Thursday, December 12, 2019

Free Reign and Other Eggcorns


What’s an eggcorn?

It’s a new word, introduced in the early 2000’s and referring to the replacement of a rare/archaic word in a phrase by a common and similar-sounding word that may have nothing to do with the original meaning of the phrase. It was coined by a guy who claimed that he’d seen acorn written as eggcorn. I’ve never actually seen that (and I kind of doubt it: it’s not like acorn is a rare word unfamiliar to most readers…is it?)
I think our language is impoverished every time someone replaces a meaningful metaphor with meaningless jargon. Besides, it irritates the heck out of me. So today I’m just going to rant about the eggcorns created by writers who apparently had no idea of the context and original meaning of the phrases they butchered. If I went on to list stupid/illiterate word substitutions this post would be way too long. Maybe next week.

Horses and riding


By far the most frequent offender is the substitution of reign for rein, creating phrases like free reign and reign in. I suppose this comes from somebody who has the vague notion that rein in and free rein have something to do with exerting or abdicating control, but who has never actually used reins and can’t figure out what they have to do with it, so… well, reign has something to do with control, doesn’t it? Plug that word in and to hell with the fact that the new phrase doesn’t mean anything. I foam at the mouth when people substitute reign for rein. You might say my annoyance is unbridled.

Moving on:

Curve your appetite. No, no, no. It’s curb, as in, controlling a horse’s movements with a curb bit. Sheesh, my people didn’t even use curb bits but I still know what the word means.

Straddled with. I saw this only once, but it was weird enough to stop me and throw me out of the story. Was it a typo, or was the writer never saddled with the notion of a saddle?

Nautical and military


I probably should have started with this, because it’s the largest category. Look, I are not a naval or military historian, but at least I’ve sailed a boat, read the Hornblower novels and researched the Blitz. That shallow pool of knowledge is enough to annoy me at the following eggcorns:

Pass mustard. Evidently the concept of a muster at which you get experiences like an on-the-spot equipment check (which you may fail) is foreign to the writers who perpetrate this eggcorn. You’d think they would at least pause to consider that a discussion of condiments is out of place in the context of whatever they’re trying to convey.

Tow the line. It’s toe the line, folks, from a way of lining up soldiers or sailors for that muster. Writers may be confused by towline, which means a rope or whatever used to tow a vessel. You don’t tow lines, though; you tow other things with them.

Shot over the bough. Fellow Hornblower fans will wince over this one. A shot over the bows is aimed at the bows of the other ship, just high enough that you don’t actually hit them. It’s a way of signaling to the folks on the other ship that you’re serious… and that you’re in a position to do serious damage with the next shot.

Way anchor. As far as I know, the meaning of weigh as “lift” survives only in weigh anchor and related phrases (Anchors Aweigh!), but that’s no reason for replacing it with way and creating a meaningless phrase.

Change tact/take a different tact/take a similar tact. The word should be tack. As in, a change of direction. Change tack actually means something; change tact doesn’t. Meaning takes another hit.

Taking flack. Flak is literally anti-aircraft fire and metaphorically criticism, as summarized in the aphorism, “If you’re taking flak, you know you’re over the target.” A flack is a PR person, probably just as annoying but less likely to be fatal. I’m going to be nice and not tell you about the German term that got abbreviated to “flak.” Suffice it to say that they started out with seven syllables and ended up with this one, and aren’t we all grateful for that?

Don’t know much about history

Beyond the pail. I suppose the writer thinks that pale is an archaic spelling for pail. Nope. It’s an archaic word for a fence made of palings. You couldn’t make much of a fence with pails! Beyond the pale means outside a boundary. The Irish may dislike the usage, since the English generally called the English-controlled parts of Ireland the Pale and considered the rest of Ireland to be uncivilized – literally, beyond the Pale. But at least it means something, whereas beyond the pail makes no sense whatsoever.

Straight-laced, straightjacket. It’s strait-laced, meaning tightly laced, and straitjacket. The meaning has to do with confinement, narrow spaces, etc, not with straight lines. You know, like the Bering Strait, which I expect to see rendered as Bering Straight any day now. I guess nobody reads the Bible any more, or they'd know: Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life.

The dye is cast. When Caesar crossed the Rubicon and said “Alea iacta est,” he wasn’t saying that he had dyed the Rubicon red – or any other color. Die is the singular of dice. He was saying that he’d made his throw and now he’d find out if he won. I guess nobody shoots craps any more either?

