revelers peeled back their face masks to take a sip of champagne and kiss their partners, a classic American novel, The Great Gatsby, without even a glimmer of an ostentatious roaring 20’s party stepped into the vast obscurity of the public domain. Gatsby had a great run. Since 1925, the book has sold over 30 million copies. But the reality is that every year, as literary works pass the 95-year term of their original copyrights, they pass into the public domain. So what does this mean? Readers can access for free the full text of the books on collaborative digital libraries like HathiTrust, the Internet Archive, and Google Books. Moreover, those books can be freely quoted, copied, published, reimagined, or adapted as screenplays or stageplays. For example, on January 5, Michael Farris Smith published Nick, a prequel to The Great Gatsby. (The cover art is reminiscent of the painting “Celestial Eyes” featured on the cover of the first edition.) In this novel, Smith explores the life of Nick Carraway after serving in WWI and traveling through Europe, years before he meets Jay Gatsby. The publisher describes the novel this way: “Before Nick Carraway moved to West Egg and into Gatsby’s periphery, he was at the center of a very different story-one taking place along the trenches and deep within the tunnels of World War I. Floundering in the wake of the destruction he witnessed firsthand, Nick delays his return home, hoping to escape the questions he cannot answer about the horrors of war. Instead, he embarks on a transcontinental redemptive journey that takes him from a whirlwind Paris romance-doomed from the very beginning-to the dizzying frenzy of New Orleans, rife with its own flavor of debauchery and violence. An epic portrait of a truly singular era and a sweeping, romantic story of self-discovery, this rich and imaginative novel breathes new life into a character that many know but few have pondered deeply.”

Here are some other notable works that are in the public domain as of January 1, 2021:
1984 by George Orwell
An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis
A Daughter of the Samurai by Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw
Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs by Dorothy Scarborough
The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie
Those Barren Leaves by Aldous Huxley
The Threepenny Opera by Kurt Weill
The Trial (in German) by Franz Kafka
The Writing of Fiction by Edith Wharton

So we read on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the books of the past.

NOW AVAILABLE: If you love the blog, you will love the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. More than 100 essays in 400+ pages, including inspiring quotes about literature, reading, and books; eloquent passages from famous novels; valuable life lessons; and filled with witty and insightful observations.

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 is a First Edition of The Great Gatsby Worth?
The Meaning of the Ending of The Great Gatsby
The Most Beautiful Cover Designs of The Great Gatsby
What Was the Greatest Year for Literature?
The Surprising Original Titles of Famous Novels

For further reading:
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Nick by Michael Farris Smith
https://publishers.org/news/aap-statshot-annual-report-book-publishing-revenues-up-slightly-to-25-93-billion-in-2019/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_books
https://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2021/
 http://www.publicdomainsherpa.com/public-domain-books.html


Where Does A Composer Find Ideas?

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“I carry my ideas about me for a long time, often a very long time, before I commit them to writing. My memory is so good that I never forget a theme that has once come to me, even if it is a matter of years. I alter much, reject, try again until I am satisfied. Then, in my head, the thing develops in all directions, and, since I know precisely what I want, the original idea never eludes me. It rises before me, grows, I hear it, see it in all its size and extension, standing before me like a cast, and it only remains for me to write it down, which is soon done when I can find the time, for some­times I take up other work, though I never confuse that with the other. You will ask where I find my ideas: I hardly know. They come uninvited, directly or indirectly. I can almost grasp them with my hands in the open air, in the woods, while walking, in the stillness of the night, early in the morning, called up by moods which the poet translates into words, I into musical tones. They ring and roar and swirl about me until I write them down in notes.”

Ludwig Van Beethoven’s explanation of how he composes. The question was posed by Louis Schlösser, a German violinist, composer, and conductor. Schlösser published his recollections of Beethoven in the article “Persönliche Erinnerungen an Beethoven” in Hallelujah (VI, 20-21, 1885). The quote is also found in The Major Pleasures of Life (1934) by Martin Armstrong.

