Need help with 528 down

This mammoth crossword that ran in Virginia’s Daily Press captured the people and events that made news in 2012; what will make the news next year is anyone who can finish it. In addition to its size (820 across and 815 down), the print is so tiny that filling in any of those boxes is an achievement. I have a massive two lines completed but am confident I can knock this out in a couple of months. With a magnifying glass. And a jumbo eraser. And Google.

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Spine poetry

How great is this idea? Select a few books from your shelf  and shuffle them up to “write” a poem. The idea, courtesy of artist Nina Kathadourian’s Sorted Books project I read about on Brain Pickings, is called spine poetry. Brilliant, right? Peruse your bookshelf—or as this artist does: the public library, private libraries, anywhere that houses books—culling those with interesting titles to arrange a poem.

Such an interesting way to discover lines of poetry that might never be discovered otherwise, while possibly even motivating you to dust the bookshelf; it’s also time well spent with your books and even better: a reason to acquire more books.

Here are some lines I discovered:

Love is walking hand in hand,

devotion.

Enduring love:

the mother garden.

Man and camel

walking into the night;

don’t tell me the truth about love.

Happiness is a warm puppy,

driving over lemons,

the northern lights,

burnt bread and chutney,

the journey home.

Words you must use

My co-worker and I are obsessed with unusual words, so when she came across 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words From Around the World, we set about using them immediately.

How many times on the subway or sidewalk have you experienced that fleeting moment with someone but not known that it was mamihlapinatapei?

I loved learning the Inuit word “iktsuarpok,” which means to go outside to check if anyone is coming. The image of a lone figure in the snow checking the vast tundra for a visitor is an unforgettable one. But then, it kind of makes sense, because how does one knock on an igloo?

In hunting around the website, twitter-light descending, I came across another list, 20 Obsolete English Words that Should Make a Comeback, equally fabulous, and thought I’d better stop looking before I accumulate more words than I can carry.

Ya’aburnee.

Icebox everything

It’s my belief that adding the word “icebox” to any menu item makes it sound better. Take, for instance, the chocolate icebox cake they serve at Tini in Providence. Who wants chocolate cake when you can have chocolate ice box cake? Is it the same thing? Well, yes, it probably is. But does it seem like the chocolate is richer, the cake colder, and the all-around experience more sensual? Yes, yes, and yes. The word icebox conjures up your grandparents’ ice chest and nostalgia for a simpler time. The word “fridge” just doesn’t compare. Who wants a fridge cake?

Check out this icebox strawberry pie as evidence of the word’s allure. Sooo different than your run-of-the-mill strawberry pie, right?

I think dairy companies should get on board with this. Cold milk is already tempting, but icebox milk? Damn, where’s the chocolate? The description might also help with foods struggling for love: icebox celery, icebox Brussel sprouts, icebox kale . . .

Photo by Wendi Dunlap on Flickr

Weltanschauung

A Word a Day continues to deliver odd little treasures to my mailbox each day, or in this case, ridiculously long German words that barely fit in my mailbox. Weltanschauung is a noun that means world view; philosophy of life; a framework through which to interpret the world. I think everyone should have one.

Here’s an excellent example of one and its usage: “Gwyneth Paltrow summed up her weltanschauung thus: ‘My life is good because I am not passive about it.'” –Richard Dorment; Gwyneth Paltrow Feels Good — And So Can You; Esquire (New York); Sep 16, 2009.

So, I think we need to get us some weltanschauungs. I don’t know if I have one except the simple Do what makes you happy. I’m jealous of Paltrow’s weltanschauung;  I want it to be my own, except that while my life is good, I may actually be more passive about it than she is; I’m not eating my way through Spain with Mario Batali and a film crew, starring in movies, and living with a rock musician. But when I think about it, I wouldn’t really want to be traveling with Mario, having a camera in my face, or dating a band member (what do you mean, unlikely?). I’d rather be traveling anonymously with my boyfriend or cooking at home. Still, I feel bad that Gwyneth Paltrow has the perfect weltanschauung and I’ve got nothing.

What’s yours?

Beach musings

Is there anything more wonderful than cresting the steps to the beach when the horizon opens up and you feel all small? Why, yes. It’s amazing enough that you’re at sparkly Crane Beach, all sticky from the car and ready to trudge along the boardwalk to cool off down by the water, when you discover this ocean chalkboard. A poem unravels at your feet:

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The letters erode along with the beach, and I like the faint whisper of words clinging to the worn wood.

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My vote for Word of the Year

Every year, the New Oxford American Dictionary chooses a Word of the Year—a newly coined or ubiquitous word that reflects the spirit of the year or is used so much that it becomes uber-annoying. Well, that’s my take on it, anyway. Hypermiling is this year’s word, which describes drivers’ extreme efforts to conserve gasoline such as trailing a semi at high speeds or gasp, observing the speed limit. 

I was so convinced that this year’s word would be staycation, an inexpensive vacation spent at home with, I don’t know, a beach umbrella in the living room. The word was inescapable this summer as people compared their stupid staycations. The word, did, however, make the shortlist, so that’s something. But it’s still my word of the year.

Merriam-Webster chose bailout as its word of ’08, a word that was on the lips of every newscaster every. Other. Second. But it’s kind of anti-climactic and frankly, depressing. And while maverick was in the top 10, mavericky would have been a better choice.