Motte/moat. Possibly forgivable, since they both come from the same Old French word. Trouble is, meaning and spelling changed over time. A motte and bailey castle is built on raised ground (the motte) defended by an enclosing wall (the bailey.) Later the motte came to refer to the dry ring of excavated ground created in building the raised ground, and still later to mean a water-filled ditch surrounding the bailey – but by that time it was spelled moat. To be fair, I’ve seen this only once, but the usage had the unfortunate effect of making me giggle every time I hear the name of a perfectly nice woman who wrote historical romances in the eighties; she put her heroine in a motte-and-bailey castle, which was fine and perfectly in period… until the lady mounted to the top of the keep, overbalanced and fell into the motte.

If you’re going to make your readers giggle, do it on purpose and not out of ignorance, okay?

(Image credit: http://www.qwantz.com/index.php?comic=693)


Thursday, November 14, 2019

It's live... mob-caps and all!

The ebook of A Child of Magic is available on Kindle now! And one last snippet before I get back to the current book:

***

I looked over Annelise’s shoulder before returning to my own office. She was comparing pictures of people in authentic eighteenth-century costume with the offerings from the rental company’s site. “I need to call them about the wigs.”

“Wigs?” I looked at the pictures of ladies with their hair piled up in powdered beehives topped with ruffled, lacy hats. Well, if I had to wear something like that, at least I’d look taller…

“Don’t worry,” she said, “that’s the costume of a highly fashionable lady, not an ordinary person. We’re going to put muslin caps on you and Meadow. They were called mob-caps, and they’ll completely cover your hair. Lots of women wore them. The cover story if the caps come off is that you’re recovering from a bad fever that necessitated cutting off your hair. Will tells me Philadelphia had epidemic fevers nearly every summer.”

“Bring out your dead?”

“No, the big yellow fever epidemic wasn’t until 1793. Smallpox was common though, and so was typhus.”

How reassuring. I wondered if we should all get vaccinated. And how to explain to a modern doctor that we needed shots for a disease that had been all but eradicated in this century?

“But Ben’s hair is way too short to pass unnoticed.”

“Can’t he be a fever victim too?”

“Not in a fetching little muslin cap with frills and ribbons, he can’t. I’m still looking for a beaver hat for him, but I think his short hair would still attract too much attention. He’ll have to wear a wig.”

And I’d thought traveling back to 1941 was complicated!

Within minutes there were several separate conversations going on in the Research Division. Annelise had offloaded the shoe problem onto Ingrid and she was trying to find us authentic shoes to go with the costumes, or at least shoes that might pass as authentic – which, she said in a moment of exasperation between phone calls, was going to be tricky since we insisted on going back into a century when left and right shoes were identical.

Ben was talking to his friend Will, the history buff, about where to acquire some eighteenth-century currency just in case we had to buy anything while we were there. “We shouldn’t need to spend it if all goes to plan,” I heard him telling Will. “We’re just going to zip back then, collect Colton, and return.”

I meditated on the history of Center projects. Had there ever been one where everything went as planned? I hoped Ben and Will could come up with a really good source of antique money.

“Don’t worry,” Ben said when he got off the phone, “in emergency we can just take a gold or silver artifact with us and sell it for cash.”

“I hope we won’t have to do that. Explaining where we got the artifact could be tricky.” Now that we were getting into the details of the plan, some of my initial excitement was fading. I slumped down behind my desk and wondered what happened to somebody who was accused of, say, stealing a silver candlestick. In Philadelphia. In 1787. Transportation? No, that was an English thing. In America the penalty was probably just straightforward hanging.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Felony False Reporting

I've shoved the e-version of A Child of Magic through KDP, and it should go live sometime in the next day or so; I'll post a link when that happens. Meanwhile, here's another snippet:

***
“So you based the report of a kidnapping on a note, a car seat, and a stuffed animal," the cop summarized. "Huh. When your husband called us, he made it sound a bit more solid than that. And he did not mention that you’d seen the kid at the same time he was reporting the kidnapping. Want to explain that bit to me?”

“I… can’t,” I said. We didn’t have time to bring the APD up to speed on the real activities of the Center. It might take hours, maybe days, to convince them that some of us really could teleport; it had taken weeks to convince Prakash Bhatia.

Esposito stood up, his face darkening. “We have sent an officer to search your residence in case the kid just crawled into a corner somewhere. Other officers are canvassing your neighbors for evidence of anything to support your theory that this woman just drove off with your kid. We’ve mobilized a ground search team to check every square foot of the territory around your condo for anything that might be a clue: clothing, diapers, a toy. They’re looking under bushes and inside culverts and checking for recently disturbed earth.”

I didn’t get why the ground search team were doing those last things, but it didn’t matter. “They’re wasting their time.”

“Make a note, Ferris,” Esposito said. “Parent tried to discourage ground search… and we can guess why, can’t we?” He scowled at me. “All this time you’ve known exactly where your child is, haven’t you?”