NOW AVAILABLE: If you love the blog, you will love the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. More than 100 essays in 400+ pages, including inspiring quotes about literature, reading, and books; eloquent passages from famous novels; valuable life lessons; and filled with witty and insightful observations.

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Read related post:
Great Men and Women of Culture Bring Forth the Best Ideas of Their Time


Word of the Year 2020

alex atkins bookshelf words“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language,” wrote the poet T. S. Eliot, “and next year’s words await another voice.” To that observation, we can add: this past year’s words also define the language, the conversations, or more accurately, the zeitgeist of the year. And let’s be candid — it sucked. Big time. It even challenged the editors of major dictionaries who review the stats on their respective websites to spot dramatic spikes in word lookups to determine which words capture the interest of the public. Typically, they develop a list and then debate which one merits the distinction of “word of the year.” This year, the editors could not decide on a single word to capture the essence of an annus horribilis.

For 2020 the editors of Oxford Dictionaries could not settle on one word. So they came up with the “Words of an Unprecedented Year” report. In an interview with the BBC, Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Dictionaries explained, “I’ve never witnessed a year in language like the one we’ve just had. The Oxford team was identifying hundreds of significant new words and usages as the year unfolded, dozens of which would have been a slam dunk for Word of the Year at any other time. It’s both unprecedented and a little ironic — in a year that left us speechless, 2020 has been filled with new words unlike any other.” The editors selected the following words: bushfire, acquittal, Covid-19, coronavirus, lockdown, social distancing, keyworkers, furlough, reopening, Black Lives Matter, cancel culture, mail-in, Belarusian, moonshot, netzero, support bubbles, superspreader, and conspiracy theory. 

For 2020 Word of the Year, the editors of Merriam-Webster simply looked at the metrics, and the word that showed consistent spikes in dictionary lookups throughout the year was “pandemic.” The editors explained, “On March 11th, the World Health Organization officially declared ‘that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic,’ and this is the day that pandemic saw the single largest spike in dictionary traffic in 2020… [and] it has remained high in our lookups ever since, staying near the top of our word list for the past ten months.” Runners up included: coronavirus, defund, Mamba, Kraken, quarantine, Antebellum, Schadenfreude, asymptomatic, irregardless, icon, and malarkey.

For 2020 Word of the Year, the editors of Macquarie Dictionary (the Webster’s Dictionary of Australia) selected “doomscrolling,” defined as “the practice of continuing to read news feeds online or on social media, despite the fact that the news is predominantly negative and often upsetting.” They also created a special category for pandemic related language. The word they chose in that context is “rona,” the Australian slang for coronavirus. The word rona, incidentally, is an example of a coronacoinage — a neologism related to Covid-19. Runners up included: covidiot, COVID normal, Karen, pyrocumulonimbus.

For 2020 Word of the Year, the editors of Dictionary.com selected “pandemic.” The editors elaborate: “the task of choosing a single word to sum up 2020 — a year roiled by a public health crisis, a crippling economic downturn, racial injustice, political polarization, virulent public discourse, rampant disinformation, corrosion of democracy, topped off with a climate crisis — was a challenging and humbling one. But at the same time, our choice was overwhelmingly clear. From our perspective as documenters of the English language, one word kept running through the profound and manifold ways our lives have been upended—and our language so rapidly transformed—in this unprecedented year.” The pandemic not only infected millions of people, but it also spawned its own unique vocabulary: asymptomatic, contact tracing, flatten the curve, fomites, frontliner, furlough, herd immunity, hydroxychloroquine, infodemic, lockdown, long-hauler, essential/nonessential, PPE, pod, quarantine, shelter in place, social distancing, superspreader, twindemic, and viral load. The list doubles when you add all the clever coronacoinages: anti-masker, bubble, the Before Times, cluttercore, coronababy, coronacation, coronacoaster, coronacut, coronasomnia, COVID-10, covidiot, drive-by birthday, drive-in rally, maskne, quarantini, quaranteam, Zoom-bombing, Zoom fatigue, Zoom mom, and Zoom town.

