What is the Most Complicated Word in the English Language?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIf you guessed Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (a disease, silicosis) or Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (a contrived word introduced in the musical and film Mary Poppins) you are wrong. Think shorter — way shorter. It will help if we clarify that by “complicated,” we mean having many different aspects, or more precisely, definitions. If you have the time, you can thumb through a dictionary, like the authoritative Oxford English Dictionary (OED), where you will eventually run across the lexical rascal. By the way, there was a clue in that sentence.

The most complicated word in the English language is “run.” The word “run” is a real Olympian with more than 715 different meanings. As a noun, “run” has more than 70 unique definitions, while as a verb, the word has 645 different meanings. In the printed second edition of the OED, the definitions of “run” run 63 columns across 21 full pages, which took a lexicographer more than nine months to complete. Perhaps he ran out of time…

The OED begins with these definitions of ‘run’ as a verb with the following citations:

(1) To move the legs quickly so as to go at a faster pace than walking.
A hundred… men ready to run

(2) To go about freely free without being restrained or checked in any way.
We are resolved… not to let them run about as they like.

(3) To hasten to some end or object, or to do something.
The people…  run almost from all places to assist his cause.

(4) To retire or retreat rapidly, to take flight.
He… had been forced to cut and run.

(5) To rush at, or, or upon a person with hostile intention.
He ran at me and kicked me.

In an interview with NPR, Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, elaborates on the complexity of “run” and the runners-up to the words with the most definitions in the English language:

“When they prepared the first edition of the OED, which took them 70 years to do, so they began this in 1857 and finished – the first edition was published in 1928 – the longest word then or the one with the most definitions was another three-letter word. It was the word ‘set’… it occupies 32 full pages, 75 columns with about 200 meanings… Well, during the 20th century, that word was displaced by another rather similar word, which was the word ‘put.’… But when the OED got around to working on the letter R, which they began working on about two years ago [2009], and got towards the end of R and started looking at words beginning with R-U, it became rapidly apparent that ‘run’ completely outran… both ‘put’ and ‘set.’ And when [the 2011 update to the online edition of the OED] was finished… Peter Gilliver [a lexicographer on the OED team] counted out — just for the verb alone — 645 different meanings. So it’s the absolute champion. So the order is: run, put, set.”

Winchester seems to think that the unique senses of run exploded after the Industrial Revolution, when all sorts of inventions (eg, machines, and eventually computers and digital devices, etc.) that run were introduced.

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 Longest Word in English Language?
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For further reading: http://www.npr.org/2011/05/30/136796448/has-run-run-amok-it-has-645-meanings-so-far

The Gift of 11 Cents that Made A Lifelong Reader

alex atkins bookshelf booksMost people who love books and reading can instantly recall from their youth a single book that opened the door to literature and changed their lives forever. One is reminded of Carl Jung’s concept of collective unconscious when one observes the deep sense of wonder and enchantment that washes over a reader’s face as they share this “literature discovery” story. You feel instantly connected to one another in this vast, universal community of fellow travelers along the seemingly infinite byways of literature… “wandering with our heroes and poets.”

I recently came across such a story in American historian Will Durant’s (1885-1981) fascinating autobiography titled Transition: A Mental Autobiography (1955). Durant and his wife, Ariel, are best known for their monumental work, The Story of Civilization. Written over four decades, encompassing 11 volumes, the series presents the compelling history of eastern and western civilizations. The series was a bestseller (2 million copies in nine languages) and the Durants won a Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1968. What is remarkable about Durant’s “literature discovery” story is that it was the serendipitous conjunction of two experiences: encouragement from a friend and the kindness of a stranger — specifically a gift of 11 cents — that helped open the door to become a lifelong reader. Durant writes: 

“It was Irene [a friend from school] who introduced me to literature… One day I saw in Irene’s hand a book called Pickwick Papers. I opened it and was at once allured by the abundance of conversation it contained; here was a lively book and a juicy one and it was so immense-seven or eight hundred pages; surely the author had been paid by the page, and had had an extravagant wife. I thought it would be quite a feat to read such a volume through; perhaps I should be the first boy in the world to accomplish it. But what moved me most was that it was Irene’s book; it must be good if her soft hands had touched it and her bright eyes had traveled along its lines. I begged it from her, and that night, against the protest of my parents, I burned the midnight oil over the adventures of the Pickwick Club, and Sam Weller, and the fat boy who always fell asleep. O happy and undisillusioned Victorians! maligned and misunderstood, what a delight it must have been to watch the creation, week after week, of that incom­parable imaginary world! What a delight it was even now, across a thousand obscuring differences of land and speech and time, to know this vivacious style, this inexhaustible drama, this endless chain of existing incident! I read every word and marvelled that I had lived twelve years without discovering the book. I returned it to Irene, and begged her for more. 

“It’s all I have by Dickens,” she said, sorrowfully. “But Papa says he’ll get me David Copperfield for Christmas.” 

Christmas was several months away; I could not wait that long. Within a week I had managed to accumulate fourteen pennies; and armed with them I walked the three miles be­tween our new home in Arlington and Dressel’s book-store in Newark. I asked the grouchy old gentleman behind the counter for the cheapest edition of David Copperfield. He went into a rear room, worked his way precariously among stacks of brokendown books, and emerged with a copy that might have rivaled Ulysses’ wanderings. 

“I will let this go for twenty five cents,” he said, munifi­cently.

My heart was broke temporarily.

“But mister,” I said, with a politeness which I seldom achieved, “I’ve only got fourteen cents.” 

He was unmoved, and turned away to another customer. I looked longingly at the book, and helplessly at space in general. Then a tall handsome gentleman, whom I conceived as a millionaire philosopher but who turned out to be a butcher, came over to me and put his arm around my shoul­der.

“What do you want, sonny?” he said.

David Copperfield,” I replied. 

“How much do you need?” 

“Eleven cents.”

“Is that all? Here you are; when you get rich you can pay me back.” 

Fortunately, he is dead now. But I was so grateful that I could not speak. I accepted the eleven cents as a gift from God, and walked out of the store in a daze. I trudged home in ecstasy over the kindness of Providence, the goodness of human nature, and the pleasures in store for me in the 860 pages which I carried under my arm. 

From that day I became a tremendous reader. When every­body else in the house was asleep I would read on despite a thousand admonitions about the injury I was doing to my health, and the cost of gas. It is true that I lost something of my taste for sport, and more of my skill in it… But what a new universe I had found! I no longer lived in prosaic New Jersey; I wandered around the world with my heroes and my poets.”

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

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

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Triplets: Castles in the Air

atkins bookshelf quotations

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

From Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854) by Henry David Thoreau.

Everyone who hears my words and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. It rained hard, the floods came, and the winds blew and hit that house. But it did not fall, because it was built on rock. Everyone who hears my words and does not obey them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. It rained hard, the floods came, and the winds blew and hit that house, and it fell with a big crash.

From The New Testament, The Gospel of Matthew, 7:24-27 (written about 66-74 AD), New Century Version.

A neurotic is a man who builds a castle in the air. A psychotic is the man who lives in it. And a psychiatrist is the man who collects the rent.

From the Collected Papers of Lord Robert Webb-Johnstone quoted in the Oxford Book of Medical Quotations (2003) edited by Peter McDonald and Familiar Medical Quotations (1968) edited by Maurice Strass. There are many websites that erroneously attribute this quote to Jerome Lawrence, the American playwright, best known as the co-author of Inherit the Wind about the Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925. (Robert Edwin Lee was the other playwright. The play inspired the 1960 film of the same name directed by Stanley Kramer.)

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

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

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The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2022

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 5,000 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.

Below are the winners of the 40th Annual Lyttoniad:

The Grand Prize winner was John Farmer of Aurora, Colorado:
“I knew she was trouble the second she walked into my 24-hour deli, laundromat, and detective agency, and after dropping a load of unmentionables in one of the heavy-duty machines (a mistake that would soon turn deadly) she turned to me, asking for two things: find her missing husband and make her a salami on rye with spicy mustard, breaking into tears when I told her I couldn’t help—I was fresh out of salami.”

The winner in the category of Crime/Detective was Jim Anderson of Flushing, Michigan:
“The detectives wore booties, body suits, hair nets, masks and gloves and longed for the good old days when they could poke a corpse with the toes of their wingtips if they damn well felt like it.”

The winner in the category of Vile Puns was Peter Bjorkman of Rocklin, California:
“Prior to his CNN career, Wolf Blitzer slummed the gossip magazines, once inquiring of Hugh Grant’s then-wife, Liz Hurley, why he had never been in a film with Virginia Madsen, to which she replied, “Hugh’s afraid of Virginia, Wolf.”

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

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

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For futher reading: https://www.bulwer-lytton.com/2022
Dark and Stormy Rides Again by Scott Rice, Penguin Books (1996)

Clever T-Shirt Slogans for Booklovers

alex atkins bookshelf booksDaedalus Books, located in Hudson, Ohio, was founded in 1980. The company sells remaindered books, music, and video via catalogs and their website. Since 2018, Daedalus has expanded its retail division that focuses on book-related products that now brings in 60% of its revenues. Their catalogs often feature clever t-shirt designs promoting books, reading, and book collecting that any book lover would love. Here are some of the slogans, often accompanied by stylized artwork, that are printed on cotton t-shirts of various colors:

My workout is reading in bed until my arms hurt

When I think about books… I touch my shelf

Single, vaccinated, loves to read. Vax card and reading list available upon request.

