Steeplechase.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

While watching the steeplechase race at the Olympics today, my brother-in-law commented that steeplechase was a funny name for a foot race: “Steeples can’t run… so why would anyone even bother to chase one?”

The word-nerdy part of my brain started to itch… and there’s only one thing to do when that happens. I looked it up.

I knew the foot race was named after a hunt or horse race of some kind that I had read about in Dickens or Austen or Trollope, but what was the origin of the word?

In late 1700s, steeplechase was the name given to a cross-country horse race in which the church steeple, visible across the landscape, was the finishing point. This race was originally known as a steeplehunt.

Steeplechase is a compound word, made from steeple, a tall, usually pointed part of the roof of a church, and  chase, as in a pursuit,  or a fast ride or run.

While the foot race for people is not a cross-country run, it does involve both long distance and obstacles: it’s a 3000 meter run with hurdles and a water pit.

Sources:
Etymonline
Macquarie Dictionary

Steeplechase.
#OlympicGames #words #steeple

Churlish.

Yesterday I experienced some churlish behaviour in two different contexts of my daily life.

As a high-school teacher, that is to be expected. Thankfully, it occurs in only a very small minority of the young people I work with on a daily basis, most of whom are excellent individuals.

In other areas of life, though, it can still take me by surprise because I tend to keep those with churlish tendencies  safely outside my personal boundaries,  from whence I can usually dismiss unpleasant behaviour with relative ease. In fact, I have come to expect little else from some quarters.

Churlish may be a somewhat old-fashioned word, but it is a very satisfying one because it is at the same time descriptive and highly expressive, able to deliver an eloquently judgemental tone that slightly soothes one’s wounded sensitivities as it is spoken.

Churlish dates back to the late Old English word cierlisc  which related to churls:  the lowest rank of free men in Anglo-Saxon England, and later the agricultural serfs of medieval England. They were the rustic peasants, looked down upon by those who were better off and better educated because they had neither manners nor money.

The Old English word ceorl has cognates, or close relatives, in the Middle Low German word kerle and the later German word kerl  which meant man or husband, the old Dutch word kerel  which referred to a low-ranked freeman, and the Old Norse word karl which meant old man, or just man in general. This suggests a common origin, and confirms that it is a very old word indeed.

By the late 14th century, churlish had come to mean deliberately rude or bad-tempered , a meaning which has persisted to the present day. There are other words one can use instead: these days, many of them are still considered inappropriate for polite conversation or formal writing, but one might justly call a churlish person rude, unmannered, arrogant, or temperamental. Churlish behaviour might be described as a tantrum, a fit of pique, or a hissy-fit.

The behaviour I witnessed yesterday fits all those descriptions. It made a highly traumatic day even harder to deal with, and left me feeling miserable and considerably more hurt than I had been earlier. I can only suppose that was their intention, and if they were ever to read this — which is unlikely, given how they both appear to feel about me — that may give them some satisfaction. I will probably never know, and that’s quite okay.

In the end, I don’t care for their attitude or their behaviour. If they want to be churlish, they can do it without me.

I’ll be interested when they want to communicate like a grownup.

Note: This is not a passive-aggressive post. As previously observed, those responsible are unlikely to read it.

Foreboding.

Photo: Marcus Murphy via Pexels.com

Foreboding is a sense of apprehension or dread about what is to come, or a feeling or belief that something bad is going to happen.

Foreboding is a very old word that came into English from the Old English word forebodung, which meant prophecy. By the late 1300s, foreboding had come to mean an omen, portent or sign that something bad that was going to happen.

The development of foreboding in an audience or reader increases the tension and anticipation in a reader or audience member, keeping them involved in the development of a story and the fate of the characters. It is often achieved through the effective use of other techniques, such as imagery, dramatic irony and plot devices.

Books, movies, TV shows, plays and even video games are full of examples of effective use of foreboding. It is widely used because it works, and audiences generally love it. That spark of fear, or the feeling of dread in the pit of one’s stomach, is exciting and engaging.

Think of that iconic music in Jaws that indicates the shark is approaching. Or in any murder mystery, where the music changes from light to menacing, or the lighting changes from bright to dark: it is no accident that hose things often happen at the same time.

Think of the stormy weather outside and the dim lighting inside the houses in Wuthering Heights that represent the violence and vehemence of emotions in Catherine, Hindley and Heathcliff.

Think of the imagery of dark magic, ghosts, storms, and of blood that cannot be washed from the hands of the guilty in Macbeth.

Think of the chains of Jacob Marley, and the cold darkness of Scrooge’s house in the opening scenes of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

These are all iconic scenes in which foreboding is used to darken the mood and build tension and suspense in the audience.

