Finding Your Own Voice, Rich Paschall – SUNDAY NIGHT BLOG

What is the best way to relate something?  When do you communicate well?  What is it that gets your point across?  When does your voice stand out in a sea of voices?  How can you be heard?  I like to think that I can write about anything, but the truth is some stories and essays are more widely received than others.  Why is that?  When you tell a story or try to make a point, when are you at your most effective?


Certainly those with debating skills know how to line up evidence, organize their material, give weight and structure to their arguments and drive their points home.  For some that comes rather naturally.  They can readily see how point one leads to point two and on to point three.  They can see what supports each point along the way.  They understand when something needs extra support.  If they have a particularly effective quote, they know whether to play that card up front, or hold it back for a rebuttal in such a way that it is not “extra topical” but right on point.

For others this skill is acquired through study of argumentation as well as study of opponents.  If I say “this,” what is the likely response?  Will it be more effective to address this audience in a bold, out-spoken manner, or a soft and persuasive one?  Does my voice sound sincere?  Combative? Rude? Respectful?  When am I at my best?  When are people listening?

What if it is not an argument at all, but a simple point that is to be made?  When are you at your most interesting?  How do you capture the imagination of your listeners or readers?  There is not much point to advancing an argument if no one is listening, or reading, as the case may be.  What do you need at the open to get people’s attention?  Whether you are speaking to an audience or writing your point for Word Press, a good opening line is essential.  What is it though?  How do you find it?

Perhaps you wish to tell a short story.  Certainly there is a great oral tradition of story telling.  The earliest written stories were likely those that were passed along from generation to generation verbally.  If you sat down to write Beowulf out for a newly literate segment of the population, how would you begin?  Is the same opening effective on paper as it was sitting in the mead hall with your friends, having a glass of whatever (really, what was that stuff?), listening to a tale and wondering if that was Grendel or the Rolling Stones making noise outside?  How can you make yours words stand out?

By now, you have noticed that I have thrown out a lot of questions. I suppose you might think that this is the part where I start answering them.  OK, wait for it … Sorry, I don’t have the answers. I really don’t.  What’s effective for you, may not be effective for me and what is effective for me …

You get the idea. Different people are successful in different ways. That’s because we are unique.  St. Paul would have told you in his unique letter writing style that each has his own gift. It is up to us to find that gift, that voice, if you will, and use it to be your most effective voice.

In looking back over recent weeks on Sunday Night Blog and Serendipity, I wanted to find the most read, liked and commented upon pieces.  What voice is heard?  I notice there was much interest in the personal stories.  Last fall Marilyn encouraged me to write about my trip to England and I posted several pieces.  Much to my surprise, they continue to be found and read.  I am sure it is not so much the personal story, but the adventure of it.  Don’t we all love to look at articles on travel and the pictures they contain?  Short stories and social commentary find varying success, and everyone has a comment or story about politics lately.

Recently we posted the importance of telling YOUR STORY.  It is not something you have to publish on Word Press or facebook or any other social media site.  We may be interested in your personal antics, but you may not be prepared to tell them.  Should you tell them at all?  If you are not a writer here, should you not pass on your stories of ancestry to your family anyway? What do you remember that this generation may want to know?  What about the next generation?  Can you find the words to tell them?

Whether you are writing a blog or telling a story at a family gathering, you will find your voice and it will be a good one. It may take a long time, years in fact, but don’t stop telling your story.  Some day you may be the best storyteller at Aunt Martha’s Christmas party and every gathering will bring friends and relatives to your side to hear your voice.  Or you may some day be the best writer in the blogosphere, and I will be reading you faithfully.  By the way, if you have answers to any of the questions above, please leave them in the comments below.  I really want to know them myself.


First of all, for you skeptics out there, “whelmed” is really a word, though we don’t use it because it doesn’t seem to have any relationship to it’s more popular off-spring, Over- and Under.

WHELM (verb)
1. to submerge; engulf.
2. to overcome utterly; overwhelm: whelmed by misfortune.

So overwhelmed implies misfortune? How does that work when used as “Overwhelmed by gratitude, joy, or excitement?” Are those things actually misfortune in disguise? Or is it the oncoming waters of drowning and submersion that carry the negative implication?

Sometimes, the weird ins and outs of our peculiar language leave me agape. That’s right. Agape. And what do you want to make of it, eh? I’ll whelm you if you diss me, girlie!



STOOP, Etymology

Originally brought to the Hudson Valley of New York by settlers from the Netherlands, this word is among the Dutch vocabulary that has survived there from colonial times until the present. Stoop, “a small porch”, comes from Dutch stoep (meaning: step, pronounced the same). The word is now in general use in the Northeastern United States and is spreading. 

Not a stoop. This would qualify as a portico

Not a stoop. This would qualify as a portico. Only one step and it’s recessed

Stoops are important. They offer opportunities for creative play, such as “stoop ball” which is a kind of handball, but you need a stoop. With steps. We used to use them as a kind of grandstand where guests could sit while we gave performances. We thought we were almost ready for Broadway. Not all reviewers agreed.