It’s not hoarding if its books

Better to have a book and no time to read than time to read and no book

Less is more — unless it’s books

One does not stop buying books just because one has run out of space

Dinosaurs didn’t read books… and look what happened to them

I’ll stop buying books when they grow wings and fly

Better to have a book and no time to read than time to read and no book

Go with your Gutenberg

Dinosaurs didn’t read books… and look what happened to them

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it is too dark to read. – Groucho Marx

The following t-shirts are for word lovers:

Team Oxford comma

Synonym Rolls. [Image of cinnamon rolls] Same as Grammar used to make.

I swallowed a whole dictionary. Now I have thesaurus throat ever.

Which is your favorite? What other slogans related to books have you seen?

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

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

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Revisiting “Falling Man” on the 21th Anniversary of 9/11

alex atkins bookshelf cultureRichard Drew pressed the camera’s shutter button at 9:41:15 am on the morning of September 11, 2001, capturing an image of man leaping to his death that is paradoxically terrifying and peaceful at the same time. This iconic photograph — “The Falling Man” — depicted one of more than 200 innocent people who fell or jumped to their deaths that morning. It was printed on page 7 of the New York Times on the following day, that haunting image etched forever in the American consciousness as a reminder of that dreadful day. Twenty years later, most survivors and witnesses of 9/11 have noted that the sight of human beings falling to their deaths is the most haunting memory of that tragic day. People began jumping soon after the first jet hit the North Tower (8:46 am) and for the next 102 minutes before the building collapsed. They jumped alone, in pairs, or in groups — most from a height of more than 100 stories. At that height, the bodies reach a speed of 150 miles per hour, not enough to cause unconsciousness during the 10-second fall, but fast enough to ensure immediate death upon impact. One witness described this horrific scene as a woman fell: “The look on her face was shock. She wasn’t screaming. It was slow motion. When she hit, there was nothing left.” Equally powerful was the thought-provoking story that writer Tom Junod wrote about the identity of that lone figure in the September 2003 issue of Esquire magazine, titled “The Falling Man.” When you read the introduction to the story, it is easy to understand why the editors of Esquire consider it one of the greatest stories in the magazine’s 75-year history.

“In the picture, he departs from this earth like an arrow. Although he has not chosen his fate, he appears to have, in his last instants of life, embraced it. If he were not falling, he might very well be flying. He appears relaxed, hurtling through the air. He appears comfortable in the grip of unimaginable motion. He does not appear intimidated by gravity’s divine suction or by what awaits him. His arms are by his side, only slightly outriggered. His left leg is bent at the knee, almost casually. His white shirt, or jacket, or frock, is billowing free of his black pants. His black high-tops are still on his feet… The man in the picture… is perfectly vertical, and so is in accord with the lines of the buildings behind him. He splits them, bisects them: Everything to the left of him in the picture is the North Tower; everything to the right, the South. Though oblivious to the geometric balance he has achieved, he is the essential element in the creation of a new flag, a banner composed entirely of steel bars shining in the sun. Some people who look at the picture see stoicism, willpower, a portrait of resignation; others see something else — something discordant and therefore terrible: freedom. There is something almost rebellious in the man’s posture, as though once faced with the inevitability of death, he decided to get on with it; as though he were a missile, a spear, bent on attaining his own end. He is… in the clutches of pure physics, accelerating at a rate of thirty-two feet per second squared. He will soon be traveling at upwards of 150 miles per hour, and he is upside down. In the picture, he is frozen; in his life outside the frame, he drops and keeps dropping until he disappears.”

Almost 20 years later, reflecting on that photo, Richard Drew states: “I never regretted taking that photograph at all. It’s probably one of the only photographs that shows someone dying that day. We have a terrorist attack on our soil and we still don’t see pictures of our people dying — and this is a photograph of someone dying. “

The Falling Man’s true identity has never been established.  The photos reveal that he was dark-skinned, lanky, wore a goatee, dressed in black pants, and a bright-orange shirt under a white shirt. Some believe it was Jonathan Briley, an employee at the Windows on the World restaurant. Miraculously, the FBI found his body the next day. Juno concludes his article:

“Is Jonathan Briley the Falling Man? He might be. But maybe he didn’t jump from the window as a betrayal of love or because he lost hope. Maybe he jumped to fulfill the terms of a miracle. Maybe he jumped to come home to his family. Maybe he didn’t jump at all, because no one can jump into the arms of God.

Oh, no. You have to fall.

Yes, Jonathan Briley might be the Falling Man. But the only certainty we have is the certainty we had at the start: At fifteen seconds after 9:41 a.m., on September 11, 2001, a photographer named Richard Drew took a picture of a man falling through the sky — falling through time as well as through space. The picture went all around the world, and then disappeared, as if we willed it away. One of the most famous photographs in human history became an unmarked grave, and the man buried inside its frame — the Falling Man — became the Unknown Soldier in a war whose end we have not yet seen. Richard Drew’s photograph is all we know of him, and yet all we know of him becomes a measure of what we know of ourselves. The picture is his cenotaph, and like the monuments dedicated to the memory of unknown soldiers everywhere, it asks that we look at it, and make one simple acknowledgment.

That we have known who the Falling Man is all along.”

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: The Poetry of 9/11
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For further reading:
September 11, 2001: American Writers Respond
Poetry After 9/11: An Anthology of New York Poets

http://www.esquire.com/features/ESQ0903-SEP_FALLINGMAN
http://www.esquire.com/features/page-75/greatest-stories?click=main_sr#slide-1
http://time.com/4453467/911-september-11-falling-man-photo/?utm_source=time.com&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=the-brief&utm_content=2017091117pm&xid=newsletter-brief
https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/sept11/2002-09-02-jumper_x.htm

The Wisdom of Strangers at Airports

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomAlthough the first thought that comes to people’s minds when they think of airports is annoyance (long lines, lengthy layovers, intrusive security checks, etc.), airports are incredible, magical places. We take it for granted that each day millions of people are transported to far-away places around the globe in hours (and if they are lucky, so will their luggage). If you have watched documentaries about the behind-the-scenes operations at an international airport you will know that the logistics (personnel, equipment, fuel, schedules, meals, connecting flights, luggage handling, maintenance, weather, customer behavior, etc.) will have your head spinning. In short, air travel is like an orchestra where every musician must play their part at exactly the right moment for the right period of time.

The other thing most people take for granted is what an amazing melting pot an airport is. There is no place in a city that has such a diverse group of individuals — people passing through from other parts of the country and the world. Each person — from a specific place, culture, and generation — has lived a life, presumably very different from yours — and has a unique, fascinating story to tell. That individuals sit side by side in the airport lounges or in airplane seats for hours at a time and not share these stories is a lost opportunity to gain perspective and new insights.

A few weeks ago, I sat in an airport in Phoenix, Arizona for a three hour layover to catch a connecting flight to the Bay Area. A sharply dressed woman sitting next to me asked me if I would watch her luggage while she purchased a charger for her phone. She spoke with an unmistakable Texan accent. Upon her return, we began chatting about what brought her to Phoenix and that led to a discussion about business, family, education, and the world. It was a wonderful discussion that helped pass the time, but more importantly, it led to many wonderful insights and perspectives drawn from her life and her journey. One of the most notable thoughts was this: “I wish I could step into a time machine and travel back in time, so that I could give my kids and grandkids the same world I grew up in.” That idea resonated deeply with me. Over the years, I have spoken to so many people who grew up in the 50s and 60s who share this sentiment but have never expressed is so vividly and so succinctly. This was her gift to me.

Earlier in the day, I had taken a flight from Columbus to Phoenix. During the boarding process, a young woman in her early twenties asked if she could sit in the window seat. I noticed she was wearing an Ohio State University sweatshirt. A fascinating, engaging conversation that lasted the entire flight — 3.5 hours — began with a simple question: “Are you currently a student at Ohio State?” I learned that she had graduated a few years ago, worked in the finance industry, and was traveling to visit a college friend in Phoenix. Over the next few hours, our conversation ranged from business, leadership, education, family, family values, documentaries on psychological issues (trust, truth, compliance, obedience, etc.), psychological research, communication, relationships, philanthropy, work ethic, hobbies, self knowledge and self reflection. She was one of ten children, born to parents who lived in one of the toughest, most crime-ridden neighborhoods in Dayton, Ohio. Her salvation came in the form of the discipline, wisdom, kindness, generosity, and deep faith from a matriarchal household. The biggest influence on her was her mother and grandmother who taught her to listen and to discern the difference between people who spoke from the heart (where their words were aligned with their body language and actions) and those who spoke to manipulate or lie (where their words were discordant with their body language). “Those two lessons have served me well throughout my life — that, and my faith,” she explained. Her parents emphasized the importance of faith, education, and a good work ethic. Out of ten siblings, eight attended and graduated from college. The conversation was so genuine, so synergistic — one topic segueing seamlessly from one topic to another — that the hours melted away. At the end of the conversation, she confessed, “I am an introvert, and I generally wouldn’t talk to a stranger. Even with my friends, I tend to be a listener. But this conversation is one of the deepest, broad-ranging, fascinating conversations I have ever had.” We both were grateful for this wonderful exchange of ideas. The only time she reached for her phone was to write down the title of a book or documentary that she didn’t know about. Although this young woman, so early in her life journey and full of opportunities, will likely forget me, I don’t think she will forget the magic of that thoughtful, engaging conversation. When I challenged her to strike up a conversation with a stranger on her flight back home, she smiled and replied, “I will definitely try.” We parted ways when we deplaned and entered the busy airport terminal; I watched as she disappeared into a throng of travelers scurrying along the seemingly infinite concourse, appreciative of her generous gifts: the wisdom gained from her life and the inspiration of her incredible mother and grandmother.

