Friday, July 27, 2007

A few more words from Murray Suid


I truly enjoyed guest blogging on THE WRITING LIFE the other day. Afterward, I found myself wishing that I could thank all those inventors who have given us this new medium for sharing our ideas and our lives. To my way of thinking, the net is close to a miracle.

Technology has long interested me. In fact, my current book project deals with engineering marvels. I’m having such fun learning about processes such as Backward Planning (huh?) and Failure Analysis. (I have lots of personal examples to draw upon.)

Back to the blog that I posted here: I want to thank the participants for their thought-provoking questions and comments. I came away enriched.

In the blog I explained that WORDS OF A FEATHER got published thanks to an agent who was looking for a funny word book. I should have mentioned the agent’s name—Carol Roth—and her website Carol specializes in nonfiction. Who knows? Perhaps she can be of use to some of the talented writers who frequent THE WRITING LIFE. That would be a nice denouement, which word—I can’t help but point out—relates etymologically to noose.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Speaking of words...

What these words really mean:

1. ARBITRATOR: A cook that leaves Arby's to work at McDonalds

2. AVOIDABLE: What a bullfighter tried to do

3. BERNADETTE: The act of torching a mortgage

4. BURGLARIZE: What a crook sees with

5. CONTROL: A short, ugly inmate

6. COUNTERFEITERS: Workers who put together kitchen cabinets

7. ECLIPSE: What an English barber does for a living

8. EYEDROPPER: A clumsy ophthalmologist

9. HEROES: What a guy in a boat does

10. LEFTBANK: What the robber did when his bag was full of money

11. MISTY: How golfers create divots

12. PARADOX: Two physicians

13. PARASITES: What you see from the top of the Eiffel Tower

14. PHARMACIST: A helper on the farm

15. POLARIZE: What penguins see with

16. PRIMATE: Removing your spouse from in front of the TV

17. RELIEF: What trees do in the spring

18. RUBBERNECK: What you do to relax your wife

19. SELFISH: What the owner of a seafood store does

20. SUDAFED: Brought litigation against a government official

Monday, July 23, 2007

Guest blogger, Murray Suid on curiosity and words

Thanks, Nienke, for your thoughtful announcement of my visit. You made me feel welcome at your remarkable website.

I’m the kind of writer who likes a distraction. Could be the smell of coffee in the other room, or a “dump your microwave oven” urban myth that plops onto my desktop. No surprise, therefore, that as I began typing this piece about words origins, I allowed my attention to be drawn to your Tip of the Day: “Always take the attitude of a learner in your writing and be open to new insights from any source.” I hope it won’t seem that I’m malingering if I comment on this sage advice before I get down to business.

In the 1990s, I enrolled in UCLA’s screenwriting program. At age 51 I thought I knew everything about cranking out scripts. I just wanted to meet producers so I could sell my work. But in my first class I discovered how much I had to learn about story structure. That humbling experience confirms the wisdom of your tip about being curious.

Now about words: In high school, I could take the study of etymology or leave it. Actually, I was more into leaving it. But as the years passed, I gradually became intrigued by word histories. I even began collecting doublets: word pairs that at first seem unrelated and yet are etymological kissing cousins. Examples include: anger & angina, automobile & mob, chaos & gasoline, computer & reputation, flatulence & inflation, candid & candidate. And my favorite: rectitude & rectum.

Such pairs—“words of a feather”— inspired me to write mini essays for my own amusement, especially when I had a pressing deadline. Take, for “excrement & secret”:

“Three may keep a secret, “wrote Ben Franklin, “if two of them are dead.” Ben’s witty observation points to the etymology of secret, which traces to the Latin se meaning “apart” and cretus meaning “separate.” A “secret” is knowledge kept apart from others. Hence, a secretary’s first function is to guard the boss’s private information. (Apparently, a few secretaries working for the British royal family never got the message.)

But what has this to do with excrement? Here’s the poop: The ex is Latin for “out” and the cre goes back to our old friend cretus, “separate.” Thus excrement refers to something “separated out.” Although in this case we’re not talking about information, it’s still a private matter, definitely hush hush.

If you want a loftier example, consider: “cosmos & cosmetics”:

The ancient Greeks named the universe kosmos, meaning “order.” Their belief that order is the key to beauty gave rise to the related word kosmetikos: the art of creating personal beauty.

The English version—cosmetics—developed around the time Isaac Newton published his theory about the orderly forces binding the cosmos.

Ironically, in this same period, the anti-adornment crowd made an effort to enact laws criminalizing the use of cosmetics for the purpose of seducing innocent victims into matrimony.