Sources: Etymonline

What is Female Agency in Literature?

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

When discussing literature or film texts, female agency is the ability of the female characters to take action and make their own decisions that affect their lives and the outcomes in the text. It is the condition of being active and exerting power or influence for oneself.

Agency came into English from Medieval Latin abstract noun agentia in the mid-1600s, and by the 1670s had developed in meaning from ‘active operation’ to ‘a mode of exerting power or producing effect’. Thus, it had a clear association with ideas of making things happen, being a driving force, and having the ability or power to achieve something.
It was not until the mid 1800s that agency was used to refer to a place or establishment where business is done on someone else’s behalf.

It’s fair to say that, throughout history and in most cultures, women have not had a great deal of agency.  

Because most texts reflect the culture in which it is created, the roles of women in any given text tend to mirror the levels of agency held by women in society at the time.

The increase in awareness and acceptance of women’s rights and gender equality during the 20th and 21st century and the associated increase in freedom and independence of women in that time have changed the way women are portrayed in books, film and plays, where there are far more strong and independent female protagonists than previously. Now, female characters are seen to be able to do anything; previously, their ability to do anything at all was limited by the will of men and the rules they created.

In earlier centuries, female characters with personal strength, intelligence and integrity tended to provide a strong contrast to the other women in their society. Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet, Shakespeare’s Katherine and Isabella, and Harper Lee’s Scout Finch are examples of girls who stood out among their peers and delivered powerful messages in the process. The authors who created them had no intention of portraying them as two-dimensional, submissive females.That would have been a complete waste of those characters’ talents and strengths, and would have only served to entirely defeat their authors’ purposes and messages.

When female characters are able to take action, make their own decisions, and influence those around them, they are understood to have agency.

Sources:
Etymonline

What is Female Agency in Literature?
#women #literature #Explained

Pedagogy.

My colleagues and I spent today in a conference that explored the philosophy and practice of pedagogy in the 21st century.

Pedagogy is an awkward word. To me, it’s not pleasant to say because it feels clunky in the mouth,  and it doesn’t sound nice either. Most people have no idea how to pronounce it — say ped-uh-god-gee — or  what it means, so it feels artificial or intellectually snobbish to say it in conversation, even professionally. Therefore, it is a word which is deliberately avoid using much at all.

Pedagogy is the process of leading children through learning to maturity. It applies to both the leadership of learning and the art or discipline of teaching.

Photo by Max Fischer on Pexels.com

The word pedagogy dates back to the late 1500s, when it was first used to refer to the science or art of teaching. 1580s,  It came into English from 16th century French pédagogie  which in turn came from Latin paedagogia and  Greek paidagōgia which both meant education or attendance on boys. This came from the Greek paidagōgos which meant teacher.

These days, the word pedagogue is often used to refer to a teacher who is very strict, or who adheres to formal rules and practices.

In Ancient Greece, though, pedagogues were originally slaves who escorted children on their way to and from school, and supported and protected children as they learned. The word later came to refer to the a teacher who led, taught, admonished, mentored and encouraged children on their way to becoming young adults. The role of a teacher, then, was not just the delivery of knowledge, it was holistic training that prepared a young person for adult life.

This is definitely more true of my experience as a teacher in 21st century Australia. We do far more than just deliver knowledge. While content is still king, we create opportunities to model, mentor, support, train, and support our students in myriad ways. We observe and listen to them just as much as we expect them to do. It is how we deliver lessons that makes a difference in the effectiveness of our teaching.

We understand that the messages we send to our students and their families are powerful. Overtly and covertly, teachers who care about pedagogy communicate care, attention to detail and expertise in our subject areas. We are purposefully welcoming and inclusive. We strive for the overall success and flourishing of each of our students. We aim to be positive, consistent, engaging and professional. We are profoundly aware of the sad truth that, for some children, we are the most positive adult role model in their lives.

In the past 18 months, we have learned to reinvent our teaching and deliver quality learning to our students in online environments, pivoting between face-to-face teaching and remote learning like a highly accomplished ballerina performs a pirouette. We have done everything we can to ensure that our pedagogy has not fallen by the wayside as a result of the challenges of teaching throughout a pandemic.

In my experience, the experience of having their children learning from home has brought most parents to a much greater appreciation of how much teachers actually do, and of how hard they work. It has accentuated that care, support and modelling delivered by teachers that really fulfils that Ancient Greek tradition of the pedagogue.

Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

Teaching in the 21st century is at times frustrating and exhausting, but it is also incredibly fulfilling and rewarding. To see our students grow, flourish, refine their gifts and pursue their destiny is a blessing, and the feeling is actually hard to describe. To have trained them not only in knowledge, but also in thoughtfulness, maturity, empathy and critical thinking is to have done our job to its fullest degree.  That is true pedagogy.

An awkward word it may be, but positive, constructive pedagogy is a beautiful thing. It is simultaneously a discipline, a science, and an art.

Sources:
Etymonline
Cambridge Dictionary

Don’t Call Me A Grammar Nazi

The name of my blog should clue people in to a basic fact about me: I have a passion for words and language. I really am a wordy nerd.

It’s not just a passing interest or a hobby, either. As an author and as an English teacher, that’s my job. I have no shame and make no apologies about any of that.

I do try to be nice about it. I am gentle with my students, and use encouragement and positive reinforcement to help them improve their writing and  their spoken language. I urge them to read their work aloud, even if just in a whisper, to see where they need to end one sentence and start another, or add punctuation. I point out things that need fixing, but at the same time offer to upgrade their marks if they fix their errors and resubmit. I reward effort.

Outside of the classroom— most of the time, at least— I tend to keep  my comments to myself. The level of self control exerted by myself in those situations is almost universally grossly underestimated and under-appreciated.

I also refuse to engage in commenting on or correcting most people’s social media posts. The usual exception to that is anyone who cuts others down or calls them ignorant or stupid while using incorrect spelling or grammar themselves: they have it coming. The irony train is fully laden and they are its next stop.

People have many names for people like me, many of which are less than complimentary. I don’t care about any of them but one.

Do. Not. Ever. Call. Me. A. Grammar. Nazi.

That is just offensive.
And anyone who fails to understand why really needs to take a good hard look at themself.

Even if we don’t appreciate what a person does or, more likely how they do it, there is no excuse for equating them with the most hateful regime in living memory.

To equate anyone with that level of atrocity is rarely, although sometimes, justified. It’s not the people who appreciates good spelling or admire elegant sentence structure, nor is it anyone who wants to see people improving their grasp of the language and public profile at the same time.

There are so many terms that could be used instead:
Grammar Geek.
Grammar Nerd.
Word Nerd.
Word Genie.
Grammar Fairy.
Ultragrammarian.
Grammar Patrol.
Grammar Nut.
Walking Dictionary.
Pedant.
Grammar Llama.

I’ll gladly accept and use any of those.

In social contexts, I rather enjoy telling people I have a grammar fetish. While I would never say that to my students, nor indeed a number of my more conservative colleagues, I will definitely throw it into casual conversation  for the fun of seeing people do the mental gymnastics and trying to keep a straight face.

Long story short, don’t call me a Grammar Nazi unless you’re ready for a very long lecture from a history nerd — also me— on why that is unacceptable.

Don’t Call Me A Grammar Nazi.

#grammar #behaviour

Shrew.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

In the coming school term, my year 10 students will be studying ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ and comparing it with the 1999 hit film ’10 Things I Hate About You’.

I started writing notes for them about why Katherina was referred to as a shrew. Those notes evolved into a blog post for Shakespeare Nerd, and then I simplified them again for my students.

It’s so easy to get drawn into the vortex of the language and its richness, and to find oneself admiring the ways in which the social values of the time are embedded so deeply in the tapestry of story, character and theme.

If you have ever wondered what a small furry animal had to do with a sharp-tongued woman, wonder no more.

You’re welcome.

Shakespeare Nerd

Shrew on Moss
Common Shrew. Photo by Hannah Knutson on Flickr. Creative Commons licence.

A shrew is a small mammal with small eyes and a pointy nose. Even though it looks like a mouse, the shrew is actually related to moles and hedgehogs. It has sharp, pointy teeth and eats insects, seeds and nuts. One of the most distinctive features is their odour, created by the multiple scent glands in various places on their bodies. There are numerous species of shrew, of which some, but not all, are venomous.

As far back as the 11th century, shrew was also used to describe a woman who nags, gossips or argues, or is otherwise hard to get along with. This came from the Old English word for the animal: screawa.

This probably came from the popular medieval superstition about shrews because of their aggressive nature and sharp bite.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

“In…

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Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18: An Expression of Grief

Today was hard. It is the anniversary of both Helen’s passing and of Dad’s funeral. I still love them and miss them both enormously. They are both still part of me, and always will be.

Photo by Joanne Van Leerdam: A rose from Helen’s funeral.

I tried to stay busy and keep my mind on other things. That only works to an extent: the knowledge and the memories are always right there, whispering into every moment and activity.