So the next time you are in an airport, manage to get over your annoyance, smile at the person sitting next to you, and strike up a conversation that focuses on your commonalities, not your differences… and watch the magic of communication emerge over time.

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

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

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Little Books, Big Ideas: Proverbs From Around the World

alex atkins bookshelf booksIf you ever travel to Columbus, Ohio, it is worth taking a short trip from the airport to the German Village, just south of the city’s downtown. The neighborhood was settled by a large German immigration that occurred in 1830. The Germans not only brought their culture, they also brought their impressive brick-laying skills — remarkably, the streets, sidewalks, houses, and buildings are all made of brick. In the heart of the German Village you will discover a wonderful bookstore called, appropriately, The Book Loft of German Village. Residing in a pre-Civil War building, the bookstore is an actual labyrinth featuring 32 different rooms on several different levels. Each room, covering a specific subject, is lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. If you are a bibliophile, it’s as close to the paradise that Jorge Luis Borges imagined.

In any event, it is while perusing the splendid bookshelves of The Book Loft of German Village that I came across an intriguing little book, Proverbs From Around the World: A Collection of Timeless Wisdom, Wit, Sayings & Advice by Gerd de Ley. In the introduction, the author writes, “Our world is massive. With a scope well beyond what most people can fathom, and certainly too large to be experienced in full during one lifetime, the Earth is full of the experiences and collected wisdom of billions upon billions of people.” It is from this global, multi-generational tapestry of wisdom, that de Ley selects some of history’s most enduring proverbs to share with the reader. Here are some examples (country of origin in parenthesis):

There are three friends in this world: courage, sense, and insight. (Africa)

He who seeks a friend without a fault will not find one. (Armenia)

In times of test, the family is best. (Burma)

To a man wine is like water is to the boat; it can carry him or guzzle him up. (Thailand)

There are forty kinds of lunacy, but only one kind of common sense. (Africa)

To talk without thinking is to shoot without aiming. (England)

When you begin to understand the situation, you know you must have been ill-informed. (Java)

Don’t look where you fell, but where you slipped. (Liberia)

Words are but dwarfs, examples are giants. (Luxembourg)

The eleventh commandment: thou shall not contradict. (Mexico)

If age and experience came at birth, we would have neither youth nor mirth. (Russia)

Wisdom does not come overnight. (Somalia)

A new broom sweeps clean, but an old broom knows the corners. (Virgin Islands)

If you are too modest you will go hungry. (Zaire)

If you don’t know where you are going, look back to where you’ve come from. (Arabia)

Life is half-spent before one knows what life is. (France)

The devil likes to hide behind a cross. (Ukraine)

If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking. (India)

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.

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Book Lending and Marks of Ownership

alex atkins bookshelf booksOne of the most famous quotations about lending books is by French author and man of letters, Anatole France (born François-Anatole Thibault, 1844-1924), who advised, “Never lend books, for no one ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are books that other folks have lent me.” [from La Vie litteraire (The Literary Life), 1888]. So how did France know that these weren’t his books? They must have had obvious marks of ownerships.

So how do book owners mark their books? The most common way of marking a book is by writing or signing one’s name in the book, typically the paste down end paper or the free end paper. Soon after Gutenberg introduced printed books in the mid 15th century, book owners began using bookplates, also known as “Ex Libris” (from the Latin, “From the Library”) labels. Some of these were very ornate with heraldic elements and fancy borders. Another common method is a blind emboss stamp indicating the owner’s name in the middle of a circular pattern. Another variation is the ink stamp, often used by libraries. Perhaps one of the crudest methods, often used by high school and college students, is to write one’s last name in large block letters on all three sides of the text block. It makes quite a bold statement: “this book is mine — so don’t even think of stealing it!”

There are purists who believe that a book should never be marked or written in; but there are many who believe that an elegant bookplate denotes that the owner is an important part of a book’s history, or using bibliophile lingo, it’s provenance.

How do you mark your books?

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.

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Doublets: Be Happy with What You Have

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThe secret of contentment is knowing how to enjoy what you have, and to be able to lose all desire for things beyond your reach.”

Lin Yutang (1895-1976) was a Chinese novelist, philosopher, and linguist. He moved to America in 1935, where he popularized a Chinese way of life and philosophy. By translating classic Chinese texts into English, he became one of the most influential writers of his generation. In addition to his extensive writing and translation work, Lin was the inventor of the Chinese typewriter after decades of work on the project.

“Be happy with what you have and are, be generous with both, and you won’t have to hunt for happiness.”

William Gladstone (1809-1898), known as the “Grand Old Man,” is considered by historians as one of Britain’s greatest leaders. His public service lasted over 60 years, including 12 years as Prime Minister. Gladstone was a dedicated bibliophile, with a personal library of more than 32,000 books. He was known to walk in and buy entire sections of a bookshop.

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

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

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There’s A Word for That: Logastellus

alex atkins bookshelf words

Were it not for four long years of the Trump presidency, most people would be oblivious to the concept of the Dunning-Kruger Effect: the 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. You might recall some of Donald Trump’s most famous quotes revealing his complete lack of humility and truthful self-assessment: “Sorry losers and haters, but my IQ is one of the highest — and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure, it’s not your fault” [Twitter, 9-5-13]. “I’m intelligent. Some people would say I’m very, very, very intelligent.” [Fortune, 4-4-2000]. “Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart… I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star… to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius… and a very stable genius at that!” [Twitter, 7-11-19].

The term Dunning-Kruger Effect was coined by David Dunning and Justin Kruger, psychologists at Cornell University, in their 1999 study titled “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.” Dunning points out the irony of the effect: “the knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task — and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at that task.” Consequently, without appropriate management and training, such a person cannot improve because they are essentially clueless about how bad they are at a particular job. In subsequent research, Dunning has found the Dunning-Kruger Effect rampant among employees of high-tech firms and medical companies, professors at universities, and among drivers. Dunning was remiss in not adding politicians to that list.

In 1970, John McClellan [Butler University] introduced a term that could be considered a companion to Dunning’s — logastellus, pronounced “low ga STEL us,” defined as “a person whose enthusiasm for words outstrips his knowledge of them.” In other words, a person who loves words but doesn’t know much about them. The word is derived from the Greek word “logo” (meaning word, speech, talk”) and “-ellus” (a dimunitive word-forming element, from Latin); thus, literally, the word means “little word.” In his typewritten newsletter on linguistics, Word Ways [August 1970], McClellan credited the actual coinage of the word to his Latin professor, Mr. Samuel Carr, 50 years earlier. McClellan writes: “Nor does serendipity stop here, but leads us gently back in time to the 1920s, and a hot classroom in June where a class of discipulastelli [a made-up Latin coinage for “small student or followers”] prepared for the forthcoming Latin College Board examination… The class was taught by Mr. Samuel Carr, who gave us whatever love of his subject we now have, almost 50 years later. But we did not know, then, of his subtle influence — we just wanted to get outside into the sunshine as quickly as possible. Mr. Carr is looking over my shoulder now as this is being written, and is saying in his dry, unforgettable way, “McClellan, I would like to propose the word LOGASTELLUS for a person whose enthusiasm for words outstrips his knowledge of them!”

Interestingly, Donald Trump not only exhibited the Dunning-Kruger Effect, he was also a classic logastellus. Remember his famous quote: “I know words. I have the best words.”? Yet, Trump consistently spoke — and often incoherently, mind you — using the vocabulary of an eight-year-old (third- to seventh-grade reading level), according to an analysis of his first 30,000 words in office. And his only linguistic contribution was the famous “covfefe” which was his mistyping of the word “coverage.” In their study of Trump’s speech, Linguistic Inquiries into Donald Trump’s Language, Kristina Bjorkenstam and Gintare Grigonyte [Department of Linguistics, Stockholm University], write: “A common observation, often remarked upon in both traditional and social media, is that Donald Trump repeats himself, and that his vocabulary is more limited and his grammar less complex than the language of other politicians. His casual speaking style in general and frequent use of repetitions in particular are commonly attributed to efforts to persuade by means of influencing the emotions of the audience and to distance himself from career politicians. Leith (2017) notes that “[s]imple (or absent) grammatical structures leave the audience with nothing so taxing as a train of thought: rather, a random collage of emotive terms, repeated for emphasis. You come away from a Trump speech with a feeling, not an argument.” [From Chapter 3: I Know Words, I Have the Best Words: Repetitions, Parallelism, and Matters of (in)Coherence.]

