Archive for the ‘words’ Category

Other People’s words IV

The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean –

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

— Mary Oliver


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The Brain — is wider than the Sky —
For — put them side by side —
The one the other will contain
With ease — and You — beside —

The Brain is deeper than the sea —
For — hold them — Blue to Blue —
The one the other will absorb —
As Sponges — Buckets — do —

The Brain is just the weight of God —
For — Heft them — Pound for Pound —
And they will differ — if they do —
As Syllable from Sound —

— Emily Dickinson

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Places I’ve seen them

1.  In the drainage ditch a block away from our house.  (Last night.  A whole fambly of ’em!)

2.  On a two-story window ledge outside of my former office.

3.  On the Stanford campus.

4.  Infesting the home of ‘Big Edie’ and ‘Little Edie’ Bouvier Beale, in the documentary Grey Gardens.

Things we call them (thank you, wikipedia!):

1.  ‘raccoon’, from the Algonquin roughcoune: ‘he who scratches with his hands’.

2.  The Spanish mapache, from a Nahuatl word for ‘that which has hands’.

3.  Procyon, the genus name, from Greek for ‘pre-dog’.  (Or is the dog ‘post-raccoon’?  You decide.)

4.  In many languages, the equivalent of ‘washing bear’.

And what do they call us? Well, probably one of these five words.  (via a great website from Island Creek Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia.)

And a bonus: otters holding hands.

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Looking from outside into an open window one never sees as much as when one looks through a closed window. There is nothing more profound, more mysterious, more pregnant, more insidious, more dazzling than a window lighted by a single candle. What one can see out in the sunlight is always less interesting than what goes on behind a windowpane. In that black or luminous square of life lives, life dreams, life suffers.


Across the ocean of roofs I can see a middle-aged woman, her face already lined, who is forever bending over something and who never goes out. Out of her face, her dress, and her gestures, out of practically nothing at all, I have made up this woman’s story, or rather legend, and sometimes I tell it to myself and weep.


If it had been an old man I could have made up his just as well.


And I go to bed proud to have lived and to have suffered in some one besides myself.


Perhaps you will say “Are you sure that your story is the real one?” But what does it matter what reality is outside myself, so long as it has helped me to live, to feel that I am, and what I am?


–Charles Baudelaire (trans. Louis Varèse)

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Language fun, part II

Prompted by my dad’s comment in an email that the Armenian script looks like “whatever is left after throwing a plate of spaghetti at the wall”, I found this site, which is really amazing.  Here is their sample script in the Armenian alphabet, which, admittedly, looks like spaghetti on the loose:

Armenian alphabet
The site also includes information about – and examples from – extinct alphabets  and alphabets invented mainly for religious purposes, including the Deseret alphabet.  Good times.

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Language fun, part I

Here are the instructions:

  1. Go to the Google homepage
  2. Click on ‘Preferences’, to the right of the search window
  3. In the drop-down menu labeled ‘Interface Language’, select ‘Elmer Fudd’
  4. Click on ‘Save Preferences’ in the upper right corner
  5. You should see this:

Elmer Fudd interface

Also available in Klingon, Bork, bork, bork! (The language of the Muppets’ Swedish Chef), and Pig Latin.

(I have to boast here for a second, because I found this all by my lonesome, almost by accident. I really want a ‘Björk, Björk, Björk’ option, though.)

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Now that spelling bees have been documented and dramatized (and fictionalized and feature-filmized) as a quirky pillar of American competitive culture, I have a couple of confessions.

First (and this is the less-embarrassing of the two), I was eighth-grade spelling bee champ. I don’t remember studying for it, I don’t remember which word I spelled to win the competition, but I won it.

Second, as if ‘spelling bee champ’ were too mainstream, too winner of me, I didn’t show up to the city spelling bee to represent my school. Why? Because I didn’t want to miss school. It’s the Catch-22 of middle school nerds – they make you MISS SCHOOL, of all things, to go to a competition to show just how schoolish you are! Apparently, for me the decision was easy. I probably didn’t even tell my parents that I had won the spelling bee, knowing that they would support the evil school district that was making me miss class to participate.

Anyway, I thought of all this because the National Spelling Bee has once again come and gone. I didn’t catch it on ESPN (no cable) and didn’t even hear about it until after it was over, but as I was exploring the official website, I found among the round two results the . . .

. . .top fifteen unforgiveable unforgivable misspelled words from the 2007 National Spelling Bee

15. priviledge (correct spelling: privilege)

14. unsensored (uncensored)

13. conseed (conseed   Oops!  concede)

12. naureled (gnarled)

11. maggout (maggot. C’mon, Daniel! What fifth-grade boy doesn’t know how to spell ‘maggot’?)

10. profain (profane)

9. nogan (noggin)

8. fellany (felony)

7. deter (debtor)

6. phenatic (fanatic.)

5. dasturdly (dastardly.)

4. adgective (adjective. Which, as we all know, is a word that modifies a nown)

3. inconvinent (inconvenient. Apparently not an Al Gore fan.)

2. pulbearer (pallbearer. I almost like this spelling better. It needs another ‘l’, though.)

1. fundimintilist (fundamentalist. Did this young speller’s coach tell her some rule like, “when in doubt, use the letter ‘i’?”)

Addendum: Maybe I’m too tough on the young spellers of the world.  After all, it’s probably a good sign that eleven-year-olds don’t know how to spell things like ‘felony’, ‘profane’,  ‘debtor’, and ‘pallbearer’.  And ‘fundamentalist’, for that matter.

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