Monday, January 28, 2013

Finding the words

Craft shows are amazing. You never know what you'll find, except you're pretty sure to meet some interesting people. Crafters tend to be creative, friendly folks, eager to talk and willing to share their enthusiasm for their work. Over the many years I've been doing craft shows, I've never yet come away without a sense of inspiration.

Occasonally I offer my books at a craft show. Despite the advantages of epubbing, lots of people still like "real" books, and even more like to meet the author in person. And I must confess that shoppers' awe of writers is quite an ego boost.

This weekend my table was near a wood-turner's, happily for me. I'm a great lover of wood, in its living form and in the multitudinous shapes it takes in the skilled hands of a woodworker. This particular turner, a former shop teacher, was equally intrigued with the written word, and we ended up swapping items. He got a copy of Framed; I got a stick.

The stick was about a foot and a half long, of clear, fine-grained maple with a satiny finish. It slid easily into my hand, and my fingers stopped naturally at a knob about a third of the way down. Each end is smooth and rounded. I like the balance of it, the perfect weight, the way it feels like an extension of my arm. Most of all, I like its name.

It's called a "spurtle." An old word, but new to me. By definition, a spurtle is a stick for stirring porridge or soup. The derivation is Scots and goes back at least 400 years. I'm charmed by the idea that there is a name for a stick used to stir food; the equivalent in my kitchen is  simply a "wooden spoon." But mostly I love the way the word feels in my mouth. It has a hiss, a pop, a purr, a growl, and that luscious "tl" at the end. Very satisfying.

Porridge is not often on the menu in my house, so my spurtle will probably hang on the wall, with assorted ribbons according to the season. But I'm so enchanted by it, I might write a Highlander novel, just so I can use its name.

What  unusual words have you found in unexpected places? And where do they take you?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Inspiring Blogger Award

Ute Carbone has pipped me for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. I'm thrilled!
Ute (pronounced ooh-tah, only God and her parents know why) vies with me for the claim to our local indie, Toadstool Books in Milford, NH, where she will be signing her latest book, Blueberry Truth, on Saturday, Feb. 2 at 2 pm. Her other books include The P-Town Queen, Dancing in the White Room and Afterglow. Visit Ute at

According to the rules of the award, I'm supposed to tell you seven things about me.

1. The one thing I wanted for Christmas and didn't get--Fernando Alonso's F-1 Ferrari race car. Nor did I get driving lessons with Fernando.
2. The one thing I never dreamed I'd do--stand in front of the local Planning Board and make train noises.
3. The best thing about my life--my husband and my kids. I don't care if that's corny.
4. Next to reading and writing, the things I love to do best--hiking, needlework, gardening, and collecting odd bits of information.
5. I drive my husband nuts by scooping (not slicing) canned cranberry sauce.
6. My husband drives me nuts by leaving drawers not...quite...shut.
7. Hubby and I share our little bit of heaven with deer, foxes, raccoons, bears and bobcats.

And I'm supposed to nominate another bunch of bloggers:

Cindy Sample
Nancy Wright
Jacqueline Seewald
Holly Hunt
Liz Delisi
Rita Bay
Cindy Davis
Julie MacShane
Karen Ann
Jen Vaughn

These are all wonderful writers. Look them up!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Stalking the Corn

My friend Rita Bay  is posting a series about "horrible homonyms" and I don’t want to steal her thunder, but here is a homonym that shouldn’t be one. 

Last summer my local newspaper ran a front-page photo of a farmer’s ruined crop in the field. “Corn Stocks Destroyed by Car,” said the headline. Well, okay.  It’s a stretch, but one could say the farmer’s future supply of corn was destroyed by some idiot driving an SUV through the young plants. I shrugged and let it go. 

A few weeks later, in a story about farmer’s markets, the same newspaper featured a photo of fresh, delectable corn piled high. “Stalking the corn,” said the caption. My mind immediately went into Euell Gibbons mode—I still use a well-worn copy of his famous book on foraging, Stalking the Wild Asparagus. Then my bent for sci fi took over, and I imagined mutant corn rampaging over the Great Plains as intrepid environmentalists hunt it down, armed with hypos of recombinant DNA. I’m weird like that. 

Stalk, stock. To my mind, there’s no confusion about them. Stalk has an “aw” sound in the middle, while stock has an “ah” sound. Could there be a regional variation in the pronunciation? Granted, I’ve lived in New England for “only” fifteen years, but I have a pretty good ear for dialect and have always been able to distinguish a difference in the two words. Perhaps not as distinct as in the Mid-Atlantic, where I grew up, but clearly discernible. 

Then I started coming across a similar confusion, from writers across the country. “He chocked it up to bad parenting.” “Her tummy was chalk-full.” This isn’t a question of dialect. It’s plain and simple sloppy speech. Worse, it's sloppy writing.  

A chock is a wedge or other item used to prevent movement or to fill an empty space. A doorstop is a chock. I chock my car to keep it from rolling backward whenever I put it up on a ramp. If my tummy is chock-full, I can’t eat another bite. But if your tummy is chalk-full, you’ve been swallowing pulverized limestone, and that can’t be healthy. “To chalk up” is to record or attribute, as in writing a point on a scoreboard. (Think of writing with chalk.) It carries a connotation of a provisional judgment—He blamed her bad manners on poor parenting, but maybe he was wrong. 

We are writers, folks. It’s our job to be precise about the words we use. Make sure you’ve got the right one.