In the article “Donald Trump Talks Like a Third-Grader” for Politico [August 13, 2015], Jack Shafer wrote: “Donald Trump isn’t a simpleton, he just talks like one. If you were to market Donald Trump’s vocabulary as a toy, it would resemble a small box of Lincoln Logs. Trump resists multisyllabic words and complex, writerly sentence constructions when speaking extemporaneously in a debate, at a news conference or in an interview. He prefers to link short, blocky words into other short, blocky words to create short, blocky sentences that he then stacks into short, blocky paragraphs.” Shafer goes on to note Trump’s favorite words which he uses frequently: “Flattening the English language whenever he speaks without a script, Trump relies heavily on words such as ‘very’ and ‘great,’ and the pronouns ‘we’ and ‘I,’ which is his favorite word. As any news observer can observe, he lives to diminish his foes by calling them ‘losers,’ ‘total losers,’ ‘haters,’ ‘dumb,’ ‘idiots,’ ‘morons,’ ‘stupid,’ ‘dummy’ and ‘disgusting.'” Welcome back to the elementary school playground…

Speaking of pretenders, there is a wonderful word that is seldom used: sciolist, someone who pretends to be knowledgeable or learned. Sciolist is derived from the Late Latin sciolus (meaning “one who knows little”). A related term is sciolism, defined as the unfounded pretense to 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.

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: Isaac Asimov: There is a Cult of Ignorance in the United States
Will We Have Free and Fair Elections Again?
What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?
Plato’s Warning: If You Don’t Vote, You Will Be Governed by Idiots
Is the United States a Democracy or a Republic?

For further reading:
bloomsbury.com/us/linguistic-inquiries-into-donald-trumps-language-9781350115514/

politico.com/magazine/story/2015/08/donald-trump-talks-like-a-third-grader-121340/
digitalcommons.butler.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1504&context=wordways
abc15.com/news/national/president-trump-my-two-greatest-assets-have-been-mental-stability-and-being-like-really-smart-

 

Signs at Indie Bookstores: Paris, France

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsIf you happen to visit Paris, France, you might come across one of Europe’s most famous bookshops: Shakespeare and Company. The original Shakespeare and Company, located on the Left Bank, was founded by Sylvia Beach in 1919. Beach’s bookshop closed in 1941. The existing Shakespeare and Company, also on the Left Bank (adjacent to Place Saint-Michel), was founded in 1951 by George Whitman, an ex-serviceman. Whitman’s bookshop, however, was initially named “Le Mistral.” In 1964, on the 40th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth, Whitman changed the name to Shakespeare and Company as a tribute to Beach’s store (before she had died, Beach agreed to allow Whitman to use that name). The bookshop became one of the favorite hangouts of bohemian culture, including Beat Generation writers like William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg as well as other famous authors like Bertolt Brecht, James Baldwin, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Peter Matthiessen, and William Saroyan.

As you wander among the tightly-packed bookshelves in the store, that was once a 16th-century monastery, you will come across several signs, including on above the reading library: “Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise.” As you venture through the stacks you will come across a quote by American author Rebecca Solnit, a champion of women’s, human, and environmental rights. She famously coined the term “mansplaining” in her collection of essays titled Men Explain Things to Me, published in 2014. The quote that appears in the store is from the book Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities (2016): “Inside the word ’emergency’ is ’emerge’; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.”

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.

Fascinating Factoids that Fell Out of an Old Book

alex atkins bookshelf booksA common observation that you will find among book collectors is the eureka moment when something fascinating falls from a used book that was orphaned at a used book shop or library donation drop box. Quite often, booksellers glance at a book, price it, and shelve it for sale, unaware of the treasures that its former owner placed inside the book — perhaps a forgotten bookmark, a postcard, letter, or a clipped newspaper article. Depending on the age of the newspaper, specifically the type of ink and paper that was used at that time, the folded article can leave a ghostly imprint on the pages of the book, leaving behind a permanent watermark, as it were, proudly stating: “A cherished memento once lived here!”

Recently, I was reviewing a reference book that I had purchased at a library sale — I should really say, I rescued it, since it sat there dusty and forlorn at the end of a long row of tables. In any event, as I opened the book to a random chapter, out fell a neatly folded newspaper clipping. The book was titled Whose What? A Reference Book for All the Strange Expressions that Have Entered the American Language by Dorothy Blumberg. Although the book was published in 1969, the newspaper clipping was dated a few years later: March 6, 1972. Although the clipping was darkened considerably by age — the paper had turned from cream to brown — remarkably, it did not leave an imprint in the book’s pages. In my experience, most newspaper clippings relate directly to the book or its author; however, this article from the feature page of the Detroit Free Press contained a rather curious collection of fascinating factoids beneath the title “You Can Look It Up and Learn That…” with the subtitle “Things I Never Knew Until I Looked Them Up” by Sydney Harris. Since this was decades before the advent of the Internet, presumably curious fellow looked it up the old-fashioned way — by visiting a library and looking up various topics in actual books. Imagine that!

Even more fascinating — from a provenance point of view — is the book’s incredible journey. First, think about who was the original owner of this book? There was no name or bookplate; therefore, given the topic of the book and newspaper article, one could surmise that it was an educated person — curious, most likely with an interest in the English language and trivia. Second, consider that the book had traveled from Detroit to California, a distance of over 2,500 miles. Did it travel in a box, a suitcase, or a backpack? Finally, ponder that the book’s journey has taken a half century! And how the world has changed from 1969 to today! But I digress…

This serendipitous encounter with random facts — learning that goes beyond the scope of a specific book — is one of the wonderful byproducts of book collecting. Sadly, most books on bookcollecting don’t even address that incredible aspect. Nevertheless, without further ado, here are the fascinating facts that I learned when a newspaper clipping fell out of an old book:

Things I Never Knew Until I Looked Them Up

Baseball is an older sport than tennis; it goes back to at least 1840, whereas modern tennis began only 100 years ago, in 1872, when the first outdoor courts were built in England.

Florence Nightingale was the first woman ever to be named “Florence”; she was born in that city, and until her subsequent fame, the feminine name “Florence” was unknown in the English-speaking world.

Speaking of cities, both London and Paris were named by the Romans during the Caesarean period: the former was the Roman fort, Londinium, and the latter was a fishing village called Lutetia Parisiorum.

Sicilians wave “goodbye” with the same beckoning gesture that almost all other people employ to mean  “come here.”

The Oriental “rickshaw,” a mode of travel identified with the ancient East, was actually invented by an American missionary in Japan.

The military title, “Marshal,” which in many countries designates the officer of the highest rank, originally comes from the name of the lowly stable-boy, or keeper of the horses.

The custom of throwing rice at a wedding comes, oddly enough, from India.

The term “cowboy” did not originate in the West at all, but was a name adopted by a group of guerillas operating in New York State during the Revolutionary War. (It was then taken up by a gang of wild riders headed by one Ewen Cameron, who specialized in assaulting Mexicans soon after Texas became an independent state, in 1835, and only later came to mean the cow-punchers of the West.)

Speaking of the Revolutionary War, Paul Revere is a national hero only because of [Henry Wadsworth] Longfellow’s poem [“Paul Revere’s Ride” published in 1860], which celebrated the wrong man. Revere was captured by the British on the famous “midnight ride,” and only Samuel Prescott got through to Concord with the message. Revere’s military career was mediocre at best: once he was arrested and court-martialed for disobeying orders.

All the Old Testament was originally written like this: “Gd crtd th hvns nd th rth,” with consonants only, and it was not until a thousand years later that Hebrew scholars supplied vowel points which indicated the proper vocalization and followed the traditional pronunciation.

The Germans have never called themselves “Germans,” and the origin of the name is totally unknown.

The first U.S. flag, raised by George Washington, had no stars on it at all, but the British crosses of St. George and St. Andrew.

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

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

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Intriguing Connections: Elvis and the Gerber Baby

alex atkins bookshelf cultureWhen it comes to reading obituaries, people fall into two camps: those who believe they are morbid and those who believe they are fascinating, revealing facts lost to time or as fragments of recent history. Marilyn Johnson, author of The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries, shares this perspective: “The New York Times comes each morning in a blue plastic wrapper, and never fails to deliver news of the important dead. Every day is new; every day is fraught with significance. I open the not-yet-smudged pages of newsprint. Obituaries are history as it is happening… Whose time am I living in? Was he a success or a failure, lucky or doomed? I shake out the pages. Tell me the secret of a good life! Other people, it seems, also read the obits faithfully, snip and save them, stand in the back of the old theater, feeling that warm and special glow that comes from contemplating and appreciating [who] has left the building forever.”