“No. Not exactly…” How to explain that I’d teleported directly into the same room as Aleksi, but I’d never stepped outside the room and had no clue where it might be?

Esposito looked disgusted. “I’ve heard of women like you, women who faked a crime against their own child to get attention. What did you want? A chance to go on national television with an impassioned plea for the return of your beloved infant? For your information, Mrs. Lensky, falsely reporting a crime can be charged as a felony, and I plan to recommend that charge in this case. I just hope, for your baby’s sake, that the D.A. doesn’t have to charge you with anything worse. The ground team will definitely continue their search, though I’m calling off the other officers as of now.”

He stormed out of the break room, leaving the sketch artist to pack up the laptop and follow him. “I don’t understand.”

“What don’t you get?” Ferris demanded. “You report the kid missing, then you tell us you’ve seen him at the same time the report was made.”

I should have tried to explain Brouwer teleportation. Or, at least, demonstrated it. I might have been able to slow down Esposito’s headlong rush to judgment.

Other things, though, were confusing me now, tangling up my thoughts. “I don’t get… If he thinks I’m lying, why is he having the ground team continue searching?”

“Because in a very high percentage of infant abductions,” Ferris informed me, “the child’s body is found within a mile of the home.” He paused. “The percentage is even higher in cases where one or both parents is faking an abduction for reasons of their own. What really happened, Mrs. Lensky? Did you shake the baby too hard?”

“I’ve never—I wouldn’t—” A cold anger began to take the place of grief and fear.

“We will be interviewing your friends and family members,” said Ferris. “One at a time, so they can’t coordinate their stories. If there’s a pattern of child abuse, Mrs. Lensky, it will come out. Want me to get Detective Esposito back in here? It will go better for you if you confess now, without wasting more of our time.”

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The wrong side of the Wall



It’s not really much of a story, but let me set the scene:
It’s the summer of 1966, and I’m a new college graduate turned loose on the world clutching my B.A. in mathematics. I think I’m all grown up and pretty hot stuff. In retrospect, I may have had a college degree, but graduating at eighteen doesn’t prove I’m smart; it just proves I was smart to drop out of high school and head straight to the university. I’m still eighteen, and as one of our past presidents has said, “When I was young and stupid, I was young and stupid.”

My parents have just given me the best graduation present ever: a round-trip ticket to Europe with the promise of a subsistence pittance to be doled out if I present myself at an American Express office at selected intervals during the summer to prove that I’m still alive – enough money to eat regularly if I practice obvious economies like staying at youth hostels. The arrangement also encourages some economies like hitchhiking, which my parents didn’t think of and never found out about. But I wasn’t hitchhiking when I found myself on the wrong side of the Wall in Berlin. I got there quite innocently and conventionally via the direct train to Berlin.

A little more background: the Wall has been up for five years and even the most blithely apolitical Americans have heard horror stories aplenty. You know, tanks facing each other at Checkpoint Charlie, Vopos in towers with machine guns, attack dogs, all that. The stories got an extra zotz of realism for me because in college I had been rooming with a girl who went to high school in West Berlin and actually saw the Wall going up. Oh, and by the way, I had a minor in German and had spent two years improving my German conversation skills by chatting with my roomie, who had, no surprise, a Berlin accent.

So I’m pretty nervous about this train ride, but I want to see Berlin, at least the portion of it that’s still open to the free world. Promise all sorts of people that no, I won’t be so stupid as to set foot off the train during its passage through East Germany, I won’t get off until we’re safely in Berlin.

Then, watching the endless vista of potato fields rolling past the windows, I fall asleep.
I wake up hearing some kind of announcement about “Berlin something-or-other.” Panicky glance out the window: we’re stopped, it looks like a railway station in a city, the sign I can read says “Berlin something-or-other.” I hurl myself out of the carriage and find myself in a semi-deserted station late at night. The few other passengers hurry away; well, it’s night, they want to get home. There’s no big friendly information kiosk where I can ask for directions, but there’s a door in front of me. I go through it and find myself on a dark, semi-deserted street.

I may be young and stupid, but I do know that an eighteen-year-old girl has no business wandering around a strange city at night in search of the youth hostel. I don’t even have a map; I’d assumed I could pick one up at the train station when I arrived. Hadn’t figured on the station being so bleak and empty. With great satisfaction at my own intelligent decision, I hail the one taxi outside the station and give the guy the address of the hostel where I’d planned to stay.

That’s when it all falls apart. He gives me an incredulous look and says, “Lady, are you kidding me? That’s in West Berlin!”

After some argument (I keep telling him this is West Berlin, he keeps shaking his head) I get marched back into the railway station. And there are people to talk to now, oh yes indeed there are. They convince me that I am indeed in East Berlin. I complain that I’ve been misled. Where was the checkpoint? What happened to the big warning signs? Where were the officials? What about the VoPos? Nobody ever told me you could simply hop on a train in Frankfurt and ride straight into East Berlin without anybody so much as checking your passport!

