CONJURING MAGIC WORDS – TURNING LATIN TO SORT OF ENGLISH

I WOULD CONJURE MAGIC, BUT …
NO LATIN ALLOWED


I hadn’t thought about it. To be honest, my eyes have seen it. My brain has skimmed over it. Whoosh. Away it went with no thought given to its meaning. I do know what a couple of “Latin as part of English” shortcuts supposedly mean.

“Illegitimi non carborumdum” — which I believed (and lots of other people also believe) translates to: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down,” from the mock-Latin word, illegitimatus, or bastard, and carborundum, an ancient brand of abrasive stone. But apparently, it’s not “real” Latin. Who speaks “real Latin” anyway? Whatever Latin you speak, it ain’t the real deal. Whoever speaks Latin speaks a reconstruction of it based on what we know from old writings. No native speakers hanging around in this century.

But QED? From this morning’s Boston Globe’s Theresa Hanafin, comes this bright light for the day:


The Question of the Day from The Old Farmer’s Almanac is: What does the abbreviation “QED” stand for? It’s Latin — quod erat demonstrandum — and means “that which was to be demonstrated.” It’s often used at the end of math proofs or philosophical treatises where the writer reaches a conclusion. Sort of a “ta-da!” I always thought it stood for “Quick, eat the doughnuts,” which has been very helpful over the years.”


What does this have to do with anything?

Well, since I cannot find any conjurable magic (is that a word?), the closest I’ve got are those little Latin sayings we drop into our English language. When I was first working as a tech writer in the U.S., having been working in Israel as a tech writer for five or six years, I encountered an actual English-language editor. My editors in Israel had been a lovely French woman who had excellent English, but sometimes her editorial decisions were a bit … continental. I had a great Russian guy and some of his editorial decisions were … unique.

This was the first time I got to fight over my words in my native tongue with another New York native.

ARTWORK: Evil Squirrel’s Nest

She was fixated on never using a Latin expression if there was an equivalent English word for the same thing. Should she come upon “etcetera” she would always change it to “and so on.”

“We do not speak Latin in this department,” she would announce. To this day, when I’m editing anyone else’s work — Garry or one of the other writers on our “team” and I see an etcetera looming, I can hear her voice carrying over the television or audiobook:


WE DO NOT SPEAK LATIN IN THIS DEPARTMENT.


I am forced to change it to “and so on” and occasionally, to something more obscure like “moreover.” Can’t use “ad infinitum” either … a sad waste of clever language skills.


Ad infinitum is a Latin phrase meaning “to infinity” or “forevermore”. Description: In context, it usually means “continue forever, without limit” and this can be used to describe a non-terminating process, a non-terminating repeating process, or a set of instructions to be repeated “forever,” among other uses.


It’s amazing how a single determined editor can fix something in your brain forever, even when you have long since passed a point where you need instructions.

Thus if you are doing any conjuring today, please do it without Latin. We don’t speak Latin here.

LEARNING TO WRITE NON-FICTION BY ELLIN CURLEY

I was taught how to write at an early age. In grammar school I was very anxious and would get paralyzed when I had to write anything. My mom sat me down and showed me how to structure any piece of writing. The classic, “Say what you’re going to say, say it and then say what you said.” In other words, introduction, development and conclusion.

Mom started me out by helping me write outlines for my writing. Once I had the basic ideas organized, I could expand on them on my own, with less anxiety. Mom would then edit my writing with me. That’s how I learned about style and sentence structure. Writing began to come easily to me.

By the time I was fifteen, I was helping Mom edit articles and books that my father, Abram Kardiner, was writing for psychiatric and anthropological publications. My dad was never a clear and concise writer. At this point, he was in his mid seventies and was even less focused and coherent than before.

Me at about 16

Dad tended to write in confusing stream of consciousness. Ideas just tumbled out in random order. He often buried the lead sentences explaining his premise, deep in the fourth or fifth paragraphs. He often went off on tangents for pages and pages, losing the thread of his thesis along the way. He had brilliant and innovative ideas. But you had to hunt for them and they weren’t always presented in the best way.