Notice the phrase she just used: “who has left the building” a variation of the well-known idiom “Elvis has left the building.” Were it not for the obituary of country music promoter Horace Lee Logan, Jr. (1916-2002) on October 13, 2002, most people — especially the writers of English idiom and phrase reference books — would not have remembered or known who had originated the phrase “Elvis has left the building.” In this case, Logan’s obituary served a very important purpose in the realm of the English lexicon: it brought to the forefront a long forgotten fact: that on December 15, 1956 at the Hirsch Memorial Coliseum in Shreveport, Louisiana, Elvis Presley had performed for a very enthusiastic and adoring audience. Since Elvis had performed in the middle of the evening’s line-up, Logan had to calm down the audience so that the other performers could get on stage and perform. He had to announce that Elvis had left the coliseum so he announced, “All right, all right, Elvis has left the building. I’ve told you absolutely straight up to this point. You know that. He has left the building. He left the stage and went out the back with the policemen and he is now gone from the building.” That phrase became a catchphrase associated with Elvis which was repeated at the end of some of his shows, radio interviews, and captured on some of his albums. The catchphrase, included in most idiom reference books published after 2002, is used more generally to refer to any person who has either left a location or has passed away.

Let us turn the page to another obituary… A recent obituary on June 4, 2022 would not capture most people’s attention: it featured the name of a 95-year-old former teacher and writer that few would recognize: Ann Turner Cook. Although she lived in relative obscurity, she has one of the most recognized place on this planet seen and known by billions of people. If you saw the face you would recognize instantly. You see, Ann Turner Cook is the face of the iconic Gerber baby that appears on all baby food packaging. Her identity was a secret for more than a half century. Gerber finally revealed her identity at the drawing’s 50th anniversary in 1978 — a detail lost to time. At the time of her death, the staff at Gerber wrote the following tribute: “Gerber is deeply saddened by the passing of Ann Turner Cook, the original Gerber baby, whose face was sketched to become the iconic Gerber logo more than 90 years ago. Many years before becoming an extraordinary mother, teacher and writer, her smile and expressive curiosity captured hearts everywhere and will continue to live on as a symbol for all babies.”

It’s a remarkable story. When Cook was merely five months old, a neighbor, Dorothy Hope Smith, who was a commercial artist who specialized in children, drew a simple charcoal sketch of her face with an unfinished body. She submitted it to the Gerber Products Company, founded by Dorothy Gerber in Fremont, Michigan in 1927 (Gerber joined the Nestle family in 2007), that was running a contest to find the face for their baby food advertising campaign. The executives had pored over thousands of entries, some that were very detailed oil paintings; however, they were delighted with the rendering’s simplicity, innocence, and universality. Consequently, they they accepted exactly as Smith had rendered it. Cook explained in a 1992 interview, “I have to credit Dorothy with everything. I was really no cuter than any other baby, but she had wonderful artistic talent and was able to draw a very appealing likeness.” Indeed, the appealing wide-eyed, cherubic face with pursed lips was used for the next 90 years on billions of baby food products. In 1931, Gerber trademarked the iconic baby face. Naturally, since Gerber kept the baby’s identity a secret, there was much speculation in the press and the public about the model’s true identity, including Shirley Temple, Elizabeth Taylor, Brooke Shields, and even Humphrey Bogart. Sadly, Elvis never made that list. One family even sued the Gerber company, claiming that their baby was the one on the label; however, once Smith testified, the family lost the case. In 1951, Smith sought a settlement for her original drawing and received $5,000 from Gerber. Back then, that amount was “enough to make a down payment on a modest house and to buy a first car,” she said in an interview. (For comparison, note that the Pepsi logo cost $1 million in 2008; the BBC logo cost $1.8 million in 1997; and the BP logo cost $211 million in 2008.)

Cook married, had four children, moved to Orlando, Florida and earned a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in English. She taught English in junior high and high school. After she retired she began writing crime novels that she published independently.

Through most of her life, Cook’s secret was in plain sight and she took pride in being a global symbol for babies. In an interview with CBS in 2013 she noted “I can’t think of anything nicer than to be a symbol for babies. And that’s what I think I became.”

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

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

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For further reading: http://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/04/business/ann-turner-cook-gerber-baby-dead.html
http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-how-much-the-worlds-most-iconic-logos-cost-companies-2013-3#bp-211-million-13

July 4: The Day Three Presidents Died

alex atkins bookshelf triviaWhile July 4th is a day of celebration marking the day that the United States declared its independence from Great Britain, it is also a solemn day. In one of the most fascinating coincidences in U.S. history, three Presidents, who were  Founding Fathers, died on July 4th: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Monroe.

Jefferson, who served as the third President, died of illness on July 4, 1826 — the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence — at the age of 83 in Monticello, Virginia. He had been suffering from rheumatism and intestinal and urinary disorders. He was also enormously troubled that he was deeply in debt. His last words were “No, doctor, nothing more” as he refused medicine (laudanum) from his doctor.

Just five hours later, Adams, who served as the second President, died of illness at the age of 90 in Quincy, Massachusetts. At 90 years old, he was old, frail, and ill and suddenly collapsed in his reading chair. For the next few hours in was in and out of consciousness until he finally passed away. Unaware that Jefferson had died hours earlier, Adams’ last words were, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” President John Quincy Adams (John’s son), observed that the timing of the death of these two former presidents, who had become close friends over the years, was “visible and palpable remarks of divine favor.” American statesman and lawyer Daniel Webster’s eulogy for these two revered men underscored the role of divine intervention: “The concurrence of their death on the anniversary of Independence has naturally awakened stronger emotions. It cannot but seem striking and extraordinary, that these two should live to see the fiftieth year from the date of that act, that they should complete that year, and that then, on the day which had fast linked forever their own fame with their country’s glory, the heavens should open to receive them both at once. As their lives themselves were the gifts of Providence, who is not willing to recognize in their happy termination, as well as in their long continuance, proofs that our country and its benefactors are objects of His care?” (Incidentally, it was Webster’s son, Noah, who published the first American dictionary in 1806 and the comprehensive American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828.) The editors of the New-York American (1895-1937) write an equally eloquent eulogy of this coincidence: “By a coincidence marvellous and enviable, Thomas Jefferson, in like manner with his great compeer, John Adams, breathed his last on the 4th of July. Emphatically may we say, with a Boston paper, had the horses and the chariot of fire descended to take up the patriarchs, it might have been more wonderful, but not more glorious. We remember nothing in the annals of man so striking, so beautiful, as the death of these two ‘time-honoured’ patriots, on the jubilee of that freedom, which they devoted themselves and all that was dear to them, to proclaim and establish. It cannot all be chance.”

Monroe, who served as the fifth President, died of tuberculosis, five years later on July 4, 1831 at the age of 73 in New York City. The following day, this remarkable coincidence was called a “coincidence that has no parallel” by a reporter from the New York Evening Post, the newspaper founded by Alexander Hamilton; he wrote: “Three of the four presidents who have left the scene of their usefulness and glory expired on the anniversary of the national birthday, a day which of all others, had it been permitted them to choose [they] would probably had selected for the termination of their careers.”

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: Famous People Who Died on the Same Day
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For further reading: John Adams by David McCullough, Simon & Schuster (2001)
Marilyn Johnson: The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries (2006)
http://www.dartmouth.edu/~dwebster/speeches/adams-jefferson.html
constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/blog/three-presidents-die-on-july-4th-just-a-coincidence
http://www.bu.edu/historic/battin.htm

So Long as You Write What You Wish to Write, That is All That Matters

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.”

From the essay A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. The essay, published in 1929, is based on two lectures Woolf delivered at women’s colleges at the University of Cambridge a year earlier. The essay takes its title from the following sentence: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Woolf explores whether women, facing many social and economic challenges in a patriarchal society, are capable and free to produce great literature. During Woolf’s time, women were not encouraged to attend college and obtain a formal education. She cites Austen and Bronte who broke with societal norms: “Only Jane Austen did it and Emily Brontë. It is another feather, perhaps the finest, in their caps. They wrote as women write, not as men write. Of all the thousand women who wrote novels then, they alone entirely ignored the perpetual admonitions of the eternal pedagogue—write this, think that.”

In this passage, Woolf presents the chasm between how women are idealized in fiction written by men and how women are actually treated:

“Women have burnt like beacons in all the works of all the poets from the beginning of time. Indeed if woman had no existence save in the fiction written by men, one would imagine her a person of the utmost importance; very various; heroic and mean; splendid and sordid; beautiful and hideous in the extreme; as great as a man, some would say greater. But this is woman in fiction. In fact, as Professor Trevelyan points out, she was locked up, beaten and flung about the room. A very queer, composite being thus emerges. Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history. She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction; in fact she was the slave of any boy whose parents forced a ring upon her finger. Some of the most inspired words and profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read; scarcely spell; and was the property of her husband.”