For 2020 Word of the Year, Atkins Bookshelf has selected “unprecedented,” defined as has never been known or done before. If you watched news clips from just about any week from 2020, you very likely heard an anchor add to the description of an event, “This is unprecedented.” You don’t say? Everything we witnessed — from the Covid-19 crisis, climate crisis, raging brushfires, racial injustice, protests and riots, national quarantine, rampant Trumpism — was freaking unprecedented. It was exhausting, demoralizing, and depressing to watch. No wonder sales of alcohol increased dramatically over the past year. Another reason that unprecedented is the perfect word for 2020 is because it sounds like “unpresidented,” defined as “not having a president.” And that sums up the Trump presidency pretty well: a narcissistic leader who consistently rejected the truth, scientific and medical data, intelligence data, political norms, rule of law, the democratic process, and the Constitution that led to one crisis quickly followed by another. But his most irresponsible action was ignoring the advice of medical experts back in February, as reported by Bob Woodward, that led to a lethal pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 Americans to date, and caused a crippling recession that permanently wiped out over 100,000 businesses and pushed more than 115 million people into poverty. And that is unpresidented and unprecedented in modern history.

NOW AVAILABLE: If you love the blog, you will love the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. More than 100 essays in 400+ pages, including inspiring quotes about literature, reading, and books; eloquent passages from famous novels; valuable life lessons; and filled with witty and insightful observations.

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:
Word of the Year 2019
Word of the Year 2018
Word of the Year 2017
Word of the Year 2016

How Long Does it Take to Read a Million Words?
How Many Words in the English Language?
Words Related to Trump

For further reading:
http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-
http://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/word-of-the-year/
http://www.macquariedictionary.com.au/resources/view/word/of/the/year/
http://www.dictionary.com/e/word-of-the-year/
http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/19/unpresidented-trump-word-definition

http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2020/10/07/covid-19-to-add-as-many-as-150-million-extreme-poor-by-2021
https://fortune.com/2020/09/28/covid-buisnesses-shut-down-closed/
http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/donald-trump/trump-told-bob-woodward-he-knew-february-covid-19-was-n1239658


What Is the Origin of “Hindsight is 20/20”?

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesEveryone is familiar with the adage “Hindsight is 20/20” which means having a clearer understanding of an event or situation after it has occurred. The question is, however, just how clear is your understanding of the year 2020? You would be kind if you described 2020 as a series of shit shows pulverized by a mind-numbing succession of escalating train wrecks exploding into a spectacular sequence of cascading cluster f*cks drowned by wave after wave of destructive tsunamis. In short, if you wanted to know what the apocalypse will be like — just look back at 2020. You just lived through it! And, if you are like most people, you really don’t want to see it with 20/20 vision. It’s just too painful.

So let’s turn our view from the catastrophe that was 2020 — annus horribilis, to borrow the words of Queen Elizabeth — and focus on the phrase mentioned earlier. Where did it originate? Let us travel back more than 150 years to Utrecht, Netherlands to the office of ophthalmologist Herman Snellen (1834-1908) at the Netherlands Hospital for Eye Patients. In 1862, Snellen introduced the Snellen chart to study visual acuity. You know the one — you’ve seen it dozens of times over the years. It is either printed as a tall rectangular poster or projected on a wall in the ophthalmologist’s office. It consists of 11 lines of optotypes, specially designed capital letters, that gradually decrease in size. An individual with normal vision can read all those letters from 20 feet away. Thus normal vision is 20/20. “But why 20 feet?” you ask. Excellent question. Although that number appears to be random, it is not. At 20 feet the eye is relaxed in its normal shape and doesn’t require bending light rays to focus an image on the retina. Ah, I see. So if you wear glasses, you are in good company: more than 75% of Americans do not have 20/20 vision. And if you wear glasses or contacts, it is likely that they were designed and manufactured by EssilorLuxottica, a behemoth in the eyewear business. The company has a market capitalization of $70 billion and annual revenue of about $7.8 billion. While you may see competitors in the marketplace (e.g., Glasses.com, LensCrafters, Sunglass Hut, Pearle Vision, and Target Optical) it is only an illusion. All those stores and the brands they carry are all owned by EssilorLuxottica. But we digress…