Mom and I would take his material and break it down into a detailed and sequential outline for him. Dad resisted us at every turn. He somehow felt that we were trying to get him to ‘write down’ to a more mass audience when he was aiming his writing at high level academics in his fields. We argued that all writing has to be comprehensible, regardless of the audience. He would grudgingly go along with us.

Mom and Dad during Dad’s prime writing years

We would go over the outline with him meticulously. He would take it and go off to do a rewrite. He would stick to the outline for a few paragraphs, if we were lucky. But then he would end up off on another rambling polemic. We never succeeded in improving his writing and he didn’t publish much after this point.

Many years later, I had another opportunity to help someone hone their writing skills. This time with better results. My first husband, Larry, was a brilliant litigation attorney. Part of his job was producing coherent and above all else, persuasive written arguments on behalf of his clients.

Larry had the same problems organizing his thoughts as my dad had. His arguments meandered, got muddled and lost emphasis and clarity. He was all over the place. This became a serious issue at work. It took him forever to get his writing done and he was never satisfied with the end product.

Larry as a young associate at a NYC law firm

One day I was home sick from my own legal job. Larry was struggling with a pro bono criminal brief and was frustrated. I told him to leave his draft with me for the day so I could work on it. This was before computers. I spent the day literally cutting and pasting his brief into a whole new document. I added a few connective sentences here and there, but all the necessary material was already there.

Larry was very impressed with the document that I came up with for him. He was surprised to see how I had created a totally different result simply by rearranging and consolidating his material. A light bulb went off in his head. Unlike my father, he ‘got it’.

Larry and me in his early years practicing law

His writing improved. He was also smart enough to study the writing of two very good legal writers in his law firm. One of them had been a speechwriter for Bobby Kennedy in the 1960’s. The two men had very different styles and Larry forged his own style by adapting what he liked from both men.

Adam Walinsky – former RFK speechwriter and partner at Larry’s law firm

Larry became an excellent writer. One of the best in his law firm. In one major brief he wrote, he started each section with a relevant quote from Shakespeare. Brilliant! The judge in the case, who was a Harvard Law School graduate, was so blown away, he wrote Larry a letter. He told Larry that his was the best brief that the judge had ever read! Quite a compliment for Larry, and obliquely for me as his original writing tutor.

So I succeeded in teaching one person how to be a good writer. Or I at least set him on the path to becoming one. I was very proud of Larry and of my accomplishment. It meant a lot to me because of my struggles with my dad’s writing. I guess one out of two isn’t a bad record.

RERUNS AND REWRITES – BLOGGING WITH 6,000 ARCHIVED POSTS

I rerun and rewrite archived posts. I pretty much always do at least some editing for anything I post and in many of the older posts, I do enough rewriting to make it newer than older. I rewrite to make sure dates and any other “hard” information is correct … and I rewrite because there’s always something that needs fixing.

Garry by the dam

Garry was explaining that he feels he needs to always tell people it’s a rerun, even if it is also a nearly full rewrite. I asked him if the shows on TV come with a big “RERUN” plastered across the screen.

“No,” he said, “But I’m a better man than they are.” I bet if he were managing the blog, he’d change his mind fast enough.

I used to reblog things. Reblogs were obviously reruns, so I didn’t have to point it out. Now my reblog function essentially doesn’t work and I have to use “Press it” — a major hassle. It’s just as easy to copy it, rename it, edit it and let it fly. Most of the people reading me today never read these posts in the first place. If you are one of my old friends and realize you’ve read it before, feel free to stop.

I always improve the post during the rewrite anyway, so that old piece may have a bright new shine. I find all the klutzy sentences that bothered me in the past. I fix them. Sometimes, my third rewrite is a huge improvement on the original, reminding me how much I miss having a real, live editor.

There’s more to it than just rerunning things because I’m looking for “something to post.” I have almost 6,000 posts archived, many of which were seen just once, years ago. What a waste of material to never use any of them again.

