Barbarians: who knew?

What does a teacher do when a student calls another a name that is just plain wrong?

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Yesterday one of my students called another a ‘Philistine’. I know he meant to suggest that his friend was uncultured and ignorant, and that is what many understand the word to mean.

So, being the time-and-knowledge-generous history nerd that I am, I took a break from our study of World War I and explained to my class that what he meant to suggest is not what the Philistines were at all.

The Philistines were a cultured and wealthy civilisation that lived in Canaan between the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the biblical kingdoms of Judah and Israel. They lived in and between five cities: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. The same region bears the name ‘Palestine’ today – a name derived from the Philistine civilisation. The ancient Philistines enjoyed enough military prowess to hold their own against Lebanon, Syria and Egypt at different times, fighting with spears, straight swords and shields. When not fighting wars, they lived in elaborate buildings and made their own pottery.

It doesn’t really seem consistent with the idea of ignorance, does it?

Sadly, this is not the only case of such name-calling being so ironic.

Barbarian is another term which is used quite wrongly. It’s used to suggest that someone is wild or uncivilised.  Historically, the Barbarians were any number of Germanic tribes that moved throughout Europe in what many refer to as ‘The Dark Ages’, even though they weren’t so dark at all.

Barbarians
The Barbarians. https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/416794140495615038/

Really, if you look at them, they don’t look so incredibly different from one another, nor from the folk our history books tell us were our own ancestors. It may surprise you to know that the Barbarian tribes included the Angles, Saxons and Picts who set up shop in Britain after the fall of the Roman Empire and eventually became some of the most devotedly civilised people on earth. The Gauls became the French, the Geats became the Swedes, and the Danes went on to give us Hamlet, pastries and an Australian princess.
(Disclaimer: I don’t know if the part about the pastries is true, but they must be called danishes for a reason… right?) 

The Vandals, for example, may have left a trail of destruction in Gaul and Iberia, but they only made a bit of a mess of Carthage before taking it as their capital and making extensive renovations. As a military power, they had skill and knowledge – you’ve actually got to hand it to anyone who could not only withstand the power of the Roman Empire, but also hold their own in so many battles over such a long period. And when they weren’t busy fighting the Romans, they were highly cultured, enjoying music and poetry. They conducted a lot of industry and trade in their North African kingdom. It really was not about breaking or ruining stuff at all.

The Goths, oddly enough, did not sit around in dark clothes wearing black makeup. The name “Goth”  was derived from ‘Geats’, the tribe famous for its honour and pride in the Anglo-Saxon legend of Beowulf,  as told in the oldest English poem in existence.

Scandinavia at the time of Beowulf.
Map Prepared by Louis Henwood for ‘The History of English’ podcast, episode 42

They actually had sophisticated architecture and beautiful mosaic art. They made and wore intricate gold jewellery. They were farmers, weavers, potters, blacksmiths. They followed intricate burial rites, making sure that the graves always pointed north.

Related to the Goths were the Visigoths, meaning “Goths of the west” who ruled Spain for a couple of centuries. They built churches that still stand today, decorated their buildings with intricate filigree art and stone arches. They were skillful metalworkers and jewellers.

It seems to me that we do history a disservice by misusing these terms in such a way.  Connotations are not always the easiest things to track through history, but these seem quite unfair. I suspect that such practice grew out of the fear of anything or anyone different, foreign and/or pagan – a concept with which Western society is still painfully familiar.

By the end of all that, the kids’ eyes had glazed over a bit, and there was a fair bit of smiling and nodding going on. I don’t think they will be calling each other Philistines again, though. So… mission accomplished.

 

If you’d like to know more about Beowfulf and the Geats, you could listen to a fabulous episode from ‘The History of English’ podcast. It’s a great podcast, and if you’re interested in the development and history of the English language, or the relationships between language, people, and places, you should consider subscribing. 

The Problem With Sentence Fragments.

I’ve read a couple of books lately that have been rather good, although plagued with something that is becoming the bane of my life as a reader: sentence fragments. 

Words and Phrases

 

I’ve read a couple of books lately that have been rather good, although plagued with something that is becoming the bane of my life as a reader: sentence fragments.

There was one book I started reading a couple of weeks ago where this was rampant, along with other issues, to the point where I couldn’t continue.

A sentence fragment is something that presents as a sentence in that it starts with a capital letter and ends with a period, but doesn’t actually make sense on its own.

A sentence fragment is often added as an afterthought when it really should be tacked onto the previous sentence with either a comma or a semicolon.