A stoop is a front porch for urbanites. You sit on the stoop to watch the street, meet and greet your neighbors, get some fresh (?) air. Catch up on the local news. Stoop sitting was an important thing when I was growing up and I’m betting it still is, if you live in a neighborhood in the city that’s not too snooty.

Rich people don’t sit on the stoop. More’s the pity. They’d understand the world a lot better if they did.

As the word “stoop” spreads, we will all be able to recognize one when we see it. It’s one of the first architectural features I look for when I’m trying to figure when a structure was built. In cities, most buildings originally had a stoop. When you see a door that is at or below street level, it usually means the original stoop has been buried by erosion, time, remodeling, sidewalk and street repairs, and so on.

It's a stoop, but it leads to a porch

It’s a stoop, but it leads to a porch

Urban streets tend to rise over the years. In older cities, sometimes the level of the street will actually be slightly higher than the door, requiring a dry well and/or drains to keep from flooding.

Stoops on Beacon Hill, Boston

Stoops on Beacon Hill, Boston

A stoop from the 1700s is still a stoop ... even though it's in Upton, Massachusetts rather than New York

A stoop from the 1700s is still a stoop … even though it’s in Upton, Massachusetts rather than New York

A perfect suburban stoop

A perfect suburban stoop

A stoop leading to the tiny post office in Manchaug

A stoop leading to the tiny post office in Manchaug

I can attest to the spread of the word stoop meaning the steps and landing between the sidewalk (or front walk) and the door. Because when i first came to Boston, only former New Yorkers (which comprise about 50% of everyone in Massachusetts) knew the word, but now everyone does. Probably because of that invasive pest species, refugees from New York.

To qualify as a stoop, it has to lead to the front or another main door. It doesn’t have to have a landing to be a stoop. The steps alone are enough.

The stoop should have from two to six steps. More than six steps is a whole flight of steps and a single step can’t be a stoop. If there’s more than a landing at the top, it also isn’t a stoop. If it’s bigger than a landing, the area is a porch, a veranda, a balcony … maybe even a deck. A proper stoop is just big enough to put down your bag of groceries while you dig around in your bag to find your keys.



There were probably stoops on these doorways 100 years ago, but the city rose. You can also see how many times the building has been remodeled, brickwork changed, and so on. Buildings hold a lot of history

I would call this a stoop, but some would not because it leads to a side door, not the front

I would call this a stoop, but some would not because it leads to a side door, not the front

You now hold a graduate degree in stoopology. Congratulations!



It’s snowing. Pretty hard. We’ve been getting updates in clumps from the National Weather Service. Two or three at a time, often with a different prediction and forecast on each.


They really have no idea whether we are getting a little bit or a lot. Since we’ve already gotten a little bit, I would suspect that we are getting anything from “a decent amount” to “a lot.” These are actual calculable amounts in this part of the word.

Language Lessons

A dusting is less than two inches and is ignored. It’s just there like powdered sugar on top of a cake. Decorative and non-caloric. Real New Englanders always refer to this kind of snow as “Just a dusting.” Alternative phrasing can include “merely a dusting” and “Pshaw, barely a dusting.” Pshaw is optional. However, you must include at least a trace of scorn in your tone of voice.

Out my front door

Out my front door

“Some snow” is more than three inches, but less than ten.” It means you will probably have to shovel it or plow it lest it turn to ice. The snow isn’t a big deal, but the ice? That’s another issue. This is an amount of snow that requires you wear boots. A dusting is worthy only of sneakers.

“We getting some snow,” announces anything more than 8 inches, but not a “big one.” Amounts may vary and occasionally can reach depths of a foot or more. Thus it could be explained as “We got some snow last night, ” or “We got some snow last night ,” or “That was some snow we got last night.” But everyone understands it was not a blizzard.

Front forty, snow falling

Front forty, snow falling

Blizzards are not rare. We’ve gotten as many as three in a week and I’m talking about just two-years ago. That always means a lot of snow accompanied by below-freezing temperatures, with strong winds and drifting. Predictions of oncoming blizzards are generally ignored by everyone for the first four or five days of warnings because “those weather people never get it right.” This is followed by complete panic as everyone piles into their SUVs and races to the store to clear the shelves of anything edible and as much beer as possible. Beer will get you through. It’s not New England’s official motto, but it could be.


People act as if they have never seen snow before, much less a blizzard.  After they settle down, it’s time to drink that beer, glug the hot chocolate, and make a lot of snow jokes while hoping you don’t lose power. Losing power is not a good thing in an area where we all have wells. Without power, we not only have no heat (oil burners ignite using electricity, don’t you know), but no water, either. We do not usually lose power around here, but it could happen.


