Metaphors Gone Wrong

If there is a manual for giving children’s sermons, it must include the following instructions: Rule 1: Have a prop; Rule 2: Use a metaphor. It’s so simple, even a layman can do it!

I got talked into giving a children’s sermon once. I don’t remember what I said. It involved cookies (the prop), and as a result got high ratings from the kids. Rule 3: Give them cookies. Even better: candy.

Most of the kids who come up to hear the children’s sermon are pre-schoolers, at least in churches I’ve visited. My boys stubbornly refused to participate, but sometimes changed their minds if food was involved. Otherwise, they wanted no part of it. And I respected their opinions because children’s sermons can go very wrong.

Whoever wrote Rules 1 and 2 had probably never met any preschoolers. Bottom line: cookies are fine; metaphors are dangerous. More

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Do or Do Not

“Do or do not. There is no try.”    — Yoda

I picked this quotation because it illustrates one of my favorite grammatical concepts: dummies.

I’m not talking about people who don’t know whether it should be “John and me” or “John and I,” or people who abuse the subjunctive by saying “If I was…” I’m talking about linguistic clutter, words without content which nevertheless have a grammatical function.

For example: “There” is an adverb meaning “in, to, or at that place or position.” Not complicated.

Hypothetical Girl Telling Pointless Story: So, there’s this guy who keeps texting me. So, yesterday he says–

Me (looking around): Where?

HGTPS: Huh? Where what?

Me: Where is he — the guy who’s bothering you?

HGTPS: How should I know? That’s not important. So, he’s texting me–

Me: You said he was there. You said, “There’s this guy…”

HGTPS: I didn’t mean he’s there. I just mean there’s this guy who keeps texting me.

Me (enlightened): Ah, you mean the dummy subject.

HGTPS (nodding): Yeah, he’s an idiot. So, he texts me…

In the  preceding dialog, as in Yoda’s quotation, ‘there’ is not an adverb, nor any sort of ‘content’ word. It is a grammatical dummy, taking the place of the true subject, “this guy” in an inverted word-order sentence. The sentence really means: “A guy exists, who keeps texting me.” But nobody talks that way. More

Word Fun

Long before people were learning Klingon, long before I’d heard of Esperanto or Volapuk or Quickscript, I started making up alphabets and languages. I don’t know when it occurred to me that such things could be invented. Norwegian-speaking relatives exposed me to the notion that words can only mean what people agree that they mean. In the third grade I read a book about codes and ciphers; for a while I wanted to work for the CIA, but soon I was more interested in spelling reform.

Tolkien’s languages were my first encounter with an artificially constructed language. I read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy several times; I read the appendices so many times the pages fell out.

Other than working for the CIA or translating books into Esperanto, I couldn’t figure out any really fun careers that would use my skills. If the school guidance counsellor had suggested that I look at artificial language construction, I might have gone that direction.

If I had, I would probably still be living in my parents’ basement. There’s not a big call for artificial languages, and there are a lot of people who would apply for any job requiring conlang skills.

Instead, I went the traditional way. I studied Spanish, Latin, French, German, Esperanto, Italian, Anglo-Saxon and Greek. I took courses in linguistics. And like any other graduate holding a degree in something useless, I became a teacher. More

Addendum: One Word

A while ago I wrote about small challenges that writers can use to discipline their habits and thoughts. I listed several on-line communities or sites that set goals for you and give you an opportunity to push yourself a bit.

A couple of days ago I found another one: OneWord.

This is fun: go to the site every day, click on the ‘go’ button, and a word will appear. A sort of random word — and a box to type in. The timer starts the minute the word appears, and you have sixty seconds to write as much as you can from the prompt. Not a definition, not sixty seconds of ‘What can I write about?’ No time to be witty, funny, deep, creative, unique. Just write.

As the creators of the site put it, “The purpose of this exercise is to learn to flow.’ Writers want flow, but it doesn’t just happen. It takes practice to get into that mode. Right brain takes over, and left brain doesn’t have time to be critical.

You don’t have to join OneWord to try the prompt, but if you do join you can keep your efforts and view what other people have written. If you want to get more involved, you fill out a profile, join groups, give ‘word up’ to writings you like, and message other writers. There are 1763 members, but on a given day 200 to 300 write to the prompt.

Not convinced yet? But wait — there are T-shirts!

I’m holding out for mugs. You can find me there under the name Abadaxis.

And Summers Off

A few years ago the teachers of my school district came close to going on strike. Instead, though, the union decided that we should ‘work to the rule,’ meaning that we would only do what was in our current (expired) contract. Our hours would be 7:30 am to 3:00 pm each day, not a moment longer; nor were we supposed to take any work home. We were not to make any non-reimbursable expenditures, attend any games or activities, give up our lunches or conference periods.

My first reaction to all of this was, “How will I get anything done?” Though I have a free period each day for grading and planning, I used to do most of my work before and after school. Everyone knows that the worst thing a teacher can do is walk into the classroom without a plan.

But ‘working to the rule’ didn’t go as badly as I feared. Most of the papers got graded, and if they didn’t, nobody complained. Having in mind what I needed to do each day, I didn’t need written plans most of the time. I learned to be more flexible and spontaneous. In fact, though I had less time, I got more done.

And I learned something else: Any task will condense or expand to fill whatever time you give it. More

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