Fascinating Fundamentals

As I was writing on my 1939 story, I stumbled across a never-before-heard word that fit perfectly for the life-force of a young man who's being kept cooped up. 


According to Dictionary.com, birr comes from the Old English byre meaning a strong wind, a cognate with the Icelandic byrr meaning favorable wind.

As a noun birr means

  1. force; energy; vigor
  2. emphasis in statement, speech, etc
  3. a whirring sound

Language Difference in the U.S. and the U.K.

When I lived in Scotland for a couple of years, it took a bit of time to catch onto some of the words they used in place of a U.S. word.  

For example:

Instead of calling my knitted long-sleeved pullover a sweater, in Scotland, they called it a jumper

That long green and prolific vegetable, we call a zucchini? In Scotland, they call it a courgette! Zucchini is an Italian word and courgette is French. And the Scottish and French do have long-term connections. But here in the Midwest, settled by Native Americans then French fur traders then Germans, Scandinavians, and Scots .... where did that Italian connection come from? I haven't the foggiest.

The word that really tripped me up was pants! Yes, the two-legged article of clothing that we wear on the bottom half of our bodies. In the U.K., pants are underpants. I remember a young girl, I think she was 5- or 6-years-old, and very strong-minded too, who had a a fun pair of pants and I complemented her on them and she was soooo exasperated with me. "These are NOT pants. These are trousers. Pants are what you wear under your trousers. Get it right." 

The English language is such an interesting language, not least because of the differences between the U.K. and the U.S. use of words. It is fun, albeit sometimes embarrassing, to learn those differences.

Fascinating Fundamentals


As a word nerd, I love dictionaries. One of the very best gifts I received from my dad was a set of two dictionaries. They came to me well-used and I used them well.


Words for the New Year

I wondered about two words--courage and courteous--that I think are important to this time in the life of our culture.

Were they related? Nope. But it seems like they should be, doesn't it? In an era of trolls and mean-spiritedness, it takes courage to be courteous.


Courage: quality of mind that enables one to encounter difficulties and danger with firmness or without fear

From the Old French, corage (Modern French courage), which means heart, innermost feelings.

From common Latin, coraticum (source of Italian coraggio, Spanish coraje), and classical Latin, cor, which means heart. 


Courteous: excellence of manners or social conduct, respectful or considerate act or expression, polite in behavior towards others. 

From the Old French, corteis (modern French courtois), which means having courtly bearer or manners.



Wordsmith describes a person who works with words and is a skilled writer. 

I'm not laying claim yet to being a skilled writer but I have been working on words rather than plots or characters or settings.

I've been working with revisions of my first full draft since January.  Until July, the revisions focused on plot holes and whether or not my characters were realistic. And I needed to write a few new scenes.

But a couple weeks ago, I finished with that piece of revision and editing. Now I've moved on to wordsmithery. Why don't I just send it off to my beta readers? Because my story was over 100,000 words. So in the interest of finding all of my extra thats and justs to cut I came across Janice Hardy's column on August 4, 7 Words that often Tell, Not Show. And intrigued, I decided to apply it straight away to my story. 

By the way, I've saved the version of my story before all this wordsmithery stuff I'm doing just in case I edit the life out of it.

What's the difference between tell and show? (Check out Grammar Girl definition here.)

  • to tell is to summarize a scene or an action
  • to show is to let the reader experience the scene or the action through specific details and a specific point-of-view of one of your characters

Which is preferable? Readers like to escape into the specific details of a story but there are times when summarizing or telling works better. It all depends upon the scene or action. Transitions, that have nothing important happening within them can be told. 

With Janice Hardy's Fiction Writer column I've searched my documents for the seven words she listed and determined whether I needed to change my sentences or if they were fine as written. My weakness (besides adverbs and gerunds) are the to (verb). And no, I did not take out all my to (verb)s! Check out Janice's column here as she explains it very well and creates examples. 

One of the interesting side effects of doing a search to determine if I need to change a sentence, is that I am not so caught up in my story (yes, I'm still in love with it). I notice each sentence as a stand alone. And the highlight feature allows me to notice how often I use certain words or phrases within a paragraph or a page. Repetition that may irritate certain readers! 

Happy writing!