I have a “random post” finder in the rightmost column of my “front page.” Test it out sometime, just for fun. I use it to see what will show up. Half of the pieces that pop to the top? I have absolutely no memory of having written them. If I can’t remember writing it, how many other people will remember it? Also, a lot of earlier posts never got much attention. Some of them got maybe two or three views and no comments and if they are reasonably good, they deserve better than that.

A lot of posts are thoughts for the moment. Some of them come out much better than expected — while others make me gag. Some posts just get neglected. Last week, I posted what I know is one of my better pieces of writing. Nobody read it.

And dogs!

Why not?

No idea. I do know it will come around again. I’m stubborn. If I think it’s good and I’ve put time into researching and writing it, I’ll run it until I feel it has gotten its due. Every good post deserves a reading.

There are pieces that have done brilliantly that I don’t think are all that good. A few of them have thousands of hits over the years while other pieces I know are far better don’t go anywhere. I’m sure that happens to all of us. There’s really no telling what is going to be a “hit” or a “miss.” There’s no formula that works all the time. Just when you think you’ve got it, it turns on its head and you realize you don’t have it. And probably never will.

There’s a powerful element of sheer chance in publishing. Not just for blogs, but for magazines, books, newspapers. A great book never makes the grade because the perfect publisher never saw it. The right readership never knew about it. It was published before its time … or just a bit too late. It’s still good work and it deserves it’s time in the sun.

So I republish my better pieces — even if no one ever pays any attention to them because I like them. I also republish other people’s pieces. Again. Because I like them and I think so will other people. I also republish posts that relate to specific holidays and historical events. I don’t see any point at all in writing the same thing again and again, though sometimes by the time I’m done with my latest rewrite, I must as well have started from scratch.

Finally, there’s something Tom pointed out which is that there is a reason why television shows are so frequently repeated. Not everyone saw that show. Most people don’t mind seeing it again, if they liked it the first time. That’s how you”make your point,” whatever it may be and accustom people to the concept, the story, whatever it is you are promoting.

None of this stops me from writing new stuff.

With two Scotties

I like writing. I’m always tucking ideas into drafts. Like this one. I gave it a title and a couple of lines to remind me what I wanted to say. I don’t know when I’ll post it because this is a busy time of year. So many photographs make Serendipity very visual and there is not so much space for other stuff I would write. This is not true all year round.

Summer tends to be slow as are the weeks following the holidays and right into early spring. Family holidays are generally terrible, though occasionally, I’ve been surprised.

And then, given our totally insane, whacked out government, I think I can be sure there will ALWAYS be something making me crazy enough to need a good rant. I’ve never lived with an insane government before, so pardon me while I continue to try to make sense of the mess.

WHY I FOLLOW THE DAILY PROMPT

I’ve been asked why I bother to write stuff based on WordPress’s daily prompt, especially since the quality of the prompts has been more than a bit lackluster in recent months and I’ve needed considerable self-restraint not to snarl, growl, or try to (virtually) bite the editor.

But I do them anyway and finally, I figured out why.

I am an incorrigibly anal-retentive writer/editor. If I give free rein to my natural inclinations, I will edit everything to death. Nothing will be good enough. I will write every sentence over and over until it’s as near perfect as I can make it. What it will not be is spontaneous.

Some of my best prose is written quickly, barely edited at all. Which means that after publication, I spend the following 12 hours finding and fixing typos — a different conversation.

But what the prompts do for me is give me leave to write quickly, off the cuff about a wide range of subjects that I would never otherwise choose. I post them immediately and don’t let myself get into a never-ending round of edits. Sometimes I get a bit fancy with illustrations, but I keep the writing simple and tight. Rarely does a response to a prompt exceed 500 words. Most are fewer than 350 words.

72-Peacham-Sunday_092

It’s hard for me to be spontaneous. About anything. I’m not sure if I was ever a free spirit, even as a kid. I’ve always lived in my head. Never been a party person. Never a “just do it” kind of gal. My two creative outlets, writing and photography, are the only areas where I can break free of my self-made restraints.