So years later, the introduction of the Snellen chart in America influenced the phrase. The earliest usage of the “hindsight is 20/20” appears in an article in the California newspaper, The Van Nuys News (February 17, 1949), written by humorist Richard Armour. He wrote, “Most people’s hindsight is 20/20.” Nothing could be clearer.

NOW AVAILABLE: If you love the blog, you will love the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. More than 100 essays in 400+ pages, including inspiring quotes about literature, reading, and books; eloquent passages from famous novels; valuable life lessons; and filled with witty and insightful observations.

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 is the Pinocchio Effect?
What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?
What is the Borgesian Conundrum?
What is an Abecedarian Insult?
Origins of Talk Turkey
What is the Meaning of Six Ways From Sunday?

For further reading:
The Yale Book of Quotations, Fred Shapiro
https://www.pressreader.com


The Most Memorable Quotes from 2020

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Quotations are the backbone of much of literature, and of the transmission of art and thought more generally,” writes Fred Shapiro in the introduction to the Yale Book of Quotations. “Text refer to other texts. Today the [Internet] links documents… but such connections have always been pivotal to human discourse… The delight is our natural response to the monuments of creativity and wisdom, kept alive by quotations, a communal bond uniting us with past culture and with other lovers of words and ideas in our own time.”

Indeed, collections of quotations support this concept of communal bonds. But what happens when these collections are not updated frequently. For example, the Yale Book of Quotations (1,068 pages long and containing more than 12,000 quotations) was published in 2006 and has not been updated since. To address that gap in the quotation collection, in 2013 Shapiro (the associate librarian and lecturer at the Yale Law School) began compiling a list of the top 10 notable quotations for each year.

When you read each quotation, it immediately evokes the feelings and thoughts you had about that particular moment in time. In past years, you may have experienced or learned about an event while you were in different locations; however, during the pandemic everyone was pretty much sheltering-in-place. Taken as a whole, it portrays a nation drowning in lies, insults, suffering, and sadness. Isn’t any wonder everyone is eagerly counting down the days of 2020?

Below are Shapiro’s most memorable quotes from 2020:

“Wear a mask.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

“I can’t breathe.”
George Floyd

“One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”
President Donald Trump

“I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning?”
President Donald Trump

“I will never lie to you. You have my word on that.”
Kayleigh McEnany, White House Press Secretary

“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a statement dictated to her granddaughter Clara Spera.

“If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.”
Joseph Biden Jr.

“The science should not stand in the way of this.”
Kayleigh McEnany, White House Press Secretary

“You’re a lying dog-faced pony soldier.”
Joseph Biden Jr., former Vice President, then Presidential candidate

“We are all Lakers today.”
Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers Coach

What other quotes should be considered for this list?

NOW AVAILABLE: If you love the blog, you will love the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. More than 100 essays in 400+ pages, including inspiring quotes about literature, reading, and books; eloquent passages from famous novels; valuable life lessons; and filled with witty and insightful observations.

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: 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:
https://news.yale.edu/2012/12/17/can-i-quote-you-yale-librarian-s-annual-list-year-s-best


The Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index: 2020

alex atkins bookshelf books

Back in 1984, the PNC Bank (a bank based in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania) developed the Christmas Price Index that totals the cost of all the gifts mentioned in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a flippant economic indicator. In 1984, the Christmas Price Index was $12,623.10; more than three decades later, in 2019, it reached $38,993.59, but due to the economic downturn caused by the COVID-10 crisis, the amount tumbled down a dramatic 58.5% to $16,168.14. The team that calculates the index attributes the significant decrease to the cancellations of live performances.