I had no plans for publishing these stories until an agent called saying that she knew an editor who was looking for a humorous word book. Did I have anything? Absolutely, only most of it was gathering digital dust on old computers. Six months later, Words of a Feather was published, which seems weird to me because I’ve spent years unsuccessfully peddling some of my manuscripts, and here came a contract out of the blue. The lesson? Even if you’re not an environmentalist, do not send your old computers to the landfill.

Lest I give the impression that etymology is merely an entertainment, let me end with a serious point. Sometimes when I’m writing, I’ll find myself staring at a word that, while I’ve used it my whole life, now seems unfamiliar.

If I look up the word’s etymology, I often have an epiphany. Here’s an example. Recently I was finishing a hilarious (don’t I hope) coming-of-age story. I viewed my protagonist Dan as a hero although he doesn’t see himself capable of accomplishing heroic deeds. Indeed, through most of the book, he wants to run away.

One day,—like Dan—I was avoiding my destiny and looking out the window rather than typing the story. The thought occurred to me that maybe Dan wasn’t a hero. Worse, I felt that I no longer even knew what a hero was. I could give the dictionary definition, but I had no emotional connection.

Curious, I looked up the etymology of hero at my favorite online etymology source (, and I discovered that hero traces back to an ancient Indo-European word meaning “protector.” Bingo! In a scene that I knew was coming, Dan has the chance to protect his town—spiritually speaking. (I admit, that doesn’t sound funny, but trust me: the moment in the story is both spiritual and funny. Or don’t trust me; buy the book when it comes out… if it comes out.)

What I’m suggesting is that if you find yourself in a word crisis, or if you simply wish to understand more deeply writing terms such as character, sentence, dialogue, climax or destiny, take a journey into etymologyland.

I used etymology today while writing this essay. I wasn’t sure that the piece would work out and that worried me. But then I learned that essay comes from the French word essai meaning “try” or “attempt.” This I have done.

Thanks for reading. And if wish, please ask me questions. But note: question relates etymologically to inquisition. So go easy.

Friday, July 20, 2007

LOLCat funny

Courtesy of I Can Has Cheezburger?

Don't forget to drop by Monday for guest blogger Murray Suid on the connection between words!

Have a great weekend, folks!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Guest blogger coming July 23rd!

Murray Suid, author of Words of a Feather, will be guest blogging on Monday, July 23. Words of a Feather explores the connection

between words. Since writers live on words, I think it will be a lot of fun to learn more about them. The book is a zany, fact-filled collection of dual etymologies. So, if you have any questions about the root of a word or the connection of words, now’s your chance to ask an expert!

Words of a Feather probes the shared histories of word pairs such as ‘adversary’ & ‘advertisement’ and ‘cosmos’ & ‘cosmetics.’ It transforms the science of etymology into a fun and powerful vocabulary-building game.

“It also goes beyond the peculiarities of linguistics to provide practical advice on a variety of subjects. For example, the ‘thank’ & ‘think’ entry gives a mini-lesson on how to make kids smarter while polishing their manners. The ‘anger’ & ‘angina’ mini-essay might actually save a few lives – or at least bring on a few smiles.”

Click here to check out an excerpt.

Murray Suid is the author of more than two dozen books including How to Be President of the U.S.A., Demonic Mnemonics, and The Kids’ How to Do (Almost) Everything Guide. A former writing instructor at San Jose State University, he developed content for software products including Oval Office and Launch: the New Millennium Business Game. A screenwriter, he recently started Point Reyes Pictures, an independent movie company.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

RIP, Kathleen Woodiwiss

Like I said yesterday, life is fragile.

Romance novelist Kathleen Woodiwiss dies of cancer
Kathleen Woodiwiss revolutionized the romance novel.

Woodiwiss, creator of the modern historical romance novel with feisty heroines, ornate period settings, and erotically charged adventures, died of cancer Friday in Princeton, Minn.

Woodiwiss, who had 36 million books in print, was 68.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

News - Cairo RIP

It happened a few weeks ago, but I'm only ready to talk about it now.
My sick kitty Cairo died.

The whole household was so distraught (my DH, MIL, our other cat Suki, and dog Piffy) that I decided on a distraction.

I'd like you to meet Simba. He fits in like butter on warm toast.

He's actually suckling on his tail. He's a rescue. Loves life and playing like there's no tomorrow.

Here he's fanning his feet (making bread/kneading) while suckling.

Suki loved him from the moment we brought him home. The first day Suki kept running up to Simba and licking him, then running away. In this picture they're caught in the act of playing. Potential LOLCat pics I think.

Life is so fragile. Enjoy every moment. Love yourself.