So I follow prompts. Occasionally, I use a prompt to publish something I was planning to post anyhow. The prompt, in those cases, provides a link so a few extra people might to read it.

I wish the daily prompts were more original, less repetitive. A “free write” exercise is not a prompt at all. It is the stuff of school assignments. Otherwise, WordPress prompts, even if they are obviously constructed using little effort and less thought, offer me an opportunity to write about something I would not ordinarily consider. Some of my best stuff has been in response to silly prompts. Some of my worst, too.

And that’s why I follow the prompts. (Phew. Finally answered that question. Took me long enough!)

WORDPRESS – A GIANT STEP BACKWARDS

WordPress’s new, “new format” is bad in so many ways. It’s a classic example of “stealing defeat from the jaws of victory.” They have replaced a format that works with one that is pretty and useless. There are dozens of sayings about this kind of thing from “all that glitters is not gold” to “pretty is as pretty does.”

They all mean the same thing. Looking good is not enough. An attractive cover does not a good book make. The new format:

  • No word count
  • No proofreading
  • Confusing scheduling
  • Bad default setting for “save” ; the default  is instant publication rather than draft, which will mean a lot of accidental postings
  • No “paste as plain text” (major problem — adds a lot of bugs and bad code)
  • Very slow loading, even slower saving
  • You cannot edit photographs in this format. Galleries have no “edit” link. Individual photos are missing the functions that allow you to set their position (left, center, right, none) and size
  • You cannot change or add a caption. Even if you set it up using the “classic” mode, you cannot edit it in the new one.

I have not tried creating a photographic post using the new, “new post” function because I never liked that format anyway and it’s so very much worse now. I have heard very negative things about how it handles photographs. I can confirm you can’t edit photos … I have heard you can’t download photos either, but haven’t checked it out personally.

Did I mention the “paste as plain text” option stopped working a week ago? Pasting anything you copied from another source is perilous to your post and produces a godawful mess you can’t clean up unless you can edit code.

You will get the new format if you use “New Post” from the top right on your dashboard or if you click “Edit” from your website. One of the worst features is that it takes minutes, not seconds, to load. It takes even longer to save. And be careful because you may think you’re saving, but unless you change the default settings, you are publishing. Gonna be a lot of accidents.

It has a lot of display bugs. The old one — been around awhile — where all your spacing disappears if you preview the post. Several new ones where coding does not delete when you remove the text to which it was attached. And “view post” and/or  “preview” not working at all.

wordpress-format

As of this writing, you can still get the old format via the dashboard menu (left column), but for how long? They just (a few minutes ago) added “Classic mode” in case you don’t like the new format. Maybe someone complained.

Anyone who cares about formatting won’t like the new post format. The loss of both the word count and proofreading is serious for writers.

Is it pretty? Maybe, but you have less space to work in.  Does anyone want less work space? How could that be an improvement for anyone?

Who is making decisions at WordPress? Based on what? It certainly isn’t based on what their customers want or need.

WordPress is continuing to try to make everything look nice without regard for functionality. An elegant GUI full of glitches and bugs. It’s a terrible trade-off and it will come back to bite all of us in our collective asses. It’s already doing it. WordPress does not remember how many popular blogging platforms have disappeared.

Will the rest of you please complain to customer service? I’ve done my part. You all have to jump in. If you complain, they might change it. If you don’t, I guarantee they will assume you like it.

Don’t do it for me. Do it for yourselves.

See Also:

Here’s an idea, Word Press — Beta Testing!

175,000 HITS AND A SERIOUS CHAT WITH WORD PRESS

Today I discovered that the new format for inserting media into a post has eliminated all the search tools that worked. If you are a photographer, this is disastrous. Those of you who work with pictures will see what I mean as soon as you try to use this “new, improved” version of the software.

INSERT MEDIA PAGE

It took me an hour today to find a photograph in my library. You cannot insert directly from the media library. All you can do is look around and see what’s there. It is dead storage. The alternative is uploading every picture and not re-using the pictures stored in your library. In which case, what’s the point of the library at all?

stats 175,000+

How ironic that yesterday I crossed the threshold and now have more than 175,000 hits.