Despite their symbolism, the twelve gifts of Christmas are not only extremely random, they are more of a nuisance than carefully-selected gifts that you would actually cherish. As if the holidays are not stressful enough, imagine all those animals running and flying about helter-skelter, defecating all over your clean carpets — not to mention the nonstop, grating sound of drummers drumming and pipers piping pushing you toward the brink of a mental breakdown. Truly, no book lover would be happy with these gifts. Bah humbug! Therefore, I introduced the Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index in 2014 that would be far more interesting and appreciated by bibliophiles. The Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index replaces all those unwanted mess-making animals and clamorous performers with first editions of cherished classic Christmas books. The cost of current first editions are determined by the latest data available from Abe Books, the leading online antiquarian bookseller.

For 2020, the Atkins Bookshelf Christmas Price Index is $112,145 (shipping and tax are not included), an impressive increase of about 24% from last year ($88,263) — something that would surely bring a smile to that old greedy curmudgeon Scrooge. The biggest hit to your wallet remains — by a very large margin — Charles Dickens’ very coveted and valuable first edition of one of the most well-known literary classics — A Christmas Carol ($75,000, an increase of $30,000 from last year!). The second most expensive Christmas book, coming in at $15,000 (price unchanged from last year), is Clement C. Moore’s classic poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (more commonly known at “The Night Before Christmas”) that has largely influenced how Santa Claus is depicted. The poem was included in a collection of Moore’s poems in 1844, a year after the publication of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Below are the individual costs of the books that make up the Atkins Bookshelf Christmas Price Index.

A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens: $75,000
A Visit from St. Nicholas (included in Poems, 1844) by Clement C. Moore: $15,000
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957) by Dr. Seuss: $5,500
A Christmas Memory (1966) by Truman Capote: $3,500
The Polar Express (1985) by Chris Van Allsburg: $2,250
The Nutcracker (1984 edition) by E. T. A. Hoffman: $950
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) by Valentine Davies: $1,500
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1902) by L. Frank Baum: $5,495
The Greatest Gift (1944) by Philip Van Doren Stern: $2,450
Christmas at Thompson Hall (included in Novellas, 1883) by Anthony Trollope: $150
Old Christmas from the Sketchbook of Washington Irving (1886) by Washington Irving: $125
The Gift of the Magi (included in The Four Million, 1905) by O. Henry: $225

Total $112,145

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

Read related posts: The Origin of the Name Scrooge
The Inspiration for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
What is a First Edition of A Christmas Carol Worth?
The Story Behind “The Night Before Christmas”

Words invented by Dickens
Why Read Dickens?
Atkins Bookshelf Literary Christmas Price Index: 2019

For further reading: https://www.pnc.com/en/about-pnc/topics/pnc-christmas-price-index.html


There Should Be A Word for That: Bibleuphoria

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIf you are a bibliophile you know the feeling: that wave of euphoria that washes over you when you serendipitously find that elusive book you have been hunting for years, perhaps decades. Or perhaps you stumble on a special book that you never even knew existed (bibliophiles call this the “unknown unknown.” You think to yourself: “How is it possible this book escaped my attention? This book should have been on my wish list!” Over decades of hunting books, I have experienced this countless times — with books that have been on my wish list for more than 35 years. So I pose this question: shouldn’t there be a word for this profound feeling of elation, a truly Eureka moment, when you finally find that Holy Grail or unknown unknown?

To that end, I present the word 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”). There are several other word-element combinations to consider for this neologism, like biblexulatation or bibliolation, however none are as euphonious as bibleuphoria. So the next time you are a bookstore and find a special book, you can yell out “bibleuphoria.” Be sure to cherish the knowing smiles, from nearby book lovers, that will greet you. They may not know the word — but they definitely know the feeling.