But they want to look at my passport now, oh yes, they do. And they tell me I must be lying about how I got onto that street in front of the station, because the door I claim to have gone through is locked. It is always locked.

It’s locked now, that’s for sure.

Around this point I realize I could be in serious trouble, and that I am possibly not helping myself any by complaining in fluent German… and with a Berlin accent. So I make my only intelligent decision of the evening. I shut up and burst into tears.

After that I speak only English, beg for an interpreter, and (in between hysterical wails) listen with deep interest to the conversations going on around me. They paw through my possessions; the fact that my clothes are obviously not of Eastern manufacture is a point in my favor. And my passport, if it is a forgery, is a very good forgery… More in my favor, though, is that the porter they call in to interrogate about that unlocked door is decidedly shifty in his replies. Eventually the interrogators decide that the porter probably had some smuggling sideline that involved letting a buddy slip out of the railway station without passing the official checkpoint; that I really am a stupid Ami girl who doesn’t know that there are several railway stops in a big city like Berlin and that the train had already passed all the West Berlin stops; and, most important, that it won’t do the porter’s supervisor or his supervisor any good at all to draw attention to this little flaw in the security arrangements.

I get taken back through an official checkpoint with very, very little discussion, refrain from falling down to kiss the pavement of West Berlin, find a taxi and, this time, make it to the youth hostel. Which is still open, so it can’t have been as late as the deserted station and streets made me think. (I am told later that East Berlin after dark is essentially shut down; the glories of Communism at work.)


(Image: Scapler [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)])

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Mr. Gorbachev didn't have to do a thing!

The people of Berlin saved him the trouble.

I want to get back to writing stuff about writing, but the anniversaries are coming so thick and fast at this time of year! And this one, at least, a lot of y'all should remember; it was only 30 years ago that the Berlin Wall came down. (Some day I'll bore you with my story of accidentally winding up on the wrong side of the Wall in 1966.)

The Hungarian revolution, Guy Fawkes Day, the Berlin Wall destroyed... what is it about the opening days of November? Are people just all excited about my birthday, and thinking about it makes them want to heave the odd cobblestone about? Or do Europeans just get stroppy with the realization that winter is coming on and pretty soon it'll be too damned cold to get out in the streets and throw things?

Whatever - already this month we've celebrated a bomb plot averted and mourned a revolution crushed under tanks. It's a nice change to celebrate the symbol of a real victory for freedom.

(Image: Bidgee [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)])

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Gunpowder treason and plot



Anniversaries coming thick and fast this month...

"Remember, remember the 5th of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot."

For a quick summary of the actual plot that gives the Brits this excuse to run around building bonfires, see Alma Boykin's post today. It's not an event... or maybe we should call it a non-event, since after all the Houses of Parliament didn't get blown up... that I find particularly interesting. But it is interesting - at least to my scatty mind - that this children's rhyme makes me aware of this anniversary every year. I mean, it's not even an American holiday!

Which, in turn, leads me to wonder if similar doggerel would help me remember more dates. Offhand the only other historical rhyme I can think of is, "In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." Anybody know some others?

Monday, November 4, 2019

A Day to Remember



On this day in 1956, Soviet tanks entered Budapest and crushed the nascent Hungarian revolution. A few days later Prime Minister Imre Nagy was tried in secret and executed.

Unlike the Czech revolution in 1968, this one didn't make a big impression on me at the time: I was eight years old and not particularly into reading any part of the newspaper except the comics. Something must have trickled into my head, though, because I do remember reading Uncle Tom's Cabin that October and being very confused by Harriet Beecher Stowe's comparison of the escaping slaves to Hungarian revolutionaries. (Sorry, don't remember if I've posted this reminiscence before; stop me if you've heard this one.)

I remember going back and forth, back and forth, between the copyright date on the book and the front page of the newspaper. I don't think it occurred to me to ask my parents, who might have cleared things up by mentioning the European uprisings of 1848; in my experience at that time, asking my parents to explain something in a book all too frequently resulted in gasps of horror and the confiscation of the book as something I shouldn't have been reading in the first place. I didn't really care what was happening in Hungary, which might as well have been the dark side of the moon for all I knew; whereas I did care about having my project of reading all the books on the top shelf in the hallway interrupted.

Now, as Brussels fulminates about the lack of cooperation shown by the Visegrad group with respect to accepting refugees, they might do well to reflect that these countries honed their non-cooperation skills under a much tougher regime. I wonder how many tanks the EU has?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
My Blogger TricksAll Blogger TricksLatest Tips and Tricks