Champion.

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The TV commentators during the Tokyo Olympics have been using the word a lot lately. They seem to be using it in different ways, though, which makes one wonder just what qualifies someone as a champion?

Is just making it to the Olympics enough? Or is it winning a medal? Does one need to make it to more than one major competition? Does a record have to be beaten?

Champion is a word with a number of different senses or meanings, so it can be used in all those ways, and more.

Sadly, there are some commentators who seem to suggest that whoever gets the gold medal is the winner, and everyone else somehow falls short. Even the silver and bronze medals are some kind of consolation prize.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Just by getting there, each competitor is a champion. Each of them is the fittest, strongest, fastest or most accomplished of an entire nation.

The person who comes fourth, or sixteenth, or twenty-first in any given Olympic competition has still achieved something most of us never will.

Similarly, any competitor who has to withdraw because of injury or issues of mental health is completely undeserving of criticism for doing so. Not only have they, too, achieved something most of us cannot do, they have demonstrated that it is entirely possible for even the strongest or fittest person to reach the extent of their ability to go on with a particular pursuit.

As a person with ongoing physical and mental health conditions and acquired disability, I find that enormously encouraging. It is a reminder that it is not only acceptable, but in fact absolutely essential, that we acknowledge our limitations and live within them. That is healthy. That is human. That is an excellent example for the rest of us: you cannot ask anyone for anything more than their best.

So, whether we are watching the Olympics or any other sport, or reading a child’s school report, or considering the performance of a colleague,  or responding to the behaviour or words of a public figure, let’s break the habit of automatic criticism and condemnation.

Instead, get some perspective: did they do their best?
How might we reduce any pressure or expectations that might have limited rather than lifted them? How can we encourage them to keep going or do better?

We cannot know what others are going through behind the scenes. We do know, though, that criticism and cruelty can be incredibly destructive: they can main and kill just as effectively as blades or bullets.

Choose to leave your negativity unspoken. If you must speak it, try to be constructive, and try to be diplomatic and discreet.

Choose kindness.

Choose empathy.

Choose love.

Those things never harmed anyone.
And that will make you an absolute champion, no matter what else you do — or do not— do.

Steeplechase.

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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

What is Female Agency in Literature?

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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

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.

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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.

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“In…

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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

Overwhelm.

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Because I have both a very dodgy spine and fibromyalgia, I frequently find myself overwhelmed by pain and fatigue. People can find things such as motion,  loud noise, emotion or anxiety overwhelming.

Overwhelm is an old word with even older roots: it evolved from Old English, and from Proto-Germanic and Proto-Indo-European before that. The original Middle English sense of the word was quite physical, but it soon became less literal in its application.

In the mid-14th century, the word overwhelmen meant to turn upside down, overthrow, or knock over. This word was derived from the Middle English word whelmen, meaning to turn upside down“, which is the origin of the word whelm, meaning submerge or engulf

Whelm was a Middle English blend of whelve and helm, which had evolved from the Old English words gehwelfan, meaning bend over and helmian meaning cover.

Overwhem had come to mean to submerge completely by the early 15th century, which made whelm rather redundant. It is evocative of a boat being thrown about and overcome by waves, or a person at the mercy of a current, waves or tide of a body of water.

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By the 1520s, overwhelm had gained another sense: to cause complete ruin or devastation. Thus, one could be overwhelmed by a storm or by debt, rather than just by liquid.

Underwhelm is a relative newcomer to the party: it was not recorded until the mid-20th century as a somewhat derisory play on overwhelm. To underwhelm is to fail to gain approval or favour, while be underwhelmed by something or someone is to be less than impressed.

Overwhelm.
#words #etymology #language

Understanding Shakespeare’s English

One of the biggest obstacles for people who have not previously watch or read Shakespeare is a perception that the language is hard to understand. While there are definitely some words that are unfamiliar because they are no longer used, the most commonly perceived challenge is understanding thee and thou, art and wert, and the like.

Before I ask my students to read or listen to Shakespeare, I teach them the basics of Early Modern English and what all those old-fashioned words mean. I give them a translation guide, and get them to practise speaking and writing basic sentences before moving on to the most fun lesson of the year: Shakespearean Insults!

Once they have played with the language, they are far more receptive to it in a film or written text.

Like anything in life, the path ahead is smoothed by breaking down barriers and removing obstacles.

This infographic is designed to present the basics of Early Modern English simply and directly, to serve as a memory aide and a translation guide as needed.

Understanding Shakespeare’s English
#Shakespeare #English #infographic

Hurly-Burly

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This morning I made a to-do list in addition to the one I live by from day to day. The intent of this list is inherent in its title: When the Hurly-Burly’s Done

That is a quote from the opening scene of Macbeth, where the Wyrd Sisters chant in the midst of thunder and lightning:

1st WITCH.

When shall we three meet again?

In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

2nd WITCH.

When the hurly-burly’s done,

When the battle’s lost and won.

3rd WITCH.

That will be ere the set of sun.

In the context of war, treachery, the death of a king and the consequent struggles of a nation, it means they will get together again when the mayhem is over. Given their manipulation of Macbeth himself, it’s mayhem they are actively involved and interested in.

While I am not in any way playing with anyone’s life or ambitions, nor the future of the country, there is plenty of hurly-burly in my life at this point in time .

Hurly-burly or hurlyburly is a word from the early 1500s which means commotion or tumult, which grew out of the  phrase hurling and burling which was used as early as the 1300s. Hurling time was the name applied by chroniclers of the time to the period of tumult and commotion around the Peasants’ Revolt against the young Richard II, led by Wat Tyler in 1381.

It is a wonderfully expressive word that is quite evocative of  the chaos and tumult of its meaning, particularly when delivered with a Scottish accent as it might well be spoken in Macbeth.

Juggling a show, a job, a couple of blogs and a personal life takes some coordination and requires self-care as well as caring for the needs of those around me. It’s busy and demanding, and it definitely feels like hurly-burly to me. Consequently, there are some things that will simply have to wait until after the hurly-burly’s done. The new list should help me ensure they aren’t forgotten.

Sources:

Etymonline.

Middle English Compendium

William Shakespeare, Macbeth

A Quick Guide To Using A Semicolon.

A semicolon provides a pause in a sentence that is longer than a comma but shorter than a full stop.

There are a number of ways in which one can use a semicolon to good effect; they are very versatile little punctuation marks. 

A semicolon can be used to extend a sentence using two closely related ideas without using a conjunction. Therefore, a semicolon works differently than a colon does: they are not interchangeable. Examples:

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  • A semicolon is a much misunderstood piece of punctuation; while many people avoided them, those who use them achieve greater eloquence and refinement in their writing.
  • You may have as many donuts as you like; however, the lemon meringue pie is all gone.

A semicolon can also be used to create a complex list in which each entry is accompanied by additional information before the list continues. Examples:

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  • When editing, I have to remember many things: my punctuation, because that tells people how to read my work; my spelling, because words are often confusing; my paragraphs, because they enable me to organise my ideas; and my word choices, because some words are really similar!
  • The guests came from Melbourne, Australia; Paris, France; Montreal, Canada; and various other places.

How To Use A Semicolon
#grammar #writingtips