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: Words Invented by Book Lovers
How Many Words in the English Language?
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
What is the Longest Word in English?
There’s a Word for That: Epeolatry


Famous Misquotations: Literature Adds to Reality, It Does Not Simply Describe It…

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsJust about everywhere you see this quotation, it is attributed to C.S. Lewis: “Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.” The only problem is, Lewis never wrote this. Thanks to the great detective work of C.S. Lewis expert William O’Flaherty, author of The Misquotable C.S. Lewis, we know that these sentences were actually written by Paul Homer who is discussing literature and not quoting Lewis directly. The quote can be found on page 28 of Homer’s book C. S. Lewis: The Shape of His Faith and Thought published in 1976.

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: The Misquotable C.S. Lewis, William O’Flaherty, Wipf and Stock, 2018.


What is a Tautonym?

atkins bookshelf wordsWords like wishy-washy or mumbo-jumbo, or any words that contain two identical or similar parts (a segment, syllable, or morpheme), are called tautonyms. In linguistics another term for these is rhyming compounds, a subclass of a larger class of words known as reduplicatives. A reduplicative is a word created by reduplication, defined as the process in which the entire word or the stem or root of the word is repeated exactly or with a small change. There are three classes of reduplicatives: (1) Full reduplication of the base word (e.g., “bye-bye,” “goody-goody,” and “bunny-wunny”; with respect to the last word, linguists refer nonsensical words as “motherese,” “caregiver speech,” “child talk,” or “child-directed speech”).  (2) Partial reduplication of the base word, with only a change in the first consonant (e.g., “boogie-woogie” and “fuddy-duddy”). (3) Partial reduplication of the base word, with only a change in the root vowel (e.g., “ding-dong” and “flip-flop”). 

In many cases, the first word of a tautonym or rhyming compound is a real word while the second part (often nonsensical) is invented to create a rhyme and to create emphasis. Most tautonyms begin as hyphenated words and through common usage eventually drop the hyphen to become single words. Regardless of their hyphenation, they underscore the playfulness of the English language. Below are some common tautonyms (many function as nouns and verbs). If you enjoy writing challenges, try writing a single sentence that uses many or all of these words; however, it cannot turn out to be mumbo-jumbo.

argle-bargle: nonsense; heated argument

argy-bargy: heated argument

arsy-varsy: head over heels

boob-tube: television

boogie-woogie: blues-style music with a strong, fast beat; a dance to pop or rock music

chick flick: a movie primary for women

chiller-killer: a refrigerated heat exchange system

crisscross: intersecting straight paths or lines

dilly-dally: to waste time through indecision or loitering

ding-dong: the noise made by a bell; in the UK, slang for a woman’s breast; a noisy argument; an idiot

ding-a-ling: a foolish person

fancy-schmancy: elaborately decorated to impress

fiddle-faddle: a trademarked name for popcorn

flimflam: nonsense; to swindle

flip-flop: a light sandal; backward handspring; abrupt reversal of a position or policy

fuddy-duddy: a fussy or old-fashioned person

gewgaw: cheap, showy jewelry or thing

hanky-panky: improper behavior, typically sexual in nature

harum-scarum: impetuous

heebie-jeebies: a state of nervous fear, anxiety

helter-skelter: disorder or confusion; in disorderly haste

higgledy-piggledy: in a disorderly manner

hobnob: to mix socially, particularly with those of high social status

hocus-pocus: meaningless activity or talk, often to draw attention away from something

hodgepodge: a motley assortment of things

hoity-toity: snobbish

hokey-pokey: trickery; a song that describes the movements of a dance performed in a circle

hotchpotch: a motley assortment of things; a mutton stew with vegetables

hubba hubba: a phrase to express enthusiasm or approval

hubble-bubble: a hookah, an oriental tobacco pipe with a long flexible tube connected to a container where the smoke is cooled by passing through water

hubbub: chaotic noise created by a crowd of people; a busy, noisy situation

hugger-mugger: disorderly; secret

hullabaloo: a commotion

hurdy-gurdy: a musical instrument that makes music by rotation of a cylinder that is studded with pegs