For all practical purposes, WordPress is saying I’ve outgrown them. I’ve invested a huge amount of time and effort into this site and have no interest in moving. I think I’d rather give up blogging altogether. When a hobby becomes work and the fun goes away, what’s the point?

Here’s the conversation. Make of it what you will. I have trimmed it, but it’s still long. I dumped most of the repetitive stuff and cleaned it up for readability.


Marilyn – The new format for media (pictures) does not let me find pictures in my media library. I have 5200 photographs. When inserting media, even if I know the name of the picture, the date, the post in which it was used, I still can’t bring it up. The search option in “insert media” are non-existent. My only choice would be re-importing each image, not reusing them. Which negates the value of the library.

Jason – Hi there, I’m sorry. I was trying to read through everything. Give me just a minute. OK, I’m happy to help you with this.

Marilyn – There is no way now to find and insert pictures from my library. You have eliminated ALL of the search functions except the search box and it doesn’t work by date, doesn’t recognize the words, finds like five or six pictures out of hundreds. You’ve eliminated scrolling, so I’m effectively unable to use my media library at all. Exactly what was your goal?

Jason – I see what you mean about not being able to sort images in the media inserter.

Marilyn – It is useless for a photographer.

Jason – If you are finding you have outgrown the free hosted version of WordPress.com, you might consider looking at a self-hosted installation. There are plug-ins which you can install on self-hosted installations that are specifically designed to add search capabilities in the media insert section.

Marilyn – So you are telling me that I cannot access the files in my library — for which I pay a premium — and that the library is essentially useless?

Jason – No, I’m just trying to offer you additional solutions since you do not find the media insert search useful.

Marilyn – If I’m going to do that, I will dump WordPress. If I have to start over, I don’t need you. I can do that anywhere. I’m already paying you, why continue since you’ve made the previously useful tools worthless? It worked fine until yesterday. You changed it . And ruined it. Was this so that I would pay more money? If so, you miscalculated.

Jason – WordPress.com and WordPress.org are two different services, and I’m only associated to WordPress.com.

Marilyn – The entire reason for my being on WordPress was that you had the tools and I didn’t have to self-host.

Jason – May I ask a question?

Marilyn – Sure, ask away.

Jason – First, this is an actual question because I do want to help. Is the issue that you no longer have access to images by date, or does it have more to do with the search function not working well for you?

Marilyn – There is no search function on insert. Just a search box. You eliminated it everything else.

Jason – OK, now we are getting somewhere. I was under the impression it just wasn’t functioning as you expected. I apologize.

Marilyn – I knew the date the picture was used, its name, the post it was in. I still could not reuse it in a new post.

Jason – OK, that should not be the case. Most definitely. Give me one minute to take a look at a couple of the settings on your blog.

Marilyn – You have to open Add Post, then Add Media. There’s a search box and that’s it.

Jason – I’m looking through everything for you.

Marilyn – No date search. No search by post. No keywords search. All my media are jpg so that’s meaningless. And when things come up, there are no titles, no information, no data.

Jason – This is all very helpful information. The search does work by searching the title of the image. When you select an image, the details pertaining to that image appear on the right of the pop-up window (title, etc).

Marilyn – That’s assuming it gets found at all. And this information is not available in the search results, only if you actually click on the image. Otherwise, it’s just a thumbnail with pieces missing. Just bring back the tools that worked. Or make it possible to grab pictures from the library and insert them into post. Right now, the library is dead storage.

Jason – This was a recent update. I will relay this to the team right now. I can’t give you an ETA on when they will make changes, but I can promise that the issue will be brought up.

Marilyn – The whole point of paying for storage is you can use the stuff in storage. If I can’t use it, I’m paying for nothing. It’s like having a storage unit, but no key to get in. How do you make changes like this without opening a dialog with the people affected?