Poems like this help me to remember and they help me to heal and keep going. I love the beauty of the language and the power of the ideas and message.

I hope you enjoy it, too.

Shakespeare Nerd

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short adate;
Sometimetoo hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d,
And everyfairfrom fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing courseuntrimm’d:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thouow’st,
Nor shall Death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st.
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18

This sonnet is popularly believed to be a poem of love and admiration. That may be a fair interpretation of the first two lines, and I suppose that might be as far as some people read.

However, when…

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A Reflection on the Relentlessness of Time.

I have been contemplating Shakespeare’s 65th sonnet this weekend:

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o’ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! Where, alack,
Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
	O none, unless this miracle have might,
	That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

                                           William Shakespeare, Sonnet 65
		 

A year ago today, I was sitting beside my father in the last days of his life. Three days later, it was my beloved cousin and friend Helen whose hand I was holding as she, too, fell prey to time and mortality.

Saying my final farewells to them both in the space of five days was certainly a “wrackful siege of batt’ring days”. I wrote poetry and reflections to both express and process my thoughts and feelings. I wanted people to know how I felt. I wanted people to understand who both these jewels were and why they would always matter, despite their having been being reclaimed from  this life.

I learned more about grief, and I learned more about letting go. I had no choice, because there is no human hand or will strong enough to hold back the relentless march of time and mortality.

This sonnet expresses a reality of life: nothing can withstand the relentless power of time.  Erosion, degradation, and decay overwhelm not only the frail, but also the mighty. True, rocks and brass may outlast flowers and flesh, but they too will yield eventually.

It is a poem of contemplation and resignation, but also one of defiance: time may be relentless, and there may be no way to “hold his swift foot back”, but one who is immortalised or memorialised in ink lives on, albeit in a different way. We can continue to remember and honour them, and to express our love for them.  Our memories and mementos remain long after those who have fallen prey to time and mortality.

In Shakespeare’s time, they had fewer options for immortalising those who passed away than we do. They had eulogies and poetry – the black ink  in which “my love may still shine bright”. They could create drawings and paintings. Now, in addition to those, we have photographs, video, and voice recordings.

Poetry and eulogies still touch our souls just as powerfully, though— whether written in the 21st century or the 16th, our written tributes and reflections endure and move us still.

Some of my own black ink, in which my love shines bright:
Old Man written for my father
Farewell, My Friend written for Helen

Satisfying Shakespearean Ways To Tell Someone To Go Away

There are times when each of us needs to tell someone to go away. Adding a Shakespearean flavour to it lends both style and emphasis to any ejection of a bothersome person.

Begone is the base level entreaty for someone to leave. To say “Fellow, begone!” is the equivalent of “Okay mate, out you go…” today. If not addressing someone who is actually a fellow, you can use any other form of address, or simply say “Begone!” with an imperative tone. A flick of the hand toward the door could add a nice dramatic touch.

Get thee gone! adds a touch of urgency. It’s more like saying “Go, quickly!” or “Get out now!” This is used forty times throughout Shakespeare’s plays, usually when there is a sense of timeliness or hurry about the leaving. It can also suggest impatience or frustration with the person to whom the command is addressed.

Get thee hence! is equivalent to “Get out of here!” or “Get away from here!” It often seems stronger and more urgent than begone! or get thee gone!

It is certainly expressive and delivers a satisfying sense of Shakespearean drama to your demand to be left alone. Of course, if they don’t go when you tell them to, you can always try mixing it up a little just as Imogene did in Cymbeline: “O, get thee from my sight… Dangerous fellow, hence!”

Aroint thee! Is stronger again because of its implied disrespect for the recipient of the command.It really just means ‘go away’ or ‘begone’, but at the same time indicates that the speaker holds higher status or demands more respect than those to whom they are speaking. It also has supernatural or spiritual connotations, as it was commonly used to eject witches from one’s presence.

Avaunt takes telling someone to get lost to another level, as it carries even greater spiritual or superstitious weight. This is the word one would use for commanding demons or any other evil presence to leave. When directed at people rather than the supernatural, it carries connotations of derision, hatred, or fear; that the speaker seeks to protect themselves from those to whom they speak is understood from this choice of word.

It is important to note that a great deal of suspicion toward witches existed at the time at which both plays were written and performed, and at both points in time in which each play was set. Therefore, Shakespeare’s use of injunctions such as aroint thee and avaunt is a clear indication that the characters on the receiving end are either held in contempt and/or malevolent.

A longer, more detailed exploration of each of these terms is available at Shakespeare Nerd.

Shakespearean Ways To Tell Someone To Go Away.
#Shakespeare #words #communication