hurly burly: busy or noisy activity

itty-bitty: very small

jingle-jangle: the sound that metallic items make

knickknack: a small object, often a household ornament, of little or no value

lovey-dovey: extremely affectionate or romantic

mishmash: a random assortment of things

mumbo jumbo: language or ritual causing, or intending to cause, confusion

namby-pamby: weak in willpower, courage or vitality

niminy-piminy: very dainty or refined

nitty-gritty: the most important details about something

okey-dokey: OK

pall-mall: a 16th century game in which a wooden ball was drive through an iron ring suspended at the end of an alley

pell-mell: in a rushed or reckless manner

ping-pong: table tennis

pitter-patter: the sound of quick light steps; to move or make the sound of quick light steps

prime-time: the time period when most people watch television

razzle-dazzle: showy, noisy activity designed to impress

riffraff: undesirable people

roly-poly: plump

shilly-shally: failing to act decisively

singsong: the repeated rising and falling of a person’s voice as they speak

skimple-skamble: senseless, gibberish

so-so: neither very good nor very bad

super-duper: very good

teeny-weeny: very small, tiny 

teeter-totter: a seesaw

tick-tock: the sound of a clock ticking; making a ticking sound

tighty-whities: snug white briefs worn by males (variant: tight-whiteys)

tittle-tattle: light informal conversation for social occasions

tohubohu: utter confusion, chaos

tootsie-wootsie (also toots-wootsy): a term of endearment

topsy-turvy: upside down; in a state of confusion

voodoo: followers of a religion that involves witchcraft and animistic deities

walkie-talkie: portable two-way radio

wigwag: to move to and fro

willy-nilly: whether one likes it or not; haphazardly

wishy-washy: weak, feeble, lacking character

yada yada (or yadda yadda): used as a substitute for a longer predictable story; boring language

zigzag: a line or course with abrupt right and left turns; veering alternatively to right and left

Are there any other tautonyms missing from this list?

Read related posts: What is the Longest Word in English Language?
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For further reading:
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254220098_Just_a_Load_of_Hibber-Gibber_Making_Sense_of_English_Rhyming_Compounds


Remarkable Bookstores: Libreria Acqua Alta

alex atkins bookshelf booksIf you are in Venice and cross the Ponte Tetta, walking south on the Calle Tetta, and turn right turn (opposite the direction of the Ponte Cavagnis) you will come across a small cul-de-sac on your right. When you get to the end of the cul-de-sac you will be rewarded with the sight of the Liberia Aqua Alta (translated from the Italian it means the “high water bookstore”; visitors often refer to it as the Bookshop Aqua Alta.) At the entrance is a sign that reads “The most beautiful bookstore in the world.” But of course, as everyone knows, beauty is in the eye of beholder. Let’s take a look inside.

What makes the Liberia Aqua Alta truly remarkable is that the owner has had to find a way to protect the books from Venice’s constant flooding. So naturally, the best solution is to place books in water-proof vessels. And since this is Venice, you will find a large colorful gondola filled with stacks of books. Books are also stored in smaller canoes, stacked crates, bathtubs, and barrels. There are traditional shelves that began several inches up from the floor. The store is filled with thousands of books, both in English and Italian, many of them vintage. Customers are guided through the sections of the store, punctuated with colorfully-dressed mannequins, by its gregarious owner. And like many used bookstores, this one is inhabited by a black cat.

The front door is flanked by tables and racked that are filled with magazines, comics, maps and ephemera. At the back of the store is an exit (labelled as a fire escape) that leads to a small courtyard lined with books and a staircase made out of books (which have been damaged by water) that leads to a small canal. On the rock wall adjacent to the steps is hand-drawn lettering that reads “Follow the books / steps / climb” to lead customers to the store from the canal.