Jason – I don’t think there is a quick solution I can offer you. I apologize for this, but I will elevate this to our development team. I’m sorry I can’t offer an instant solution, but I will submit this ticket. Hopefully the developers can come up with something that provides the information you are looking for with your images. I hope that you understand only through constructive feedback can we continue to make WordPress.com a better environment for our users. Is there anything I can help you with regarding the services we do have available? I will submit the issue regarding the Media Insert function as soon as I am off this ticket. I will pass the feedback on to the developers. I hope you do give us a little time to resolve this issue, but understand if your business can’t wait. I would recommend taking a look at a self-hosted installation of WordPress. It would allow you to directly transfer your existing site to another host and not lose data. You can find information here: http://en.support.wordpress.com/moving-a-blog/#moving-to-wordpress-org

NOTE: I guess he didn’t believe I’m not a business.

Marilyn – I do not want to self-host. I am not a commercial site. This is supposed to be fun, a hobby. Not a job.

Jason – I am support dedicated to non-commercial bloggers. That said, I will pass your concerns on. If there is nothing else I can help you with, I will get this ticket created.

MY BRILLIANT CAREER

Futures Past

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

How close or far are you from that vision?


I wanted to be a writer … although I wanted to be a cowboy first. By the time I was old enough to sort out fantasy from plans, cowboy had morphed into “I think I’ll take riding lessons.” Writer was a goal.

My first professional job was writing copy for a local radio station. In short order, I started writing print advertisements for an ad agency on Long Island. Then, the big break — a job at Doubleday where I wrote promotions for the books sold through their 13 clubs.

I was the editor for two of them — Romance Library and Garden Guild. All we writers were called editors. Real editors were also called editors. Fortunately, we knew what we were supposed to be doing. I had pseudonyms for each of my clubs plus pictures of some model who was supposed to be me.

Then, I was off to Israel . At first, I free-lanced for the Tourism Ministry. Fun times! I drove all over the country and wrote about beaches, interviewed people and took pictures. Have camera, will travel. Shortly, I realized I was losing money. The gasoline cost more than I was paid per job. I had to find something more lucrative.

I became Senior English-Language Editor for the Environmental Health Laboratory of the University of Jerusalem (a mouthful, more so in Hebrew). I took scientific studies written by Ph.D.’s whose native language was not English and prepped (rewrote) them for publication in the U.S. and England. It was a government job, so I could have stayed there forever and they would have been glad to have me. It was as secure a job as anyone could hope for, but paid poorly. That’s the trade-off. Job security won’t earn the big bucks. It’s pretty hard in Israel to get big bucks for anything, but the private sector pays close to a living wage. Sort of.

12-foot+teepee

Briefly I was Managing Editor of a weekly English-language features newspaper. I started writing an astrology column. When the paper ran out of money, I got “promoted.” I never had more fun at a job than when I ran the paper. I interviewed cabinet ministers and victims of crime. I wrote using a bunch of nom des plumes. We didn’t want it to look as if I was the only writer on staff, though I was. A cooking column, astrology column, the front page feature plus sidebars and a second feature. I even created the crossword.

Lack of money caught up with us and we closed. Without advertising revenue, the publisher couldn’t keep us going.

That’s when I became a technical writer. As I browsed through want ads, I noticed there were listings for tech writers. I didn’t know what tech writers did but I said: “If tech writers are what they want, I are one!” Via judicious resume editing, I nailed a pretty good job.

Back to tech writing. I tech wrote myself through 9 years in Israel, then back to the States doing the same for another 20 until some blockhead decided manuals for software and hardware were unnecessary since “no one reads them anyhow.”

The economy fell apart. By the mid 2000s, dot coms had gone bust. Venture capitol dried up. And I was ill. Eventually work was out of the question. Today I’m retired. Just as well because the whole health thing hasn’t gone well. But old writers never stop writing. They just change venues.

First, I wrote a book, The 12-Foot Teepee, after which I discovered blogging. Today, with co-authors Garry Armstrong (aka The Husband) and Rich Paschall, I write for me — and you. Blogging is fun. Connecting with people all over the world makes me feel I’m part of the world, not gathering dust in storage.

I never got a statuette or a major award. In my business, the award was called “a paycheck.” That’s the only part of working I still miss.