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

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

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Where to Find the Meaning of Life
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There’s A Word for That: Agnotology

alex atkins bookshelf words

If you have been following any of the crises that United States faces — the claim that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen; the OxyContin epidemic; the denial of climate change — you have a first row seat in the classroom of agnotology. Agnotology is defined as the study of intentional, culturally-induced ignorance or doubt. The word is formed by the Greek word agnosis (meaning “not knowning” or “unknown”) and the word-forming element –ology (meaning “branch of knowledge or science”). Ignorance or doubt is often achieved by the publication of inaccurate of misleading scientific or medical information by corporations, political parties, government agencies, and advocacy organizations. In a sense, culturally-induced ignorance is a more global or systemic version of gaslighting, the psychological  technique (eg, lying, distracting, denying wrongdoing, shifting blame, discrediting, rewriting history, or minimizing feelings or thoughts), whereby an individual in an abusive relationship uses various tactics to manipulate his or her partner to believe a deliberately false narrative of reality causing them to question their sanity.

The term agnotology first appears in book The Cancer Wars: How Politics Shapes What We Know and Don’t Know About Cancer (1995) by Robert Proctor, a professor of the History of Science at Stanford University. He writes: “Historians and philosophers of science have tended to treat ignorance as an ever-expanding vacuum into which knowledge is sucked — or even, as Johannes Kepler once put it, as the mother who must die for science to be born. Ignorance, though, is more complex than this. It has a distinct and changing political geography that is often an excellent indicator of the politics of knowledge. We need a political agnotology to complement our political epistemologies.” In a later book, Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance (2012), Proctor explains that a academic colleague actually coined the term agnotology: “My hope for devising a new term was to suggest… the historicity and artifactuality of non-knowing and the non-known — and the potential fruitfulness of studying such things. In 1992 I posed this challenge to linguist Iain Boal, and it was he who came up with the term in the spring of that year.”

In The Cancer Wars, Proctor presents two clear examples of how corporations propagate doubt or ignorance: (1) the tobacco industry’s public relations campaign to convince consumers, despite overwhelming medical evidence, that tobacco was not addictive (2) the fossil fuel’s industry public relations campaign to convince Americans and politicians, despite scientific consensus, that climate change is a hoax. Quite often, ignorance is propagated with the illusion that there is a balanced debate. However, since the information presented has been carefully and deliberately manipulated, the competing views do not result in rational conclusions.

A textbook case of agnotology was recently highlighted in the gripping Hulu series Dopesick, based on book of the same title by Beth Macy. In the series, we witness how Purdue Pharma, which made an opioid called OxyContin, used manipulated clinical trials that it sponsored directly to show that it was not addictive, even though the executives of Purdue knew that it was highly addictive. This misleading medical research encouraged doctors to write more than 68.7 million prescriptions a year, creating an opioid epidemic that killed hundreds of thousands of people, destroyed families and communities, and cost the country trillions of dollars (that number includes costs of treatment, social services, and law enforcement.) Ultimately, Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to conspiracies to defraud the US and violate the anti-kickback statute. The Sackler family, owners of Purde Pharma, were ordered to pay $6 billion to resolve widespread litigation that they fueled the opioid epidemic, ushering in the bankruptcy and end of Purdue Pharma. Further, Johnson & Johnson and three of the largest US drug distributors were ordered to pay $26 billion for their alleged role in the opioid crisis.

In the fascinating essay for BBC Future, titled “The man who studies the spread of ignorance” (January 16, 2016) by Georgina Kenyon, Proctor discusses the modern era of ignorance: “We live in a world of radical ignorance, and the marvel is that any kind of truth cuts through the noise. Although for most things this is trivial – like, for example, the boiling point of mercury – but for bigger questions of political and philosophical import, the knowledge people have often comes from faith or tradition, or propaganda, more than anywhere else.” Kenyon also interviews another academic who is studying agnotology: David Dunning, then a professor of psychology at Cornell College. Dunning notes the internet is only exacerbating the modern era of ignorance, “While some smart people will profit from all the information now just a click away, many will be misled into a false sense of expertise. My worry is not that we are losing the ability to make up our own minds, but that it’s becoming too easy to do so. We should consult with others much more than we imagine. Other people may be imperfect as well, but often their opinions go a long way toward correcting our own imperfections, as our own imperfect expertise helps to correct their errors.” (Incidentally, Dunning defined the Dunning-Kruger effect in 1999. It is a cognitive bias where people with low ability or expertise tend to overestimate their knowledge or ability. Expressed another way, a person who in incompetent at something is unable to recognize their own incompetence. Donald Trump is often cited as the poster boy of the Dunning-Kruger effect.)

The concept of agnotology was foreshadowed four decades earlier by Isaac Asimov in his brilliant essay titled “A Cult of Ignorance” (Newsweek magazine, January 21, 1980). Asimov writes: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” The essay is a must-read if you are interested in the topic of agnotology (see the link below).

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.

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: Isaac Asimov: There is a Cult of Ignorance in the United States
Will We Have Free and Fair Elections Again?
What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?
Plato’s Warning: If You Don’t Vote, You Will Be Governed by Idiots
Is the United States a Democracy or a Republic?

For further reading:
bbc.com/future/article/20160105-the-man-who-studies-the-spread-of-ignorance
Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance by Robert Proctor
statnews.com/2019/12/03/oxycontin-history-told-through-purdue-pharma-documents/
medicalnewstoday.com/articles/gaslighting#gaslighting-examples
pbs.org/newshour/nation/after-years-of-pain-opioid-crisis-victims-confront-sackler-family-in-court
nytimes.com/2021/09/01/health/purdue-sacklers-opioids-settlement.html
justice.gov/opa/pr/opioid-manufacturer-purdue-pharma-pleads-guilty-fraud-and-kickback-conspiracies
reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/sacklers-will-pay-up-6-bln-resolve-purdue-opioid-lawsuits-mediator-2022-03-03/
nida.nih.gov/research-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates

 

The Beauty of Literature is that You Discover that You Belong

alex atkins bookshelf literature“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” 

From a letter written in 1938 by F. Scott Fitzgerald to his lover, Sheilah Graham. During the Great Depression, the popularity of his novels dramatically decreased. He needed to secure a steady income to pay for his wife’s (Zelda) psychiatric treatment for schizophrenia at an asylum, his estranged daughter’s (Scottie) college tuition (Vassar), and support his chronic drinking habit. Consequently, Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood in the mid 1930s to be a screenwriter for MGM. In 1936, Fitzgerald met Graham at a cocktail party held at the Garden of Allah, playground for the Hollywood elite (like Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe). For the next four years, Fitzgerald’s reputation continued to decline and his alcoholism got worse. He began work on his fifth novel, The Last Tycoon, where Graham served as his model for the character Kathleen. Graham tolerated Fitzgerald’s drunken binges and verbal abuse and encouraged him to embrace his talent and write. For her troubles, Fitzgerald provided Graham with a college education. Fitzgerald finally achieved sobriety in 1940, claiming that this time with Graham was one of the happiest times of their relationship; he died of a heart attack in December of that year. When he died, he was considered a failed alcoholic and his work was largely forgotten. Graham later wrote about her life and relationship with Fitzgerald in a book titled Beloved Infidel published in 1959. 

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

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

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Words from 2022 National Spelling Bee

alex atkins bookshelf wordsOn June 2, 2022, Harini Logan, a 14-year-old eighth-grader from San Antonio, Texas, won the 94th Scripps National Spelling Bee by correctly spelling the word “moorhen”(defined by Merriam-Webster as “the female of the red grouse.” Because there was a tie, the spelling organizers introduced a timed spell-off: whoever could spell the most words correctly in 90 seconds would win. Logan spelled 21 words correctly (moorhen was the last word before the timer went off) versus her opponent, Vikram Raju (12), who spelled 15 words. This was Logan’s fourth time competing in the spelling bee. For her spelling brilliance, Logan won a $50,000 in cash prize, the Scripps Cup trophy, and — of course — bragging rights to being the best speller in America — not to mention the ability to ignore annoying spellcheckers on her smartphone apps. Each year, the spelling bee begins with more than 11 million students (the cut-off is 8th grade) in local and regional spelling bees; however, only 229 contestants, ranging in age from 9 to 15 years old, reached the national level this year. Incidentally, the second place winner receives $30,000; the third-place winner receives $15,000.

A review of the words used in the 2022 Scripps National Spelling Bee shows that the judges don’t mess around when it comes to finding truly difficult and obscure words, venturing into the world of art, antiquity, medicine, zoology, and botany taken from the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary. In fact, most of them fall into the category of “I didn’t even know that there was a word for that!” A review of the winning words form the inaugural Spelling Bee in 1925 to now shows a steady evolution from simple words, like “albumen” or “fracas,” to amazingly difficult words like “feuilleton” and “scherenschnitte.” So why have the words become so difficult? Since ESPN started broadcasting the Spelling Bee in 1994, the competition has attracted more competitors, and more significantly, ones who possess truly remarkable spelling skills. As you can see from the list below, most of these words are ridiculously arcane. In order to spell a word correctly, contestants can ask clues about the word, such as what part of speech it is, language of origin, and alternate pronunciation.