Webster’s New World Dictionary went with overshare this year, which is apt given the proliferation of bloggers, and my experience with people who divulge too much. They’re everywhere, no?

An ’07 top vote getter was verbing Facebook, and ’06 saw truthiness all over the place. One that caught my eye this year though, was topless meeting, which does not mean what you think it means; apparently, it’s a meeting sans laptops, Blackberries, and cell phones. Huh. Sooo not as interesting as it might have been.

Book loathing

The Sunday Times published an article last month asking critics and writers to list the books they couldn’t stand to re-read or even finish. It was refreshing to hear that even book critics struggle through reads they find unbearable and that they even—gasp—give up on a book now and then. Even classics. Especially classics.

I used to feel such guilt over abandoning a book, like it was my fault I couldn’t appreciate it. Then, a few years ago, I revised my thinking; my free time is precious. Why would I feel the need to endure a mediocre novel when another book would satisfy, enlighten, or if I were really lucky, transform me? So, if after a chapter or two I found myself already losing track of characters or skimming over bland descriptions and cliches, I was outta there. It wasn’t my fault, I realized; it was the writer’s.

Of course, there are plenty of books I’ve quit that are well written. My fault, of course. Salman Rushdie and Michael Chabon are two authors whose obscure references make Dennis Miller sound like a toddler and make me feel inadequate. Sure, I could read them by marking up the text with marginalia and sleeping with a dictionary, but that’s more critical reading skills than I want to bring to my pleasure reading. Don’t get me wrong, I like learning new words, especially when reading British texts that offer an assortment of charming words, and I keep a little notebook of words to look up by my bed. Yeah, I’m nerdy like that. So, I like a challenge. I just prefer stories where I don’t have to look up say, every third word. 

I quit Orhan Pamuk’s Snow, but I was clearly in the minority. J. M Coetzee’s Disgrace was brilliant but after suffering through a couple of his other books that also depress the soul, I’ve had to abandon him for my mental health. The Inheritance of Loss didn’t hook me, and please don’t ever, ever mention The DaVinci Code in my presence. 

What book made you want to hurl it down a canyon? 

100 commonly mispronounced words

OK, people. Dust off the fluorescent peep dust. We’re going to delve into the world of correct pronunciations today and we’re all gonna learn a little something. In fact, let’s start with “pronunciation,” which is not spelled or pronounced like “pronounce” though you think it would be. Sound it out. Ah, English; you’re crazy.

I was looking up the word “tenterhooks” the other day (to be on tenterhooks is  to be in a state of anxiety) when I stumbled on this great site that covers a whole host of words commonly mispronounced words, which for a word person means hours of diversion. Let me admit up front that I’m also an offender. I’ve been saying jewelry wrong for years, switching the “e’s” around so it sounds like “jewlery.” And I’ve always thought it was “chomping at the bit” when you’re excited about something (or a horse), but it’s really “champing at the bit.” Say that though, and people think you can’t speak properly.

Here’s a handy tip for coffee lovers from the list: it’s “espresso” not “expresso,” so don’t embarrass yourself at Starbucks, because the people in line and the barista are already looking for a reason to laugh at you.

Now, even though the polar ice caps are melting faster than a chocolate bunnies at the beach, it doesn’t mean we can go around mispronouncing Arctic and Antarctica by dropping those “c’s.” Antarctica is suffering enough indignities without us mangling the name.

Here’s one we’re all probably guilty of: despite that tricky “t,” the word “often” is pronounced “ofen” even if it sounds all Old Englishy.

Finally, pronouncing “etc.” as “excetera” is one of my pet peeves so you should seriously snap to attention. The abbreviation is short for “et cetera,” so pronounce it that way; then you can go all Latin on other people who pronounce it incorrectly.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Whoa.

The French film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a killer. It’s based on a true story and is one of those films you know you should see because you’ll be better for it, but that you know will be two hours of hell. It’s told from the perspective of a man paralyzed by a stroke and trapped in a rare “locked-in” condition; he can see out of one eye and can hear, but communication is frustrating and limited. Yet, he manages to (stop reading if you don’t want to know) speak through a system of blinking developed by his speech therapist that is almost as frustrating to watch. OK, there’s no comparison. This guy had it worse, but the film does such an amazing job of putting you in his body that you have a realistic glimmer of his struggle. And a glimmer is all you need to know that if faced with the same situation, you’d probably roll over and die.

Unbelievably, the man painstakingly blinks out a book about his life, managing to express that while he is trapped in his body, his mind is free. This accomplishment makes anyone else’s attempt at writing evermore seem frivolous and meaningless.

I left the theater appreciating the precision of words and language like never before but at the same time wanting to talk non-stop, to overwrite, to waste words— because I could.

Kerfuffle

“Kerfuffle” is a word that my co-worker reintroduced me to recently, and we feel strongly about raising its profile. “Kerfuffle” means a commotion or disturbance and is chiefly British (those Brits get all the cool words). In order to restore “kerfuffle” to its greatness, we must all pledge to use it liberally. The Super Bowl and the upcoming primaries offer ample opportunity. In Boston, the confluence of these two events could result in a Patriots victory parade falling on Super Tuesday, the perfect storm for a kerfuffle.

Be warned, though, lest an extra “l” find its way into the word if, like me, you are tempted to spell it “kerfluffle.” Any word containing a derivative of “fluffy” is automatically cuter…but in this case, is incorrect.