Today, however, we are just getting some snow. We have plenty of food in the house. We have snow shovels. We have an SUV. We have boots and gloves and a wood stove if things get really dicey … but unfortunately, no wood to burn. Oops.

I guess winter is here, huh?

UPDATE: Now they are saying 12 to 18 inches and the wind is picking up. But maybe that’s just on the Cape and the coast?



So there we were. It’s late. The dogs are sleeping. Garry and I are watching “The ABC Murders” on the BBC Poirot series. Poirot is reading an article in the newspaper, supposedly quoting Captain Hastings. Hastings says “I say, Poirot, I really didn’t say that, you know.”

“I know,” says Poirot. “But perhaps this will help us. The murderer, he sees what I supposedly said in the daily blog …”


1. A website containing a writer’s or group of writers’ own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other websites.
2. A single entry or post on such a website: She regularly contributes a blog to the magazine’s website.
verb (used without object), blogged, blogging.
3. To maintain or add new entries to a blog. Verb (used with object), blogged, blogging.
4. To express or write about on a blog: She’s been blogging her illness for almost a year.

Origin of blog 
1995-2000; shortening of weblog – Related forms: blogger, noun

Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2016.


Blog? He used the word blog? This show was aired in 1992 and the story is set in pre-World War II England. How far back does the word “blog” go? These BBC productions are generally considered accurate renditions of the books.

BLOG (British) 

1998, – short for weblog (which is attested from 1994, though not in the sense “online journal”), from (World Wide) Web + log.

Joe Bloggs (c.1969) was British slang for “any hypothetical person” (cf. U.S. equivalent Joe Blow); earlier “blog” meant “a servant boy” in one of the college houses (c.1860, see Partridge, who describes this use as a “perversion of bloke”). As a verb, “to defeat” in schoolboy slang.

The Blogger online publishing service was launched in 1999.

None of these definitions would be used to describe a newspaper article or column … or even a published rumor. Except — this BBC TV movie was released in 1992. And the word “blog” in a form and meaning we understand is there, where it can’t be because the word did not yet exist.

But it did exist and it meant basically what it means now, except applied to a daily newspaper, not something on the Internet.

I can reach but one conclusion: My accurate sources are wrong. The word did exist at least as early as 1992. If they are wrong about this, what else did they get wrong? Did Agatha Christie use it in the original manuscript? I’d need to have a searchable copy of “The ABC Murders” to do a word search. I don’t have such a book at the moment, but I’ll try to find one. There may be one available as a Kindle and they are searchable. I’ll let you know.

Meanwhile, I can’t find any source that admits any evidence that the word “blog” existed in its current form and usage prior to 1995 (most say 1997). All sources agree on this. The word “blog” comes from “web log.” Except obviously, that’s not true.

It’s a mystery worthy of Dame Agatha herself.

How many other things I know are true, are wrong? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

UPDATE: Dateline Uxbridge, 1:22 PM, EDT

After much checking in by helpful readers and friends, the word (given the heavy fake French accent …) might have been one of these three words:

Blood (which is what the transcript of the show thinks it was)

Blab (mebbe, because with the accent, anything that is a single syllable and starts with BL and is followed by an “aw” or “ah” sound could sound like blog


Blah, as in “blah, blah, blah” which had during WWI (around 1918), come into common parlance to mean the same thing it means 100 years later.

If anyone has the book, it would be interesting to find out what Dame Agatha actually wrote, as opposed to what the BBC production used in the script. The show is available on Netflix. It is first show of the 1992 season four. “The ABC Murders” is a movie length feature and very well done. It will stand alone as a single viewing.


I have no doubt my dogs think. They have a short-term version of planning and will work together to accomplish a goal. Like opening a gate — or dismembering a toy. Surely they would hunt together if they had something to hunt. Dogs are, after all, pack animals.

They communicate. We watch them. They sit silently staring into each other’s eyes. Then they get up, together, and go out to bark, or to the kitchen to remind us they need to eat, now please. I suspect they believe we won’t remember to feed them unless they remind us.


What forms do their thoughts take? They don’t use words. Even though they understand some words if we use them, I doubt that’s how they form ideas. So they must employ their other senses. How much is visual? Do they also think in sound and scent? It’s obvious they know what they want. They can be remarkably clever and creative in getting it … but how can they plan with no words?

Now and again, I try to “think” without words. I always fail. Inevitably, anything in my head comes with narration, conversation, and a lot of subtext.


Dolphins and whales talk to each other in some version of language, but words used human-style is apparently species-specific. We can teach other creatures to understand and sometimes even use words, but it’s unnatural for them. Only people need words. It’s not only how we communicate, it’s inherent to our understanding of our world. It’s the way we categorize everything, remember anything.


Ideas and concepts can’t exist without words. Language has the hooks on which we hang everything, real and conceptual. We are the only species that needs a spoken language and the only one that writes. Along with the opposable thumb, it’s how we rule the earth.

If we were to lose our languages, we would probably lose it all. I don’t think thumbs would save us.