Here is a list of some of the more difficult words of the 2022 Scripps National Spelling Bee, including their definitions:

bebung: a tremolo effect similar to a violin vibrato and produced on a clavichord by sustaining a varying pressure on the key

bourgade: a village of scattered dwellings, an unfortified town

chatoyance: the state of being chatoyant (having a changeable luster or color with an undulating narrow band of white light)

de riguerur: required by fashion or etiquette

escharotic: producing an eschar (a scab formed especially after a burn)

impayable: priceless, invaluable

ineradicable: unable to be removed or destroyed

Micawber: a person who lives in optimistic expectation of better fortune (coined by Charles Dickens in his novel David Copperfield)

noctivagant: going about in the night; night-wandering

obstropolous: a dialectical variant of obstreperous (being unruly or resistant to control)

Pachytylus: a genus of Acrididae that includes several destructive Old World migratory locusts

palapala: writing (Hawaiian word)

phenocoll: a crystalline base used in the form of a salt (as the hydrochloride) as an antipyretic and analgesic

Powys: a Welsh geographic name

pullulation: to germinate or sprout; to breed; to swarm

Senijextee: a Salishan people of the Columbian River Valley in Washington and British Columbia

sirtaki: a Greek circle dance similar to a hora

suffrutescent: a plant with a base that is somewhat woody and does not die down each year

tektite: a glassy body of probably meteoritic origin and of rounded but indefinite shape

wirrah: an Australian spotted food fish

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: Why is it Called a Spelling Bee?
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For further reading: http://www.merriam-webster.com
usatoday.com/story/sports/2022/06/02/harini-logan-wins-2022-scripps-national-spelling-bee/7492540001/

/www.cbsnews.com/news/spelling-bee-harini-logan-wins-2022-scripps-national/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2022/06/02/national-spelling-bee-2022-finals-words/

The Enigma of the Letter E

alex atkins bookshelf wordsEnglish spelling is a curious thing; in the following short poem, The Enigma of E, we follow the letter “e” as it wanders enigmatically from the beginning of words to the end of words to evoke such vastly different meanings. Enjoy the journey…

The beginning of eternity,
The end of time and space,
The beginning of every end,
The end of very place.

I stumbled across this delightful curiosity when I visited an antiquarian bookstore and pulled an old dusty book from a forlorn stack of books, hidden from view by another stack of books. Like an old pair of leather shoes, the book was tattered and worn, with a fragile spine that barely held onto to its musty-smelling yellowed brittle pages. The title immediately captured my interest — From Gleanings for the Curious From the Harvest-field of Literature by Charles Bombaugh. The book was published in 1890 by J. B. Lippincott Company that was founded by Joshua Ballinger Lippincott (1813-1886) to initially publish Bibles and books of prayers. Over time, the Philadelphia-based company expanded its catalog to include biography, fiction, poetry, history, and reference books like dictionaries, almanacs, school textbooks, and textbooks on law, medicine, and nursing. The publisher was extremely successful, becoming one of the largest publishers by the end of the 19th century. Following the turn of the century, Lippincott began publishing textbooks and reference books for elementary and high schools. The company continued to grow throughout the decades and was purchased by Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. in 1978. The headquarters, a stately Italianate-style brick building, can still be seen today at 227 South 6th Street, overlooking Washington Square.

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

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

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A Deceased Father Speaks to His Son Through a Special Book

alex atkins bookshelf booksHe couldn’t quite reach it at first — it was almost beyond the reach of his young hands. It didn’t help that it was tucked snugly between several other books — as if they were soldiers protecting one of their ranks. But, at last, the book slid forward. The boy sat down at the base of the towering bookcase and opened the book. A slip of paper, neatly folded, suddenly fell to the floor. His father, who had passed away from cancer years ago, had the habit of placing inside his books related essays and reviews clipped from magazines or printed from the internet. He viewed books not just as static documents to be read but also as  portable, dynamic filing systems — like a commonplace book, a place to collect related ideas and inspirations for new intellectual reflections and explorations. Perhaps this was one of those intriguing essays. He carefully unfolded the paper and immediately recognized his father’s neat handwriting; he could clearly hear his father’s voice as he began to read:

My dear boy,
If you are reading this letter it is because you have reached a point in your personal development that this book’s title finally interested you. The book you hold in your hand is one of the great treasures of my life; and just like you, I discovered it rather serendipitously. And that is a part of the intrinsic value of this wonderful book: you must discover it on your own, in your own time. During my lifetime I could not have given it to you because it would have robbed you of this precious, propitious moment — a bibliophilic eureka moment, if you will — one that you will cherish for the rest of your life.

When I was about your age, I recall reading Stephen Crane’s poem, “A Man Said to the Universe.” Despite the poem’s brevity, its meaning is far-reaching and profound: “A man said the universe: / “Sir, I exist!” / “However,” replied the universe, / “The fact has not created in me / A sense of obligation.” I never forgot that poem. Indeed, the world can be indifferent and unfair. Sadly, over my lifetime, I have witnessed a world that has increasingly moved beyond indifference to being intolerant, belligerent, and cruel. Moreover, it troubles me greatly that the nation is so bitterly divided and that the search for Truth has been so maligned — and in many cases, abandoned. There will be times — because you are so perceptive, so sensitive, so reflective — that you will feel that oppressive force on your soul, your thoughts, and being. And then there are times when the tribulations of life wash upon your shores, one after the other, sometimes pushing you to the breaking point. All of this can cause you to doubt your goodness, your purpose, and you can lose sight of what is critical to your life: your values, your dreams, and the unwavering love of your parents that have sustained you since that memorable day you were born. The book you hold in your hands was my salvation during the darkest days of my life when those inevitable sea of troubles caused me to stumble, caused me to stop believing in myself, and diminished my hope for a better world. The reassuring, transformative words in the book’s pages, written by another human being — a complete stranger to me, but a fellow traveler, a kindred soul — brought me back to my self and gently nudged me back onto the journey of my deliberate choices to lead a fulfilling and meaningful life of contribution and purpose.

This particular book and all the books in my library, thoughtfully collected during my lifetime, are yours; however, they are imbued with special meaning. To paraphrase St. Exupery’s wise Little Prince: “All men have books, but they are not the same things for different people… But all these books are silent. You — you alone — will have the books as no else has them — in one of the books I shall be living.” When you read this book,I hope you hear my voice and know that I have never left you. I am right here, living among its pages. May this book provide you with guidance and solace all the days of your life; and know, my dear son, that my love for you is eternal.

Love, Dad

The boy held the note tenderly and sat silently for what seemed an eternity, not wanting the moment to pass, pondering its meaning. With one hand he wiped away his tearstained cheeks, then gently put the note down. He picked up the book and opened it carefully, as if it were a rare museum relic; he began to read. Suddenly, he felt he was no longer alone. The boy could hear his father’s voice as he read each sentence. In that moment, the boy felt the book magically transform in his soft, gentle hands — it was now truly his and it was alive with the spirit of his beloved father.

Excerpt from the forthcoming book Stories from the Bookshelves by Alexander Atkins.

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: Famous Misquotations: The Two Most Important Days in Your Life
The Wisdom of a Grandmother
Read related posts: Letters to a Young Poet
The Wisdom of Pi Patel
The Wisdom of Hindsight

There’s A Word for That: Engastrimyth

alex atkins bookshelf wordsOne of the most famous comedians from the 1930s to the late 1950s was a real dummy by the name of Charlie McCarthy. And when I say dummy, I don’t mean he was dumb — he was literally a dummy, like Pinocchio — made of wood. He was a mischievous, wise-cracking boy, dressed in his iconic tuxedo, top hat, and monocle. He was far more famous than his partner, Edgar Bergen who was engastriymyth, or in more common terminology, a ventriloquist — an entertainer who projects his or her voice, without moving the lips, so that it appears that the dummy is speaking. Engastrimyth, pronounced “en GAS tre mith,” is derived from the Greek words en (meaning “in”), gaster (meaning “belly”) and muthos (meaning “speech”). So literally, it means speech coming from the belly. This is the exact same meaning as ventriloquist which comes from the Latin words venter (meaning “belly”) and loqui (meaning “speak”). 

For the Greeks, engastrimyths did not refer to an entertainer with a dummy on his or her lap, but rather the term referred to soothsayers and prophets (like the Oracle of Delphi) who seemed to speak without appearing to speak (eg, projecting the voice of the gods or someone who had died long ago).

Bergen and Charlie made their final appearance in The Muppet Movie, released in 1979. Bergen died soon after filming was completed; Charlie’s final resting place is the Smithsonian Institution, located in Washington, D.C.

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

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The Most Important Thing on a Tombstone is the Dash

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomLinda Ellis (72) started writing as a child. She left the corporate world after a long career to become a full-time poet. Although she was not well-known, in 1994, the host of a syndicated radio show read one of her early poems titled “The Dash.” The inspirational poem truly resonated with listeners and became an instant classic, shared around the world. The poem inspired several books, including The Dash: Making a Difference with Your Life (2017),” which has sold over a million copies, and Live Your Dash: Make Every Moment Matter (2014). The message of the poem is that what matters most in life is not how long you have lived (on a tombstone that is represented by the date of birth and date of death), but rather how you spent your life (represented by the dash, or hyphen, between the dates). Expressed another way: the most important thing on your tombstone is the dash, it’s what you did while you were here. In short, the poem asks us: did you make every moment and relationship count? 