Consider the following example:

Jack went into his bedroom and closed the door, preferring privacy for reading his new book. Which was something that he knew annoyed his little brother.

 

That last sentence fragment actually makes no sense without the previous sentence.

If this happens just once or twice in a book, it’s still too often. However, it happens a lot. To be completely honest, it’s something I mark my senior high school English students down on. It’s what I consider quite a basic error: it’s not that hard to read something you’ve written down and ask yourself if it makes sense.

I understand that some readers don’t notice it, but many others will find it very frustrating indeed.

The exception is in direct speech or train of thought writing. People do speak like that, and they often think in fragments of thoughts, especially when under stress or in pain. If it’s something a character is thinking or saying, there is no problem. When it is part of the narrative, however, it really is an issue.

I don’t want to come across as being all finicky and fussy. My intention is that writers might recognise and self-correct this problem in their writing, even if it means  revising an entire manuscript so that their book reads better.

This is also another argument for having any manuscript thoroughly proof-read and edited before you publish anything, especially as an Indie author who wants to be taken seriously as a writer.

In the end it will earn you more stars and more readers.

When your story is great, and your message is important, please don’t allow something that is easily fixed to compromise the success of your book.

Instead, take the time and effort to make sure that your writing, and the overall quality of your book, is the best it can be. You owe it to your readers, and you owe it to yourself.

 

Top Four English Language Podcasts

If you’re someone who takes knowing the difference between “your” and “you’re” seriously, if you experience a secret thrill when someone uses a semi-colon or an Oxford comma properly, or if you just want to know more, these podcasts could be for you. 

Promo Top Five English Podcasts Plain

Pleasantly surprised by how popular last week’s post on my top five history podcasts proved to be, I decided to share a little more of my podcast-loving joy with you this week.

It’s common knowledge that I’m pretty nerdy about words.

I love them. I love the way they work. I love knowing where different words and phrases came from. I love using them to write and communicate ideas in interesting ways. I love knowing which words are related to each other, even when they don’t actually sound much like each other anymore, like long-lost cousins who bump into each other when they leave home to go to university, and discover their common history that the family has been hiding in the dust and cobwebs behind the skeleton in the closet.

So, it should come as no surprise that I enjoy listening to podcasts about the English language, its roots and evolution, and how it works.

If you’re someone who takes knowing the difference between “your” and “you’re” seriously, if you experience a secret thrill when someone uses a semi-colon or an Oxford comma properly, or if you just want to know more, these podcasts could be for you.

So, without further ado, here are my four favourite word-nerdy podcasts.

#1. The History of English.  This podcast gets into the down and dirty of where the English language and many of the words and phrases we use came from. If you suspect that Mr Webster didn’t just go out into a cabbage patch and find a newborn lexicon crying for its mother, give this podcast a try.
twitter: @englishhistpod
http://historyofenglishpodcast.com/

#2. Lingthusiasm. This podcast explores different aspects of the English language in just over 30 minutes for each episode. It’s interesting, word-nerdy, and fun.
twitter: @lingthusiasm
http://lingthusiasm.com/

#3. The Allusionist. This podcast focuses more on lexicon and how we use words to craft and deliver meaning in particular ways. The episodes are a bit shorter than the first two placegetters, staying under 20 minutes a shot.
twitter: @AllusionistShow
www.theallusionist.org

#4. The English We Speak. This podcast from the BBC World Service explores those words and phrases we use every day in episodes that last about three minutes each. This might be a good place “to cut your teeth” if you don’t want to “go the whole hog”.  You’re catching on. Cool.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/english/features/the-english-we-speak

 

I’d really appreciate it if you would leave a comment.
And click “like”.
And if you shared my post, that would be almost like Christmas.

Almost.

The Basics: Why Spelling and Punctuation Matter.

Make sure you’re sending the message you actually want to send to your audience, every time.

d-school-letter-grade
For the first time in a long time, I’ve recently abandoned reading a book. I’m usually fairly persistent, but I couldn’t get past the second chapter. It’s so full of basic errors, I’d be giving any of my students who wrote it a D.  That book – any book – has no business being for sale on any platform, Indie or otherwise, until it has been properly edited and corrected.

If I had a dollar for every time I have face-palmed over glaring errors of spelling, word choice or punctuation in someone else’s social media posts, I would be considerably richer than I am today.

As people who promote ourselves as writers, it’s crucial that we don’t make those mistakes.