You can take a virtual tour at the bottom of this webpage: https://veneziaautentica.com/venice-bookshop-libreria-acqua-alta/

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

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What Book Has the Most Disappointing Ending?

alex atkins bookshelf literatureEver watched a movie or miniseries and make it the end only to watch a completely disappointing ending: perhaps it is unnecessarily ambiguous, inscrutable, nonsensical, or the worse: it seems to end rushed or randomly. WTF?! You know the ones (remember the ending of The Sopranos?) — where you instinctively reach for the remote while in a state of bewilderment and anger: “There is no way the director just did this! There has to be more. Let me fast forward — maybe there’s a short clip buried in the end credits…” But nothing reveals itself.

Dedicated readers know too well that movies do not have a monopoly on disappointing endings. Novels or plays can be terribly disappointing. William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet comes to mind (I know — it’s a tragedy, but still…) To arrive at a list, we turn to a number of websites that have asked their readers to weigh in on this fascinating topic. A review of the rationale for nomination of novel with worst ending, one thing becomes quite clear: some readers are very passionate about their positions. Some discontented readers have professed to hurling the book across the room. Makes a great image, doesn’t it, especially when uttering something Shakespearean, like “Fly o curséd book, thou hast offended thee! Crash into a heap of wretchedness, for thou is not worth another word!”

From no single reader community, and in no particular order, below are some novels, by famous authors, that readers found to have disappointing endings. So as not to reveal any spoilers, the reason why readers found a particular novel disappointing will not be revealed — for that you have to read the entire novel, and be disappointed on your own. Happy reading.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

The Magus by John Fowles

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Atonement by Ian McEwan

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

King Lear by William Shakespeare

Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace

What book did you feel had a disappointing ending?

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: The Surprising Original Titles of Famous Novels
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For further reading:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/worst-book-endings/2020/10/17/e9d8635a-0ee3-11eb-b1e8-16b59b92b36d_story.html
http://www.bustle.com/p/11-incredible-books-with-deeply-disappointing-endings-39267
https://www.businessinsider.com/the-10-worst-endings-in-all-of-literature-2016-8
http://forreadingaddicts.co.uk/polls-and-discussion/the-20-books-voted-the-worst-ever-ending/1119


The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2020

catkins-bookshelf-literatureThe Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (BLFC or affectionately known as the “Lytonniad”), established in 1982 by English Professor Scott Rice at San Jose State University, recognizes the worst opening sentence (also known as an “incipit”) for a novel. The name of the quasi-literary contest honors Edward George Bulwer Lytton, author of a very obscure 1830 Victorian novel, Paul Clifford, with a very famous opening sentence: “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” 

Each year, contest receives more than 10,000 entries from all over the world — proving that there is no shortage of wretched writers vying for acclaim. The contest now has several subcategories, including adventure, crime, romance, and detective fiction. The winner gets bragging rights for writing the worst sentence of the year and a modest financial award of $150 — presumably for writing lessons.

The winner of the 2020 BLFC was Lisa Kluber of San Francisco, California:
Her Dear John missive flapped unambiguously in the windy breeze, hanging like a pizza menu on the doorknob of my mind.

The runner up was submitted by Lisa Hanks or Euless, Texas:
As hard-nosed P.I. Dan McKinnon stepped out into the gray gritty dawn, a bone chilling gust of filth-strewn wind wrapped the loose ends of his open trench coat around him like a day-old flour tortilla around a breakfast burrito with hash browns, sausage, and scrambled eggs, hold the pico.

The winner in the category of Crime/Detective was Yale Abrams of Santa Rosa, California:
When she walked into my office on that bleak December day, she was like a breath of fresh air in a coal mine; she made my canary sing.

The winner in the category of Vile Puns was Aaron Cabe of Hillsboro, Oregon:
As the passing of Keith Richards was announced on the evening news, just as had been done with Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, and Ronnie Wood before him, Jorge gazed at the television in his Tijuana home and felt a sickening knot form in his stomach, for he realized that finally, after all the albums, concert tours, and era-defining cultural impact, the Rolling Stones would gather no más.

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

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For futher reading: https://www.bulwer-lytton.com/2020
Dark and Stormy Rides Again by Scott Rice, Penguin Books (1996)


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