The Dash by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
From the beginning…to the end

He noted that first came the date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years

For that dash represents all the time
That they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
Know what that little line is worth

For it matters not, how much we own,
The cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
That can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile,
Remembering this special dash
Might only last a little while

So, when your eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash…
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent YOUR dash?

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: Famous Misquotations: The Two Most Important Days in Your Life
The Wisdom of a Grandmother
Read related posts: Letters to a Young Poet
The Wisdom of Pi Patel
The Wisdom of Hindsight

For further reading: hellopoetry.com/poem/1184764/the-dash-poem-by-linda-ellis/
lifeism.co/the-dash-poem-by-linda-ellis

After the Suffering, You Get to Keep the Lessons and the Pain Goes Away

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“I do have a love-hate relationship with this place [rainforest of Vancouver Island]. You get up in the morning and you confront the realities of your situation. Some days it’s great, some days it’s horrible. But suffering has value. We avoid it at all costs. We would never want to go back and repeat it, but it has value. It’s a part of life and nobody gets through life without suffering, nobody. [The] question is — what do you allow it to do in you? You can allow that suffering to make you bitter, angry, just a wretched person — you know? [Or] you can allow that suffering to eat away at your soul, turn it on itself, and just chew you apart. Or you can look for the deeper meaning it. My philosophy on suffering is that God is trying to teach me something and I know that in the end, I get to keep those lessons and the pain goes away.”

Post-apocalyptic fiction writer David McIntyre (50) reflecting on his experience surviving in the harsh, formidable remote wilderness of Vancouver Island, Canada — deep in black bear, cougar, and wolf territory — for 66 days without any food, water, shelter and without any contact with the outside world. McIntyre won the second season of Alone (History Channel, 2016) by outlasting nine other isolated survivalists who also tested their survival skills by living entirely off the land. The winner gets $500,000 and bragging rights.

The show Alone is billed as “the ultimate test of human will;” however, that is only part of the overall picture: it is also the ultimate test of courage, strength, sustainability, and adaptability. While half of the participants dropped off before day 30 due to a variety of factors, including fear, debilitating hunger, injury, hypothermia, overwhelming longing for companionship and home, and close encounters with deadly predators; the other half endured the torment of profound isolation — a brutal, unrelenting mixture of mental torment and loneliness. With each passing day, each participant moved closer to their own psychological breaking point. Only McIntyre persevered, escaping mental anguish, battling starvation and intense loneliness, by having a positive mental attitude, a healthy self-identity, and focusing on the present: “[I] stressed the importance of now. What you do with your now is the only time you get to do anything. What can you do right now to make tomorrow easier.”

The experience emphasizes that survival skills (ingenuity and resourcefulness), good health, and physical strength and endurance are not enough to survive alone in the wilderness. The greatest challenge for all participants, especially those that break the 30-day barrier, is the powerful effects of extended isolation, which is manifested in tortuous thinking and loneliness. Participants describe tortuous thinking as being tormented by your personal demons — revisiting over and over again every mistake and regret in your life; “every skeleton in your closet comes out and you can’t get away from them” — to paraphrase an old adage “The devil finds work for idle minds.” The loneliness is experienced as profound longing for companionship, for personal connection. Research has shown that protacted isolation and loneliness can negatively impact a person physical, mental, and cognitive health. Adverse health consequences include impaired cognitive function and decision-making, depression, increased anxiety, disrupted sleep, poor cardiovascular function, lower body strength, impaired immunity — and ultimately, increasing the risk of early death.

After their wilderness experience, all participants gain a new-found appreciation of their loved ones. McIntyre adds, “How many dads would run into a burning building for their children, but they don’t put down the [TV] remote. Use this time to take inventory on and invest in the people and relationships that truly matter to you and back away from the ones that are toxic. Learn the lessons that [being alone in the wilderness] has forced upon us.”

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: Famous Misquotations: To Live is to Suffer, to Survive is to Find Meaning in Suffering
Quotations Mistakenly Attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Meaning of Life by Peter Gay
The Meaning of Life by Joseph Campbell
The Meaning of Life by Mortimer Adler
The Meaning of Life by Norman Vincent Peale

Where to Find the Meaning of Life
Life’s Most Important Questions

For further reading: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/05/ce-corner-isolation
http://www.history.com/shows/alone
http://www.wzzm13.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/david-mcintyre-alone-covid-survival-skills-tips/69-9ded7ccd-caf0-407a-b19c-d1fe1d131949

Intriguing Connections: John Steinbeck, Route 66, and Sirup

alex atkins bookshelf literatureIn October 1929, the collapse of the Stock Market ushered in the Great Depression. Its impact on the country was devastating: America’s GDP declined by 30%, unemployment reached more than 20% (about 15 million workers) leading to increased rates of poverty and homelessness, and almost 50% of banks failed. Even those who kept their jobs, lost about a third of their income. Adding to the crippling economic depression was a severe drought that brought destructive dust storms in the prairies of the country (an event known as “the Dust Bowl”), destroying over 100 million of acres of farmland. Unable to work the land, farmers lost their farmland and their homes. More than 200,000 families from the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas, and adjacent areas in Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico, piled their families and few belongings into cars and made the desperate exodus to California, hoping to find work and a better life.

A few years after the Great Depression ended, John Steinbeck published his most famous novel, The Grapes of Wrath (1939). The realist novel, that went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, chronicled the plight of the migrant families fleeing the Dust Bowl seeking employment in California. Most of the migrants traveled on Route 66, which Steinbeck nicknamed the “Mother Road” in the novel. However, Route 66 is not just a setting in The Grapes of Wrath, it also serves as a profound symbol for escape and loss. In chapter 12, he describes the migrants’ journey that was filled with hardship and challenges:

“Highway 66 is the main migrant road. 66 — the long concrete path across the country, waving gently up and down on the map, from the Mississippi to Bakersfield — over the red lands and the gray lands, twisting up into the mountains, crossing the Divide and down into the bright and terrible desert, and across the desert to the mountains again, and into the rich California valleys.

66 is the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership, from the desert’s slow northward invasion, from the twisting winds that howl up out of Texas, from the floods that bring no richness to the land and steal what little richness is there. From all of these the people are in flight, and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads. 66 is the mother road, the road of flight.

…And 66 goes on over the terrible desert, where the distance shimmers and the black center mountains hang unbearably in the distance. At last there’s Barstow, and more desert until at last the mountains rise up again, the good mountains, and 66 winds through them. Then suddenly a pass, and below the beautiful valley, below orchards and vineyards and little houses, and in the distance a city. And, oh, my God, it’s over.

The people in flight streamed out on 66, sometimes a single car, sometimes a little caravan. All day they rolled slowly along the road, and at night they stopped near water. In the day ancient leaky radiators sent up columns of steam, loose connecting rods hammered and pounded. And the men driving the trucks and the overloaded cars listened apprehensively. How far between towns? It is a terror between towns. If something breaks — well, if something breaks we camp right here while Jim walks to town and gets a part and walks back and — how much food we got?”

Route 66, Steinbeck’s “Mother Road,” begins in Chicago, Illinois and cuts across seven states to reach Santa Monica, California, covering more than 2,448 miles. Route 66 (originally named Route 60) was the brainchild of two midwest businessmen: Cyrus Avery (known as the “Father of Route 66”) from Tulsa, Oklahoma and John Thomas Woodruff from Springfield, Missouri. Together, they lobbied the Associated Highways Association of America to build a commercial highway from Chicago to Los Angeles to link the small towns (supporting local stores and farms) of the midwest with the major markets on either end. The idea was that thousands of travelers would support all the local stores (and the farms that supplied these stores) that lined the Main Street of each small town; thus the highway was also known as the “Main Street of America.” Route 66 was officially started in 1926 upgrading dirt and gravel roads as well as building new connecting roadways. Once the highway was completed, it had a huge economic impact on all the towns — small and large — that were located along or near its path.

One of those small towns where Route 66 passes nearby is Funk’s Grove, located in central Illinois, which is named after its earliest settlers, Isaac and Absalom Funk, who arrived in the state in 1824. One of the most famous small businesses in town is Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup which has been producing Maple Sirup from the local sugar maple trees since 1891. I know what you’re thinking: sirup is a typo — it should be spelled “syrup.” There are actually two types of syrup with different spellings. If you visit the quaint Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup store you will see a handwritten sign that provides the following explanation:

WHY DO WE SPELL SIRUP WITH AN “I”?
Historically, and according to [Noah] Webster, “sirup” was the preferred spelling when referring to the product made by boiling sap. “Syrup” with a “y”, however, was defined as the end product of adding sugar to fruit juice. Though the “i” spelling is no longer commonly used, the United States Department of Agriculture and Canada also still use it when referring to pure maple sirup. Hazel Funk Holmes, whose trust continues to preserve and protect this timber for maple sirup production, insisted on the “i” spelling during her lifetime. It’s another tradition that will continue at Funk’s Grove.

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.