I’m not talking about the occasional typo, and I’m not talking about the type of formatting error that can happen to absolutely anyone when converting a book to eBook format. I’m talking about really basic errors – missing punctuation, terrible sentence structure, shocking spelling. Of course, not differentiating correctly between “your” and “you’re” is always going to frustrate people. There will always be people who put apostrophes where they don’t belong and omit them where they are needed. The same is true for commas.

It boils down to the issue of credibility. If I cannot correctly construct a sentence to encourage people to buy my book, what is going to make people believe I could possibly write a whole book? A writer should be able to communicate their ideas and messages clearly and effectively, without frustrating the reader or making their eyes bleed.

Quite honestly, if someone’s social media posts are full of errors, I’m not going to be buying their book. I’m not even going to put my hand up for a free copy. And it’s not going to change my mind if people laugh it off and say, “It’s just Facebook… relax!”

I may be called judgemental  or overly critical. That’s okay.
As a reader and a frequent buyer of books, I’m entitled to be.
As a writer, nothing less should be expected.

proofreadingIf we want people to believe that Indie books are just as good as traditionally published books, we have to make sure they are. We must edit, and have them edited, as professional authors. We must promote both ourselves and our books as engaging, intelligent, and literate.  The example we set on social media is part of that, because that’s where we hope to find readers.

Please, folks, for credibility’s sake – in the interests of your own integrity – proof-read all your posts. Make sure you’re sending the message you actually want to send to your audience, every time.

Book Review: ‘Tompkin’s Academy for the Extraordinarily Gifted’ by Tabi Slick

This is a really good story with lots of twists and turns, some of which are absolutely heart-stopping. It’s the story of Izara and her journey of discovery of truth about herself and her twin brother, Kain, as they confront a world they had never dreamed of.
The story has some incredibly dark moments, so I’d recommend it for an audience of 16+ years of age, but it also has strong elements of hope despite the  odds.

The characters are relatable and very engaging. As a reader, I didn’t always like Izara or Kain, but that actually made them more believable and intriguing.

The only thing I didn’t enjoy was the number of regular typos in the text, which I found annoying: they didn’t really detract from the story at all, but I am a stickler for those things, and I did find it distracting.

The book ended on a cliffhanger, so it wasn’t satisfying in the sense of getting answers or resolution, but it definitely whets the appetite for the next instalment!
I want more of Tompkin’s Academy!

Four stars.

That’s New. 

So, today I’ve walked into my classroom to be greeted  by a student with “Happy B-dizzle!”

“Sorrypardonwhat?” I asked.

“Happy B-dizzle!” She repeated.

“Is that even a thing?” I wondered aloud. 

“It is now!” asserted another student. 
You know, it’s a very caring student that gives her English teacher a brand-newish word for her birthday. 

So… Happy B-dizzle to me, I guess.

Classroom crisis. 

This afternoon in class, one of my Literature students commented that she didn’t know what she was doing.

“Do you need help with the task?”

“No, I mean generally…”

Her friend said, “She’s just existential crisising all over the place.”

I looked at her in amazement and said, “Wow!”

I don’t usually approve of verbing, but that was impressive.

Then she continued, “Yeah, but if you want to quote me on it,  you’ll have to sign our agreements and stuff…”
So here I am, quoting her anonymously.  I didn’t sign any contract, either.  

 

 

Dumb.

 

2015-11-24 23.28.04

 

Haters can be so dumb.
I wonder if the guy who made the sign was in a hurry, careless, or just genuinely ignorant of the mistake he made.

Everything about this annoys me. Especially the hate.

I have no time for people who will brand all the members of one group by what a few people, who claim to be the representatives of that group, do.
I resent their attempts to change the fabric of society and the blanket statements they make.

As I’ve said before, IS claiming to be Muslim is like the KKK or Hitler claiming to be Christian.

So I decided to take the sign literally and have a little fun at the haters’ expense.  Just because I could.

No offence is intended. Unless, of course, you’re one of the haters.
Then it’s a bonus.

Word Nerd Alert on Howard Street

Today I was driving in town with LMC. She was hinting heavily that she wanted to go into town and look at some shops.
I said, “We’re going down Howard Street.”
Bemused, she asked, “Howard Street?”
And I said, “Yes, Howard Street…” and as we crested the hill and she realised it continued into the main street of town, I said, “Howard you like to go down the street?”

She rolled her eyes, and then she said, “Actually that was pretty good. Did you make that up yourself?”
“I did.”
“When?”
“Just then.”
She smiled, thought for a moment, and said, “How odd.”

I smiled too, because that is possibly the word-nerdiest thing she’s ever said.